A few days ago I removed the Android version of one of my apps from Google Play (previously Android Market). I did this for a few significant development reasons1.
First, time. As an independent/freelance developer there is only so much time in the day. Any time I have submitted Android and iOS versions of the same app I have always had considerably more downloads on iOS. It is hard to not devote more time to something that has a larger install base. That means less effort goes into the Android app. This is not necessarily Android's fault just a fact of the experience I have with the two OSs.
Second, fragmentation. I'm not saying anything new but it really becomes problematic for smaller developers. Testing and supporting turns into a small nightmare. There are too many types of Android devices with too many versions of the OS available with too many screen sizes. Impossible to reliably test your app as an independent developer.
Third, frustration. This is more of my issue but providing support for users of the app is very difficult. There are so many variables to be aware of (screen size, OS versions, hardware, etc.) that how can I possibly know how my app will look and act on those devices. I have a couple of testing devices for Android but that's only mildly helpful. Am I supposed to only allow my app to be available to those devices? Then I cut out a huge potential audience. It's just not simple and it puts developers in a tough position.
I really like some Android devices and the newest OS, Jelly Bean, seems like it addresses a lot of previous issues but only a tiny percentage of Android users will have it over the next 12-18 months. I will continue to keep my eye on what is happening with it but for now it just isn't a good option for me.
One of those reasons is not that I hate Android. I don't hate it, I just have issues with it. Some parts of it I really like but the ecosystem as a whole bothers me. ↩
In a recent NY Times article...
Harvard students suspected in a major cheating scandal said on Friday that many of the accusations are based on innocent — or at least tolerated — collaboration among students, and with help from graduate-student teachers who sometimes gave them answers to test questions.
Students said they were tripped up by a course whose tests were confusing, whose grading was inconsistent, and for which the professor and teaching assistants gave contradictory signals about what was expected. They face the possibility of a one-year suspension from Harvard or revocation of their diplomas if they have already graduated, and some said that they will sue the university if any serious punishment is meted out.
I find this interesting not because it is Harvard, but because I believe this is an issue across many colleges and universities. Although I do not think the same potential punishment is occurring1.
I believe this may be a product of teaching too long with no quality checks and balances in place. It is so easy to get into a rhythm when teaching the same course semester after semester2. You start to forget what the students in front of you don´t know. You start to have expectations of the students that you shouldn't have. As a teacher it is a dangerous place to be in.
The other curious part of this story is why did the professor have a sudden change in expectations, why now? What is different? Maybe there was some pressure to change. Maybe those checks and balances started to happen and the idea of any "easy A" course was not well liked by administrators.
Additionally, I'm curious about if answers on take home exams were exactly the same or similar3. Isn't the point of an exam is that your students get similar answers? That means they all learned what you we trying to teach them. But if they have the same exact answers, that is an issue of cheating.
Lastly, consider this piece from the article…
The exam instructions said it was “completely open book, open note, open Internet, etc.” Some students asked whether there was a fundamental contradiction between telling students to use online resources, but not to discuss the test with each other.
What is the message being sent to students about this exam? Use every possible resource on earth except the person sitting next to you. Collaborative learning (when it is collaborative and not just copying) is a powerful learning style. When you teach someone something you know it strengthens that knowledge and when you learn something one-on-one it also strengthens that knowledge (See this article from 1995 and this one about deep understanding).
I would love to know how this all ends. I would also love to know how often similar issues are occurring at other schools. I know I faced ambiguous grading and directions throughout a couple courses in college. There was never a "scandal" like this but it caused issues for many students4.
Overall, this story highlights the challenges that teachers and students face in what is an appropriate resource to use for academic work and what becomes the standard for being able to apply that knowledge.
Obviously with this occurring at Harvard it is more of a story but if you went to college I am sure you can think of a professor/class that posed a similar issue for you. Maybe no one got in trouble or punished but the circumstances were probably similar. In my own experience I had multiple professors with inconsistent grading policies, confusing requirement, or even ambiguous assignments. ↩
I taught at the college level for 3 years. Which with summer courses is 9 semesters and I taught one course (Intro to Pysch) almost every semester along with my other courses assigned to me. It is really easy to get into a groove that is not beneficial for students. It took a lot of prep work to try to avoid it, and I know I fell into the trap a couple times throughout a semester. ↩
Take home exams as a topic is complicated on it's own. What skills/knowledge are you really testing? What is the true expectations of this style of exam? ↩
Its not that I´m so much better of a student than those that had issues. It was more of a case that I either preferred to work alone if I could (I like to have more control over my own work in a situation like that) or I assumed that the teacher was going to be very strict. In hindsight I should have asked more questions rather than assume. ↩
I set a lot of goals. Daily, weekly, short-term, and long-term but none of them mean as much to me as my life goals. Life goals are what my dreams and aspirations are tied to. Not in a self-help, believe it and it will happen kind of way. It's a way to keep focus on what drives me.
There are two camps, one that says focus on the details and the big picture comes together or don't worry about the small things and focus on the big picture only. At work, I'm all about details, daily, and short-term goals. But for me I always strive for the big picture goals.
The goal I set for myself to reach before I am 30 years old was not just for me to be successful but a guide marker for future goals. If I reached it (which I did last year at 28) then I know I'm setting myself up to make it to my next goal at 35. And honestly, this is all big picture goals are about. They are there to keep the focus on the long term. These goals are not only satisfying for me but also help my family. Big picture goals include and affect others. Big picture goals can help make sure you don't forget to keep pushing for something better.
Where were you in your life 3 years ago? What has changed since then? For better or for worse I can bet that most people's life is different in a measurable way (besides age). So what is different for you? Is it money (hopefully more)? It is the relationships you have? Is it the work you do? What about your lifestyle (sub-question: more or less active)? These changes that can happen in just 3 years is why you need big picture goals. Even on the opposite end, where if you feel that nothing has changed in the past 3 years then you really need big picture goals because what are you working towards?
I think it is important to note that big picture goals are not about being more successful at work. That can be your goal but the goals should be ones that affect change in your life for the better. It a promotion or a new job provides that, great. If hiking a mountain trail you always wanted to is you goal then that's great to.
Daily, weekly, and quarterly goals are great but the a great sense of accomplishment comes from meeting those big picture, long-term goals.
It is expensive enough for the actual devices for an iPad pilot, so why would you spend more money for software that is not going to determine if the pilot is successful 1.
Using a free management software like Meraki you can still manage the devices while not using up any more of your budget.
The real measure of success is how well teachers integrate the device into lessons and how the students use them to become more productive and/or more engaged. ↩
The folks at Klout have taken this all to heart and been hard at work on their arcane algorithms. Today they announced some significant changes. The most important one, as you can see above, is that Bieber has been taken down a notch and the highest rank now goes, appropriately, to the President Love him or hate him, vote for him or against him, but in a viable democracy, the highest ranking member of the government should have more social influence than a guy who made a name for himself singing, “Baby.”
Note: I was in the middle of putting together a post about my issues with Klout when they changed their algorithm. This change addresses many things I had issue with but I still think there are points to discuss that go beyond the often mentioned “who cares” or “it doesn’t mean anything”.
I actually find Klout to be very interesting1 as a concept and this goes for similar companies (PeerIndex). I’m addressing Klout because it is the most well known and the largest.
Measuring influence is really difficult. You cannot compare apples to apples with people and how they connect, lead or network with others 2. This is because the factors that are part of true influence include:
I ran a personal experiment to see what would change my Klout score, and as you’ll read in other write-ups interaction is the key to improving your score. Yet what if I’m having multiple discussions on Twitter about a programming topic but it’s all non-sense. If this goes on for a while odds are, to a certain point, it will help my score. This example really highlights the issue with the whole concept of algorithmic ranking, context get lost. Another example is I asked someone I follow (and who does not follow me) a question. We exchanged tweets back and forth. Technically they were influencing me because I was looking for answers YET Klout now lists them as someone I influence.
I’m not sure what the solution is to better understanding context 3. If it is done by people then it starts to become subjective. If it stays automated then it lacks the ability to really understand the context of potential influence.
Lastly, passive influence is the other big wrench thrown into all of this. (Passive influence means I saw a tweet, article, etc but had no interact with it directly but it somehow led me to be influenced on something. It’s abstract to a degree.) How could you possibly begin to measure this? I am influenced constantly on Twitter, that’s the beauty of it. I can look over my stream and learn something new WITHOUT any interaction. That’s major influence that is almost impossible to measure.
Ever watch "The Yes Men"? It's a documentary on the World Trade Organization and how these guys would attend conferences and events trying to mock the WTO but the attendees just go along with it, not noticing that anything is strange, just being polite. While interesting and funny, it is also a great example of what is wrong with many professional conferences.
Moving past that obscure example, over the past three years I have averaged attending around 6-8 conferences per year. Some I attended on behalf of my work and some I chose to go on my own. All usually are related to education, technology, or both (EdTech). Before my current job I used to go to psychology and sport related conferences (see my post on my failed businesses to see what I used to do). I have also spoken at about 1/3 of the conferences I have attended on various topics (this post is not about my presentations. That is a whole other issue, so I'll spare you this time). I'm explaining my conference background because I have made a conscience decision to attend only 1-2 conference a year until I can find an experience that will be truly worth my time. (On a side note: if you can convince me otherwise or have a suggestion for a conference please leave a comment, tweet, or email me.)
I'll start with the quick and obvious positives that come from conferences.
Point #1: I have not felt as if I have learned anything of real value at a conference in 18 months. I have been genuinely impressed by something twice in the past 6 conferences I have been to. I get real things done when I'm working or I'm teaching students. I need to feel like I'm doing something positive when I leave the building. (Also now that I have a family if I'm just trying to skip work then I want to be home. Actually, before having a family I just wanted to be home.)
Point #2: Conference Speak. Go to one conference for one hour and you'll know what I mean. It's nonsense and takes away from any possible real message. Stop with the bumper sticker philosophy, it means NOTHING. Also don't just use inflammatory adjectives and verbs to prove your point. Give me facts, tell me the truth. If I hear about one more (insert device here) rollout that went well and we only had some minor problems I'm going to lose my mind. I have done device rollouts they are complicated and require a lot of moving parts to work together to be successful for the long term. Tell me about how you worked out the issues with your union threatening a grievance or how you managed to convince admin X or teacher Y that this is the coming apocalypse. Those are the things I really want to know about.
Point #3: Most of the learning happens in between sessions. Look at all of the followup blog posts from ISTE's (International Society for Technology in Education) national conference this year. Many of them mention that the best parts were the networking and the stuff they learned in between sessions, at lunch, or at night. If you are not learning from the sessions or not valuing them highly then the conference or the conference model is BROKEN. Human interaction will always be great but after a while and with social networks the need for that interaction changes. It soon becomes a way to catch up in person.
Look at something like EdCamp. Teachers/educators rave about it and its spreading fast. The reason is simple, the sessions are awesome. It doesn't follow the traditional model and that's why it is so successful. Google "edcamp experience" and just read about how people feel about it.
Point #4: A few years back I wrote the following:
I recently attended and spoke at the [conference name removed] and while there were some interesting topics I realized professional conferences provide an important service to professionals who are actually working in the field. Besides education and information a professional conference allows you to gauge where you are in your career and validate (or possibly reject) the work you are doing. In many professions even if you work with a group or larger department you become secluded. You become secluded in your thinking, your process, and your expectations. Without having contact with outside professionals it is hard to expand your thinking or even be truly creative in your field.
Deep and thoughtful, if I do say so myself. (The rest of the post is mostly generic stuff about why I thought the conference experience is a good one. I no longer agree with myself.) Think about the last few conferences you've been to. Were you able to gauge yourself? How well were you able to compare your work with others? Were you validated or not (I don't mean parking. Although I did attend one conference about four years ago that forced everyone to park in a garage and then wouldn't validate anyone.) Did you expand your thinking? Change an opinion? If not or only rarely, then you're in the same place I am. I would argue that a lot of people are similar to me even if they don't know it yet. I have yet to see a talk, workshop, whatever that really challenges people's thinking and provides applicable benefits at the same time. It's not good enough just to put out challenge points. That's fine but it doesn't go far. Most people get excited for a few days and then just keep trucking along. I'm not saying I don't want to feel inspired but I also want to feel like I can apply something to my work or build on an idea.
I'm seeing this everywhere. I have watched two different live stream/webinars this week that were touting big named people with big ideas. I was not only bored after a few minutes, it was the SAME thing we have all heard. It's like seeing a comedian and then when you see them a year later it is all the same jokes. We need something new.
Another aside, a key piece to all of this for me is that I want to find that validation or rejection in the work I do. Except I either feel validation because its the obvious thing to do, I feel like other people don't know what they're doing, or I feel like I'm in another field where the other people are just talking about ideas and not executing them.
Point #5: Where is all of the failure??? Nobody fails? Nobody makes huge mistakes? We ask students to learn from their mistakes but as professionals we don't talk about them openly. (This is similar to the issue with professional journals, they only publish successful experiments) I want to sit in on the workshop on how an iPad initiative failed within months or the system upgrade went wrong or how about the time you chose the wrong vendor and will be making up for it over the next couple years. Where are these talks?
In order to not be a hypocrite I am doing one of these talks in the coming months. I started an initiative, it failed (read: it failed so miserably it was like it never existed.), I'm going to talk about why it failed. I think there is a lot to learn in my failure and I want to share it.
I do enjoy meeting people and presenting at conferences. I just don't want to feel like I'm in idle. I want to keep growing and pushing forward. I used to feel like conferences provided great opportunities but as of late I don't see it. I'm not saying no to all conferences, they just need to do a little more to get my registration fee.
I have yet to start or run a company of note. While this isn't a post about some collapse of a known business I think it is important to share my experience anyways. I run into people all the time with small business or stories of failed attempts. We all make mistakes we can learn from and I hope someone can take this post about my experience and avoid/learn from what happened to me.
I ran two small businesses, one with a co-founder and another by myself. They were two vastly different companies but had many similar reasons why they failed. I have some regrets about various parts of it but the learning experience was awesome and will help me be successful in a future venture.
My first company was a web startup called Dime Films. Me and my co-founder, Jared, put together an idea to help promote and distribute independent film online. There were a lot of challenges involved money, technology, money again, promotion, and other things. We started the idea late-2005 and launched sometime around mid-2006. (This timeline coincides with YouTube launching, different ideas and I am in NO WAY comparing this to that and do not feel I could've made YouTube. Different concepts and vision.)
Here is the description from the homepage. You can also get a sense of our business model.
www.dimefilms.com is a website created to stream & distribute short films; giving filmmakers a platform to showcase their films. You make the film, You keep the rights & You make the money.
Short films can be viewed in two ways:
1st If a film is copyrighted it will be sold as a downloadable iPod format film and can be viewed in Quicktime or on an iPod. Audience members will also be able to watch a trailer of the film for free.
2nd If a film is not copyrighted, it will be viewed as a streaming film for free and will not be sold. If at any time the film acquires copyrights it will be changed to a downloadable iPod film for purchase.
Films are separated in two categories. “Film Festival Films” and “Pre-Festival Films” this opens the site up to virtually every short film ever made. However, news clips, reality clips, and music videos are not permitted.
Our number one issue in the long run was money. While I am a better programmer now, I was far from being good one but I was serviceable. The technology worked and the only issue became speed, which was a money issue as well. We bootstrapped the entire project. We had discussions of raising money but neither of us knew how or where to begin. Our money got caught up in server costs which was expected but went faster than we expected. Uploading, converting, and then streaming videos was expensive. Again this is 2005-2006 so Amazon Web Services didn't exist yet. We wanted this process to be as automated as possible but at times I found myself converting videos on my own to save money. (We were dealing with short films so some files were enormous.) We also couldn't pay anyone else or ourselves so we both had other jobs which often becomes the "kiss of death" for a business unless the employees can transition into it. But without funding I found it to be too big of a risk.
Over time we came across some competitors but ultimately it failed because of us. Jared and I were living on opposite coasts (He was in LA, I was in Boston) which eventually caught up to us. We had different roles but its hard to run a business with someone when you don't see them everyday. I personally started having trouble keeping up technologically. I was trying to learn some things on fly and keep the site up to date. It was honestly overwhelming. I didn't know where to find answers to some of our issues and I was patching things as best I could. At some point I knew we would need a complete re-write of the code and because of our money issue I wasn't sure when this was going to happen.
We eventually closed it down because the server cost were just too much. The timing was pretty good just the execution was lacking in certain areas.
A few years after Dime Films I started another company on my own called AMPED Sports (AMPED stood for Applied Mental Performance Enhancement and Development). AMPED was a sport psychology consulting business that went beyond the average one-on-one work with athletes. Sport psychology has been around for decades but has gained in popularity due to more stories in the media about pro athletes using sport psychologist or sport psychology coaches.
I have a bachelors in psychology and a master in mental health and behavioral medicine with my internship being at an athletic center. I saw a lot of opportunity in this field to grow and innovate. I figured my tech background could be beneficial as well. So late 2007 I started AMPED Sports Inc. and started doing consulting for athletic centers and individual clients. I also worked on digital content and publications.
Over the three I ran this business and hit a peak that should have pushed things forward. During this time I spoke at numerous conferences, had working deals with three different training facilities, put out two workbooks (still for sale on iTunes and at Lulu), and had a few web products that were free, including a motion analysis system. I invested 1000s of unpaid hours creating content and most of it never earned me a dime. I hustled as best as I could and still struggled. Then in late 2008 I realized that things were going south and I had to start planning to make a change in my business strategy or move on. I almost made a change but instead I moved on.
In reflecting on how AMPED Sports failed I keep going over four points, was I just in an industry with an identity problem, stretch myself too far, have bad ideas, or did I just execute poorly? I think the answer has two parts. I do not think my ideas were bad. I was certainly pushing towards the right stuff and my execution varied from good to great BUT I put myself in a situation where I was spread too thin and some of the key parts of business suffered. That's why some things were just good and not great. I also think that is why some things that could have been excellent never reached that status. The second part of this is that I think sport psychology as an industry continues to have issues with perception and so does the general public. I spent more time selling the concept and explaining what I actually did than actually doing the work. At first I didn't mind but after a while it feels tedious and mentally exhausting. (I have a lot of options on the field of sport psychology. I think there are some people doing really great work and it can be really powerful for some people but there are just a lot of issues within the field, and psychology as a whole, that started to turn me away from it.)
For me it failed for two reasons. After the market and housing collapse of 2008 my services were seen as an "extra" or a "luxury" (for a lack of a better word) expense. I couldn't keep enough clients on a regular schedule and two facilities I did work for shut down completely. It forced me to find an income from other sources (teaching) which then took away my time. The second reason was that the places that stayed open didn't truly believe in the work I was doing. They claimed to understand the benefit but didn't want to invest in it from a resources and promotions standpoint. It was all very frustrating.
Teaching ultimately changed the direction my career was going in and goes to go in today. I made many connections from various schools and fell back into my hobby as a 3/4-full time job, programming and technology integration. I'm very happy with the work I do now and proud of the work I did before. It just feels like an odd path to take but one that has allowed to support my family on my own which I couldn't have done 3 years ago.
Mistakes are often (improperly) recognized as failures and while many times people look for what they can learn from a mistake, often they do not take the time to really consider the potential benefits of the mistake.
...Take a few seconds to let that sink in...
Let me give you an example (I know you're probably thinking "thank you for this example because that statement was a) so generic, b) nonsense, or c) thought provoking I need to read more". You're welcome). Sports is the easiest way to understand this (If football isn't your thing skip ahead to the more universal example). When a quarterback is under pressure and decides to quickly throw the ball it is hopefully where he expects one of his receivers to be, he makes his split second decision based on where he also thinks the defense will be. Regardless of the decision made there are only three outcomes that can occur: a completed pass, an interception, or an incomplete pass.
The more universal example: Let's say you're in line at a McDonald's. It's really busy and you are really hungry. You kind of know what you want order but haven't fully decided. Next thing you know it's your turn to order and you realize the menu looks different and you haven't decided on which number you want. So like any person with mild anxiety you blurt out the first thing that comes to mind ("Twenty piece nugget!") and now have to roll with that decision. Three things can happen, you are happy with the order, you are annoyed with the order but will eat it anyways, or you now have to change your order and hold up the people behind you and probably still not pick what you really want.
In all three outcomes (regardless of which example you chose) there can be a positive learning experience (despite the fact that two outcomes are negative). When I say learning experience I am essentially saying that the individual is getting better. Improvement comes from learning; learning what went wrong and what went right. Going back to the examples, the question is how does learning occur by mistake? (read: learn accidentally or by having mild anxiety.) Focusing on the more legitimate example there obviously there can be overt learning where the coach shows the quarterback film or creates practice situations that mimic the same scenario. But when this type of learning doesn't occur then how does one improve? Isn't this what separates the good from the great?
I believe those who do learn from those mistakes and go from being good to great have an ability to be conditioned by the reward/punishment of the outcome instantly. The faster this outcome is recognized and processed, the faster the individual learns (or improves). Self-analysis is the key. If I know that the reason I blurt out "Twenty Piece McNugget!" is because I'm anxious then I know I need to improve my anxiety levels not my ordering ability. Next time I can be better prepared to order.
To tie this all together, studying is an important piece of learning (both in sport, academics, and food ordering) individuals actually remember better if they make mistakes on a "test" (i.e., competition or practice). Subsequent performances may show better performance when faced with similar situations where they once failed but learned from it. Essentially, trying and failing ("making mistakes") speeds up the learning process over simply studying alone. So make mistakes it will make you better.
There are many rumors about a mini iPad coming out. The iPad is already a great educational tool and a smaller one could really change the dynamic of technology in the classroom.
John Gruber and Dan Frommer briefly discussed on The Talk Show - Episode 9 that if a mini iPad were to be released it would have some important considerations for education. The two key features would be price (estimated to cost around $199-$249, purely speculative) and even better portability than the current sized iPad.
I think they’re spot on with how this model would be perfect for education and possibly gain mass adoption. Portability should be obvious to people so let’s breakdown why price is so critical. (In my examples I'm using base models because most schools lean towards the cheaper end.)
1st Scenario: School wants to by 100 iPads for incoming class.
2nd Scenatio: School would like kids to “lease” iPad from the school at a monthly payment rate. Kids could either own it at the end or turn it back in. (Prices add in estimated insurance, cases, and a misc fee)
|Device||12 Month Lease||24 Month Lease||36 Month Lease*|
*3 years is a good life cycle because a high schooler may use it all 4 but 3 years could be 3 generations of devices and may want to replace it).
The money breakdown over time for a lower priced iPad Mini is tremendous. $10 a month over 3 year is very doable for a large majority of families and for schools to subsidize if needed.
The one issue I see with this device is long form typing. For some people it is difficult to type on the regular iPad and with an smaller screen that get tighter. Although I would argue that this shouldn’t be an issue because iPads should really be a tool not an only device. Long form writing would probably still happen on a laptop, desktop, or with an external keyboard. For short, quick writing or note taking the smaller form factor shouldn’t be an issue.
A mini iPad doesn’t just compete with other smaller tablets (Nexus 7, Kindle Fire) for consumer use, it changes the thought process for education. iOS as an ecosystem is the strongest for educational apps and the strongest for encouraging textbook authors to prepare their content for those devices. Apple is already working with textbook publishers so here is the opportunity to get in front of more students.
I hope Apple does come out with one because it could be the tipping point many of us are waiting for in EdTech.