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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Internet Explorer 9 - The Future of Web Browsers

I've been exposed to Internet Explorer since my parent's very first computer in 1997. I'm willing to bet it's the most widely used piece of software on any given Windows machine next to the screensaver. In the last few years, IE has gotten a bad rap for being hard to develop websites in, hard to develop secure applications, and hard to learn all the idiosyncrasies. It has also started to slide to browsers like Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome.

A few months ago, Microsoft announced IE9. This version of IE promises to completely revolutionize the browsing experience. There has been a lot of technical talk about it, but there hasn't been a lot of explaining in non-technical terms of why IE9 will be so cool. In this blog I will present the features IE9 will bring to the table so that everyone, not just web developers, can understand them.

Rendering Web Pages
When your computer received this web page, it had to do a bit of processing to render the black background, the white font, the pictures and videos, etc. Most web pages are relatively small and don't contain thousands upon thousands of images. Almost all computers are able to render simple web pages using their main CPU pretty effectively.

The problem comes when you want to have something crazy like three HD videos playing on your website at one time. Your CPU is built to do things like add thousands of numbers at one time, not to display video or render graphics. Even very fast computers will play those videos choppy, especially if you have other applications like Microsoft Word open.

Instead of having your CPU do work it wasn't made to do, IE9 will delegate some of the rendering of the web page to your computer's graphics processor. The graphics process is designed to show videos and scale images at a very fast rate. By splitting up the load, web designers will be able to add really cool features to web pages that make them look like normal desktop applications.

HTML, which stands for "Hypertext Markup Language," is the language that all browsers need to understand to display web pages. In essence, a web page "talks" to the browser, tells it things about the page like the background color, the layout of the page, etc.

Current browsers now only understand HTML 4. It has its shortcomings, most notably it is hard to put things like Youtube videos on a page and have it display in a standard way for all browsers. That, among other things, will be major improvements when HTML5 is released. It is still in development, and won't be fully done for another few years.

One of the reasons many people have switched from IE to Firefox is for security reasons. IE has many security holes in it that compromise a user's privacy. Firefox is well known for having better security than IE, but that may change with IE9. Microsoft has been focused on security in their most recent software releases, so this may be something the finally address in IE.

Concluding Thoughts
IE is definitely here to stay. It's loaded onto every Windows machine by default, and can't be removed. No matter how hard people in the web development community complain about it, people will use IE no matter what.

IE9 will change the face of both the web experience and web development. People will be able to interact with websites to the point where there is little difference between desktop and web applications. By doing things like using a graphics card for displaying web pages, supporting HTML5, and beefing up security, IE9 will be the biggest positive change to the Internet since it's competitor, Firefox, came onto the scene.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Becoming a Branded Educator

Lately I've been working more and more closely with school district administrators and I'm seeing more and more benefits of establishing a strong, collective--yet focused--web presence as part of your personal brand. Furthermore, I'm really starting to see how those benefits relate to the schools and districts these educators represent.

Take the two I've worked most closely with, Eric and Patrick. These two have really got something going with their websites (Eric's // Patrick's). They have been amazing to work with so far and the three of us will now be hosting a Webinar talking about creating branded websites for educators, how it can be done, why it's important and the benefits of having a central hub for all aspects of your virtual brand (click here if you'd like more information about the Webinar). With their websites, not only do they keep the community, students, and parents in-the-know, but their entire Twitter PLN knows what's going on. They are better able to collaborate with schools from across the country. They can get their school in the news. But the best part is that the same sort of website will work for teacher too, not just administrators. The possibilities are endless. Just see below for a Prezi I created about building branded websites for Administrators:

And here's one for teachers:

Social media affects every single one of us (student, educator, teacher, professor, or administrator--and all those outside of education), whether we realize it or not. It's a conversation, it's news, it's now.

We are working to establish a platform that enhances the use of social media in education and brings together all aspects of an educator's brand. It will harness the sheer power of social media and add immense value to an educator's brand. It is so exciting to me to see all of the educators I chat with on Twitter (both K-12 and Higher Ed.) that are working to form this sort of revolution in education. These educators are using tools to better their students, their schools, and their districts. And to increase learning, engagement, and excitement about education.

As a current student myself, I have yet to see anything even relating to social media in any of my classes (neither as a topic nor a tool), and it's very disappointing to me, as I can see daily the affects of using social media in real-world application through the amazing educators (both K-12 and Higher Ed.) that I've met THROUGH social media. Such a disappointment. So many educators are lacking in [student engagement, making things more interesting, getting creative, trying something new, and the list goes on and on]. And also, not only are some educators unwilling to give social media a try, they put bans on things like YouTube, Facebook, etc. in the classroom and some even ask parents to ban all social networking at home.

Instead of all of this, teach students to use it safely, teach students in a way that engages them and gets them more involved in the lesson. The key is to use it well. It's not social media or technology for the sake of social media or technology, but it provides added-value to the lesson. It gets students excited about learning. Here's an example of one educator (Mr Haines) that realizes that students "don't care what they are taught, they care about how they are taught": Twanimal Farm.

It's so inspiring to me to have met so many educators that want to make a difference, and I'm glad that I've had the opportunity to talk to those that are passionate, and that are willing to try new things. The longer we keep up the conversation, the more people we get involved, and the more things change, this conversation becomes even more pertinent and more focused.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Social Media and Protecting Your Virtual Brand

A few days ago I logged into Twitter and saw a RT posted by @feliciaday; it read “This is kinda cool. RT: @mashable NYU Students Raise More than $100,000 to Build Facebook Alternative -”. I immediately followed the link and in the fourth paragraph of the article was a sentence that embodied everything I had been feeling since my friend’s picture popped up on my Pandora to tell me that he “liked” Lady Gaga: “sharing information online and maintaining one’s privacy should not have to be mutually exclusive”. I read the entire article, watched the videos, and went to their website to consume every bit of information about this project. Diaspora* is going to be a social media system that will bring together all of your social media content and allow you to share your information on a selective basis.

Social media is one of the biggest parts of a person's virtual brand. It's the way that people connect and communicate with others, and it's the personal aspect of one's brand. But lately, the notion of privacy [or lack thereof] in respect to the social media revolution has really gotten to me.

I have to admit, I love social media. I also have to admit that when I logged into Pandora and saw my friends’ pictures popping up to say that they “liked” the artist that was playing I was kind of, well, horrified. I wasn’t logged into Facebook. I don’t save my passwords since I am super paranoid when it comes to online security. I hadn’t added a Pandora app to my Facebook. How was Pandora doing that?!?! I logged into Facebook and there was an invitation to a group called Petition: Facebook, respect my privacy; this was quite obviously what I was looking for. After reading all of the information posted by this group I spent hours un“liking” pages, switching all securities to “Only Me” or “Only Friends”, removing applications and blocking applications.

This isn't a call to abandon social media, the tools and convenience provided by social media sites are too useful to dismiss but I hope that people realize that their digital footprint is seen by more people than they realize. Diaspora* just may be the tool that helps maintain the balance of sharing your life with others and protecting your privacy. The information available online about you influences how others perceive you, your family, your hometown, your employer, everyone that is associated with you.

You should be in control of your own virtual brand. Your virtual brand IS you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Schoole Awards Team

The people that made the Schoole Awards 2010 happen! Along with our wonderful panel,

Ken Royal,

Tom Whitby,

Shelly Terrell

and Steven Anderson.