“How do you stay on top of all this technology?”

Today I was asked two personal questions, and I thought both were worth answering.

The first was “How do you stay on top of all this technology?”  It’s a good question–and I manage to stay on top of the technology news even if I’m too busy (with life–parenting, teaching, etc.) to blog over a period of time.  There are a number of reasons I am able to follow technology.

First, technology is a passion and hobby of mine.  It interests me.  Technology announcements (e.g. Apple press conferences) are exciting to me.  I read through Best Buy Weekly Ad just to see what is out there.  Thankfully, our finances are limited enough that I can’t buy every device that comes to market.

Second, I’m a very fast reader.  I’ve been reading before I was three years old–and I’m not lying.  When I help people with their computers, I often have to ask them if they have anything confidential on their screens that I should not see, because I can literally read an entire screen of text by the time someone tries to close a document or window as I look over their shoulder.  I have a good RSS reader (I use Google Reader as a manager of the blogs that I read, but use NewsRack as a reader on my iOS devices) where I follow over 100 blogs.  Additionally, I use the Pulse reader to occasionally scan articles from tech sources that I don’t want to follow all the time (BGR, the Verge, MacWorld).  I’ve recently unsubscribed from some blogs that were overly redundant (i.e. copying source material from other blogs but presenting it as their own) or that have developed a whiny tone.  I also follow about 200 Twitter feeds.  I’m able to process the blogs and tweets in a very short amount of time, as I skip articles I don’t want to read.  The music ed tech world only has about a dozen active “in the trenches” bloggers, so it is really easy to stay “up to date” on emerging trends in music education and technology.  My favorite bloggers, in general, are Jim Darlymple of The Loop and the Macalope from MacWorld.  I also like John Gruber–when he isn’t posting political comments or social commentary (he’s welcome to do so, but I skip those posts).  The ability to read fast, and to take the “gems” from what you read is a critical skill if you plan on earning an advanced degree in your field.

Third, my brain is constantly organizing data into patterns.  I think this is true for all of us, but the end result for me is in the education of others.  I’ve been told a number of times that I have the ability to take complex tech items and to boil them down into tangible information.  That’s a very kind thing to hear, and if it is true, I’m happy about that.  I also have the ability to work with tech items with learners of multiple levels and to not lose my temper.  Ironically, I can lose my temper in a fraction of a second with my own children, but I can explain the same basic procedure 1000 times to a relative stranger and not lose my cool.  I also have the ability to quickly learn how to use a device, program, or app (ironically, I’ve only used BlackBerry devices a handful of times in my life, and I still find them confusing), and to also quickly assess the usefulness of that device in what I do…with a high level of accuracy.  If I can’t learn your app or your device–you’re in trouble.

Fourth, all those music educators that blog and are on Twitter tend to be unbelievably collegial people. B/C/O (Band, Choir, Orchestra) teachers–traditionally–have been not very collegial, stepping on others to rise to the top.  And there’s still a lot of that in the world.  Granted, some of that is due to stinky personalities rather than the profession, but the profession itself can draw people with a certain type of ego.  I don’t play that game (I’ll write more about that in my second post answering the second personal question I was asked)–or I try not to.  So if I have a question, I can go to my network, my “PLC,” of like-minded people on Twitter and those Blogs, and I can ask questions.  And they always get back to me.  It’s quite wonderful, actually.  What a wonderful world it would be if all professional relationships were that way.

Finally, I’m wrong sometimes.  I admit that frequently, and when I assess an app and declare that I see no use for it in my teaching, I mention that doesn’t mean that YOU won’t find use for it.  In my iBook, I mention that I was sold on the idea of Netbooks.  I don’t think I was alone in that, because there were a lot of Netbooks sold before the release of the iPad.  Then the iPad came out and destroyed the market for Netbooks.  My school district bought Netbooks partially because of my trial of one and my recommendation (although others also had a say, and bigger fish made the final decision).  I must also add that I was not yet an Apple “fanboi” when my district bought iPads, so I completely missed Apple’s clear (in retrospect) announcement to not buy Netbooks because something better was coming out.  That said, you can’t live your life worrying that you might make a mistake at every turn–you have to make decisions and recommendations and live with the outcomes.

[In retrospect, Steve Jobs made fun of Netbooks, and declared that Apple would never make one.  Then they released the iPad.  They later announced the MacBook Air, which could be considered a Netbook of sorts, but the Mac OS experience on a MacBook Air has never been the limited experience on a Windows XP, Windows 7, or Linux Netbook…even with the 11″ MacBook Air.]


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