The reference Garbage In, Garbage Out is a staple when teaching computer science.  It generately acknowledges that a processor or a processor might be considered as a black box where data goes in one side and information out the other.  The black box essentially contains the ability to do whatever it is programmed to do; the value of the whole process relies on a source for good data.

Note the excellently created graphic illustrating the process done by the graphics department of dougpete labs.

A good debugging process will include garbage data (nonsensical or testing the exceptional conditions) and having the logic or the processes handle the data appropriately.  This might be aborting or sending a message to the operator or some other action so that the process can be corrected, changes made and happiness ensues.  (or at least the program works properly)

Sometimes garbage gets through and unexpected results may happen.  This happened to me this past weekend.

On Sunday, the #ecoo13 committee was meeting at the venue in Niagara Falls and I knew that a 4.5 hour drive there and another 4.5 hour drive back wouldn’t give me the opportunity to blog on Sunday so I decided to do it Friday.  It was just a matter of scheduling it to appear on my blog at the regular 5am time and continuity would be ensured.

I wanted to do a review of the Hopscotch and so created the post.  One of the tools that I use for blogging on the Macintosh is Qumana.  So, I just blindly went ahead and wrote the post, scheduled it, and posted it.  Then, I had a D’oh!

Qumana was part of the black box process for me.  I’d had problems posting with it in the past and had forgotten.  It doesn’t post the time/date properly.  Now, what could go wrong?  Just change the time/date, right?

Bring on the Robots

If only it was that simple.  When I post to the blog, I actually have more going on in the black box process than simply posting.

  • First – DLVR.IT monitors the blog and sends a message to Twitter that there’s a new post;
  • Secondly – CanuckEduS monitors my blog and a bunch of other Canadian blogs.  The new post is noticed and an announcement posted to Twitter;
  • Thirdly – nick_chater uses IFTTT and then announces the new post;
  • Fourthly – WordPress sends out email messages to everyone who subscribes to the blog – hey, there’s a new post;
  • Fifthly – I have the announcement posted automatically to my Facebook timeline;
  • Sixthly – There are just good people that try to spread the word by retweeting my announcement of the new post!

Ack!  Realizing what I’d done immediately, I head into WordPress to change the scheduling manually.

I didn’t have a chance to save face.  The robots had followed their instructions to the letter.  I had fed them garbage and, by following the process, they had turned it into something embarrassing.  When you try to follow the announced link, it’s now broken!

Notice that the posted URL includes the date 1970/01/01!  Did they even have blogs back then?  It seems to me that the IBM 360 was king.  For the sake of eight characters, my garbage date had created a problem.  The robots working away feverishly in the black box had only served to amplify it.

My lesson was learned.  Now, I’m forced to try to determine the problem.  I know that I can write, schedule, and post directly to WordPress natively, with Scribefire, LiveWriter, and Blogio.  It’s just with Qumana.  It’s a shame because it had been such a great actor.  Of course, the first thing I do is check to make sure that I’ve got the latest revision.  Yes, I do.  Rats.

Fortunately, I have alternatives to use while I poke around and see if I can find a solution.

In the meantime, my apologies to those of you who read the announcement of the post only to find a broken link.  The good news is that it was released for public viewing properly this morning!  Thanks for reading.


About Useless Gadgets

This article appeared in my Zite news feed this morning.  “Schools ‘wasting £450m a year’ on useless gadgets“.

Those of us whose job it was involved acquiring technology and helping classroom teachers use technology effectively live in dread of titles like that.  The really offensive term to me was “useless gadgets”.  For as long as I’ve been using technology in education, I’ve used just a whack of gadgets.  I wonder — what makes a gadget useless?

Reading the article from the Telegraph, they specifically identify tablet computers, computer software, and electronic whiteboards.  I  kept reading to see if the author actually would explain why the gadgets were labelled as “useless”.

I’ve certainly been involved with computer software all my career, even serving terms on the Ontario Software Acquisition Program Software Committee.  In that role, I’ve worked with many teachers helping them understand the functionality of the software and where it fits into the Ontario Curriculum.  The OSAPAC Committee, in fact, has a sub-group whose job it is to identify Curriculum Connections so that teachers using the software could get a sense of where it fits into the big scheme of things.  Within my own district, I was part of a team that rolled out IWBs to the system.  In our case, I had the eyes, ears, and candor of a group of Computers in Education School Contacts, a small but dynamic team of Early Years Literacy teachers, and a spectacular teacher-librarian who got the original SMART Board, nicknamed it “Big Bertha” and used it to raise her library program to a new level.  Even today, these leaders work with their colleagues to ensure ongoing implementation success.

Any time I talk about technology, one of the things I stress is that technology does allow us to do things differently but more importantly, it allows us to do different things.  In my mind, that’s the ultimate promise of technology and why we spend so much money, time, and should devote a significant effort in acquisition decisions and implementation once the technology has been purchased.

The article, in particular, takes some pretty tough shots at the implementation of tablet technology.  But, as I sit back and think, the one piece that’s missing in all of the scenarios that are described is the lack of support for teachers as they try to use them.  I can speak with confidence that the job of a teacher is absolutely jam-packed.  From knowing the curriculum, to differentiating for student success, to assessment and evaluation, to a changing curriculum in a changing world, to pressure from administration to raise test scores, to dealing with individual students’ social issues.  The absolute last thing, and probably the dumbest educational move, is to buy a bunch of technology and drop it off expecting it to perform all of the promised results.  It’s a formula for failure.

And yet, the article would have you believe that the technology is useless and that teachers are somehow pulled in to using it.  There is no mention at all about how much support was given or whether there’s an implementation plan or just who a teacher is to turn to for answers to questions.

I wish that the article had dug deeper.  I think more details about the actual implementation plan are needed before any piece of technology can be labelled “useless”.

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