Colin's Sandbox

Archive for November, 2013

Happy #seaccr Festivus!

by on Nov.27, 2013, under #seaccr

Research Paper Now Available!

Better late than never, my recent (and overdue) #seaccr paper, “Helping Teachers Learn With Apple iPads in Rural Alaska” is now available via my Dropbox.


I go over in 1000′ detail the process in a Prezi presentation using Screenflow to add the audio overdubbing and some video / audio effects.

So – Now that I’m Done With The Class – What is Action Research?

The hardest part in this project has been the communication aspect as well as the proximity to the work.  I am not physically near any of the participants, nor have I met any of them face-to-face, making me a researcher at distance.  Then it dawned on me: action research requires ACTION by the RESEARCHer; it is not enough to advise some others’ actions through your research as the project continues through your findings.  Without an explicit spelling out of the role of the researcher early on in the process, and some sort of familiarity between yourself and the various participants, the humble researcher-at-a-distance is setting themselves up for frustration and lack of engagement.

The Wheel of Action Research

Let’s view the wheel of Action Research a minute.  The scope of this particular study was small, but at least one trip through these four main stages is required to complete the study.

I view the initial email exchanges as the initial starting point to my knowledge of the process.  The subsequent journey through the literature review process brings categories to light and sets this wheel in motion.  I would think that in a “real” study, you modify the process to look more like this:

Notes Concerning the Literature Review Process

I found the traditional means of searching through articles in the various journal searches to be tedious.  Either that or I’m just accustomed to having search results displayed quicker and the information I want available within a split second.  I got help from my classmates who were working on a similar project and then I spent some time rediscovering Google Scholar.  For an initial run through of articles I love how quick I can find snippets, abstracts, and full papers out there (some available free of charge), and if something looked promising only then would I dive through the library search means.

Going through Google Scholar allowed me to use Diigo to manage some of the initially promising results, and then when I focused on a smaller set of resources I relied heavily on Dropbox to make the articles available on my phone or iPad for later reading.

Getting a Jump on Categorization and Data Analysis

It is at this early stage of the process that I should have had established categories and workflows for analyzing data that was already present, such as the email exchanges between the trainer and myself.  This would assist highlighting areas of interest, identifying where the bulk of time spent planning is consumed, etc., and guided future inquiries into literature and planning with district administration.  This diagram explains this cycle best, except that I believe that data collection in a study such as this can be occurring at different, simultaneous stages of the cycle and thrown into the data analysis grinder.

Organization and Coding Strategies

It may seem a little tedious but I ended up using Google Docs to go through and write comments and code up categories for specific sections of the emailed correspondence.  The next time I go through this process I’ll explore different options, such as a hybrid Evernote / Google Docs system, putting the URLs to separate email threads as individual notes within the Evernote system, utilizing the tagging feature and marking additional notes / snippets.  Compared to the feature sets of the big players in the market, QSR International (nVivo 10) and Atlas.ti, for example, the tagging features don’t compare very favorably to the coding features offered in those commercial packages (costing roughly $100-$120 per student license).  The Coding Analysis Toolkit (CAT), an open source offering, looks to have somewhat of a steep intro, with a hefty 7 page quickstart.  [Looking for suggestions here]


I should have made heavier use of something like Google Calendar to remind me of when to send out surveys, milestones, etc., in addition to the events for things such as meetings and the teleconference.  That may help in keeping me focused on the study even though there was a lot more going on in my job than just that.


Next time seek many alternatives.  Get a better jump on data analysis.  Know the toolchain better. Run ideas by a few different devil’s advocates. Most importantly, make sure you’re in a position to do action before approaching the work as an “action research” study.

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#aktechplan reflection for week 6

by on Nov.26, 2013, under Technology Planning

I’m trying to figure out what place art should have in a technology plan such as SERRC’s. Our agency’s mission is to provide support services to districts around the state, as well as adult education. There is some direct student services involved as well, but I don’t think that directly teaching art to students is something that SERRC has done, nor do I think it fits into the mission.

Creativity is another matter, for I see that as something to strive for in how we deliver our services to our clients. Creativity is inherent in the process by which we find, customize, and develop processes in a more efficient, responsive manner. Creativity is knowing intuitively how the pieces fit together to be able to develop something novel to meet some new need. Creativity is intensely difficult to quantify; its firmly planted in the qualitative domain. You can whittle away at aspects of the evaluation of an individual artifact and develop quantizations of desired qualities, but still there would remain some amount of *something* that one could summarize with “creativity”. I think you can’t mandate “creativity” more than you can mandate “coolness” but I think it is possible to create environments where creatively may be subjectively judged and the environment nudged one way or another in response for future evaluation periods. I’m just going to make this leap: does an emphasis on project based learning result in more creativity? Does an emphasis on supporting project based learning belong in a tech plan? The State of Washington would seem to think so:

The rise of data-driven instruction and monitoring, and the call for critical thinking skills, collaborative scholarship and creative, project-based learning intensifies the need for technology-enriched instruction across districts large and small.

Imagine a project involving designing a solution to a real world engineering problem, say designing a second crossing over to the Douglas Island from Juneau. Let’s say a junior team of planners and engineers is on the task, develop ing a plan (and alternatives potentially) to balance different factors such as: environmental impact, traffic density, future growth expectations, and the costs associated with each alternative.  I believe complex projects like this with no clear right or wrong answer would yield great benefits.

I made a conscious effort this week to get out to more people’s blogs this week.  Matt mentioned in his blog: “it seems like our correspondence has been minimal. I can’t quite rap my head around why this is” – and I think this is something useful to track.  I don’t know how much research has been done in online classes in an open environment such as this but there would seem to be a threshold on the number of interactions a person has in a week, beyond which they are fully engaged, and below which the motivation drops precipitously.  The more of others’ work I read, the more it helps me keep in the game upstairs, even when I have other assignments that are more pressing.  Commenting / blogging just flows easier for me than “serious” writing.  Someone once described it to me as a coffee klatch sort of feel.  I agree.  I hope that my commenting helps keep others in the game as well but  I can understand a bit of the tedium with seeing the same people’s work pretty often. For this class, perhaps right after Thanksgiving would be good to have a WebEx or Google Hangout on occasion to go over a loose set of topics and have free time for a discussion penciled in.  Final push to the end.

Happy Thanksgiving, from Google Image Search

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Role of art, collaboration, and emotional intelligence to technology planning (#aktechplan week 6)

by on Nov.22, 2013, under Technology Planning

I find it hard to conceptualize either a technology or strategic plan that evokes “creativity” outside of the mission statement area.  Its use and measure is seemingly just so subjective.  Instead of simply using the nebulous term “creativity” I would emphasize the ability of technology in the differentiation of student output while still meeting coursework objectives as a start.  In addition of stressing the importance of topics of “emotional intelligence” and “self-actualization” I would mention how computers can help students reach a worldwide network of peers with whom they can turn to for collaboration ideas, critical evaluation, encouragement, and opportunities to mentor others.

When it comes to examining SERRC’s most recent tech plan, there’s no mention of either art or any sort of emotional intelligence.  Specific mention of the word “collaboration” is found in a few different spots; namely between management and staff, between the agency (SERRC) and other leadership organizations, and between members of the technology committee.  In the technology goals explicitly spelled out, there’s two tools that in particular that are commonly used in what I would classify as a collaborative sense: WebEx, and Google Apps.  However, there’s no justification given for using these, simply that they are to be setup (WebEx) rolled out (Google Apps) and that staff would be trained on their use.  There are no benchmarks given for the evaluation of these goals.

It seems as though with all this catering we’re being seemingly being called upon to meet, it makes my head spin around a bit. I created this quick comic to demonstrate what I thought of when I think of the various warring factions all attempting to guide planning in their own interests (click to view full screen):

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#aktechplan Reflections, week 5

by on Nov.18, 2013, under Technology Planning

Robinson (2011) is of course very readable but I had a hard time making the leap from chapter 6 of “Out of Our Minds” to this week’s essential question: “What is your vision for technology in schools?”.  Instead I found myself supplementing my reading with some side tracks on Social Construction of Technology, whereby “human action shapes technology” (Wikipedia, Social construction of technology), in contrast with Technological Determinism, which “seeks to show technical developments, media, or technology as a whole, as the key mover in history and social change” (Kunz, as cited in Wikipedia, Technological determinism).  Whenever I get burrowed, however minor, into a philosophical discussion with diametrically opposing theories I get to thinking of two apes scraping lines in the ground in front of them gesticulating wildly, indicating that it can only be their way.  Doesn’t the answer truly lie somewhere in between?  Is society strictly SimCity like where an inexorable march towards some as-yet-unknown technological future is in the cards, a la Asimov’s “Foundation” series?  Or does society play a big hand in determining what advances they choose to pursue to greater or lessor degree based on what is currently known?  I would like to think the latter.

Dwelling over this topic at the airport before my next flight, I had no idea that my next location was one in which access to the Internet was a scant luxury compared to what I was used to.  Over the past few days it’s been somewhat tough to get online, due to a variety of factors.  How we take access everywhere for granted these days, even at schools!  That experience grounded my vision for technology into something akin to Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”; developing a great tech presence is dependent on underlying factors.

Due to the limited Internet connectivity I had some difficulty checking out Chris’ blog, which may have to wait until I get back home I fear.  I really do like the efforts others are putting into expressing their views creatively in their blogs, and I look forward to being able to contribute in kind in the weeks ahead.


Technological determinism (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from

Social construction of technology (n.d.).  In Wikipedia.  Retrieved November 18, 2013, from

Kunz, William M. (2006). Culture Conglomerates: Consolidation in the Motion Picture and Television Industries. Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 2. ISBN 0742540669.

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#aktechplan Vision

by on Nov.15, 2013, under Technology Planning

I confess – I have been remiss in doing my due diligence when it comes to this week’s post.  I think that’s because the scope of the essential question “What is your vision for technology in schools?” is just so, well, broad!  I had a hard time taking out my critical tech-planning ginsu knife, slicing and dicing through various net resources like a chainsaw through ice, in order to reveal the “ONE TRUE TECH VISION”.  I should add “according to Colin” because I’m sure the answer is going to be different depending on the circumstance.

So here I am doing an onsite as part of my work, doing what amounts to a recon job to get a better feel for what’s going wrong with a certain [unnamed] district’s Internet experience at various sites.  It turns out that the key skill here is to listen more than actually do.  I’m used to probing around networks, trying to put various gauges on things, troubleshooting problem areas, but in this instance the boundaries of the problem are murky, the data, anecdotal and fuzzy.  Different teachers have different ideas about what they would like to do here and some of them feel thwarted by a poor Internet experience.  I don’t want to paint a picture of doom and gloom – I see some really *good stuff* here and there seems to be quality processes in place, etc., but some of the network foundation just seems rocky.  Doing networking in Alaska is not easy – even marginal bandwidth is expensive, oftentimes high-latency, and prone to frequent outages. Instead of doing the really cool tech stuff ™, support staff are forced into the unenviable role of the firefighter brigade at best, and bandwidth cop at worst.  I’ve been there – not fun.

This got my mind turned to good ol’ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, often depicted as a triangle with the basic needs such as food, water, and breathing at the bottom.  Moving up we find the need to feel secure in various ways, and as we climb further up we encounter more abstract (and yes, fun) concepts such as friendship, self esteem, morality, and yes, even creativity.  Ask any carpenter or builder and they could go into a long impromptu soliloquy on the importance of a good foundation before you can worry about all that other stuff, like doors, walls, windows, and a roof.   If you haven’t guessed it by now, I think technology integration in a school should keep a similar principle at heart.  Without a stable, reliable foundation folks are just going to get frustrated with technology and choose not to use it at all.  Morale starts sinking.  Because I got an “A” in my High School psychology class that one time, I feel qualified to throw another term out at you: Learned Helplessness.

So my vision for a practical tech plan in AK: a stable, well defined technology environment that allows for ample space to grow and evolve.  That may sound a little short-sighted and perhaps limited, but I’m not sure that it is.  Is it truly possible or desirable for a tech plan to be this truly all-encompassing vision of how it is all to play out, or is what we’re shooting for more of a stable foundation where ideas can organically take root, flourish, adapt, evolve, and if they aren’t beneficial to the garden, be culled?

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