This video is an old one, but a good one–and it gives a good (humorous) introduction to the “Ken Burns” effect which we find in iMovie (and in so many modern documentaries).  It’s an effect which certainly has some uses…and some overuses!

We had a rough couple of days on the Macaulay websites!  I sent the letter below to the community today–but I thought I would post it here, too, in case anyone missed it.

To the Macaulay Community,

You may have noticed that on Monday and Tuesday of this week, some of the Macaulay websites were inaccessible or carried confusing warning messages in your browser.

The first thing we want you to know is that there was no compromise of your personal data at all.  No files were lost, none of your posts were deleted, all your work was safe and no unwanted software was installed on your computer.

Sometime overnight on Sunday, a malicious hacker attempted to insert a script (which would serve spam to anyone visiting the site) into our web server.  Google constantly combs sites to identify such malicious scripts, and that is why the warnings (which got picked up by most browsers) began on Monday morning.  In order to protect all visitors, we immediately disabled access to the site while we made absolutely sure that there was no security breach and that all possible vulnerabilities were, in fact, closed.

The process of meticulously checking everything on the site and then having Google certify that the site was completely clean took some time, and this meant that for most of Monday and some of Tuesday, our eportfolios, class websites, internship listings, event RSVP system, and other Macaulay-hosted services had to remain inaccessible. We are back up and running now.

Attacks like this are unfortunately one of the common dangers of the digital world these days–but all of our security measures were successful, and even though we experienced some inconvenience, we achieved our goal of protecting our students and all of our community.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at joseph.ugoretz@mhc.cuny.edu.

I just returned from a visit to the famed Googleplex for the Google Apps for Education Summit. Aside from the fun of seeing the Google “campus” (and that’s a fitting term) from the inside, which felt a little like getting the Golden Ticket from Willie Wonka, I learned quite a bit about where Google Apps for Education is going to be heading, and quite a bit more about what we (at Macaulay) can be (and I think will be) doing with it.

We first made the move of our alumni email accounts to Google last year. At the time, the alumni were stuck on an aging, moribund, Lotus Notes server, and the email was slow, unreliable, often clogged with spam, constantly in need of restarts. Things totally changed for them with the move to gmail. The new Google email experience for alumni (and a small pilot group of students) was nothing short of terrific. The new email system gave them huge storage, complete reliability, and an interface (Gmail, everyone knows it!) they already knew and valued. Given a choice (and we did some extensive focus groups with students), they preferred gmail not just to their Lotus Notes email (no surprise there), but also to the Microsoft offering we were also considering.

And the transfer was accomplished (over the summer–maybe not the best time!) with very minimal pain. Google technicians were completely helpful with that. But it didn’t take much help. The system is simple to administer and simple to use.

It’s now been almost a full academic year, and for email, I really couldn’t ask for better. The many complaints that students had about the old systems, both Lotus and Microsoft, have ceased. Usage is not particularly heavy (this is pretty much what I hear from IT folks in all of higher ed. Students don’t use their official email, and maybe not any email, very much or very often. They definitely want to have it, and when they do use it it’s important to them, but on a day-to-day basis it’s not the most important communication tool in their arsenal).

So now I’m looking ahead. And I’m looking beyond just gmail. The real power of Google Apps for Education is in the apps–not the email. This is where I want to take us. Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Calendar, Google Groups–these are actually extremely powerful communication and collaboration tools. And they’re all part of the package, all included, and to some extent already familiar to students. As we start to plan for the fall’s class of incoming freshmen, I want to start thinking about how we can use these apps within the specific context of Macaulay’s consortial model. Sites for building webpages collaboratively. Docs for student assignments and projects. Groups for student clubs and other kinds of multi-person communication, with Calendar for their planning. The examples that I saw from other campuses across the country were fascinating and inspiring.

None of these ideas would make me abandon our commitment to open source tools and applications–when those are the right tools for the job (which is frequently). The Google apps are going to be right for some purposes and not for others. But there’s also a lot to be said for meeting students where they are, for using the default tools that are the most transparent to students and require the least investment of diminishing college resources.

And there’s more than that. One of the biggest takeaways I had after the visit to Google was that the Project Managers for these apps have a real and sincere commitment–not just to making the best products for their corporation–but to really serving as an example and a model and a spur and an incentive for innovation and progress. They spoke at length and very persuasively about their commitment to keeping these apps accessible and available across platforms. They’re not looking to make things that only work in Chrome, for example, or only on Android. If it doesn’t work well for everyone, they don’t want to make it.

I know, it’s easy for people to say that, and easy for a corporation to co-opt that kind of energy. But I sat there and listened to and talked to those Project Managers. I can judge sincerity, and these people were listening and understanding and thinking (you could see the excitement about new ideas). And what they were thinking about was making things that would help students collaborate, communicate, and create. That’s what we all think about, and I felt very strongly that they were on the same page with that. So I think we’ll be doing more and more with Google apps (beyond just the email!) and I think we’ll be presenting some great model projects soon.

So I’m writing this on Thursday, after receiving my iPad (no, I didn’t stand on line, I had it delivered!) on Saturday. That’s only about five days of use so far–but I do have some early indicators and ideas and reactions, and I thought I’d share them–especially because I just returned from a three-day trip to California (to Google–about which more in a later post), and I brought the iPad on the trip as my only computer. I left the laptop at home.

First–the simple bottom line. It’s a great device. It was just fine as my only device on the trip, and while I wouldn’t want it to be (nor is it meant to be) my only computer at all, it’s good for even an extended time away from home. So if you want only to know a simple thumbs up or down, read no further. Thumbs up all the way.

But the longer response is that there are several ways in which the device is great, and those are worth exploring. And of course there are ways in which it is not so great. I’ll get to those, too. So read on.


A student in my Alternate Worlds class asked “Professor Ugoretz, I was just wondering what inclined you to buy an IPad. I find the IPad to be another fad that symbolizes that one is keeping up in style.” I think that was a good question–and for me there are answers on several levels.

First, personally, I like new gadgets, I like to try them out and test them and see what they can do. I like to push them to their limits and beyond (I’m sure an iPad jailbreak will be available soon, and I’ll probably try that as I did with the iPhone). So maybe that is the “fad” aspect that my student was asking about. (But I certainly don’t much care what other people think of me having it, and I’m certainly not stylish in other ways.)

But it goes beyond the personal. Professionally, it’s part of my job to think about how new technologies can be or will be used in educational settings, and to take the opportunity to test that.

So there was never really any doubt in my mind that I would be trying the iPad right from the first.

What I love

The list is actually pretty long, but it all fits together under the category of the interface. I’ve seen lots of criticisms of the iPad saying that “it’s just a big iPod Touch” or “it’s just an underpowered tablet.” I think both of those miss a critical element of what this device is. It’s all about the interface. The iPad is designed around this fact, and that makes all the difference. Interacting with content without a mouse, with a direct touch of your own finger, makes everything more immediate and intimate. When you add the mobility of the iPhone, but with a truly usable screen-size and resolution, it’s a major advantage. I have had trouble letting go of the thing since I got it. You always want it in your hand.

It’s true that it’s a device more for consumption than for creation, which was a criticism I heard and shared before I held it, but it’s also true that consuming media through this interface is a radically different kind of consumption, closer to creation. More about that in the context of ebooks in a minute.

But it’s not just about consumption. It’s only been five days, and already (from the start, in fact) we have the iWork suite which really is all about creation. I’m not too experienced with and haven’t thought much about Numbers yet. But Keynote and Pages on the iPad are completely different experiences than they were on a computer. Keynote was always already far superior to MS PowerPoint, and on the iPad it becomes a whole new thing entirely. Moving images on a slide with your finger, twisting and rotating them with two fingers, aligning them and rearranging them and having text flow around them automatically all with your own body as the only real tool you notice–that makes the process of creating a slideshow presentation into something like building or sculpting. And a “word processing” “document” that can so easily include images which are really integrated with the words permits the easy (for everyone, not just the adept) creation of documents that do things that paper-based (“dead-tree”? “old-fashioned”?) documents can’t. Creating documents (and of course presentations) can be more than just text–with ease and elegance in the process, too.

When you remove obstacles like a mouse (even if it didn’t seem like such a big obstacle before) from the process of making, building, presentations or documents, those presentations or documents can be a more direct and more informal and more frequently created and creative experience. I see that as an unqualified good.

Back to consumption–something similar happens there. I’ve been reading ebooks on the small screen (beginning with a Palm V, then a Treo, then an iPhone) for a long time. I have never really minded the small screen, and I have always very much liked, loved, the backlight (I am a person who absolutely can not sleep without reading first, and the ebook with backlit screen is the perfect reading-in-bed solution). But the iPad takes this to another level. The big bright screen (and never let anyone tell you that color isn’t important) is great. The page-turn interface is good (although not terribly important to me). But making the text searchable (Dean Kirschner calls this an “instant concordance” and that’s a perfect term) and linkable to the web or wikipedia and integrated with a dictionary, at the touch of a finger, really takes advantage of what electronic books can do that paper books can not. I don’t think ebooks should replace paper books. I don’t think they ever will. Paper books can do things that ebooks can not. But the opposite is also true. The iPad is the first device I’ve seen that really elegantly and completely lets ebooks be what they can be at best, instead of just seeing them as some kind of partly adequate substitute for a paper book.

Where this fits in

Let me take that ebook theme a little farther–specifically in terms of what this could mean for education. There has been a lot of attention to Theodore Gray’s simply amazing “The Elements” iPad app. This is where I think ebook initiatives for higher education should be going. Not to simply re-create paper textbooks, but to do things that an ebook can do that paper can not. The use of multimedia, the hyperlinks, the brilliant color and sound and factual information. This is a learning tool. A book is, too, but this is a radically different kind of learning tool. It’s not really fair to call it a textbook.

More than just the multimedia and flashy (which are not trivial) effects, the tone of the factual information is critically important. I think that web-based (or iPad-based) educational resources have the opportunity–the obligation–to explore different tones that more closely fit their media. This is one of the huge strengths of the best (in my humble, biased, opinion) open educational resource right now, Smarthistory (for which I eagerly await the iPad app!)

Where the iPad can fit in higher education is in two connected areas– first, in helping to make possible these new ways of consuming content–these kinds of educational resources, learning tools, which are designed for the new medium and its own advantages, rather than trying to replicate the previous medium. So that “consuming” really isn’t the right word–there’s a kind of direct interaction with the content–almost a type of creation itself. And second, in helping to make possible these new ways of creating content–again taking advantage of exactly what the medium can do–using the tools (fingers) and the ideas directly, to create what you see and think and mean. I really want to see where students will go with this–what kinds of presentations and effects and documents they will create and what kinds of responses and interactions they will have. And third, that ease and intimacy of creating content and interacting with already-created content is really going to encourage and multiply that more informal, conversational, dialogic, provisional, digressive, tone. And all of that is what will be coming soon.

What is to come

The 24th-Century iPad?

What will be coming soon? That’s the real beauty here. The apps that are there now are only hints of what I’m sure will be coming. Video editing? No real reason it won’t be possible. Social annotation of images or texts? Absolutely needs an app and I’m sure we’ll see one. There’s room for brilliant developers here. And rewards. Sure, Apple controls the app store. I don’t see that as being such a huge problem as some of my colleagues do.

We just don’t really know how the apps are going to come, when and what they’ll be, and that is really what is going to make this device shine. For the iPhone, the apps have always been the main advantage–and for the iPad that’s going to be even more the case.

And hardware improvements, too–like a camera for videoconferencing, I guess–are certainly coming down the road. This is the very first device of its type (no previous tablet has been in this genre. It’s not the same kind of thing). So there are naturally going to be competitors and improvements and new versions. But long before any of that, we’re going to see more and more and better and better new apps. I’m hoping some of our students will be building them!

What is not so great

No review would be complete without a few complaints! No device is perfect. The keyboard is going to take some getting used to. I think for extended writing, I’m going to want to use an external keyboard. I can’t really touchtype very well on the iPad keyboard using all my fingers–even in landscape mode.

The rich text editor in WordPress is not compatible with the iPad browser in some way. You can use the html edit window, but can’t type or edit at all in the rich text. I’m sure there’s going to be a quick and easy solution for that soon (and the iPad WordPress app is OK–but not great for a WPMU install. All of this may be moot with WordPress 3.0).

And this is not an iPad issue, but a Google Docs issue. You can view, but you can not edit, Google Docs (except spreadsheets) in the iPad browser (same is true for every mobile browser–including the iPhone). I’ve been told that Google, as well as QuickOffice and other third parties, are working on fixes for this very soon. Similarly, I’d like to see some close integration (opening, saving, editing) with Dropbox. That could really make the whole cloud thing work with the iPad in great ways.

There are also some typical 1.0 type glitches. Some websites don’t load or crash safari. Some apps aren’t quite stable yet. But those are really minor, infrequent, and to be expected. This is a 1.0 version, after all! I have not experienced the wifi issues that some users have reported. Wifi has been strong and reliable for me so far.

So that’s where things stand right now! I’m not the only iPad reviewer on the web by any means–but that’s how it looks from my own perspective.

I had a great time talking to the guys at the Vassar Talk Tech radio broadcast (WVKR 91.3) this week. Not only did I get to talk about eportfolios (always good), but was able to stay and discuss the iPad.

Thanks, guys!

(Click the triangle to listen).

steampunk laptop from steampunkworkshop.comWhat is MTAG? MTAG is the Macaulay Technology Advisory Group–a group of students interested in helping chart the paths Macaulay will take in using technology, for current students and future students.  We had our first meeting this past Sunday, and we’re already looking at some great new ideas (see below!).  But we need more members.  Are you interested?  The time commitment is small–just one in-person meeting each semester, with all the rest of our discussion taking place online.  And the rewards are great.  You get the chance to make your voice heard.  You get the great feeling of knowing that you’re making things better for all Macaulay students.  You get a great credential to put on your resumé.  And you get to be the first in the Macaulay community to test new software and hardware as we start to think about making improvements. You can truly be on the cutting edge.  So if you’re at all interested in joining MTAG, drop me an email! (Or just leave a comment on this post).  Or jump right in and join our group on the Macaulay Social Network.

Now what happened at our first MTAG meeting? Well, here are some highlights of the Group’s first set of ideas/recommendations:

  • FlipCams–maybe try for the Mino next year instead of the Ultra.  It’s smaller and lighter.  Or maybe a different model–students prefer to have something that will shoot still images in addition to video.  Budget allowing, we will look into this. (Of course, everyone would love to have iPod Nanos instead.  But I don’t think we can sell that one to the Comptroller’s Office!)
  • Some people are noticing odd problems with the palm rests on the MacBooks–it seems that if you press down too hard with your palm or wrist, the MacBook interprets that as a mouse click.  This seems to happen mainly with the new (freshman) MacBooks.
  • About the Tech Fair–students feel that some sessions were too advanced for some students, and some were too simple (especially for our highly-advanced MTAG folks).  We will try to “track” the future Tech Fairs and put students into groups that more accurately match their skill levels.
  • How about those laptop sleeves? The MTAG folks like them, but would love to recommend better, more protective ones, more padding and a zipper, for the future–and in black, if possible, but with the Macaulay logo.  Again, we’ll see what we can do with the budget.
  • We need a tips and tricks page–especially keyboard shortcuts!  For example, the MTAG folks were happy to know that you can cycle from one application to another (in exposé), using the keyboard shortcut command+tilde (⌘ + ~).  Are there more tips? We can post them!  We can (and will) do this as a nice laminated handout, to go with the computers.
  • The highly-advanced MTAG folks, especially the engineering students, would like to have a highly-advanced workshop on installing Windows in Boot Camp.  This is not something everyone wants to do or should do, but we should offer more advanced skills workshops for more technically advanced students.

That’s a good selection of ideas, right? But I’m sure you have more of your own.  Or maybe you want to expand on these, or modify them?  If so, go right ahead and leave a comment here–or better yet, join MTAG!

Some special entertainment, direct from the lab.  Happy Halloween, Macaulay Ghouls!

Have you had a comment on your eportfolio yet? Or left one on somebody else’s?  The best way to get comments is to give comments, and it’s one of the real strengths of our system that you can comment on just about anything you read (of course, the eportfolio owner can decide not to allow comments, or to delete them after you post them, or to respond in comennts of her own).

CommentsIt’s a great thrill to know that someone else is reading what you write, looking over what you post, helping you to reflect on your work and experiences.  My own first “outsider” comment on my personal blog is from April, 2004 (a month after I started the blog).  It was just a simple comment on a post about conflicting anti-virus software, but it was terrific to think that something I wrote helped someone else.  Some of my other “much-commented” posts were about being Jewish at Christmas-time, about digital poetry projects and online learning, even (go figure!) about custom wiring iPhone earbuds.  You never know what will strike a chord with someone else–and often those comments give me ideas that I never would have before, and they let me know I’m in a larger conversation.

Of course, being open to comments means that you will get some “spam” comments.  Watch for those–they sometimes say something like “I liked your post” (with a name that links to some kind of spammy website), but sometimes they’re actively commercial, or even actively offensive.  We do what we can to prevent them on the level of our eportfolio system.  Some will slip through, though, so you can just mark them as spam in your dashboard and delete them.

So go out there and comment on someone’s eportfolio or blog! And look forward to some real comments on yours!  If you have questions or ideas about commenting, or about eportfolios more generally, you can always talk to your friendly neighborhood ITF.  Or even leave…a comment…right here!

IMG_0165Last Friday I had the marvelous opportunity to spend the day on the island of Staten, at Snug Harbor, joining some great Macaulay student volunteers (and one ITF volunteer) at the 2009 Gadgetoff.  This was a real happening, with a walking mechanical spider, pulse-jet powered carousel, enormous trebuchet (launching pumpkins and flat-screen TVs) and much much more.  There were three separate theater sessions of presentations (each presentation only a few minutes long) demonstrating ideas and projects from the sublime (the hydraulophone) to the heroic (the most amazing prosthetic arms and hands I’ve ever seen) to the ridiculous (the no-pants subway ride).  Outside and inside there were loud explosions, intelligent robots, close-up magic, and remote-operated submarines.  I do have to say that out of the dozens of presentations, only two of the presenters were female.  That seemed unbalanced, and I wish that the organizers had made more of an effort to strive for balance.  Women innovators are out there–we can’t let it continue to appear that the “smartest tinkerers and thinkers” are only male.

The best thing was that Macaulay volunteers really made the day succeed.  Our students and our ITF played a critical role in making everything work, making the day exciting and educational and enjoyable for all.  Take a look at the photo gallery (and some videos!) from the day, and be sure to congratulate your classmates who took part.  And let’s see if we can get more volunteers, and some participants, in the future.  I’d love to see Macaulay students up there on the stage presenting, as the future of the future–inventing, creating, imagining.  That’s what you all do best!

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