Explain Everything Expands

Explain Everything has long been a personal favorite when it comes to recommending a general-purpose authoring tool for K-12 students. I have not paid attention to more recent developments for this product line. This is my effort to catch up.

Explain Everything was originally a product specific to the iPad. There was a tool for using Macs to render projects into video, but authoring activities were unique to the iPad. The number of platforms able to author with this product has now been expanded. Users can now create using Windows, Chrome or Android.

Offerings have also been differentiated as the basic version (iOS only) that allows externalization via a video for sharing and a product with additional features including real-time collaboration (promised) and hosting (the Discover Portal).



I must try to separate my personal use of the tool from the potential for the classroom (multiple users). Here are a couple features/issues to consider. First, how do you think about purchase vs. lease of a product. If you teach with iPads, you can still own Explain Everything. A teacher with iPads could also use the leasing option ($2.67 per user per year – minimum of 5 users). The leasing option is required of Windows, Chromebook and Android users. Does this matter? I am not certain how to analyze the situation in order to respond. Try this – say you assume you would use a purchase for three years. Multiple the lease price by three and the total is very close to the cost for purchasing the more capable version of the iPad app. For those not using iPads, I would say leasing makes sense. However, these folks really have no options. The real decision must be made by educators who use the iPad. Is the difference between the classic and more featured version meaningful to these teachers and how strong is their commitment to the product? For occasional use, the classic version probably makes the most sense.

Finally, what about a functional version for Macs?

Drafting Board

Argumentation and the value of argumentation in developing critical thinking skills has been a favorite topic. Every time I watch coverage of the present presidential race with all of the charges, counter-charges, and fact checking, I think about what it takes to digest all of this and make an informed decision. Most of my previous commentary was based on the research of Deanna Kuhn and what to me seems like debate.

iCivics takes a different approach with a focus on argumentative writing. They have developed an online tool called Drafting Board that takes scaffolds the process of developing a sound argument. A variety of possible issues and background material are also provided. iCivics is a free resource (they would appreciate contributions).


Tour Builder

Google describes Tour Builder as a web-based storytelling service. My expanded description would be – place-identified, web-enabled storytelling service.


The  service is easy to use. You enter a location and if the location is identified by Google you tag that location. If the location is not identified, you can place the tag manually. Once a location is identified, the tour builder can add a narrative and add images. The tour can be shared (our example).

Educators or their students could use this service in many ways. Yes, it is a way to show what you did last summer, but the trip complete with commenting could trace a historical route (Lewis and Clark).

Learners experience information events as primary source content

Every once in a while, I come up with something I think is clever. The challenge at this point is to convince others that my insight is clever and usually to try to get them to understand my insight.

Here is my new conceptual proposal – to an effective learner all content they encounter is really experienced as a primary source. The inability to experience content in this way limits understanding and eventual application. This inability can be due to poor aptitude or poor attitude. In practice, these problems can be interrelated and mutually inflammatory. Additional learning experiences are necessary to address either problem.

The context for this observation was my thinking about an upcoming discussion of direct vs. constructivist models of instruction. I decided that making this traditional distinction is flawed and actually violates what constructivism means when constructivism is used as a description of learning. Constructivism as a description of cognitive activity implies that each learner engages in unique, knowledge building activities to make sense of experiences in the context of what a learner already knows. Simulations are experiences. Daily observations of life events are experiences. Reading a book is an experience. Listening to a presentation is an experience. Constructivism is about what the learner does with external experiences and not some classification of these external experiences.

The notion of primary source (as used say by a historian) takes a similar perspective. The inputs  (data of some type) are subjected to processing in an effort to achieve meaning.The distinction between a primary and a secondary source is really most accurate for the individual who has generated the secondary source. Even a secondary source as traditionally described (say a textbook) has to be treated as a primary source by the effective learner. Processing is required for understanding.

For anyone who processes an input, flaws may arise from lack of skill or motivation. Lack of useful existing knowledge may limit integration. Lack of motivation may limit the willingness to search for relevant existing knowledge, to add new knowledge to benefit understanding, or to test alternative interpretations.

I get tired of the strange description that those of us who were educated by reading books and listening to presentations had knowledge dumped into our heads. It seems possible that we accepted this as an input (attitude) and understood our job was to think about such inputs. Additional inputs may have been necessary and helpful when personal processing was not initially sufficient, but whether learning resulted from the initial or the secondary inputs, the personal processing was what ultimately determined whether we understood or not.

Apple Professional Development

Today, I signed up for an Apple Education Apple Teacher training program. I cannot really comment at this point on the content of the program because there must be some type of process to approve my application. I tend not to trust business sponsored certification or recognition programs. I will try to reserve judgment – there is a difference between pushing the brand and providing support for those who need to learn how to use specific products.

I use multiple Apple devices daily, but the only Apple software/service I use is iTunes. At this point, I do not regard the Apple software/service as competitive or as having limited value because of the proprietary nature of the product. I use their hardware because I can afford it and the hardware has always proven reliable. I use this hardware to reach the Internet where I do nearly all my work or to launch applications I prefer and could run on other devices if needed.

I make a distinction between tools and tactics in writing about classroom applications of technology. I am participating in the Apple training program because tactics are cross-platform. No matter what your area of practice there is always the opportunity to collect some new ideas. The issue for me will be the cost|benefit ratio in gleaning these nuggets.

The badges? No one cares if I earn badges. Are there settings in which the badges might indicate something of value (aside from a possible personal sense of accomplishment)? Perhaps. I can imagine a setting in which a school has made a 1:1 commitment to iPads and has limited resources to offer professional development. Administrators might appreciate proof of understanding based on meeting badge requirements. Now, if the school’s 1:1 initiative involved chromebooks, would badges indicate a competency of value? Possibly. As I suggested, tactics tend to be cross-platform. I guess my opinion on this second possibility will have to be delayed until I have had the opportunity to participate and see what I think.

Technology Integration

Larry Cuban has been writing a series of blog posts focused on technology integration. The second post in this series is an attempt to define what technology integration means. There is often confusion in education when terms have both a common, general meaning and also a specific, more academic meaning. Things get messy when a word or phrase is used in both ways.

Here is why I am commenting on this topic. My wife and I wrote a textbook, copyright 1996, titled “Integrating Technology for Meaningful Learning”. If you understand how the copyright date for textbooks works, you realize that a 1996 copyright really means that the book is available to students for the Fall 1995 semester. This dating strategy is used to assure a book appears as recent as is possible. The first edition of a textbook takes longer than subsequent editions because more work is involved and because the companies backing the book do more with reviewers to assure the book will sell. So, we were using the phrase technology integration in 1994 or so.

We believe our book was one of the first and probably the first to describe the focus of the book as technology integration. We know what we meant by the phrase at that time and I don’t think I would regard our meaning as a technical term. Our concept was based in the book “Mindtools” authored by the late David Jonassen. I regarded Mindtools as more focused on college academics rather than teachers and I thought the tools Jonassen promoted could be expanded. We were particularly interested in Hypercard and applications such as Kid Pics as additions to Jonassen’s focus on traditional productivity tools – word processing, databases, spreadsheets. Jonassen and a colleague did eventually write a book more applying these ideas for future teaches. The idea of mindtools and our original use of  technology integration was that the types of tools already available could be used within content area instruction to allow generative exploration of the topics addressed in these content areas. Writing to learn was a perspective that was generalized in my own thinking. I now prefer authoring to learn, but writing to learn had greater general familiarity. This integration of such tools in content areas could be contrasted with approaches such as computer-based instruction, computer literacy or programming (although the early LOGO experiences also encouraged the use of LOGO to explore other content areas).

Our focus in the published book was expanded to include a greater breadth of topics (we did include chapters on computer based instruction and programming), but the application of a variety of technology-based tools across the curriculum was and remains a focus of our writing.

So, our meaning of technology integration was the use of technology across the curriculum. It was not intended to be a formal term, but rather a recognition that technology can be applied in flexibly ways to benefit the learning process. My only motivation in offering my perspective is protecting our general use of this term and challenging those who might suggest we are using the phrase in an inappropriate manner.

Our present edition is available as a Kindle book. Our transition from a traditional, big company textbook to our present publishing approach (a Primer in combination with web resources) is a story for another day.

On blogging

I have had an active blog since 2003. This must place me among the old-timers committing to this form of public writing. In this time, I have not really taken the time to comment on why I have made this a personal priority. The back to school season has prompted others to explain why blogging is a worthwhile activity for education. After reading a few of these posts or podcasts and after making a blog an assignment for my own grad class, I thought I would offer some comments based on my own experiences.

I try to personally explore social media recommendations for educators and their students. I do this as a matter of developing my own credibility. I cannot try everything I read about, but I have probably registered for and tried out a couple dozen “production” services. A few of these services have stuck. I wonder why I have persisted in some of these services for so many years. For example, why do I blog and not podcast. I lectured to hundreds of students at a time for nearly 40 years so recording audio and video might seem natural. I guess for me I find more personal benefit and satisfaction in writing. Writing (planning) can be an important initial step in real-time presenting and I think I enjoy this discovery and externalization process more than the presentation itself. I would rather write and discuss than present and discuss.

I enjoy the challenge of sitting down with only a vague idea and trying to create something concrete. There is some magic in this process. I am not usually certain where what I write will end up. The process itself interests me. I know others do not write in this fashion and my approach may violate certain tenants of planning. Blogging allows exploration in a way that other products I write do not. Blogging is likely a productive first step that shapes my position on things and provides a background for other things I do.

The concept of “externalization” has become important in my thinking about learning. Writing is a form of externalization. So is teaching. My work investigating the role of metacognition in reading comprehension and studying have convinced me that the evaluation of personal understanding tends to be lazy. We tend to be satisfied with a certain level of vagueness and can easily gloss over blank spots in understanding. Having to put knowledge into action reveals the limitations of vagueness. I know educators like to promote “reflection” as a way to test and build personal understanding. Reflection is one of those educational terms that should be made more concrete. I recognize that reflection can be accomplished without externalization, but I find it more personally productive to make such processes more concrete. Your written product is pretty concrete – it either exists or it does not.

Is blogging worth the time required? This is difficult to know. I have engaged in the activity while I was working and also now that I am retired. Blogging is a by-product of things I do anyway. I still spend a lot of time reading and considering the value of content for my teaching or writing. The time I spend blogging is usually related to these exploratory activities so the additional time to generate a post is not completely independent.

What blogging for me is not.

Blogging is not a daily ritual. While there is a great deal of inertia once you have made a multi-year commitment to a process, I blog when I have an idea I want to explore and when I have the time. I once made a commitment to a 365 photo project (take and post a photo each day). I completed the personal commitment because I tend to be very stubborn when I make a commitment. I did not make the commitment to do another 365 project.

I do not look at blogging as a way to generate income. Google ads do appear on my blogs. I do this more for reasons of curiosity and principle. I am curious about the return on public scholarship and whether ad revenue is a credible way for professional educators to generate income. For me, it is not a meaningful way to generate revenue. I might do better if I spent more of my time focusing on tutorials and ideas for the classroom. I write about a wide variety of things because I have a wide variety of interests. Strangely, my youtube efforts while few do generate more income. Most of these are tutorials.

Some blog as a way to promote a secondary way to generate income. Many educational speakers fall into this category. In the early days of my blogging, I did look at blogging as a way to supplement our textbook. This was more an effort to offer updates than to generate revenue by way of promotion. We no longer write for a big major textbook provider and have more independence in how we think about the connection between a textbook and related resources. Blogging has little to do with the online connection to the textbook because we provide free resources in other ways.

My antagonism toward those who use ad blockers is an example of what I mean by principle. I believe there is a certain agreement between those who generate content and those who voluntarily consume this content. Those who make the effort to generate the content should be allowed to establish the conditions for the consumption of the content. Unless viewing of specific content is required (as it might be if assigned in a course), blocking ads seems a selfish act that I believe will have long-term consequences.

So, I am a fan of blogging. I find it a reasonable way to explore ideas and I offer these ideas with the hope I can stimulate thinking (and perhaps writing) in others.