The iPhone 6 Plus and Tablets: A Tectonic Drift

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The iPhone 6 Plus arrived via USPS priority mail yesterday, so I’ve had it for a little over a day. My first impression is that it has a completely different look and feel from the iPhone 4, which I reviewed in July 2011. The 4 has a solid industrial feel that’s enhanced by sharply beveled edges. I like the way it looks and feels in my hand. The 6+, in comparison, feels fragile, perhaps because of its thinness and rounded edges. This sense of fragility, however, is gradually fading the more I handle it. My guess is that it will take a few days for a new muscle memory to replace the old.

IPhone 6+ and iPhone 4.

iPhone 6 Plus: 6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28 inches, 6.07 ounces. iPhone 4: 4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37 inches, 4.8 ounces.

The most critical factor for me is hand fit. It has to feel comfortable. It took a few hours to adjust to the size difference, especially the length, 6.22″ vs 4.5″. The width difference, 3.06″ vs 2.31″, is noticeable, but it’s surprisingly comfortable in my hand. My immediate thought was that the next version of the plus could easily be an inch wider (4″ instead of 3″) and still fit the average-sized hand.

iPhone 6+ and iPhone 4.

iPhone 6+ and iPhone 4 width: 3.06″ vs 2.31″.

The next critical factor for me is pocketability. It has to fit comfortably in my pants pocket. The 4 fits in any and every pocket. The 6+ fits best in the front pockets. It’s slightly heavier than the 4, 6.07 vs 4.8 ounces, but it actually feels lighter in my pocket. This sensation is probably caused by its dimensions. It’s less dense. Taller, wider, and thinner, the weight is spread out whereas the 4 is concentrated in a smaller area.

Side View iPhones

iPhone 6+ and iPhone 4 thickness: 0.28″ vs 0.37″.

I take my iPhone with me on walks and use it as a music player with in-ear headphones. The 6+ felt comfortable in my right front pocket. I slipped it in upside down because the 1/8″ headphone jack is on the bottom edge. The +/- volume buttons are in the same place as the 4’s, and I’m able to adjust volume from outside the pocket while walking.  Continue reading

‘The Theory of Everything’ – A Hollywood Take on Science

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

The new movie, The Theory of Everything, is about the life of Stephen Hawking from his graduation from Oxford to his becoming famous and then separating from his devoted wife of over a quarter century. Please, everyone, go to this movie. Why? Because it’s a good story, well acted and directed, and because you will be supporting the concept of telling the stories of scientists in movies. We must have more of this.

Stephen has a special resonance with me for strictly non-scientific reasons. We were born in the same year. We both entered prestigious colleges at the same age, 17, and went on to prestigious graduate schools for our doctorates. We were both married in the same year, he to Jane and I to Jayne. Of course, there are innumerable differences to balance these few coincidences. I majored in chemistry, he in physics. I have enjoyed rather good health overall. He is outrageously famous, while I labor in obscurity. And so it goes.

The Theory of EverythingBefore getting to the science, I’ll praise Eddie Redmayne for his uncanny portrayal of Stephen Hawking. From the early stumbling to the later crablike fingers and the difficulty in forming words, he nails Hawking in a manner that I never would have believed. Especially moving are the scenes in which he has the twinkle and slight smile showing Hawking’s personal joy at special moments and his puckish sense of humor.

This is a wonderful love story in which personal connection overcomes insurmountable odds. Jane (Wilde) Hawking’s (played by Felicity Jones) indomitable spirit lifts Stephen Hawking to the threshold of his greatness. We see this spirit and unwillingness to give up displayed several times in the movie. The very fact that Jane has three children, the last when Stephen is unable to move from his wheelchair speaks volumes about her. Ms. Jones brings a real sense of what the actual Mrs. Hawking must have felt to many of the scenes in the movie.  Continue reading

The ‘Fury’ of War Tanks

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

The new Hollywood movie, FURY, focuses on tanks, their role, and tank crews in World War II. This 2-hour 14-minute film opens in theaters on Friday, 17 Oct. 2014. It stars Brad Pitt, a sure audience draw, playing the somewhat complex leader of the five-man crew of the FURY, a Sherman tank. If you go to this movie, watch Logan Lerman as Normal Ellison. He almost steals the show.

The movie starts in April 1945, near the end of the European part of World War II. VE (Victory in Europe) day is celebrated here as May 8, 1945. It’s spring, and everything is mud, mud, mud. American troops are in Germany by this time, and the famous Battle of the Bulge ended a few months earlier. German troops are now defending their homeland ferociously.

FURY, a Sherman tank.

FURY, a Sherman tank.

The main character of this movie truly is FURY, at least for me, and really did steal the show when I watched. The tank used in the filming was real, supplied by the Tank Museum in Bovington, England, a late-war Sherman with a 76mm gun. That’s the big gun on the turret. The inside shots were done in a specially created set that could open up in several directions for the different shots. The entire set was mounted on a gimbal that could move it for the inside shots where the tank was in motion. If you think that the inside of that tank looks really crowded, you should know that it was made 10% larger than the real thing.

Before discussing tanks in more detail, I should warn potential movie goers that this is a very violent movie with lots of grisly scenes, very grisly, and plenty of profane language in nearly every scene. Interestingly, there is no explicit sex.

For those who don’t mind the above, this is truly a riveting and tense movie. There’s little let up in the tension that begins with the first scene. I found it difficult to turn away from the screen even when the most horrific scenes took place. The characters are interesting but, except for Pitt (playing Wardaddy) and Lerman, they’re not plumbed deeply. Even Wardaddy, who says, “It’s my home” about the tank, never has this aspect explained, except implicitly. We are left to wonder if this attachment came about over time or from a single incident. We also are given no clue as to how he became fluent in German.

One more “character” in the movie is the entire FURY tank crew of five. The examination of the development of this team and its personality helps to make up for not looking more deeply into the individual characters because it’s the team and the tank that count in the end.

My favorite quote, again from Wardaddy, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” sums up the movie. Get ready for a Hollywood ride.

Back to the tanks — we’re still using those old machines today. The first were used in World War I a century ago and were rather primitive. They were little more than mobile armored weapons and personnel protectors to move troops across the no-man’s land between trenches while withstanding the machine gun fire and easily trampling the extensive barbed wire fences for the following ground troops. The WWII tanks were much more powerful and versatile and formed the mainstay of many land operations. In the movie, we see quite a few German officers at the front on horseback. This contrast of horse and tank may be intended to suggest that tanks will soon go the way of the horse.

David 'Sting' Rae, center, with the crew on set.

David ‘Sting’ Rae, center, with the crew on set.

To have a better idea of what the past and present role of the tank is in warfare and what the future may bring, I interviewed David “Sting” Rae, a technical consultant for the movie. Mr. Rae sees a continuing role for tanks in the military. According to Mr. Rae, “The US Marines reinvented the role of the tank in Fallujah during the Iraq conflict where it proved almost decisive in breaking the will of the insurgents and allowing the infantry to take and hold ground.”  Continue reading

Disney Animation Embraces Science

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Big Hero 6 marks several firsts for Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS). It’s their first action animation with six action sequences. Previous animated movies had two or three. It’s the first WDAS movie to use the new Hyperion system that makes light much more real than ever before. The computer has 55,000 cores and resides in four separate locations.

It’s the first WDAS movie to have six major characters, actually twelve if you count their super alter-egos. It’s the first time WDAS has teamed with the XPRIZE Foundation to create a prize for students. If they win, they will be at the premier in Los Angeles on November 7 and walk the red carpet.

However, these are not the breakthroughs that excite me. This is the first time that the producer, Roy Conli, and the directors, Don Hall and Chris Williams, decided at the outset that this movie would be grounded in reality, that the science would be right. If the story group came to them during the four years that elapsed since the idea first was considered with a story idea that broke the rules of nature, they said no.

However, they did not hesitate in pushing the limits of technology. In some scenes, the g forces would have caused blackouts for real people. If you’re willing to overlook these small violations of the laws of nature and enjoy the ways in which the boundaries of technology are tested, you’re in for a treat. My day at WDAS provided me with only a few short sequences, the longest being 16 minutes, but it showed enough to convince me that this movie is breaking new ground.

Teachers, ask your students what they think about soft (and inflatable) robots? Can anyone create microbots in the real world? How can you do that? What about mental control over robots? Could you have plasma gloves or magnesium fire spitting costumes? Can robotics someday make anyone into a super hero? Explore the science.

Of course, there’s a story here and lots of heart. It’s Disney, after all. And, if you love action adventure as well as animated feature movies, this may be your lucky day.

I really like that science overrides fantasy in this movie. I only wish I had been there to point out places where the boundaries were pushed a bit far and make sure that they did so for good reasons.

The technology behind this movie is another story in itself. Never have so many extras appeared in scenes in an animated movie. It has over 500 different types of extra characters who can appear in the thousands when necessary with each doing its own thing. The city of San Fransokyo was modeled on San Francisco using the assessor records for the city so that you can find the plot where any real house sits, although that house may not look exactly like the real one but will look like homes in the neighborhood. Altogether, about 83,000 individual buildings were created in their external entirety for this movie. The underwater sequence that I saw was amazingly realistic. And so it goes. It took a large team, including 90 animators, two years to make this movie.

For me, a former chemistry professor, seeing one character be a chemist (Honey Lemon) with a sort-of Periodic Table emblazoned on her purse was cool. But, the Table is active, and she presses the element buttons to make incredible compounds really quickly that help to conquer the bad guy or save the good guys. While this purse is not very likely, the stuff it makes is very well animated and looks very real.

Once I’ve seen the movie, I hope to return to these pages with a deeper review of the science and technology that we all can discuss.

Review: ‘The New Digital Age’ by Schmidt & Cohen

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Review: Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, Knopf, 2013.

The authors visited thirty-five countries and examined the Internet’s impact in each. The new digital age has a significant impact with both positive and potentially negative outcomes. They discuss both possibilities. They focus on the new level of connectivity that the digital world brings to individuals and nations.


In perspective, connectivity in mankind has always been the yeast that has led to social and collective growth. In early man, the spoken word allowed groups to share sensory experiences and form collective societies. About five thousand years ago, the written word allowed mankind to share experiences across geography and time. Knowledge could be passed from one generation to another and transferred across geographic boundaries. The printing press increased our ways of storing and retrieving experience and documenting the ways man governed himself. Knowledge was stored and retrieved in libraries.  Continue reading

‘Teaching Digital Natives’: Difference Between ‘Relevant’ and ‘Real’

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Review of Marc Prensky’s Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning, Corwin Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4129-7541-4.

I picked this book up because, as I have mentioned before, I worry that as a teacher educator I am educating today’s teachers for yesterday’s students. Although Prensky has some interesting insights into today’s and tomorrow’s learners, the concept he is presenting is not new and he admits this. What the book does offer, however, is specific ways in which today’s learner is different and some specific ways in which teachers can address these differences.


Throughout the book, Prensky encourages the teacher to see their students differently, as partners in learning. This concept is very similar to what is known as student-centered learning, problem-based learning, constructivism and many other progressive models that were developed in the 20th century. Prensky asserts that today’s students are not less able than previous generations but that their tolerance and needs have changed, and what and how they learn is different from students in the past. In the introduction, he makes his view very clear: “They want ways of learning that are meaningful to them, ways that make them see — immediately — that the time they are spending in their formal education is valuable, and ways that make good use of the technology they know is their birthright” (p. 3).

For Prensky, this immediacy is one of the keys to understanding today’s students. Technology allows them to participate in real ways in life across the globe, whether in something as serious as the events during the “Arab Spring” of 20111 or as trivial as voting on “American Idol.” He goes on to assert that teachers do not necessarily have to become experts in technology but that they need to re-imagine their pedagogy so that the student themselves take responsibility for their own learning using the technology they are so familiar with and so fond of.

By “real” he means immediately applicable to their lives. This is where technology can come in and make a difference.

As a teacher educator, I know that the notions he presents are not new. However, one of the points Prensky stresses is the difference between “relevant” and “real” — and that caught my eye. I have always been concerned with ensuring my students’ learning is relevant for them and the students they will be teaching. Prensky says that relevance is not enough. By “real” he means immediately applicable to their lives. This is where technology can come in and make a difference. Rather than only reading about historical events and watching videos about them, they can take virtual tours of many places, participating in or even creating simulations.

If a space launch is coming up, they can compute everything from budgets to payloads. They can use Skype to talk to real scientists about real-world problems. They can participate in urban planning projects for the future to help them think about and plan for the future they are going into. While these ideas are not really new to any progressive/constructivist educator, the reminder that students may have ways and means to accomplish tasks that the teacher may not have imagined is worth keeping in mind.

1 Jean-Marie Guehenno, “The Arab Spring Is 2011, Not 1989,” NY Times, 21 Apr. 2011.

‘Hacking the Academy’ – Intimate Conversations with Voices at the Edge

By Jessica Knott
Associate Editor
Editor, Twitter

Much like the tone of ETC Journal, the collection of articles compiled in Hacking the Academy does not comprise the most rigorously edited academic prose. The writing is often conversational, rarely dense, and I found this to be one of its greatest strengths. I felt as though these academics were sharing private ruminations, not writing manifestos. From the moment on page seven I read Tad Suiter’s definition of a hacker as being “a person who looks at systemic knowledge structures and learns about them from making or doing,” I was hooked. So much of what we do in online education (indeed, education in general) is “hacked,” whether we acknowledge it or not. I believe the greatest value this collection provides is fodder for debate: in a time where “the academy” is equally immovable and in flux, are we doing enough to challenge ourselves and each other as we work within its virtual, tangible walls?

Hacking A2In a chapter on Unconferences, Watrall, Calder, and Boggs discuss the hidden costs and challenges of organizing a “for the people, by the people” type of conference. As a matter of full disclosure, I have attended Great Lakes THATCamp twice. It feels, by far, more like a true academic conference than an unconference. If you are considering attending or planning an Unconference, I encourage you to heed Watrall’s advice regarding planning. In this particular instance I can tell you that what he writes truly translates to an experience that surpasses expectation.

In this vein, separate from the overall conference planning, I encourage readers to pay close heed to Calder’s urging toward self-preparedness: “The best thing about an unconference is that professionals are able to come together and discuss real issues face to face… your input could be the difference between moving someone else’s project forward – perhaps in ways they never expected” (135). This, the perspective of the prepared other, planning to present or not, is a refreshing one. Follow Watrall on Twitter at @captain_primate, and Boggs at @clioweb.  Continue reading

‘Teaching History in the Digital Age’ – Call for a New Breed of Teachers

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

As a teacher educator, I am concerned that I am training my students how to teach yesterday’s students rather than tomorrow’s. Therefore, I was interested in seeing what T. Mills Kelly had to say, in Teaching History in the Digital Age (2013), about best practice for today’s and tomorrow’s students. As it happens, I also recently read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr, which is going to be my university’s One Book next year. Carr focuses on how the Internet has shaped how we think and view the world. Carr points out that, according to recent brain research, how we access and store information alters the physical properties of the brain. He contends that the practice of getting small amounts of information from a variety of sources may help us be more efficient information gatherers but at the cost of the ability to concentrate and reflect on what we are gathering.


Carr’s argument seems to parallel and support Kelly’s ideas in several ways. Traditionally, history teaching has relied on imparting knowledge and analysis, usually in the form of lectures, which research has shown is not the most effective approach. Perhaps partly because of this method of teaching, history is often seen by students as the acquisition of facts and not as a process of gathering and analyzing data. Also, Kelly says that the notion of perspective is often ignored, e.g., what is included, what is left out, why it is included or left out.

Kelly contends that the digital age offers historians the opportunity to help their students become historians, analysts, not just fact collectors. Not only do more students go to online sources rather than print, but today’s students are used to creating on the Internet — not just consuming. Kelly asserts that educators need to take advantage of this tendency in order to create learning opportunities that promote active engagement and not just passive acquisition through lectures and reading. He does caution that instructors must teach students that their role is not to remix or remake history. They should not give in to their desire to change primary sources so that they are “better,” a tendency that Web 2.0 savvy students may have. However, this type of engagement with history gives the instructor and students opportunities to examine the ethics of a variety of issues that can come up in projects, from plagiarism to the manipulation of information to support one’s point.  Continue reading

‘Hacking the Academy’ – A Test of Time

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The first thing you should know about Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities (Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, editors, University of Michigan Press, 2013) is that it was compiled in May 2010 — three years ago. I’m not sure what the full implications of this time gap are, but for starters, the iPad was released in April 2010, a month earlier, so it’s not mentioned in the book. The first MOOC was offered by the University of Manitoba in 2008, but they didn’t become wildly popular until 2012 so they, too, are left out.

Once past the hurdle of the three-year gap, I found the offerings interesting both as a retrospective and as a time-tested compass for change. Change is so rapid in ed tech that the concept of “past” is becoming more a blur than a time line. Thus, I found myself intrigued by this slice of time that preserves some of the more progressive thinking three years ago, including insights that are still relevant today.

Hacking the Academy

I received the UM Press announcement for Hacking early yesterday morning and requested a digital review copy later that morning. After downloading it, I did a quick search for “iPad” and “MOOC” and, as expected, came up empty.

An “online and open-access version” of the book was released on 8 Sep. 2011 (Jason B. Jones, “Hacking the Academy: the Book,” Chronicle, 9.9.11), but I was unaware of it until today. Andrew Tully, in his University of Nebraska – Lincoln blog (4.18.12), provides a useful overview of the project so I won’t go into it.

I like the twist that the project has given to the word “hacking.” In “Why ‘Hacking’?”, Tad Suiter says, “Hackers are autodidacts,” and he defines hacking as “The clever gaming of complex systems to produce an unprecedented result.” But here’s the part that makes it very special even, and perhaps moreso, today: “The academy, ultimately, can only be invigorated and improved by an infusion of the hacker ethos that goes beyond the computer  science departments and infects all the disciplines.” Suiter’s point is that the hacker is us, the teachers in the disciplines, in the classrooms. Adam Turner, in “Hacker Spaces as Scholarly Spaces,” amplifies Suiter’s point. He says, “Hacking is about doing: creating, thinking, questioning, observing, learning, and teaching. The core of academic work is, at its heart, hacking.” The implications of teacher as hacker are as fresh today as they were in 2010.  Continue reading

‘For Each and Every Child’ – A Strategy for Yesterday’s Child

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

[Note: The following is a response to the 2 Feb. 2013 report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence,” by the Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. -Editor]

For some time we have been working around an obsolete model of education with the idea that, if we just somehow make the old model better, education will be better. I do not believe technology blindly applied is the answer, but look at three to five year olds and how they have learned to use iPads without a course in iPad usage.

For Each and Every

Real reform will include the following:

  1. Every child will have an Individual Learning Plan.
  2. Every child will have a mentor teacher.
  3. Schools and educational staff will be open at least ten hours each day and open year round.
  4. High quality digital libraries will be accessible to learners at home and at schools.
  5. Schools will offer laboratories and facilities where learners can work together in teams or individually.
  6. Significant federal research and development funds will be available to create high quality digital learning materials.
  7. Teachers will participate in continuous learning with respect to new curricula materials.
  8. Learners will be scheduled for learning experiences as needed.

WE need to stop tinkering around the old school model that did us well yesterday but is inadequate for today’s digital world.

Continue reading

Babson 2013 Online Education Survey Report Released

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, co-directors of The Babson Survey Research Group, Babson College, MA, announced this morning the release of their 2013 report, Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States.

The authors describe their tenth annual survey as an independent and “collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board” that is generously supported by Pearson and the Sloan Consortium.

In their announcement, they include some highlights:

  • Over 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2011 term, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year.
  • Thirty-two percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • Seventy-seven percent of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face.
  • Only 30.2 percent of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education — a rate that is lower than recorded in 2004.

After their 2011 report, I published a review, “Sloan-C’s Definition of ‘Online Course’ May Be Out of Sync with Reality” (22 Jan. 2012), in which I questioned the survey’s definition of “online course,” which, in my opinion, is impractical and ultimately self-defeating. The 2013 survey retains the same definition. The explanation also remains the same: “To ensure consistency the same definitions have been used for al[sic] ten years of these national reports.” Since the authors claim that their report is independent and that Sloan-C’s role is supportive, criticisms, if any, should be directed at Allen and Seaman. In their closing, they make this clear: “We welcome comments.  Please let us know how we can improve the reports at”

An Interview with Tim Holt, Author of ‘180 Questions’

By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Associate Editor

[Note: Article updated on 11.10.12 — graphics added. -Editor]

Give a little of your background so we know who you are. Describe your work and how you assist teachers.

I’ve been in education for about 27 years now. I started as a classroom teacher and was a middle school science teacher for over a decade. I then moved on to administrative positions in my school district: I have worked in gifted and talented education, I’ve been an evaluator in education research, and most recently and for the last eight years I’ve been the Director of Instructional Technology for the El Paso Independent School District. My job is to try to try get teachers to use technology in the classroom with their students. I have a really great team of people that go out and train teachers on how to integrate technology into their lessons. Along the way I’ve been the President of the Science Teachers Association of Texas as well as President of the Technology Education Coordinators SIG, which is a statewide group in Texas of Instructional Technology Directors. Most people that know me from outside of Texas know me from my blog, which is now residing on Tumblr and is called HOLTTHINK.

What made you write 180 Questions: Daily Reflections for Educators and Their Professional Learning Communities?

For the longest time I thought just having a blog would be a good enough place to share my ideas and share what I was doing, but after a while I started thinking that a book would be a good place to put ideas that had to do with a very specific topic. The blog I have is kind of self-reflective and bounces all over the place from instructional technology to politics to different kinds of education topics, whereas the book is centered specifically on thinking about Professional Learning Communities or PLCs. What I wanted to do in this book was to give educators the opportunity to start doing a lot of reflection, which is something I think is sorely missing from a lot of professional development these days. What I see happening in professional development is people going in, getting trained on something, which they may or may not use, and then there is no follow-up, there is never anything that happens afterwards so you never know whether that training was useful or not useful.

The purpose of the book was to look at how we look at ourselves as educators. When I was growing up, every evening my parents had this booklet called The Upper Room, which was a daily devotional that had a little message with a meaning, and a prayer. Every night at dinner my father would read the daily passage, which they picked up at church each Sunday. I don’t even know if they still make it anymore, but I liked that idea of having something that made you think or made you jump out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. So that was kind of the genesis for the idea of doing 180 Questions. The “180” comes from the length of a typical school year here in the United States.

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