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College students, who led a record turnout among 18- to 24-year-old voters in 2008, could play a major role in this November’s elections, but their impact could be blunted by states’ voter ID requirements.

In Georgia, for example, legislators have rejected student IDs from private schools, saying the lack of uniformity among school IDs would be a burden for poll workers. There are 198 accredited postsecondary schools in Georgia, including beauty academies and music institutes, according to the National Center of Education Statistics.

Even many ID cards from public colleges are rejected under some state laws, because the cards do not include addresses, issuance and expiration dates.

I wonder how many students don’t have driver’s licenses and rely on their student IDs for identification? I suppose many of them will be surprised when they show up at the polls on Nov. 6th.

My mind is blown. This approach would never occur to me in a million years.

“A mountain of research” substantiates that suspension and expulsion rates are not related to “differential bad behavior” but to “differential responses” from the educational system.

Black students in Minnesota are expelled and suspended 4× more often than white students. Perhaps we’d have more success closing the achievement gap if we keep our black students in school.

In a video that went viral in June, Republican Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania’s House majority leader, spoke approvingly at a Republican State Committee meeting of the state’s new voter ID law, “which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.”

His spokesman said Turzai meant that Pennsylvania’s election would be fair and free of fraud because of the new ID law. Democrats, however, said Turzai meant the law, signed in March, would suppress Democratic votes.

According to Pennsylvania’s Department of State and the Department of Transportation, as many as 758,000 people, about 9 percent of the state’s 8.2 million registered voters currently don’t have the identification that now will be required at the polling place.

Even if 90 percent of those voters got the correct identification by Nov. 6, that still could leave 75,800 voters disenfranchised.

Relatively old news here from Pennsylvania, but the story from News21 published by MinnPost clarifies the issue by summarizing the current research on voter fraud. In the absence of actual evidence of voter fraud, the Voter ID movement is voter suppression pure and simple and an affront to our democracy.

I’ve just uploaded a new version of NoteScraper for Evernote (download) that supports exporting all of your Kindle notes and highlights from a particular book to a single Evernote note. You can still export each of your annotations to separate notes too, but I had a request for the all-in-one feature. (Thanks Will.)

The new version also includes the authors name in the title of the notes.

Visit my software page for a bit more info, or just give it a spin.

My reading habits changed the moment I got my hands on an iPad. I’d been considering getting a Kindle for a while but held off in anticipation of whatever magical device Steve Jobs and his minions had in store. I’d installed Amazon’s Kindle app on my iPhone some time before, but the small screen never drew me in enough to make it anything more than a occasional reading device. The Kindle app on the iPad’s big screen made all the difference though, and I now find myself buying 90% of my reading material in Kindle ebook form.

About that same time I read Will Richardson’s post where I learned that the electronic notes and highlights that I was creating in my Kindle books could be accessed online at Wow. To quote Will, “Game. Changer.” I’m not sure I’ll ever buy a non-fiction book in dead tree form again if I can help it. (The inability of Apple’s own iBooks app to make my saved notes and highlights visible in one place is the single biggest reason I have yet to buy a book from Apple.)

Before Kindle, my typical practice was to make my highlights and margin notes in pencil and transcribe them into OmniOutliner so I could have easy access to them later. Effective, but laborious. What if, I thought, I could write some software to “scrape” the web page that displays my notes and highlights and import them into OmniOutliner directly using AppleScript. If nothing else, it sounded like a good excuse to learn AppleScript.

I had the OmniOutliner version working soon enough and added a generic OPML export too for those who don’t happen to own OmniOutliner. By that time I’d started playing around with Evernote and noticed that they had built AppleScript support into their Mac client. I decided to build an Evernote version too.

Enough delay: I’m calling it NoteScraper and making both versions available for download. Please note that there are likely bugs. This software is definitely beta. You can get more information and download the software at the newly minted Savvy Technologist software page.

I hope someone (besides Will) finds this stuff useful. I’d love to hear about it if you do.

Exploring QR codes

3 Sep 2010

I don’t even remember where I saw it now, but I ran across a QR Code on a website a couple nights ago and got curious about it.

QR code link to Wikipedia article about QR codes

QR codes are 2-dimensional bar bodes and can be used to encode a variety of data. The barcode above represents the URL of the Wikipedia article about QR codes. If you had a QR code reader on your cell phone, you could use it to scan the barcode and load the Wikipedia article in your mobile browser. QR codes were invented in Japan, and they’re used commonly there for everything from posters to produce packaging.

QR code scanners are available for most major mobile phone platforms. It looks like most recent Android phones have the capability built in. I tried a few different apps before settling on Optiscan (iTunes App Store link) on my iPhone. It works by turning the phone’s camera into a barcode scanner that understands the QR format. The scanned code can be used to direct a browser to a specific URL, make a phone call, send a text message, send an email, load a Google map, or even load someone’s contact information into your address book.

I also found an Adobe AIR application called QRreader that runs on my Mac and turns the iSight camera into a QR scanner.

Generating the codes is easy too. There are dozens of sites on the Internet that will create the codes and make them downloadable as images. The best one I’ve found is by Kerem Erkan, though this one is good too.

So how could we use these things in school? Since we’re involved in a pilot project exploring the use of student-owned technology in a number of our schools (cell phones included), we’ve got many students who could take advantage of these QR codes. Here’s a short list of ideas some of my colleagues and I generated yesterday:

  • Mount a QR code on the outside of the school that directs a browser to a web page with contact information, hours of operation, and other details about the school.
  • Put a code near the door of each classroom and have students use their phones to log their attendance.
  • Teachers could include QR codes on worksheets and other printed assignments that link students to extra tutorials or other helpful documentation.
  • Put QR codes on all computer gear that links to a web page with the specifications for the hardware and a complete service history.
  • Use a QR code in each classroom that could be scanned to send an email to the IT help desk asking for tech support.
  • Put QR codes on all the posters around school that link to more information on the web or create new events on the phone’s calendar app.
  • Print Google Map QR codes on tickets to provide directions to events that aren’t held at school.

There are a ton more, and I’m eager to figure out some real uses for our students that are bringing their phones to school. Here’s one more example, a link to my LinkedIn Pingtag:

Pingtag for Tim Wilson

If you’ve got other ideas about how to integrate QR codes, let me know in the comments.

I’ve been hearing about disruptive technologies for a few years now, and I’ve even used the term myself in various presentations. I probably started using it before I knew its origin, that is, Clayton Christensen’s 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Now with Christensen’s newest book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, on my reading list I decided I should read the original and draw some of my own conclusions before I read his thoughts on education.

I always try to take notes as I read through a book that might have some implications for my daily work and thinking. Sometimes, however, my best intentions fall short so I thought this time around I’d post some notes and reflections online chapter by chapter. If you’d like to join me in reading this book, go ahead a order a copy. It will take me a while to work my way through it. You’ve got plenty of time.

Christensen begins the book with a rather detailed description of innovation and failure in the disk drive industry. For the same reason geneticists study fruit flies, Christensen explains that the rapid pace of change in the disk drive industry makes it an ideal test bed for studying how successful organizations can fail in the face of disruptive change. I won’t go into the details of the drive technology or the specific changes that shaped the industry over the last 30 years or so.

There are two types of technological change that matter. Christensen calls them sustaining and disrupting changes.

This study of technological change over the history of the disk drive industry revealed two types of technology change, each with very different effects on the industry’s leaders. Technologies of the first sort sustained the industry’s rate of improvements in the product performance (total capacity and recording density were the two most common measures) and ranged in difficulty from incremental to radical. The industry’s dominant firms always led in developing and adopting these technologies. By contrast, innovations of the second sort disrupted or redefined performance trajectories—and consistently resulted in the failure of the industry’s leading firms.

My first thought is that our current system of K–12 education is clearly engaged in sustaining innovation. Document cameras and PowerPoint instead of overhead projectors, for example, are basically more of the same—better performance and incremental feature enhancements—rather than truly disruptive innovation.

It turns out the disruptive innovations weren’t at all obvious if companies were concerned about what their customers wanted. In fact, the really disruptive stuff usually represents a downgrade for existing customers of the dominant firms.

Generally disruptive innovations were technologically straightforward, consisting of off-the-shelf components put together in a product architecture that was often simpler than prior approaches. They offered less of what customers in established markets wanted and so could rarely be initially employed there. They offered a different package of attributes valued only in emerging markets remote from, and unimportant to, the mainstream.

So the dominant firms failed not because of inferior technology; they were almost always well-managed, visionary organizations. Their problem was that one of their competitors took a new, nearly always inferior, technology and created a new market.

Rather, the 5.25-inch drive manufacturers seem to have been misled by their customers, notably IBM and its direct competitors and resellers, who themselves seemed as oblivious as Seagate to the potential benefits and possibilities of portable computing and the new disk drive architecture that might facilitate it.

It was obvious to IBM, Seagate, and their desktop computer customers that the 3.5-inch hard drives were inferior in speed, capacity, and cost. What they failed to appreciate was that customers of the emerging portable computer market were willing to sacrifice some performance for the smaller size and increased ruggedness of the new 3.5-inch drives. The disruptive innovations don’t tend to show themselves in existing markets. They enable new products and markets that the dominant firms and their customers can’t see.

But the problem established firms seem unable to confront successfully is that of downward vision and mobility, in terms of the trajectory map.

If we can draw any parallels between the hard disk industry and K–12 education—and that’s a big if—we have to ask whether there are any emerging markets that the dominant firms (our regular school districts) and their customers (students, parents, and communities) are currently undervaluing? Could it be online learning? Most school people I know consider online learning vastly inferior to traditional face-to-face learning. Perhaps the online technologies that are flourishing now and finding little traction in traditional educational institutions will eventually turn out to be the disruptive force that gives traditional schooling a run for its money (literally).