Top Ten Technologies of 2013

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These are technologies that I actually use, they exclude web tools and services which I do a separate top ten for. They are generally tools that make my life easier, more efficient and more productive.

Having changed jobs in 2013, this has made the list a little more interesting as the technologies I used over the year did change quite a bit.

Missing from this list is BT Infinity FTTC which made the list for the last three years, not that it doesn’t exist anymore, I moved in 2012 and am now connected to the only cabinet on my exchange that won’t be upgraded to FTTC. As a result I am stuck on a very slow 1-2Mb ADSL connection.

Here are my previous top tens from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

10. The iPhone 5S is a new entry and I’ve only had it a couple of months. It certainly is one of the best smartphones I have ever used. It is a big improvement over the older iPhones, not as much an upgrade over the 4 as I was hoping though. It isn’t perfect and it has crashed on me a fair few times since I’ve had it. I do like the new camera, but the one thing that has taken a lot of getting use to, was the new interface that came with the launch of iOS 7. I found this to be a big change and quite a steep learning curve in changing the way I use to things on my older iPhone.

9. Another new entry at number nine. I used a Samsung 50” Plasma Screen a lot this year for training and presentations. On a mobile trolley with a Mac mini underneath it was an ideal presentation machine. Air Server on the Mac mini allowed me to use AirPlay to mirror my iPad or the MacBook. It was much easier to use than a projector with small groups, and much brighter and clearer. Moving jobs this was one piece of kit I really did miss when I started my new job.

8. Sticking at number eight is the iMac. It is my workhorse computer, the one I do big things on such as movie editing, managing my photography collection, writing, large spreadsheets, desk top publishing and so much more. It is very much my truck when it comes to computing, but it isn’t that portable… When I changed jobs in the Autumn I lost my work iMac and started off using an Acer Windows 7 PC with a 17” screen… I can tell you I certainly noticed the difference.

7. In my old job I had the iPhone 4 and to be honest though I would have liked an upgrade, I didn’t need one, it did a fantastic job and I was sorry handing it back (which is the main reason it drops a place to number seven). The camera was excellent, and great for taking stills and video. The retina display still astounds me in terms of the visual quality. It was fast enough and apps opened smoothly, for a phone that is now over three years old

6. The Google Nexus 7 is my sixth choice. If I didn’t have an iPad and was ensconced into the iTunes ecosystem of apps, music and films, then it would be higher. I really like the form factor, it just works, in the main as it fits in my jacket pocket. As a result when going out I have access to a tablet device and don’t need to carry a bag, which I would need to do if I took the iPad.

One issue I have with the Nexus 7, well the version I have, is the lack of 3G, so I need to use wifi; it’s not too bad as I then use the Google Nexus One for tethering or free wifi in coffee shops. I would also have appreciated a rear facing camera. The screen is great and movies, books and apps look really good. The main downside for me is writing on the tablet, as the on screen control buttons are at the bottom of the screen, when I type I find that too often I hit the “home” button and drop out from what I was typing. It is well ensconced into the Google ecosystem, so great for Mail, Google+ and Google Docs.

5. The 15” MacBook Retina from my old job was an excellent piece of kit, mainly for the beautiful screen, using other devices really showed me how much I appreciated the retina screen on this laptop.

4. Though I liked using the Apple TV for playing and streaming my iTunes content and showing photographs on my Mac, what I liked more was been able to stream content from my iPad and the MacBook Retina to my television. Having lost FTTC one aspect of the Apple TV I do miss was the ability to stream content I had purchased direct (again) without having to download it again, or move it back into iTunes. I think the Apple TV could do with apps, where is BBC iPlayer for example? Also no 4OD or ITVPlayer. If the Apple TV had these apps then it would be even better than before. The lack of apps does curtail the use of the Apple TV if you don’t have an iOS device, but is almost a critical extra fore presentations if you do have an iOS device. There was a new Apple TV released in 2012 which plays 1080p content, mine is the previous model to this which does 720p content. Not sure if I would notice the difference, so didn’t upgrade. It looks like there might be a new model in 2014, wonder then if I would ugprade?

3. Climbing four places to number three is my good old Google Nexus One, which is four years old this year! The main reason I like it is the portable wireless hotspot (wifi tethering) that came with the Froyo 2.2 update. It’s not perfect, I do find that the OS is not as stable as I think it should be, it also doesn’t keep time well. However as a phone for making phone calls, it works very well. One of the reasons it has climbed so many places, was that I retired my iPhone 3GS at the beginning of 2013 and started to use the Google Nexus One as my personal mobile phone (I had an iPhone 4 for work and when I changed jobs I got an iPhone 5S, hence the reason for three phones in the top ten).

I have made extensive use of the phone as not only a phone, but also as a smartphone (using apps) and for tethering.

I am expecting it to fall apart at some point, but I still get great battery life, decent coverage with EE (better than the iPhone 5S on Vodafone as it happens) and it just works. I keep meaning to upgrade it, but never get round to it. There are some issues, the main one is phone memory, too many apps rely on being installed on the phone’s memory, which is quite limited, and as a result I am unable to install many new apps. It is also now limited to Android 2.3.6 so not KitKat for me!

2. Dropping a place is the iPad. This device I use every day, from checking that the trains are still running first thing in the morning, to reading books before I go to sleep. It is such a useful and versatile device. I use it extensively for e-mail, calendars and general browsing. There are various apps I use on are regular basis and many more than I use now and again. Airplay is a great technology which I used a lot in 2013 for mirroring and streaming video.

I do think the iPad is a great piece of technology for conferences and events and wrote quite a lengthy piece on how it could be used to support the amplification of a conference.

Certainly compared to using a large laptop, an iPad is a much better device for using on the train, more so on those trains that don’t have tables. It is also a great way of doing stuff in a café or on the sofa.

Blogging on the iPad is still a bit hit and miss for me. There are still a fair few things that I do on a regular basis that the iPad makes it more challenging compared to a device with a regular keyboard. I have used my Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad, but not always an ideal situation, for example when travelling on a train (the iPad keeps falling over).

When it came out in 2010 it made my top ten for that year, I did ask though “So my number one technology for 2010 is Apple’s iPad, I wonder if it will still be in my top ten next year?” This was a honest assessment, as experience of other mobile technologies I had used previously rarely got extensive use after a while, usually because of too many limitations. I do think that it is indicative of the success of the iPad that it is still in my top ten for four years, but it has dropped a place. Does that say something?

1. Jumping to the top spot is the 11” MacBook Air, this is an amazing piece of kit and an ideal technology for working whilst travelling. I used an older one for a while in my old job, but in my new job I have the latest version. It’s a really superb piece of kit. It’s fast, well it has an SSD inside, it’s light, the battery still lasts a decent amount of time (the 13” had a much better battery life, but the 11” is a lot more portable). It is the laptop I take with me to events and conferences. I think I probably could survive with the iPad for most events, however on the train and at the events I find I am typing a lot more. One reason for using a “proper” laptop with a “proper browser” is that some websites, including my WordPress blogs, don’t work particularly well on mobile Safari, and I’ve still yet to find an iOS app that works the way I need it to for WordPress. So though I really like the iPad, it doesn’t always do what I need and how I want to do it, for those reasons I use the MacBook Air.

So what were your top technologies for last year?

Top Ten Web Tools of 2013

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This is the sixth time I have compiled a list of the top ten web tools I have used during the year. I am finding it interesting looking back over 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 2012 which tools I still use and which have fallen by the wayside. My 11th tool would be Delicious, which I have started using more, but certainly not as much as the other tools listed below.

10. Dropping one place to number ten is Speakerdeck. I replaced my usage of Slideshare with Speakerdeck in 2012, and in 2013 I continued to use Speakerdeck as a platform for sharing my presentations. It drops a place, mainly as I did fewer presentations in 2013, so as a result used the service less than I did in 2012

9. Dropping one place from 2012 is WordPress which is number nine. I still use the blogging software for my blogs. I like the flexibility it offers and it certainly works for me. However as I did less blogging in 2013 than in did in 2012, though still a useful tool, I was using it less. I still think the only thing that is missing for me is a decent mobile client or iPad app.

8. Flipboard falls a couple of places to number eight. The main reason it falls is more down to Google than Flipboard. Google retired Google Reader and I was using that service to feed Flipboard. Though I did manage to import my Google Reader subscription into Flipboard, I am finding it slow to refresh and of course much more difficult to add new sites to the feed. I do need to spend some time working out how to maximise my use of Flipboard as a news reading tool, as when it works well, it works really well.

7. Climbing three places to number seven is Evernote, the online note taking tool. Since changing jobs in the Autumn, I am using Evernote more than ever. A really useful tool for making notes and syncing them across devices.

6. Instagram drops three places back to number six and I know that part of the reason was that in 2012 I used Instagram everyday as the main way of posting a photograph a day. I didn’t do that in 2013, so used Instagram less. I did try though and improve the quality of my images in 2013. I have decided to return to the photo a day thing in 2014, so will now be using Instagram much more than I did last year.

5. Dropping three places to number five is Flickr. Whereas in 2012 I added 1300 photographs to Flickr, in 2013 it was a measly 635. I also used Flickr extensively for finding photographs for the blog and for many of the presentations I gave this year.

4. Climbing three places is Chrome, which is now my default browser on my main computers. Even though I use it a lot, I do use it alongside other browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. What I do like is that I can now sync my browsers across different computers and different devices. Using the Google Nexus 7 I can now see and open the tabs I was using on the iMac or the laptop. I also like how I can do the same with Chrome on the iPad. Great when you want to refer to a site, but either can’t remember the URL or how you got there.

3. Climbing one place to number three is the Twitter. I use Twitter almost every day for checking out news, links, travel reports and interesting stuff. I certainly don’t have the conversations on there that I have on Google+, but when they do happen they are useful and interesting.

2. Dropping one place to number two is Dropbox. It isn’t social, but I use it every day and in some cases all day. Dropbox is a fantastic tool, in the main because it works! It was interesting switching to a Windows PC for a few months in the new job how my usage of Dropbox stopped and I was using an USB stick of all things! In the previous nine months though I did use Dropbox extensively and it was a really useful tool. It just works, to the point it is transparent and it never gets in the way of me doing my stuff, which is as it should be.

1. In the top spot for 2013 is Google+ climbing four places from number five. There are two core reasons for the rise of Google+, mainly more people used in in 2013 than they did in 2012, but in my new job it’s an integral communication tool for sharing links, news and views across the group.

So that’s my top ten web tools for 2013, what were yours?

You will probably feel disappointed…

The mainstream news sites have over the last couple of months been talking about tablets. Despite cheap tablets been available for a while, there was a lot of press coverage when Tesco released the sub £100 Hudl tablet and the £80 tablet from Aldi that sold out in twenty four hours.

Now there is a £30 tablet available, the UbiSlate 7Ci.

UbiSlate 7Ci

The key question, is it any good?

Well the reviews of the Hudl and the Aldi Tablet were quite scathing, I would expect similar things to be said about this tablet.

The UbiSlate 7Ci has wi-fi connectivity, but no mobile internet, however that is quite normal for lots of tables (including the iPad). It has 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. That lack of storage space means that you won’t be able to put too many apps on there and certainly not many video and audio files. Also with only three hours of battery life, you’ll be able to use it in the morning, but after that, you’ll have no luck.

Yes it is very cheap, but personally I don’t see it as value for money as an educational device. It will be frustrating for learners who would want to use it all day. In addition the lack of onboard storage would cramp the sorts of content and resources you could keep and view on it.

This isn’t to say that everyone should go out and buy an iPad, there are some decent Android tablets out there, I do like my Nexus 7, which is a really useful device and significantly cheaper than the iPad mini. However when looking at any device the key is that total cost of ownership, which includes how long will it last.

Enhancing the student experience

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Technology allows us to do things faster, easier and at a time and place to suit our individual needs; sometimes technology provides new opportunities and new experiences.

From a student experience perspective technology can improve their experience. Technological advances and new media rarely replace existing practice and media, but often supplement, enhance and enrich them.

e-Books for example have not replaced paper books, but allow access to collections that may either not be available or allow easier access at a time and place to suit the student.

e-Journals similarly make it much easier to find relevant articles and access can be from home, college or in the library.

The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is used in many different ways, but the key again is access to learning where and when the learner needs it. It allows access to resources, discussion, interactivity, assessment from a computer at home, in a computer suite, from a laptop in a coffee shop, via a mobile device on the train. Whereas learning may currently only take place within the institution or individually outside the institution, the VLE allows learning, both individual and group learning from anywhere.

Technology can also be used to enhance existing practice, making it more engaging and interactive. The use of video, audio and voting handsets (clickers) allow traditional learning activities to be enhanced and enriched.

The Journey to Information

Road to nowhere...

One of the benefits of the internet revolution is that is has widened access to information and knowledge, whilst at the same time reduced the time it takes, the journey to get that information.

Illustrated London News

The newspaper pictured above is available to any learner (or member of staff) across Activate Learning anytime, and anywhere they have an internet connection.

Forty years ago, if you wanted to access a newspaper archive you would probably needed to have been a PhD student or more likely an academic, as the only place you could go was to the newspaper offices and access their archives.

Twenty years ago, newspaper archives were available on microfilm, I remember when I was at university ploughing through the microfilm archives trying to find a series of articles. There was no integrated search with microfilm.

Ten years ago we were all accessing newspaper archives on CD-ROMs. These opened up access to the said archives to schools and colleges. They were searchable by keyword, but could only be accessed inside the institution. It was also restricted, as we only had one CD-ROM to one person at a time. Not all newspapers were on CD-ROM and generally the collections only went back a few years.

Today we have newspapers, digitised, searchable and accessible from any device with an internet connection. We have archives that go back hundreds of years or as recent as yesterday.

This has made it much easier to access newspaper archives, but brings with it the challenge of managing information overload. Learners need different skills to manage the amount and ease by which information can be accessed. The information skills needed today are very different to those of a few years ago.

It also means that we need to rethink assessment, ensuring that it is doing what we need it to do. In many ways the journey to information was in the past a way of assessing learning. However now that the journey is so much shorter, we need to ensure that assessment is based on understanding and not just discovery of information. Using something like Bloom’s Taxonomy ensures that when designing assessment it is more than just discovering knowledge.

The internet and web have ensured that the journey to information and knowledge has got shorter and shorter over time, this is a real opportunity to add depth and breadth to learning.

news and views on e-learning, ILT and tech stuff in general…

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