Back in a Rut

Last year I made one of my goals to block out time each week to blog about project updates, new & upcoming work, etc. I’d say (without going back and looking), I ended up doing the reflections on a monthly basis rather than weekly. But even as 2012 came to an end, my posts were getting more and more distant. Aside from the post I did about 2 weeks ago, I don’t think I’ve done any serious blogging since 2012.It’s not that I don’t want to. In fact, I would love to blog 2-3x each week. It’s not that I’m too busy at work, in fact, I’m sure I could carve out enough time to do the aforementioned 2-3 blog posts per week. It’s seriously a lack of motivation. I just don’t have the drive to do it. I know that personal reflection and critical thinking are great forms of professional development, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to set aside the necessary time.Needless to say, I’m back in a rut. A blogging rut. And I just don’t know what to do about it.Are you a professional blogger, or even someone who has their own blog site? How do you keep up with blogging on a set schedule? What type of accountability helps you?Help me!

A Screw You, With Line Breaks

Today is only Thursday, and there have been 2 big announcements in the world of technology this week. Google gives everyone a big “screw you,” and Twitter takes 140 characters to the max…

Google Reader to be sunset.

GoogleIf you’re not familiar with what “sunset” means, it’s Google’s way of saying that the service will no longer be offered to their users. A while back, Google discontinued the free version of Google Apps, which I covered here. In this case, it’s Google Reader. Google Reader has been around since 2005 and has provided thousands (if not millions) of users with the ability to catch up on their favorite websites in 1 location with the use of RSS feeds.A statement from the Google Blog:

“While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader.”

Talk about a blow to the tech community. Personally, I have about 200 websites that I sort, filter, read, and share using Reader. And now, with no real rhyme or reason, that will change. Granted, Google has made changes (read: taken away features) to Reader over the years, but it was still the leading provider in RSS organization. What product will be a viable alternative? Many people are looking at Feedly, Reeder, and others. I’ve been using Feeddler on the iPad & iPhone for quite some time, and I love it. The problem is that they don’t make a program for the desktop. I’m hoping that this announcement from Google will change that.There is an online petition at, where thousands of people have signed up begging Google to continue support. In my opinion, if they did decide to continue support based on the outcry, it would be in infrastructure alone. There would be no feature updates, and Google support would not help when something breaks. With that in mind, I’m not sure it would be worth the headache that users would have to endure.So, while Google says “screw you,” I say back to Google, “screw you, too!”

Twitter supports line breaks

This is probably one of the worst things that Twitter could do. The service has always been based on a 140-character message, and by allowing line breaks, you draw out the inevitable. Not to mention, it’s ugly to look at. The Huffington Post tested out this feature with the tweet below:

Of course, this post does not include the line breaks because it’s only visible in the native Twitter clients and the Twitter website. So if you really want to see how annoying people can be now, click here.Like I said, these things happened in the last 48 hours. I hate to think about what can happen in the coming 48 hours…

Google Screws Over Small Businesses & Consumers

Google AppsI’ll be the first to admit – There are some topics of which I have very strong opinions.This is one of them.There are reports coming out today that indicate that Google will no longer be offering the free version of Google Apps. I haven’t yet seen a date for this to take effect, however I think that this is a decision that will greatly impact small businesses and individuals.Since Google Apps for Business came out, there was a desire for small businesses to take advantage of the Gmail / Google Calendar infrastructure. They accomplished this by offering a free version of Google Apps for Businesses. This service was almost identical to the premium version, however it had mailbox quotas and a few minordifferences. None of these, however, were any reason not to use Google Apps. As a freelance web designer and web consultant, I oftentimes recommended the free version to my clients. cPanel, by default, only included SquirrelMail, which is a terrible option for small businesses looking to effectively use email and calendaring options within their organization. Now, that’s not possible.Also, many families create blogs to share what’s happening in their lives. Some of these families (like ours) has a primary “family email address” that we use for our utilities, and other bills. This way we can all see what’s coming through. The best way for this has been through the free version of Google Apps. Needless to say, paying $50/user/year is not a worthwhile investment for families to have this as a viable solution.I love Google, trust me, I do. But I think this decision will severely impact small businesses and families who don’t want to pay for email services. Sure, they can create an address, but that’s not nearly as professional as I’m sure Google doesn’t see their focusing of resources as a problem, but trust me, small businesses always pay the price.For more info about this announcement, read this easy-to-follow article from CNet.

My 30-second Review of Mountain Lion

Apple released OS X 10.8, otherwise known as Mountain Lion, today. I was pretty quick to grab it, mostly because I’m an Apple fanboy. I’ve been playing with it for the last 45 minutes or so, and thought I’d post a quick review with some of my initial thoughts…mountain lion install imageDownload and installation. This part was pretty painless. The download took about 45 minutes and the install took about 30 minutes. All in all, this went pretty smoothly. I was a little shocked initially during the download, because it was moving quickly and then came to a screeching halt for about 10 minutes. I was worried something went wrong. Luckily, not so…Initial reboot. The initial reboot took a tad longer than normal, but I expected that. As with most other softwares that you install, the OS has to configure itself for the first launch. Not a big deal. Once the OS loaded and I was in Finder, I ran into a few snags. Here they are:

Java SE 6 runtime. The first time the OS loaded, I received a pop-up message about needing to install Java SE 6 runtime. This is a program that is needed with many other aspects of the computer, including surfing the web, Adobe Creative Suite, etc. The message does give you the option to install the software, however the Apple Software Update returns a message that it can’t find the software to install. It’s a catch-22. Luckily, I did some searching and found the software package needed. Feel free to click here if you need to download/install Java SE 6 runtime. mountain lion inboxes imageMail. Apple Mail will do a rebuild of your accounts/mailboxes to optimize for the new OS. This process took about 15 minutes, but will probably vary based on how large your mailboxes are. Once I got into Mail, it was pretty easy going. One noticeable change is that there is a folder at the top (right under Inbox) for flagged messages. The annoying thing is that I can’t get rid of it. I like having a shortcut at the top of my mailboxes that allows me to quickly view my flagged messages, but I don’t like having the message count listed near my Inbox. Call me OCD, anal-retentive, whatever. It’s kind of annoying. I like that you can flag senders as VIP, similar to Gmail, but I don’t think that’s a feature I would use very much.Reminders. Apple pretty much took this right from iOS, which isn’t a bad thing. There are 2 things that I don’t like about this app, 1) You can’t reorder the items in your list. It appears that they are randomly ordered, which makes it difficult if you have a reminder that you need for today showing up under an item for next month. 2) I don’t like that this is separate from Calendar (formerly iCal). I liked having them together so I could easily compare my to-do list with the meetings I have going on. This prevents that from happening in the future.Notes. I like this app and it will probably replace Stickies for me. Allowing me to sync quick notes between devices is extremely helpful. I say “quick” notes because my meeting notes and extended notes will probably continue to stay in Evernote, at least for the time being. The 1 flaw with this is that Exchange accounts can’t sync Notes on iOS, however they can in Mountain Lion. Since my work email system is Exchange, this means I can’t have work notes sync between devices. Gmail, iCloud, and other systems appear to be fine.Calendar. Aside from my complaint with Reminders, I like the new design. Having the calendar list pinned to the left side is a nice change and is much more practical than having it as a disappearing box at the top. Well done.Notification Center. I honestly haven’t done much with it yet, but I’ll add more thoughts to this in the future when I use it more. I can say that I like the Growl integration when new messages (email, chat, etc.) come in. So far so good.

I think that does it for my 30-second review. I’m sure I’ll add more in the future. Let me know your thoughts!!

Weekly Reflections

I had a great conversation yesterday with my supervisor as we concluded my annual review. One of the goals I had set for myself was to set aside time for weekly reflection – a time where I could comment on the projects I was involved with. When we finally got to the goals, I had to admit that I didn’t succeed in that area. I had gone almost a full year without reflecting on my projects—And with the year I had, that’s a lot of projects! I spent a minute or two trying to figure out why I had neglected this goal:

  • Was I too busy to make time?
  • Did I not know what to say?
  • Was I afraid of the negative content I might divulge and who would read it?
  • Did I not know how to document the reflections (or if it should be documented at all)?

What I ended up realizing was that I just didn’t know how to document reflections. I could easily sit at my desk, zoning into oblivion, “thinking” about what I had done that week. The problem with that is that there is no “accountability.” Granted, I don’t want people judging my work by the weekly reflections, but I want to be able to keep myself accountable when it comes to critically analyzing my progress. Anyways…That’s where this site comes into play. I’ve been contemplating this site’s future for the last few months and I think I have just solved the mystery! Henceforth, this site will collect my weekly reflections for ongoing projects. Any and all clients that I’m directly with will have their names removed, although I may spill their department affiliation if it’s relevant to the project. I’ve also set a recurring event on my calendar to remind me to write my weekly reflections.For those of you that are really interested in personal events, check out Katie and I’s blog.If you want to follow my educational thoughts, I’ll be posting a link to a site in which I am a contributing author later this month.Cheers!

EdTech Podcasts

Educational technology and instructional design are fields that, while broadly known, aren’t talked about in a mobile form very often. Over the last few weeks I have done some searches online as well as in iTunes for podcasts that talk about the field of EdTech. I’ve found a few series that offer helpful information, but they either 1) aren’t updated regularly or 2) are too long to listen to. Most of the time that I listen to podcasts, I’m in the car. And since I only have a 30 minute commute (one-way), I like to only listen to episodes that last that long. A podcast episode that runs 60+ minutes is too long for me. I know that the length depends on the content, but if I go 8+ hours without listening to the episode, I forget what’s being talked about, so I choose not to finish it.Maybe this is why I don’t like reading…Anyway, I have decided that instead of just complaining about lack of programming to fit my needs, I will now contribute back to the community. The website for the podcast is still in it’s development stages, however I’ll soon reveal the name, cohosts, recording schedule, etc.If you’re interested in following my new adventure, let me know via comment (below). I’ll send you an email once the website and podcast is live!

Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning

Today’s post stems from a seminar that I participated in this morning. The seminar was sponsored by the Center for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching, and University Assessment at Miami University and was titled, Deep Learning: Getting Beyond, “Will This Be on the Exam?” The presenter was Keith Roberts from Hanover College, a sociology professor who has been studying the way that students learn since the 1980s. In short, the seminar was great. Keith actively conversed with the room and got us thinking about how to foster a more engaging classroom environment. Using well-known learning theories, it was easy to relate the topics on-hand with specific disciplines. Enough about the seminar itself, here’s my take on the topic of surface learning vs. deep learning.Learning is hard. No one said it was easy and if anyone told you that when you were a child, then they were merely trying to protect you. It’s a lie. The students of this generation fall within the confines of basic dualism. It’s you versus them, right versus wrong, and so forth. There is no in between or grey area, and there is definitely no critical thinking. This is, more or less, a generalization of college students (primarily first-year, but holds true for students all the way through advanced degrees). The challenge that instructors of higher education face is that focusing on these surface topics and teaching to the test is what’s expected by students. (click here to see my thoughts on this topic) As I learned from today’s seminar, learning is only done when the 4 different parts of one’s brain is being utilized. Lecture and spoonfeeding doesn’t cut it. What needs to be done, from day 1, is to promote and foster an environment of critical thinking. Critical thinking is what forces students to use multiple (if not all) of parts of their brain.One of the methods in which critical thinking can be taught is to use perspective- (or role-) taking. Having students assume the role of another individual or audience forces them to view a situation from a different perspective. This “other viewpoint” can help students make conclusions about why something is the way that it is. Effective in theatre, chemistry, history, and virtually every other field, perspective taking can interest students and foster critical thinking, at the same time!There are 2 common questions about fostering critical thinking / perspective-taking that were raised during today’s seminar:

  1. How do you get students engaged to begin perspective-taking?
  2. How do you assess perspective-taking?

The answers were pretty simple, actually. And if you’ve spent anytime in professional development for higher education, you probably already know the answers…How do you get students engaged to begin perspective-taking?The primary answer to this question is to involve a topic that they are already familiar/engaged/invested in. For example: If talking about gravity, begin with an example about skydiving. You have to hook them to begin engagement, and then it’s another task to keep them engaged. Many instructors think that it’s not their job to do this. And no disrespect if you are one of them, but this demographic would be wrong. If you don’t relate the topics to real-life and interesting concepts, students aren’t going to care and therefore won’t remember what you’re trying to teach them. There are studies that prove that students who have authentic learning experiences, learn more. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because this type of learning uses all 4 parts of the brain. Summary: use real-life examples to hook students’ interest.How do you assess perspective-taking?Assessment is always a buzzword that has instructors re-evaluating their teaching methods. The short answer is that the assessment should follow the in-class learning activities. If the class discussion has students relating concepts to real-life ideas, tests should do the same. And for God’s sake, stop using multiple-choice tests! By having students write about topics in an authentic way, they have more of an opportunity to show off what they know and there’s less chance for cheating,Today’s seminar had great information, some of which was new and some not-so-new. But nonetheless, it’s important to understand the difference between surface learning and deep learning. Critical thinking and perspective-taking are examples of deep learning, forcing students to do more than just regurgitate facts. By teaching critical thinking, students move from the realm of dualism to formal operational thinking, having the ability to test different theories to make determinations. Don’t be a surface learning instructor, force your students to be engaged.

Spoonfeeding Today’s Students

spoon feeding babyI had a meeting with an instructor yesterday that got me to thinking. During the conversation, we began talking about today’s students and their “learning styles.” This was triggered from a student suggestion to provide more straightforward responses to student questions in class. There was a little more context at the given time, however, due to anonymity, I won’t divulge any more than that statement. It got us to talking about how expectations of students are much different today than they have been in previous generations. Now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, there are lots of studies that corroborate this claim. But it begs the question, how much information should be given to them as opposed to forcing them to retrieve the information on their own?My feeling is that, the more critical thinking that’s involved, the better. Students don’t necessarily agree with this, because it poses more work for them. However, in the long run, the ability to think critically is what’s going to stick with them after the semester ends. One of the frequent complaints from educators is that content is not retained after the assignment, reading, or exam. While this is a broad generalization, there is merit to this, the reasons of which I’ll explain in a later post. However, it’s the non-content related skills that are most important, even more-so than remembering what year the Spanish Inquisition began (for example 😉 ). This is because it’s the life skills that all students will use, regardless of coursework, career choice, or life experiences.Students want to be spoon-fed. They want all of the answers handed to them so that they have the answers to the test. Yes, I went there… This is a matter of whether or not to teach to the test. I have always been against this practice and will continue to be until my dying day. Unfortunately, this problem of wanting to be spoon-fed goes to the masses. Today’s students are different than generations past and it’s the responsibility of the educators to ensure that students are learning as much as possible, even if that means altering the expectations of what skills students are taught.In conclusion – screw the spoon-feeding. Make students use critical thinking to obtain the knowledge. It may require a little prodding to point them in the right direction, but don’t hand out the answer like it’s candy on Halloween. Stick to your guns, educators!Was this even a coherent post?What are your thoughts on spoon-feeding today’s students?

Changes Are Needed

The title of this post can have multiple meanings, of which I’ll explain 2 possible meanings here.Have you ever felt like you aren’t sure why you have a job? I have, quite frequently, in fact. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job (at least most of it) and I enjoy the people that I work with. However, there are many departments on campus that don’t even know I exist. I’m not trying to be world-renowned – in fact, I definitely don‘t want that. But when a department makes a decision to bring in a consultant to tell them exactly what someone from my department can tell them (for free), I want to scream. We (the country) are in the middle of an economical crisis and people think it’s okay to spend money on services that are clearly not necessary. I have spent thousands of dollars to earn my Masters degree, and I have been hired by my institution to provide services to our “constituents.” With groups of people bringing in “outside” consultants rather than relying on “in-house” consultants for the same assistance, I’m not sure why I have a job. It’s a waste of money on multiple fronts:

  1. Departments are wasting money on these outside consultants.
  2. The institution is wasting money on paying me to just “sit here.”
  3. I wasted money on my Master’s degree.

This problem is encouraging the perpetual cycle of the economic crisis in our country. Changes are needed.Now for the second meaning…I am clearly over-extending myself. Here’s the extent of my weekly activities:

  • I work 2 jobs (my full-time job and freelance business);
  • I teach private music lessons, which is kind of like a 3rd job;
  • Volunteer with the Marching Band (5+ days per week);
  • Involved with the local community band;
  • Record 2 weekly podcasts;

With all that I’m involved with, I don’t feel like I’m spending enough time “relaxing.” I need to make some changes, but I’m not sure where to start. Changes are needed.

Repurposing My Blog

The Future - BillboardIt’s been a long time since I’ve written an entry for this site. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but I haven’t been sure what my intentions with this blog are. This site has gone through redesigns since I first purchased it back in… 2006? I really don’t remember the year. But I remember purchasing it so that I could blog and share photos; before I really knew what blogging was, before I knew about WordPress. I didn’t own any web-hosting space so the URL was pointing to my local machine, which was a pain because my IP address kept changing. Anyway, fast forward a few years… the site turned into a personal blog where I could share life stories and experiences that I’ve had the privilege of going through. From jobs, moving across the country, girlfriends, and anything else you could think of, this site was the center of my life in both text and photos.Now that I’m engaged and settling down in a Southwest Ohio, Katie and I have decided to start a family blog. Lot’s of families do this to have a centralized location to share life stories with friends and families. We’ve decided on a URL, but the site is still under construction. For those of you interested in seeing the site, you’ll just have to be patient. So we have that new site for our personal/family stories and I also have my consulting site, Mevins Consulting. While the freelance stuff has been keeping me busy and definitely supplementing the income, it hasn’t quite gone the direction that I would like. Not yet, at least. For the foreseeable future, Mevins Consulting will be a location to show off website designs and other freelance projects.With both of those sites, what is this site going to turn into? I’ve decided, at the suggestion of @cmduke, to keep this site as it is my namesake-how people know and identify me. It’s been a part of my life for a long time and it’d be a waste to throw that away. From now until the next time I decide to make a change, I’ll be featuring articles and narratives on Instructional Design practices and fun technologies. Some content may be re-purposed from my department’s new blog that is starting to take shape (more information on that in a future post). In general, this site will be professional insights from me without the constant self-promotion of my freelance work.For those of you disappointed with this change, I do apologize. I spread myself very thin at times and I’m working to find a better work-life balance. This process includes my separating the various jobs and interests so that I can be more focused. I hope that you’ll at least stick with me for a while longer because while this site will include pedagogy, I’ll also be talking about iPhone/iPad apps, and other fun technologies that you may enjoy!Until next time, make it a great day!