Sunday, December 07, 2008

Teachers as good Connectors

Interesting how teaching approaches have gone from "Sage on the Stage" to "Guide on the Side" and now "Connectors." This from a paper by Will Richardson, one of my favorite bloggers, in Edutopia, World Without Walls: Learning Well With Others. Subtitled "How to teach when learning is everywhere."

To quote a snippet: "Inherent in the collaborative process is a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. We must find our own teachers, and they must find us. In fact, in my own kids' lives, I believe their best, most memorable, and most effective teachers will be the ones they discover, not the ones they are given. That's no slight against the people in their face-to-face classrooms, who are equally important in a connected world. But it does suggest that we as educators need to reconsider our roles in students' lives, to think of ourselves as connectors first and content experts second."

Lots more good stuff in the article. Of course, a good teacher is probably a combination of all three: sage, guide and now connector. Will's article also led me to Classroom 2.0, which I joined. This is a social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education. It's a great example of what you can do with Ning.

Visit Classroom 2.0

Yes, one more social network to belong to!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Don't have enough collaboration tools?

here are a few more to investigate...
Mindmap from Mindmeister

Above link found in crazygeekchick article on "27 Free Must-have Online Collaboration Tools"

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Social sharing e-books through Stanza

Stanza is a free iPhone "e-reader" app that has been downloaded more than 395,000 times, greater than a recent Citigroup estimate of 380,000 Kindles that it predicts Amazon will sell in 2008.

The most exciting thing about Stanza is that you can also download the free Stanza Desktop, create your own digital books in the eBook format, and post them on line to be automatically opened and downloaded by using the "epub" protocol. They can be either posted on a web server, or shared from your own computer, much like iTune's ability to share your library with other iTunes users. A difference is that in this case you can actually download the e-books from a shared library.

Stanza does plan to charge $15 for each single-user license when it comes out of beta, but academic discounts are planned.

All we need now is an iPod with a larger screen, that 3.5" monitor is still a bit too small for me for any extensive reading.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Else Can Yoda Teach?

This is pretty interesting to me: George Lucas has started The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

To quote, "Our vision is of a new world of learning. A place where kids and parents, teachers and administrators, policy makers and the people they serve, all are empowered to change education for the better. A place where schools have access to the same invaluable technology as businesses and universities -- where innovation is the rule, not the exception. A place where children become lifelong learners and develop the technical, cultural, and interpersonal skills to succeed in the twenty-first century. A place of inspiration, aspiration, and an urgent belief that improving education improves the world we live in."

Web site at edutopia

Lots of information, nice videos, and podcasts. Though mostly targeted towards middle and high school levels, there is a wide variety of content that is also relevant to higher ed.

I hope to find the time to dig deeper in edutopia. There is always an entertainment element to education, if you can engage the students in any manner, they will pay more attention and learn more. Lucas may have some tricks up his sleeve in this regard. However, he is not just an entertainment innovator, but also a technology innovator, and is now turning his visions towards education. Lucky us!

I already stumbled across an interesting article on the typical process of technology adoption in education as a four-step process:

1. Dabbling.
2. Doing old things in old ways.
3. Doing old things in new ways.
4. Doing new things in new ways.

Full article here.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Is Google Video for business good for education?

Last week Google introduced a new video product: Google Video for business, this is part of their Google Apps Premiere Edition.

Google is also making this available in their Google Apps for Education, but I have reservations regarding the suitability of the product as currently offered.

1. The business Premiere Edition is $50/user/year, but Google is making Google Video "for business" free to Education Edition customers until March 8th 2009. After March 8th, 2009, the cost of the video service will be $10 per user per year

Google should have made it free until the end of the second semester, by June 1 for most institutions. Anyone seriously interested in using this needs to do it for the entire semester, so they better budget that $10/student right up front. It's a bit late for many to start piloting this new video product this semester. Four of the five apps (Sites, Docs, Calendar and Chat) are still in beta, how many simultaneous betas do we want to test?

This may be the start of the "drip, drip" in making money from some free Google services. But then they are a business, aren't they! And why should we expect a free service from anyone?

2. Google Videos "for business" uploaded to a Google Apps for Education domain can only be viewed by users at that domain.

Users are not permitted to share videos with people outside of their Google Apps account. This is a problem if you want to use Google Video for business to overcome the 10 megabyte file size upload limit in Sites.
As we all know, 10 megabytes does not get you much video! Individuals outside an institution's Apps for Education domain account can be invited to its Sites wikis as collaborators and viewers, but they will be blocked from viewing embedded videos.

3. According to this link, with the Education Edition the ability to upload videos should be limited to faculty and staff only. Hopefully this can be over-ridden by the administrator, and "should" is only an unfortunate suggestion. We see more and more students creating content on the web, we don't want to cripple this by making video uploading and sharing unavailable. Upload privileges should be controllable in a granular fashion, on a specific Docs or Sites basis.

4. While $10 per user per year may not sound expensive, it "applies to all uploaders and viewers using the service."  With say 2,000 students, 350 faculty and 250 staff, this is $26,000/year, not a small sum for many institutions.

I have to admit I still have not performed a thorough comparison of the differences as they apply to educational uses, including advantages and disadvantages, between YouTube, Google Video and Google Video for business, but the above limitations are a concern. In addition to the Google products there are of course other video sharing services that may provide a better fit to an institution's needs.

There is a naming confusion between the new Google Video for business and the normal Google Video. I can't find the Google page now, but it stated that Google Video for business is not the same as Google Video. Maybe they should use caps in the "for business"?

I have another little beef to get off my chest, while I am on the soapbox:

Google has been making high-quality downloadable MPEG4-H.264 versions of many of their regular Flash YouTube videos. However, the download link is hidden and has to be activated through a hard-to find but easy to use process. Google should locate the MPEG4 download button, when the download is available, to be clearly visible by default on their YouTube video pages.

We prefer to use MPEG4 when possible: Flash is proprietary, MPEG4 is an open standard. Flash does not play on portable devices, MPEG4 does, or can be easily converted to do so (iTunes>Advanced>Convert Selection). Downloaded YouTube vides are in the FLV format and can't be played without special players, or have to be converted, they don't play with Flash Player, MPEG4 can be played with QuickTime or iTunes. Flash files cannot be used in podcasts, MPEG4 can be. There is no reason, however, why the two formats can't peaceably coexist in educational settings, and their feature sets are constantly evolving.

If Google is making YouTube videos available as MPEG4s, they need to make them easier to find.

Monday, September 01, 2008

New Wiki Tool at Conn

We were getting tired of having to teach students MediaWiki's "wikitalk". Not because it's not a great language to replace HTML for beginners. However, we were looking for:
1. A visual editor. Some faculty did not want to learn the wiki tags, and most students did not want to allow the time to learn them.

In addition, we were also looking for:

2. A wiki with more powerful layout features. MediaWiki does not allow this "out of the can". Creative layouts are possible, but require a lot of experimentation with carriage returns.
3. More controls over fonts, font sizes and font colors, without getting into span tags and hexadecimal code.
4. A hosted solution, so we don't have to worry about server maintenance and security.

After considerable research, we narrowed the choices down to what I consider to be the "Big Three" that meet the above criteria: PBwiki, Wikispaces and Google Sites. We ended up choosing Sites. This can be used either within a single Google account, or as part of Google's Apps for Education

We chose the latter solution, as it allows integration with Google Docs, easily linking Sites wikis to "the cloud." The single account only allows a 100 MB limit on total capacity of a wiki's uploads, we anticipated this to be too limiting. The free Ed solution has an overall institution limit (10 GB I believe), with no limits on single wikis.

The other two wiki solutions, PBwiki and Wikispaces, are both excellent, and full of features, so it was a tough choice. I'll post more why we chose Sites for our own situation at a later time.

Student creation of media and web-based assets, as part of course assignments, is becoming more commonplace here, so I started a wiki of the landscape to serve as a guide: YouPub. This is obviously rough customized for our college's needs, and unfinished at this time. I think I got most of the headings right.

Don't get me wrong, MediaWiki is a fantastic tool. We will keep our server going and available to anyone that needs it. The 20 or so wikis on it will still be accessible and editable to its authors. MediaWiki served us well for two years, but was not the right fit for our current situation. One disadvantage of Sites is that single file uploads are limited to 10 MB. In these days of large video files, it is a challenge we will need to overcome. This will entail a combination of linking to hosted videos on other services and servers and more efficient compression of Sites videos.

Another challenge will be expandability. Once we reach our institutional file upload limit, how to expand? However, we needed to move on at the beginning of this semester, and decided Sites was the best solution to pilot.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Anywhere-Anytime Computing

The above is just another term for Mobile Computing or "Just in Time Computing". Portable communication devices such as the iPhone, and other smart phones offer advanced capabilities beyond a typical mobile phone, with computer-like functionality and can include small keyboards, video and still cameras and voice recorders. They also offer both Wi-Fi and cell phone web connectivity.

With upcoming major developments in the iPhone SDK, iPhone 2, and Google's Android, a critical mass in usability will soon be reached. Students' content viewing and listening opportunities have already been greatly expanded with the use of portable devices as the iPod. In a parallel manner, their opportunities for content creation (text, images and video) and immediate sharing, via the web, will soon be expanded with the introduction of these new portable communication devices.

Two recent cases of student-created content, a SATA and a TRIP, would have benefited greatly from “anywhere-anytime” connectivity: The SATA Peru Wiki and the more recent TRIP to Russia 2008 blog

The above students, in foreign countries, had extremely limited and infrequent access to networked computers. Considerable more content would have been created with better connectivity. Uploading of images was very difficult. In the SATA Peru wiki, students were often attempting to move 3+ MB images from a digital camera to a computer, and then upload them on a slow connection, at the few times they had access. This was even after emailing them to please follow posted directions on how to reduce file sizes in Picasa and iPhoto. Eventually, the faculty member ended up emailing most of the images to an assistant here, who would then post them.

With a smart phone, capturing images and possibly video, uploading to a collaborative web site, and writing would be easy, anytime day or night. We need to evaluate potential benefits for SATA and TRIP experiences. Other student-generated work can benefit from “anywhere-anytime” connectivity, these pedagogical situations need to be researched and identified. Technical requirements also need to be identified, along with equipment and services that meet them. It will probably be wise to evaluate first-hand different options. Finally, pilot projects need to be implemented.

Initial cost estimates: Equipment $2,000 (4 smart phones, 2 for staff and faculty testing and familiarization, 2 for distribution). Service, TBD, currently estimated at $1,200-2,000/year per phone. This should come down in time.

Here are some interesting links I ran across, as I start my research in this area:

The 2008 Horizon Report on Mobile Broadband, which suggests a 2-3 year "time-to-adoption." I think appropriate technologies will be here by year's end for early adopters to implement successful projects.

Camera phones used in videojournalism, this has applications in education

Reuters Mobile Journalism Toolkit, which includes a small real bluetooth keyboard, this makes typing considerably easier.

International Cell Phone Service, a good overview from Travel Insider

Saturday, March 08, 2008

SXSW is getting BIG

My brother Ralph, who has lived in Austin for about 8 years while working on DSPs for ARM, kept telling me about this hip little film and music festival called SXSW. Kept trying to get me to fill out a travel request so the college could pay for me to get out there! I did not feel it appropriate, though I could stay for free with him, with no lodging costs. I kept an eye on the SXSW web site from year to year, noticing the annual increase of bands, indie films and other media events. My brother, who is a techie who also loves music, must have really enjoyed seeing this annual growth.

It appears that SXSW has gotten real big this year, reaching national prominence, with a lot of buzz on the web 2.0, as its interactive program achieved critical mass. Even Twitter has upgraded their servers and "tuned performance" in preparation for this event.

There must be some "great stuff" at SXSW, here is a clip borrowed from Read-Write-Web regarding "Lessons Learned at 37 Signals", one of my favorite companies.

Lesson 5: Question Your Work Regularly
At 37 Signals they are always asking questions to make sure they are doing the right things. Internally, this list of questions includes:

- why are we doing this?

- what problem are we solving?

- is this actually useful?

- are we adding value?

- will this change behavior?

- is there an easier way?

- what's the opportunity cost?

- is it really worth it?

Many of the above questions are relevant in our instructional technology work at the college level.

I already made plans to go to NERCOMP for a work day, and then to Fort Myers Beach area for my vacation. Next year, I'll have to look hard at going to Austin instead for both!