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Travel and Technology

japanHow do you successfully navigate a foreign country in which you don’t speak the language and have no access to your cell phone’s data plan?

Nate and I recently took an awesome vacation to Japan, and although we were anxious about the language barrier, we found some unique ways to make it work.

Before I left the country, I installed several travel friendly apps to my iPhone. The first was XE, the Currency Exchange app that let’s you convert currencies. This app helped me stay within my spending budget because it gave an up to date conversion rate.

googletranslateThe Google Translate app was also very useful. It was great for translating foreign languages. This app let’s you either type or speak a phrase and then it translates it to the language you pre-selected. I used this app to translate signs and menus, however, it would have been great if this app included a photo recognition feature in addition to the typing and speaking functions.

lineAnother challenge we had was that I arrived a few days after Nate, so we were concerned about how to communicate to each other once my flight arrived. This was solved easily with the Line app. We were able to send SMS messages and make calls to one another over the WiFi network. It worked as well as text messaging and provided us an opportunity to stay in touch. This is a must have app for any people who live or travel to a foreign country.

But how do we use all of these apps if we don’t have data? Easy. Japan has a really convenient technology for monthly rental- a  mobile WiFi device.  It’s a portable, personal, WiFi hot spot that you can carry with you.  Nate signed us up for one with a deposit. We had to spend some time at the end of our trip to return it and get the deposit back, but it was well worth our time and money.

Besides the WiFi hot spot and the apps I used, another travel technology tip is to utilize GoogleMaps and the iPhone camera. Before heading out from our hotel each day, we planned our itinerary and mapped out directions in both English and Japanese. When the directions were loaded to my phone, I snapped a screenshot of the map so that I knew we could access the map even without an Internet connection. This proved even more useful when we got lost and couldn’t articulate in Japanese where we needed to go. I simply opened up the photo of the directions in Japanese and zoomed in to the location. The lady smiled brightly and knew exactly how to help us.

Overall we were able to navigate through Japan with very few issues. I’m sure we could have done this with travel guides and translation books, but books can be heavy when you’re packing light!



Tech and Sports: No Longer a Spectator Sport

NCAA basketballAhh! March Madness is in the air. Basketball talk is flying around the water cooler and many people are re-doing their busted brackets. I, for one, am still nursing my bruised ego from Syracuse’s 2-point defeat from Dayton.

Why are we so connected to sports? Technology has made sports more than a spectator sport.

Online brackets make choosing teams simple and easy. Not only are you choosing your teams, but you can compare your bracket to others’. President Obama chose his bracket on live television, Warren Buffet put in his two cents, and millions comment about live games simultaneously on Twitter and Facebook.

Fantasy leagues make it so we can play along with the pro teams, beating out our friends for league champion titles. Fantasy leagues also give the hardcore sports fan an excuse to watch every game, with or without the support of their spouse. Let’s hope it’s with the support, because let’s face it, being a fantasy leaguer is a life choice.

Technology helps sports fans to further connect with the teams they love. They can catch the games from their mobile devices, follow and interact with players on social media and record games for instant replays.

This sports fan is grateful for the increased interaction with sports that technology allows.



Women, STEM, and the Breaking of Stereotypes

In the last several weeks there has been a lot of media coverage regarding women in technology and girls’ dissatisfaction with gender stereotyping in consumer products.

stem1As a female Information Technology Manager, I’ve had several years experience working within Information Technology and online departments. My colleagues have been mostly men (very supportive men). At times, my “customers” don’t believe what I say about their computers. Only after they sought additional help, would they come back and say, “Julie, you were right after all!” My response is typically to smile and say, “I’m glad it has been resolved for you.” When in reality I’d love to thank them for wasting both their time and my time. I’m not right all the time, and I’ll be the first to admit when I need to confer with another colleague to resolve an issue. However, I was hired for my specific skills, knowledge, and expertise. Just because you don’t like what I’m saying, doesn’t mean I’m incorrect.

Too frequent are women in technology judged not by their actual skills but by their gender.

Some recent examples include Goldman Sach’s swag at a Harvard hackathon event for women. The biggest sponsor of the WEcode (Women Engineers Code) event handed out cosmetic mirrors and nail files to the attendees. They’ve since apologized, but what does this message send to young females? “You can code and make cool things, as long as you are pretty when you do it”?  Would Goldman Sach’s have provided deodorant and razors to a men’s hackathon?

When women are brave enough to display their STEM skills, they are often “thanked” with comments about their looks or sexuality. Emily Graslie discusses natural history, science, and the artifacts found at the Field Museum (Chicago) on her YouTube channel, “The Brain Scoop“. In her November 27, 2013 post, Where My Ladies At?”, she discusses how her comment feed is flooded with inappropriate innuendos and statements about her physical appearance. She also states that there are very few women on YouTube who discuss STEM. Women fear being judged on ridiculous irrelevant topics (ie their looks), instead of their expertise. Therefore, many women opt out of making their knowledge public. The problem with this is that it shows the younger generation of females to hide their skills and to be ashamed of their abilities. 

nintendoGender stereotypes are also played out in consumer products. The Nintendo Girls Channel on YouTube was recently launched and was very much a disappointment to female gamers. The channel is clad in pink and contain gaming mods that take girls on shopping sprees and spa makeover adventures. Pink is definitely for girls, and I have purchased quite a few pink items in my day. But that’ a strategic move– if I had a pink travel coffee mug or a pink baseball mitt, it was guaranteed it would remain mine and not confiscated by my brothers.

Girls are seeing beyond the pink and asking to break the stereotypes. A young girl recently wrote to Lego asking why there are not more Lego Girls with cool jobs. She was very aware that Lego boy characters had many more adventurous careers and wanted the company to rectify this inequality. A teenager also wrote to Disney, petitioning that they design their Princesses with more diverse body shapes. It’s uplifting to see the younger generation speaking out about gender stereotypes and their discontent for the world as designed by adults.

And there’s still more hope. “Hello Ruby” by Linda Liukas succeeded in funding her children’s book on kickstarter. Her goal is to teach children about programming. The use of a female main character, Ruby, positively encourages girls to pursue an interest in technology and programming. Another company, GoldieBlox, encourages girls to build and pursue an interest in inventing and engineering. The company has turned “construction toys” from boys toys to a gender neutral toy. In the process GoldieBlox has introduced the fun of engineering and problem solving to girls. If I could, I would work for GoldieBlox.

 GoldieBlox  Hello-Ruby-tech-book

Another uplifting story is the recent report by TechCrunch that Berkeley’s Intro to Computer Science course now has more women than men enrolled. Granted, there are only two more women than men, but it’s still progress. This progress was attributed to a change in the curriculum that included team projects, open-source resources, and opportunities to become teaching assistants.

It’s important to continue to encourage young girls and women to pursue STEM classes. To continue to question a company’s idea for girls’ toys. And for those of us who are currently pursuing STEM careers, to be forthright in our skills and to publicize the benefits of pursuing challenging careers. In doing so, we can encourage youth to pursue their interests in STEM without fear of judgement. 

CES and the Future of Education

The International Consumer Electronic Show (CES), a consumer electronics and technology tradeshow in Las Vegas, has electronic, gaming, and technology enthusiasts alike dreaming of new gizmos and how they can be used.

How will emerging technology trends impact higher education?

Curved television monitors, head mounted displays (such as the Oculus Rift), and interactive entertainment may have a bigger impact on education than you may imagine.

When we think about these technologies, we typically think about immersive experiences as a form of entertainment– television, movies and video games– enhanced by 3D, Ultra High Definition, and virtual reality. However, educators with the software programming skills and funding will be able to create immersive experiences for the classroom.

Photo Credit- James IliffThese technologies can be used to give people experiences they normally would not be able to have in everyday life. Virtual reality shown through a head mounted displays can help students and learners see the very small (microbiology), the very large (astronomical), and the very distant (ancient ruins). Imagine an observatory right in the classroom, giving students the opportunity to explore the moon and the galaxy. Imagine University Admissions counselors providing a virtual tour of their campuses to students abroad or unable to visit campus. Geography, World History, Art History, and Archaeology students would be able to virtually visit long-gone cultures and lands. All these environments can be created by a computer simulated world and displayed through a head mounted display or curved television monitor. These technologies will allow students to get a greater interactive learning experience than their traditional classroom experiences can currently provide. These technologies will bring the experience and the content to the student in a realistic and visual medium.

With these technologies, future students will get practical application of their skills without the risk. In a virtual reality operating room, Medical students can practice surgeries without risk or the expense of using cadavers. Computer programs can create fictional patients for students to diagnosis, without the need of hiring actors. Engineers can model their designs in three-dimensional space and give physical tours of their portfolios. Chemists can experiment with chemicals to view reactions without the risk of explosions and toxic combinations.

These technologies will shape the way we think about and how we design hands-on learning. It’s important to understand the emerging technologies and the implications they have on future educational practices.

Why– 3D — oh Why? Using Tech for Tech’s Sake

I love technology. I love how it can make our life easier. I love how it expands our reach by opening communication across the globe and aids in learning no matter where you are.

What I don’t love is using technology just because you can. Why write 10,000 words when 100 will suffice? Why take a zillion photos of the same thing? Over consumption and overuse of technology is not always a good thing.

glasses3D movies are just one example of why technology should be considered before use. I’m all for great cinematography, in fact, that’s my number one criteria for a good movie. But when you have a bunch of stuff flying at me just because 3D is “cool”, I’m not impressed. I think it’s a money-making scheme and a waste of imagination and talent. However, if 3D is used to express emotion- such as in Disney’s “Up” where Carl and Russel trek to Paradise Falls on foot and the 3D adds so much dimension to the path that you feel despair and begin to wonder if they’ll ever reach the Falls- that feeling makes 3D worth it.

So, from the educational technologist’s viewpoint, I urge you this:

Think Before You Tech!

Make sound decisions about the technology’s goal. If it can’t aid in the communication process, add value to the class objectives, or enhance a learner’s experience, take a step back and rethink the use of the technology.

Avoiding the “T” Word

Engaging Faculty in the Use of Technology Without Using the “T” Word

danland_logoI’ve added “Wind” to the “Windy City” this week.  I co-presented at CALIcon13: Conference for Law School Computing in Chicago.

My topic can be useful for any EdTech Professional. It covers how to communicate and reach your Faculty about technology without evoking fear, stress, anxiety and dissonance. These feelings typically hinder innovation and adoption of Educational Technology.

You can view the content slides with notes in PDF Format or watch the hour-long recording starring yours truly (and co-starring the man that signs her paychecks):

Key Points include:

  • Advocate for the person who uses the tool, not just the tool
  • Support people, who in turn, support the Educational Mission
  • Don’t find a problem for the tool, find a tool for the problem
  • Craft your message and language specific to your audience
  • When communicating, be Simple (concise), Specific (give every detail necessary, but only the necessary details), and Visual.
  • Know what you are saying
  • Know who you are saying it to
  • Build relationships to build trust to build collaboration

If You Build IT They Will Come

ComputerThere are many thoughts regarding technology and innovation in Instructional Design.

The advice that is most often given is  Don’t Use Technology for Technology’s Sake.

What this means is that an Instructional Designer should not build instruction around the tool, but the tool should have a meaningful impact on the learning objectives. A tool should only be used if it will aid in the instruction and not hinder it. Technology will hinder instruction if 1) An instructor or learner does not know how to effectively use it and as a result, spends too much of instructional time trying to learn the tool, not the content and/or 2) The technology is so cool it’s a distraction.

In both cases the learner may lose out on the true purpose of the instruction because the focus is on the technology.

An Instructional Designer, therefore, must design the instruction with first, the learning objectives in mind, then design the instruction for the mode of communication (aka technology), whether it be Face-to-Face Instructor Led, eLearning, Mobile Learning, or self-paced study.classroom

However, let’s play devil’s advocate. What if we have an instructor that is so fearful (or afraid of looking incompetent) of technology that it dis-services its learners. An instructor that does not use technology to aid an instruction may be promoting an image of stagnation and as a result may drive away potential learners that were seeking “state of the art” education. Applying my business background here, it’s as simple as putting the right product with the right person at the right place. If the learners want technology-supported instruction, what’s stopping them from pursuing their goals at a competing institution that is giving them their needs?

As an Instructional Designer, is it best to force the technology, that is, build it into a classroom and instruction in the mere hope that the instructor will follow? Showing what technology can actually do in the real-life instructional environment may encourage the use of that technology. Or at least more so than a verbal description of the technology. In this way, showing how the technology can be applied to the instruction is a great way to stimulate the use. And the only way to show the technology is to have it.

And hence, taking from A Field of Dreams, If you build IT (Informational Technology), they will come. I hope.

EduSoCal Keynote by Wesch


At EduSoCal 2013 I was able to collaborate and speak with other EdTech and Instructional Design professionals.  EduSoCal (@EduSoCal), is “the premier face-to-face conference in California where you Meet/Share/Learn/Play with your local peers and colleagues working in the fields of Information and Educational technology.”

weschThe Keynote Address by Michael Wesch (@mwesch) was not only informational, but affirming as well. Wesch is a cultural anthropologist exploring the effects of new media on society and culture and his speech gave some valuable insight on Transformative Learning Theory and new media.

Wesch stated, “asking questions is the most amazing thing humans do; questions are the beginning point of deep learning.” Therefore, his basic theme involved helping students “Learn to Learn”.

In designing his courses, he doesn’t design them for the sake of instruction, but for Transformative Learning. As stated in an earlier post, this learning theory focuses on how the learner will revise and interpret learning to change their point of view. Transformative Learning is the process of changing one’s frame of reference.

Michael Wesch discussed how in education we need to embrace Transformative Learning by enabling students to become adaptive experts rather than passive absorbers of information. His focus is on stimulating wonder. He stimulates wonder by allowing his students to A) pick a project and B) pick new media. By allowing the students to pick their projects and media it helps the students accomplish a goal without the want for a grade.

An example of one such project is when students decided to research the accessibility of a city by bicycle. They used a free source Internet Map (similar to GoogleMaps) to map out dangerous areas for bikes. The result was visible evidence of how poorly the city was designed for bikes. Even more significant, the project caught the eye of city council and brought on change to the infrastructure.

When asked, which three instructional tools/techniques he’d bring to a deserted Island (while ignoring the logical problems of this scenario) to teach. He described a three step process:

1)      Make sure that the Project is Real and Relevant. Real meaning that the instructor does not know the answer. And Relevant means that students will work on it even if a grade is not associated with the project.

2)      The project must Build Community (like the biking community).

3)      The project must Leverage Technology (like the bike map).

What is also important is that the core assumption for IT people should be that of connecting people. Don’t use technology for technology’s sake. Use technology to connect or build community. My goal of this blog is not just to use a blog, but to gain a following of like-minded people or people also interested in EdTech and Instructional Design.

Finally, a poignant statement made by Wesch is that “technology is a Trojan horse for changing education, but it needs an army inside the horse.” What he meant by this is that technology is a great way to change education, however, you still need a slew of people or EdTech professionals (the army) to conquer (change) education.

Now, I’ll leave you with one last thought (and please comment below or tweet @julietausend): How do you convince administration and other colleagues to not only support but design a Transformative Learning experience with the appropriate technologies?

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