Tag: money

Re-imagining the Where, When, and How of Educational Practice [DMLcentral]

My latest post for DMLcentral is up. Entitled Re-imagining the Where, When, and How of Educational Practice, it’s an attempt to cover briefly three topics:

  1. The role of money in education
  2. ‘Disruptive’ innovation
  3. The DML conference 2014

I think my favourite paragraph is this one:

The priority here in education, formal or informal, should be upon facilitating learning, not finding ways to use the latest technology that comes along. While there’s an undoubted thrill in, for example, finding ways to use something like Google Glass, we as educators shouldn’t feel pressure to do so merely because it exists. We should focus on creating learning environments that integrate technology use, not throw the baby out with the bathwater in the name of ‘disruption.’ Education isn’t broken, it’s just being systematically defunded in order to let private providers ‘save the day.’

I’d really appreciate your comments – whether you agree with what I’ve got to say or not. I’ve closed them here to encourage you to comment on the original post.

Image CC BY The Knowles Gallery

Giving my visitors some (virtual, P2P) cash.

Bitcoin

Background

In 2009 Wikileaks started publishing data. Whether or not you believe their actions are justifiable, one thing became clear: you are not in control of your money.

What do you mean?

For convenience, for safety, and to earn interest, we store our money in bank accounts. We also use credit facilities and numbers-as-currency services such as Paypal to purchase goods and donate money. Using the latter facilities makes sense online because they’re safer.

The trouble is that Visa, Mastercard and Paypal stopped people from using their services to donate money to Wikileaks. That’s a form of censorship.

I’m not a big fan of censorship.

Enter Bitcoin:

Bitcoin is a digital currency created in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto. The name also refers both to the open source software he designed to make use of the currency and to the peer-to-peer network formed by running that software.


Unlike other digital currencies, Bitcoin avoids central authorities and issuers. Bitcoin uses a distributed database spread across nodes of a peer-to-peer network to journal transactions, and uses digital signatures and proof-of-work to provide basic security functions, such as ensuring that bitcoins can be spent only once per owner and only by the person who owns them.

The peer-to-peer topology and lack of central administration are features that make it infeasible for any authority (governmental or otherwise) to manipulate the quantity of bitcoins in circulation, thereby mitigating inflation.

More info

The Deal

Bitcoins can be ‘mined’ by using spare CPU/GPU cycles to solve complex problems. Done alone, this isn’t exactly a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s best to work with others.

This is an experiment.

BitCoinPlus is a way of mining Bitcoins using your browser. In fact, you’re doing it right now! (unless you’ve scrolled to the bottom of this page and clicked ‘Stop’)

Let’s go 50/50.

If you visit this site and don’t press ‘Stop’ in the widget located in the footer, you’re mining Bitcoins. I’ve configured it so that 50% goes to me and 50% goes to you. Unless you reset your browser, your share will be transferred into an account when you set it up.

But why?

  • Because it’s interesting.
  • Because it’s possible.
  • Because there’s got to be a better way.

Let me hear what you think in the comments below!

Update: experiment over, applet now removed.

Productivity: value your time

I’ve spent literally hours of my life doing something manually because to automate it cost money. I’ve spent years frustrated by cumbersome hardware and software because I could get it cheaper than that which delights and is intuitive to use.

But I took a stand.

I really value my time these days. In fact, if it came down to an auction, I’d be the highest bidder – no doubt about it. The realisation dawned just over a year ago that I just wasn’t valuing my time high enough.

  • Why spend twenty minutes online searching for somewhere to buy an item a pound cheaper? Are you working for £3/hour?
  • Why do you put up with substandard products when you use them every day?
  • Isn’t it worth investing in something that will lead to you being less frustrated?

My wife’s sick of me saying this by now, but I firmly believe that you should spend your money on the things that you use most often. For me that’s a bed, our shower, my computer, my mobile phone, and so on. You should also spend money on things that inspire and delight you. It all comes down to one of the quotes I shared recently that I aim to live by:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. (William Morris)

But more than that. Allocate your time and money on things that are important. It reaps dividends both in terms of productivity and happiness. 🙂

Why (educational) technology?

'The Thinker' and laptopBen Grey got in touch via a Direct Message (DM) on Twitter earlier this week asking my opinion and for some help. Although I haven’t (virtually) known Ben for that long, I like him. He comes across as a intelligent, knowledgeable, considered – yet humble and understated kind of guy. Given that, and the fact that what he was asking of me is close to my heart, of course I’ve responded! 😀

Ben asked:

I thought it would be helpful, and perhaps a powerful learning opportunity as well as resource, if I could gather a series of responses from a variety of minds in the field of education on the question I posed in my recent Tech & Learning post, “Why Technology?”  http://www.techlearning.com/blogs/20444

If you’re up for it, would you mind giving me your input on the question?  That can be done in the form of an email, a blog post, a comment on the T&L blog, or some other form of your choosing.

The problem is this: it’s easy to cut funding on technology-related projects citing technology as some kind of ‘luxury’ or ‘optional add-on’. I’ve got three points in reply to Ben’s post:

  1. What price education?
  2. Learning cultures and communities
  3. Invisible technology

I shall take each point, as they say, in turn:

What price education?

i_has_a_moneyIn his post Why Technology? Ben cites economic problems as reasons for school districts in the U.S. cutting back:

I’ve heard from several colleagues in various states that there is pressure mounting to cut both future and existing plans for increasing technology utilization in their districts.  Many districts are eliminating technology personnel as well.  The primary catalyst for this is being blamed on the economy.  Budgets are being trimmed and belts are being tightened, and it would appear to those wielding the shears that technology is the low hanging fruit.

At times of stress, we tend to revert back to what we know and be conservative. That’s why under-pressure teachers teach as they were themselves taught and parents tend to discipline their kids in the same way they were disciplined. But to do something just because ‘it’s the way it’s always been done’ or because someone you respect did it that way is fundamentally misguided. It takes into account neither context nor the purpose for which you or the organization for which you were are there.

Every generation needs to ask questions and tell its own story. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been done with education for at least a couple of generations. So as many commentators put it, we’re in the situation where students ‘power down’ when they come to school. They’re using the tools of previous generations. It’s at best anachronistic, and at worst dangerous to the intellectual health of the western world. 🙁

Learning cultures and communities

lolcat_tweetsMy grandmother is fairly representative of her generation. Not only does she have no idea when it comes to the internet, but she cannot comprehend how it can allow ‘communities’ to spring up. The latter point is something that is shared by others, some of whom are much younger than her. I have argued this point before, but most teachers, themselves being successful at school under the ‘old system,’ have if not an opposition to wholesale changes in education then certainly an inertia to change. Hence the status quo reigns supreme.

We’re used to both seeing school buildings and having not only children’s lives but those of adults being centred around the school day and the school year. Never mind that, for example, the long summer holiday was a result of a no-longer-needed nod to children helping with harvests! We carry on with what we’ve got because it’s familiar. But familiarity is no basis on which to resist change.

Newspapers and the media in general bemoan the breakdown of communities. By that, of course, they mean physical communities: people talking over hedges, leaving their doors unlocked, that sort of thing. What is ignored in their reactionary rants is abundance of technology-mediated networks. (I hesitate to use the word ‘virtual’ as it makes them sound less ‘real’) Just because older generations do not realise the importance of technology for communication should not mean they deny access to it to those who are already using it for such purposes.

Invisible technology

lolcat_invisible_everythingBut what is ‘technology’ after all? Pen and paper are ‘technologies’ yet we don’t tend to think of them as such. I would argue that it exactly our conception of something being ‘a technology’ that places an unnecessary barrier in the way of its widespread use. I don’t believe its simply playing with semantics to talk of ‘tools’ instead of ‘technologies’ – especially when the discussions about ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ becomes if not blurred then increasingly irrelevant with the advent of cloud computing. Laptops, after all, are almost commodity items these days.

To discuss technology is to talk about the wrong thing. You will always lose a debate if the only position from which you argue is that we should use more technology in education. The technology needs to be used as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. That’s for specialized clubs, hobbyists and those for whom technology is a passion. Education has the dual role of preparing young people for society and opening their eyes and minds. If technology, in whatever guise it takes, helps with that then so much the better.

At the end of the day, technology has the potential to change relationships and therefore disrupt power structures. I can’t help but think that it’s the desire of teachers to remain at the front of classrooms, senior leaders to remain behind desks, and parents to stick to what they know that results in no real fundamental, technology-driven changes happening in education.

What do YOU think? Do you agree with the above? What IS the role of technology in education? Join the discussion! 😀

Short URL for this blog post (for Twitter, etc.) = http://bit.ly/whytech

Digital things upon which I *do* and *would* spend real cash.

moneyI’m not a huge fan of spending money on software and digital services. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I’m an advocate of Open Source Software (see Open Source Schools, of which I’m part). As such, I believe that making software available free of charge – with the source code inspectable – makes for better software and communities built around the functionality the software provides. The second reason is that I tend to like to have something tangible as a result of any financial outlay.

All this is by way of explanation as to why the following are services that persuade me to part with some of my hard-earned money. I follow that with those I use for free but would happily pay for! 😉

Things upon which I *do* spend real cash

Bluehost

I have a number of websites and blogs, all of which need a home on the Internet. I’ve found Bluehost to be reliable and very reasonably priced. They’ve got CPanel installed in the admin interface, which makes installing web applications such as WordPress and forums a breeze!

Flickr ($25 = c.£17)

Photographs are incredibly important things. They are a snapshot of a time that can never be recaptured, and evoke powerful memories. Despite backing up regularly via my Apple Time Capsule, it’s important that I never lose the most important of my photographs – especially those of my son. That’s why I upload all the ones I consider important to Flickr.

Purchasing a yearly Flickr Pro license means that more than just the last 200 of my photographs can be seen and that I can create an unlimited number of ‘sets’ in which to place them. 😀

Remember The Milk ($25 = c.£17)

You may wonder why I’d spend good money on what is, essentially, a glorified to-do list. It’s because Remember The Milk (RTM) is so easy-to-use and fits in with my way of working. The free account is fine if you just want to organise yourself via the web-based interface, but the real power comes if you’ve got an iPhone. The app for the iPhone is only available to those who have a Pro subscription. It’s a work of art in terms of simplicity and adding to your productivity. Great stuff. 😀

Things upon which I *would* spend real cash

Gmail & Google Docs

Gmail features c.7GB of storage With Google Docs providing an online, collaborative suite of office applications that are just a joy to use. Every time I reflect on the fact that I can use this for free, I count myself fortunate. Marvellous!

Super-quick synchronous Internet connection

We currently get broadband free from Orange as a benefit from my wife’s mobile phone contract. We pay an additional £5 per month to upgrade the speed from 2MB/s to 8MB/s. But that’s only the (theoretical) download speed. We get about 6MB/s download and 512KB/s upload.

I’d pay about £25/month for 20MB/s synchronous DSL and would even consider £50/month for 50MB/s. That really would mean ‘cloud computing’! 😉

Twitter

Twitter is a micro social networking/blogging service with a 140-character limit. I’ve connected to even more people than I had done previously via blogs in the Edublogosphere. It’s real-time and very, very powerful. Some people call it their ‘PLN’ (Personal Learning Network). I’m not one of them. I just think it’s great. 😉

If, for example, Twitter charged the same amount for a year’s service as Flickr does (i.e. $25) I think it would be hugely profitable very quickly.

WordPress

WordPress is the software that power this and, to be honest, most blogs on the Internet. It’s developed rapidly – mainly because it’s Open Source – and very flexible and powerful. If you don’t as yet have your own blog, I’d encourage you to sign up with Bluehost and install WordPress on your own domain via CPanel. You can, of course, just use WordPress.com

Which software and digital services do YOU pay for? Why?

(image by Joshua Davis @ Flickr)

Better off because of Budget?

I don’t profess to understand the ins-and-outs of economics or the financial world. It involves some hard Maths, you see, that I thankfully gave up after A-Level. What I do know, however, is that, according to the BBC’s Budget Calculator, we’re apparently going to be £200 better off next year! 😀

Budget calculator

Has Alaistar been a Darling to you or not? 😉

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