Tech for Teach

Functional Friday: A Fistful of gmail accounts

images (1)I hope I’m not going to anger the Google gods, but I have several Gmail accounts. One of them is mine, a second one I set up as a departmental email address, later repurposing it for homework assignments and the like. Another two accounts for volunteer groups I am in, and another account which acts as a second/back up address. To see how I deal with this, read on… Continue reading “Functional Friday: A Fistful of gmail accounts”


Where’s the doc? A meditation on the transcendent nature of digital media with Joe Tomei

JtomeiI recently had the opportunity to get a JALT SIG officer up to speed on some of the things I had been using as a coordinator for the THT-SIG and one of the questions that surprised me was when he asked, while we were working in google docs, how he could download the document for his reference. I realized that one of the controlling metaphors that framed his thinking was that the electronic document is an object that is moved from place to place. While this is true on some level that what we were working on probably could be pointed to as a series of 1s and 0s in a Google server farm somewhere, I tried to explain that he needed to stop thinking of the documents as objects.

In working with people on various projects, I find that the metaphor ‘the file is an object’ is quite common. Asking how to download a google drive file in order to have their own copy is just one example. 4 people get in a folder in google drive and if they are not used to it, they will feel they have to create their own documents, so you have 4 copies of the same document, all with different edits. Students will start a google presentation by uploading a powerpoint file to share with me (because they are told to share first and then edit) and they continue to work on the powerpoint file, upload a completed version and then wonder why they can’t see it in the class folder.

from the 1984 Apple desktop

This is certainly understandable. Apple, stealing from Xerox Parc and an idea by Alan Kay, started the metaphor of the desktop, where you could organize and keep your files. You drag files to a trashcan to delete them. You send them by attaching them to an email. You save them in your computer, you put them on USB sticks. In truth, it is hard to get away from the idea that the file is an object. And it has its uses, especially when we think about security and backup.

But to become more comfortable with the digital mobile world, you can’t hold on to that metaphor so tightly. Thinking about ‘where’ a document is has you think that when creating things, adopting behaviors that actually cause problems. It encourages people to not think about how they name files or using tags and categories. It discourages collaboration because it makes one think that things are not accessible or has people gloss over how they make things accessible.

To show how this works, when I create document I need to work on, I first share it to my other google accounts so I can access it in any account. (I don’t do this with everything, just the things I am pretty sure I may be working on remotely) If it is for a class, I place it in a folder that is shared with all the students in the class so they have access to it and they can also add what they have created to share. The same applies if it is for a group, such as a JALT SIG or chapter. I also use this system for student seminar papers, and Google Drive allows synchronous chat and simultaneous editing, so it is possible to watch what a student is writing and be able to guide him or her as they are composing.

Doing this with students is a bit of a hassle, cause teaching a new group of students these points all over again can be strangely frustrating. I say strangely because the whole idea of teaching in an institutional setting is that you are teaching groups of students who move on, so we should be used to that, but when it comes to technology, that ability to understand that we may have to teach the same thing again and again doesn’t really happen as often as it should.

In an article about Neil Postman, co-author of Teaching as a Subversive Activity, a particular favorite of mine, there was this:

“There’s this kind of dialogue around technology where people dump on each other for ‘not getting it,’” Lanier says. “Postman does not seem to be vulnerable to that accusation: He was old-fashioned but he really transcended that. I don’t remember him saying, ‘When I was a kid, things were better.’ He called on fundamental arguments in very broad terms – the broad arc of human history and ethics.”

I suspect that none of the things I have set out in this post is new to anyone who would visit a place called Digital Mobile Language Learning. And I’m sure a lot of us have gradually let go of this metaphor as we use cloud applications. However, if the person you are teaching or working with doesn’t have this understanding, your possibilities for collaboration are restricted and you are tied to the understanding of the person you are sharing it with. Using technology is not simply a matter of understanding it individually, it is our collective understanding of the tools. So the next time some technological collaboration doesn’t seem to be going as well as it should, consider discussing how they are thinking of their files. You might be surprised.


Back to Basics: A meditation on old and new with Joe Tomei

JtomeiTrying to figure out how the old bits mesh with the new bits. To get started, this recent NPR piece, entitled Millennial Doctors May Be More Tech-Savvy, But Is That Better? From the article:

The University of Texas Southwestern class of 2014 is celebrating graduation. Class vice president Amy Ho has shed her scrubs for heels and a black dress. She says with modern technology, med school really wasn’t too hard.

“If you want to do the whole thing by video stream, you can,” she says. “I would wake up at 10 a.m., work out for an hour or so, get some lunch and then video stream for 6 hours and then go to happy hour. It actually was not that bad.”

Millennial physicians like Ho are taking over hospital wards and doctors’ offices, and they’re bringing new ideas about life-work balance and new technologies.

One time, a patient asked Ho if it was OK if he recorded her performing a minor surgical procedure.

“He Instagram-videoed the entire procedure,” she says. “It’s not that a senior physician couldn’t do it — I think that they might not have the comfort level.”

Later in the article, there is this, which, as you can probably imagine, provoked a food fight in the comment section.

She means comfort with technology… Many have never worked with paper charts and they don’t read dusty medical journals — they look at them online.

We absolutely consult Wikipedia, not the library to find the most up-to-date medical research,” she explains.

Putting my cards on the table, I’m totally uninterested in trying to figure out if Wikipedia is an appropriate reference or not. What interests me is not whether it is wrong or right, what interests me is how computers can make things easier and what we have to do to let computers make things easier.

In this case, making things easier is impeded by the comfort level of the people participating. Yet the narrative of crusty old doctors versus hip interns (or, if you like, veteran medical professionals trying to stop the excesses of a generation that doesn’t know how good it is) can sometimes obscure the problem.

As an example, on a mail list I’m on, populated by folks who are generally computer savvy, we were discussing reducing the maximum file length in order to prevent the list from being overwhelmed by quotes. This is because the digest function of the list is set so that it mails out a digest when the total sum of messages is over a certain amount of memory. However, gmail and other programs hide that quoted material, so that someone writing ‘I think so too’ can end up triggering the digest function. In our discussions, it became clear that we didn’t really know what a particular amount of memory entailed in terms of text.

When I read this article, and saw this picture below, I realized that a lot of times, we lose (or take for granted) information that could easily answer our questions.


We don’t have a way to seamlessly add an image to an email conversation, (I’ll try to explain why that is in the future) but here, I would just note that as we are moving into newer and newer technologies, we are forgetting lots of information. Some of it, maybe most of it, is not really needed, but sometimes, we are setting aside things we might need to understand what we are doing.

Previously, I’ve felt this pressure to blog things that were for the more advanced, to try and bring something new to the table. But after reading the NPR article, I realized that I’d like to write about some very basic things and try and explain why some people aren’t ‘getting it’. So starting next week, I’ll be talking about more of the basics, but basics that I hope will help someone get into digital or (probably more likely) help you explain to someone how to do something. Hope you enjoy and if there is something that you think would be interesting, drop a note in the comments.