Some Advice on Buying Macs and iPads at my School

I had an incoming student ask for my advice on which devices to buy as they start their learning career at CU’s School of Dental Medicine.

This was my response:

As you are asking for my personal opinion, I will give it to you based upon how I do my daily work and how I have seen effective students work this year (our first year of using both iPads and Macs together). First, I love my iPad Pro. I have been using an iPad since the original generation because I love iOS and the way you get to think about “Apps and Actions” instead of “Files and Storage.” The more that I can use my iPad for productive purposes, the happier I am. I often find that I am better able to concentrate on a single productive task while on the iPad because of the way it is set up (there aren’t a nearly infinite number of windows that I can keep open at any given time). With that said, there are still things that I cannot do as easily from the iPad. And so I often find myself remotely accessing my MacBook Pro in order to accomplish a variety of tasks such as extensive work with spreadsheets and accessing desktop only applications. For this setup, I do not need the latest and greatest Mac. Rather, I just need one that I can always leave on to be there whenever I need it. If this setup sounds like you, I’d go for the best iPad Pro for your needs (either a 12.9 or 11 inch with Apple Pencil Gen 2) and go with a lesser Mac that you can defer to when you need it.

Second, I have seen students in their first year really like using iPads for note taking and annotating powerpoint files. They are often drawing on top of PDF readings or recording and annotating lectures. These are iPad-first students, and some of them rarely use their Macs. However, I see lots of students who prefer to type on their Mac laptops and make use of the massive storage they have, while leaving their iPads for only accessing the content-based apps that we have provided for specific classes. If you are the type of person who really does prefer to type extensive notes, a laptop is far better suited to the task. The exams for each of the courses are currently given primarily via Mac Laptop, but there are some students who are more comfortable on iPad, so they do that there as well. It really is a preference thing at this point, but we are moving forward with the idea that you should be able to do these exams from anywhere. 

Last, I think it probably comes down to what you want to invest your time in. There is A LOT of content coming at you in the first year, and you want a setup that is going to be easiest for you to learn that content. If you know how to use the iPad already and are familiar with navigating the mobile-first paradigm (I launch this app to do this thing), then it may make more sense to invest more there. If, on the other hand, you find yourself thinking about keeping a series of Word docs or Powerpoint files for each of your courses to help organize your learning, investing in the laptop is going to be easier for you. Ultimately, the technology should just be a tool to help you learn. It should not “get in the way” of your learning. So, I would start with the following tasks that a first year student does frequently and see which tool you might want to use most often. Whichever device feels more comfortable to you, I would invest in more heavily:

  • Taking notes during class
  • Taking pictures of your work in lab
  • Reviewing slides from your faculty members
  • Making powerpoint “cases” to present in class
  • Making flash cards/review materials
  • Accessing an LMS (Canvas, in our case)
  • Taking an Exam with multiple choice questions
  • Messaging your classmates
  • Reading a digital textbook and taking notes
  • Accessing an Electronic Health Records system

There are a lot of other tasks that you will obviously be doing with these devices (I haven’t spoken about any personal uses, so consider those too), but I hope that helps a bit for making your decisions. The only other suggestion I have is to wait until at least the end of June before buying anything. Mac laptops should get a refresh this summer, and you may have an easier time deciding after that point. Let me know if you have any further questions, and I’d be happy to follow up.

The Music Collection that Doesn’t Quite Feel Mine

I have been carefully curating my music collection for over 20 years, now. In that time, I’ve amassed thousands of albums that I have loved and listened to countless times. For a long while, there was some physical representation of this music. I owned CD’s. I collected records. But, all of it got dumped onto a hard drive at one point, and for the most part, that library of music hasn’t been touched since about 2010. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the biggest one is the accessibility to Youtube/Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music.

I am not the first to recognize the seemingly incompatible metaphors of “owning” vs. “renting” music, but until this year, I don’t think that I realized just how much my music collection is no longer mine. I no longer treasure music the way I used to because I didn’t purchase it. I no longer work to find new music or dig up some long forgotten collection by a band I half remember because there is no worry that it won’t be there tomorrow. All music is always accessible. And it is simultaneously amazing and awful.

I don’t think that my kids will ever really possess the music they love. They will make playlists and they will stream their favorites. They will surely have far more opportunities to experience music than I ever did when I had to go to the record store and pick up the latest album, but I do need to make peace with the idea that access is not the same as ownership.

Access is not the same as ownership.

And maybe it doesn’t have to be. But, as I look at the thousands of songs I can turn to at the touch of a screen, I miss what ownership gives me: the ability to call these songs, and the experiences I have with them, mine. I’ll get over it, but I’m not sure I want to just yet.

The Commute

My commute is long and I’m trying to make it shorter.

I’m looking for any route I can find that will shave off an additional minute. I just hooked up my bike rack (and put my Gary Fisher on it) to cut down the time between my car and my office. I am experimenting with different times to leave in the morning and afternoon.

My personal best is 27 minutes driving and 10 minutes walking in the morning, and just three minutes more in the afternoon. This may not seem like a lot, but when you are wanted home by three lovely children and wife, there is no amount of time that I can cut out that will be wasted.

And that is why change is hard. I don’t want to waste time and certainly don’t want to give more of myself to things that don’t provide lasting value for myself or others (most of all, my family).

I can listen to podcasts and books and music on my cummute, but it isn’t the same as seeing my kids for more hours of their waking lives. They will only be 4 and 9 and 11 for so long, and I can’t imagine missing any more of it than I have to.

And Kara…

I want to provide for our needs. I want to be with her. And not just for the moments when we are both exhausted from our days.

So, I strive on to cut out another 30 seconds on my commute. Let me know if you have any time warping techniques.

The Next Chapter


I’ve been looking forward to making this announcement for 2 and half months, and I’ve finally gotten approval to make it happen. After 5 interview rounds and two on-site visits, I can say these words: I have a new job!

And in so many ways, it is truly NEW.

  • Working in Higher Education will be NEW.
  • Working with Post-graduate Instructors will be NEW.
  • Working in and developing a VR/Simulation lab will be NEW.
  • Working on a Medical Campus will be NEW.
  • Working with students who pay tuition will be NEW.
  • Working with a single school to achieve their outcomes for Digital Education will be NEW.

My new gig is as the Program Manager of Digital Education and Academic Technologies at the University of Colorado Anschutz campus.

My job description says I’ll be doing this:

The Program Manager of Digital Education & Academic Technologies serves as the School’s digital academic technology officer/lead. The Program Manager is responsible for managing all aspects of digital education, digital media, and faculty, staff and student training on new academic technologies introduced to the curriculum. In order to support an integral component of the Innovation Initiative, the Program Manager is responsible for creating an innovative teaching and learning environment. The Program Manager provides strategic leadership in planning for and implementing new digital learning technologies, providing expertise in instructional design, digital media, and project management, as well as the assessment, deployment, and management of emerging educational innovations. The Program Manager is responsible for developing and directing the School’s digital education and academic technology strategic plan.

That is a whole lot of NEW stuff to be thinking about and creating, but I am so looking forward to learning and leading in a brand new arena. I know I have a long way to go before I am an expert in this new context, but I have a strong foundation for teaching and learning from my K-12 experience. I am looking to leverage my entire network to better support my new stakeholders: Students and Staff in CU’s School of Dental Medicine.

Thank you to everyone who supported me in my search for a new gig. It has helped more than you can ever know!

Unlimited Vacation!

As you may know, I’ve been looking for a new gig.

In my search, a friend of mine recommended that I check out this company. I was incredibly intrigued by one of the “Perks” that they claim: Unlimited vacation (with a 2 week minimum.) While I’m still not sure how that would work exactly, it made me think a lot about the culture of a place that would advertise this.

How could we trust one another more that this could be our culture too? I wonder…

Thank you from TodaysMeet, and goodbye

TodaysMeet was one of the very first tools I ever used with kids to create a backchannel, a living conversation that was in direct opposition to having a single voice of authority in the classroom. As of June 16th, TodaysMeet will no longer exist. It makes sense why it is going away. It never had a business model and never gained much more traction than those first years of early adopters. And yet, I look at its destruction as yet another sign that we are in a different era of modern learning. When an old generation of tools die, what are the tools that will replace them?

50 questions for 2018

Although we are in May now, I still can’t quit asking questions about 2018. How did we get here and how do we move forward? These are 50 more questions worth asking about the current state of things, both in education and elsewhere. The very first of which is worth spending some time on: “Is being online compatible with being awake?”

Bad PD is Sometimes Your Own Fault

Dean Shareski speaks some truth about our personal responsibility for making Professional Learning work. It resonated with me because I speak often about our need to Trust Teachers and allow for them to take ownership over their own growth. And yet, this requires a significant amount of work from each educator, and without models for doing so, it is incredibly hard for many. We should be gracious with one another, and know that our best way forward is to be learners alongside other learners. We are responsible for ourselves, and in many ways, it is a truly awesome responsibility.

An Image for Further Inquiry:

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Are You Inspired Yet?

It isn’t often that I get truly excited by email, but with the new updates to the Gmail interface and the inclusion of a standalone Tasks app I am no longer dreading my inbox. And, for someone who spends a decent amount of the day there, that isn’t nothing.

Whether I get any more done as a result… Well, that remains to be seen.


Although this is only a partial idea from Dan Meyer and David Coffey, I was so completely taken with it. What would happen if we took inspiration from the “Song Exploder” podcast and we created a “Lesson Exploder” podcast/vlog? What would happen if we looked at the art of a great lesson plan or learning experience from all of the angles and tried to understand it the same way that we might try to understand and appreciate music?

We Need Diverse Books

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult literature of late, and I ran across this organization that aims to provide more books to everyone that are “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” I really like the approach here, as more students deserve to see themselves in the books they read in school. And we could all use some more experience in empathizing with others! (I try to do exactly that in my reading of The Hate U Give, here.)

Googlink: Creating Interactive Posters with Google Drawings

There are few people that I respect more than Eric Curts for their forward thinking and creative use of technology. In this exploration of Google Drawings, Eric makes the case for creating hyperlinked and interactive images as a way to explore topics and demonstrate understanding with students.

An Image for Further Inquiry:Dabbing at The Spelling Bee

Empathy Wins

Digital Literacy from Teaching Tolerance

I really like the stance that this resource takes on Digital Literacy: A place for teachable moments and actively creating tolerant online communities. The lesson plans here (Grades 3-12) seem as much about creating engaged digital citizens as they are about setting up a framework for understanding the modern world.

Textbooks, OER, and the Need for Open Pedagogy

The politics (and economics) of textbooks have always been complex. Do we have a moral or social obligation to make our textbooks and very way we teach students more open? This is yet one more well researched article that says pretty unequivocally, “Yes!”

Agency and High Quality PBL

The recently released “Framework for High Quality Project-Based Learning” is helping many students and adult learners to have more agency in the work they choose to engage in. This article goes into that relationship, and it digs into the ways that we might help kids solve important problems, answer urgent questions, or simply address pressing issues that will have real-world impact.

An Image for Further Inquiry:

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Said vs. Heard

What we say is not always what is heard, and the difference between those things provides for a lot of conflict and consternation. It is also a huge opportunity to ask questions and to strive for understanding. We should lean into that opportunity.

The Case Against Automated Student Data Dashboards

In a season that is seemingly filled with assessments and data, it may be important to remember who’s data it is. It doesn’t belong to the software or the assessment or even the teacher. It belongs to the students.

Adobe Launches Spark With Premium Features for Every Student, Free of Charge

This is an amazing creative resource, and I am so glad that Adobe has now made the features more accessible to our students without compromising their data privacy.

Five Ways to Sustain School Change Through Pushback, Struggle and Fatigue

Change is hard. Really hard.

What We Know

We know we are alive. We know we are creative and collaborative thinkers and doers. We know we are courageous and curious. We know we are both fighters and learners. Let us embrace what we know and lean into what we do not.

You know more than you think.

Personalized Learning Isn’t About Tech

It is pretty obvious that some believe Personalized Learning is about technology, and so this article needed to be written. Those who have been doing it for years and understand that it isn’t about tech, sometimes need reminders. This is a good one.

A Quick Note On The Perils of Teacher Leadership – Jose Vilson

What a great reflection on how Teachers can embrace leadership, but the inherent issues with doing so within a broader leadership context.

Padlet’s Price Update Riles Teachers and Raises Questions About Sustainability of ‘Freemium’ Models | EdSurge News

For many who have been encouraging collaboration and creation in their classrooms, the news of Padlet’s price/service changes have been a huge surprise. How will you change your use of digital tools when they can change at any moment?