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Posts Tagged ‘apps

In Singapore’s foodie culture, a crowd or queue is a sign of good eat. Following the crowd might be a good chance to take.

I read the article embedded in this tweet and was reminded why it is not always wise to do what everyone else is doing.

Microsoft’s Skype found out the hard way that following the social app crowd is not a good thing. Instead of leveraging on its strengths or developing something new, it tried mimicking Snapchat. Some users responded by giving Skype paltry ratings at app stores.

I suggest three takeaways that apply to educational technology integration, instructional design, and app development.

Do different
Going with the flow takes less effort than swimming against the current, so this might make sense in the development of curricula, course elements, and applications. However, this might be like doing the same thing as everyone else or doing the same thing differently.

Are you just delivering content and attempting to engage instead of designing to challenge and empower users? Doing the latter is more difficult, but this might be more worthwhile in the long run.

Sense accurately
According to the article, Skype Corporate VP Amritansh Raghav said that the new features of Skype were requested by users. Whether you are head of ICT or lead designer, you cannot listen only to your noisiest stakeholders because they might be a vocal minority.

You may chose to make data-informed decisions, but you need to know how accurate your sensing tools are and if the data are biased.

Needs, not wants
In 1989, Steve Jobs famously declared that the user is fickle [source].

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.

Jobs relied more on his intuition than market research. Since most of us are not like Jobs, what can we do?

I say we give the user — or in education, the learner — what they need, not what they want. Being learner-centred does not mean pandering to their desires. It means being focused on their needs and future, not our hangups and past.

One more thing…
The author of the article did not like the garish colour scheme of new Skype. There is an easy solution: Opt for the dark, monotone one in settings.

The edu-Twitterverse seems to like tweets like these.

The tweet included a Periodic Table of apps. It is a variation of a Bloom’s Taxonomy of apps.

These graphics seem to be part of a larger trend of linking relatively static frameworks with an evolving, exploding world of technology.

If I was a beginning teacher now, I would probably love images like these. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. Everything is neat.

But I am not and I am critical of such oversimplifications. For example, any of the “demonstrating” apps (red zone) could be used for almost any other purpose.

An academic might point out that arranging apps like this is reductionist. It is putting them in silos that were not there to begin with.

An informed neutral might point out that people like to simplify by categorising things.

An uncritical person might simply embrace the graphic without question.

The periodic table of apps is not the first and will not be the last to be shared online. While I applaud the creativity of the folks who make these visuals, their ideas should be balanced with critical thinking.

Like it or not, schools and some teachers like operating in the bubble of simplifying things. The wider world and life in general rarely operate like that.

Problems are not textbook or formulaic, and hardly ever come simple and prettily packaged. If teachers argue that school prepares students for life, then they cannot adopt and model thinking habits that operate outside that life.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

One might argue that once experts make sense of chaos, they should present the orderly information to novices. The experts forget how they learnt in the first place — through struggle, negotiation, asking questions, seeking answers.

Taking and giving shortcuts does learning and learners a disservice because it does not provide people the full opportunity to learn. If you are a teacher who wants to be an educator, you need to remind yourself that you do not serve content, curriculum, or standardised tests. You are responsible for nurturing a lifelong, lifewide learner. There are no shortcuts to doing this.

This is Part 3 of what I am learning with and from my new Toshiba Chromebook 2. Click these links for Part 1 (first impressions) and Part 2 (setting up a VPN connection).

The Chromebook might not be quite the workhorse like my MacBook Pro — it is more like a workpony — but it gets work done if it is given the right extensions.

By extensions I mean peripherals, Chromebook apps, and Chrome browser extensions. As I conduct courses and workshops that have strong ICT components, I share what I use to trick up my pony.

I tested two remotes — a Logitech presenter and a generic air mouse — on my Chromebook with Google Slides. They worked as flawlessly.

I also connected a USB dongle (Asus WL-330NUL) that serves as both a LAN cable adapter and a portable router. That, too, worked like a charm.


The Chromebook’s HDMI video port is great for modern flatscreen TVs but quite useless in most conference halls and classrooms. So I have an HDMI-to-VGA converter I purchased a while ago. I mentioned in Part 1 that the video outputs default to extended screen. I did not mention that the video might not retain the right aspect ratio and this requires manual correcting.

To keep my one USB 2.0 port and other USB 3.0 port free for peripherals, I rely on a 64GB Sandisk microSD card in an adapter in the SD slot. The microSD is great for holding videos or backups of presentation files.

Even though rarely print on dead trees, I learnt how to add a cloud-linked printer to the Chromebook. While printing a confirmation letter, I discovered that the default paper size was oddly set at 4″ by 6″.

Chromebook extensions
I use most of the same extensions in my Chromebook’s browser as I have on my desktop and laptop. However, I installed a few extras to help with presentations at seminars, classes, or workshops.

  • Keep Awake: Prevents the Chromebook from going to sleep.
  • Zoom: Functions like a proper magnifier instead of just increasing font size. While good for zooming in, it is not good for showing what I type because the zoom point misaligns the type prompt.

I have also installed Gmail Offline because I do not always have an Internet connection. My Google Drive is also offline, but I think only about the last 100 files are synced at a time.

Chromebook apps
So far I have installed just two must-have apps.

  • VLC: This media player handles just about any media file format, even those that the Chromebook’s default media player cannot.
  • Evernote: At the moment I have the app that seems to have been ported over from Android. There is a web version I have not yet tried.

I also use Apple’s iCloud version of Notes, which I keep as a pinned tab in Chrome. The other pinned tabs are: Gmail, Google Calendar, Feedly, and TweetDeck.

I practice what I preach. I tell teachers that learning how to use technology is often a matter of adapting to the new normal and transferring previously learnt skills.

While I am almost always connected online, the Chromebook has reminded me how to strategise and economise, e.g., when and how to work offline. To maximise what it offers, I transfer what I already know from other instruments and platforms, e.g., setting up a VPN, getting a better video viewing experience, or projecting technically clear presentations.

By adapting and transferring, the learning is not steep and is actually fun to do.

I posted these two tweets yesterday.

I am also glad to say that the app we developed with an internal market in mind, mVideo, has also been picked up by at least one school here.

We have done this without any aggressive marketing. We launched the apps during the e-Fiesta, shared freely over social media and one educamp, and worked them into projects with interested parties.

Interested in CeL’s apps? Visit our apps page or get a few more details at this shared Google Doc.

Do you want a list of (and links to) the apps CeL has created so far? Refer to my entry on Wed.

Do you want to hear what our collaborators have to say about the apps? Here are the trailers we featured during the opening ceremony of e-Fiesta 2012.

Dollar Dash

Video source

NIE mGeo

Video source

NIE mVideo

Video source

NIE Well Said

Video source

Kudos to the CeL’s team of programmers and designers, our interns, and our video team!

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Recently I had to set up a few US iTunes app store accounts for my staff at the CeL. Why not get my staff to buy their own apps?

iTunes Gift Cards by yum9me, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  yum9me 

First, I wanted to give them iOS apps as Christmas presents.

Second, we do not yet have a clear and logical system at work for making claims for low-cost individual apps. (These apps are considered software and are subject to an approval process!)

Third, each iTunes account can be authorized on five computers. With most of my teams comprising of four or five members, this was a perfect opportunity to buy apps for entire teams. (We resorted to this as bulk licensing is currently available only in the USA.)

But the process is not straightforward since my department does not have access to a shared credit card. So here is a workaround that is based on previous solutions offered by others online [1] [2].

  1. Create new email accounts (I used Gmail) with shared logins and passwords for each team.
  2. Buy iTunes gift cards for use in the US store. I bought mine from
  3. Use each new email account to set up a new iTunes account at the US store.*
  4. When asked to provide credit card details, use the gift card code into the relevant box instead.
  5. Share the iTunes IDs and passwords with the teams.

The gift cards work only from the store you purchase them from. If you buy an Aussie gift card, you must create an Aussie iTunes account. The choice of store depends on whether:

  • the apps you want are available in that store (there are some apps you cannot get at the Singapore store)
  • you have a usable address and phone number in the country in which that store is based*

There were at least two things I realized when trying to buy apps for my teams in systems that forbade it.

Lesson 1: This is one possible workaround because policy makers have not got their heads around new ways of using, purchasing and distributing apps. So much for being in the 21st century!

Lesson 2: There are elements of this process that one might label 21st century skills. I am not referring to problem-solving as humans have had to do this for as long as we can remember. Think about how and why you might do what I asterisked (*) for example.

The CeL will be offering sessions on mobile productivity, teaching and learning over the semester break in September. These workshops will be for NIE staff only.


Some of the topics might revolve around mobile strategies for using Dropbox, Evernote, the latest version of Softchalk and QR codes. Four of us from the CeL will facilitate one session each.

We have also opted to create an open fifth session. This will be done “unconference” style and we hope that other staff who have tips and tricks to share will do so a few minutes at a time.

These other open topics could include presentation tools, shared whiteboarding, smartphone based clickers for item response and feedback, photo editing, annotating and sharing, using location-aware apps, etc.

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


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