Tek Trek

traveling the learning technologies landscape

Simple Screen Sharing +Conferencing

Posted by tektrekker on 20 September, 2010

When I’m teaching, I often need to be able to screen share while chatting with students.  There are lots of options for this, but recently I tried out a new service called  Join.Me.

Join.Me is quite simple to use – just click a button to start the session and then click another button to share the session info with others.   They can join by following the link and entering the code for the session.  There are options to do telephone conferencing (call is to a 415 area code) and chat.  The host can also choose to let someone else have control of the host’s screen. I can definitely see using this for tech support for students as well as short demonstrations, lectures, etc.

The service is in beta right now and there’s no information about possible future pricing nor is there info about how many can be in the free session simultaneously.  That being said, I think this is a good tool to try out in your classes.

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Transparent Connections

Posted by tektrekker on 9 September, 2010

Like many faculty, I often ask learners to research topics and create something from that research.  While their end-products are always interesting, I always end up wishing I could have taken the research and learning journey with them to understand where they were coming from and how they ended up where they did.   In the past, I’ve asked for annotated bibliographies or asked them to use social bookmarking tools with annotations.  I also  spend time with them in synchronous or semi-synchronous communications along their journey.  These things are great, but they haven’t been an entirely satisfactory experience because it is a bit disjointed for them and for me.

Enter  Trailmeme.   In a nutshell, this sevice is part social bookmark, part annotation, and part mindmap.   You add links, add tags and editorial comments, and then arrange those links into what I can only describe as a mind map but which the creators call a trail.  Since I think of learning as a journey, I’m totally in tune with the whole “trail” concept.  LOL.

I’ve used similar service called Trailfire – in fact, in the left column of this blog there are Trailfires.  I do like it for creating annotated collections of links and sharing them  but the folks at Trailmeme really up the game by including the ability to arrange those links into maps and show linkages between different items.   I can totally see learners using this not only for tracking their own learning (like a reflective journal) or making their research connections and ideas transparent,  but also as a interactive assessment tool.

Bonus – the folks at Trailmeme are very responsive. I turned in a suggestion and heard back immediately with a personal response.  They’re also coming out with an updated version very soon (a little birdy told me)  and I’m excited to see what new features they have in store for us.

If you have time, check out Trailmeme. I think it has a lot of potential educational uses.

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SlideSix Presentation Sharing & More

Posted by tektrekker on 27 August, 2010

When I need to create and share some sort of presentation, I typically use a combination of Power Point and VoiceThread:  the first to create the slides, the second to narrate and give it a bit of spice.   I quite like VoiceThread and am not going to give it up any time soon.  However, I just ran across SlideSix and I really like it.  It feels like a combination of SlideShare plus VoiceThread with a few special surprises thrown in.

First upload your PowerPoint (PPT, PPS), Acrobat (PDF), or OpenOffice Impress (ODP, SXI) file(s) or import presentations from you Google Docs account.  Then you can spice up your presentation by embedding online  video, adding voice or video narration, and even adding extra notes to each slide.   The presentation can then be shared via link or embed.  You can share with a group or the world, password protect the file or not, etc.

Now for the surprises – you can attach a zip file to your presentation that viewers can download and  you can do what these folks call “collaborate”  either privately or publicly.  When I saw that option, I thought it meant you could invite others to asynchronously come edit the presentation.  That is not what they mean though.  In this case, collaborate means to broadcast your presentation – complete with a list of who is in the room and a live chat room along side.  Nice. 🙂

You can see my ‘works in progress’  at my SlideShare home page.  Check them and SlideSix out and let me know what you think.

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eBook Creator

Posted by tektrekker on 3 March, 2010

Lately,  I’ve been exploring ebooks and ebook readers.  I use a few different ebook readers –  I have Stanza and Kindle on my iPhone and my desktop and I purchased the Sony eBook Reader (Touch Edition) as well.

Of course, having these readers means needing content to read and that leads me to CALIBRE ebook managment software.  I know there are plenty of options out there for creating eBook content, but I love this program because it works seamlessly with many of the popular eBook readers.

This little gem lets you do everything from editing the metadata of the eBook to converting various files to the specific ebook format required by your particular eBook reader.  It also lets you find metadata content (title, publisher, author, book cover, etc) on the web and automatically update the metadata of the eBooks on your computer.  Finally, you can locate RSS content on the web and pull that down to your computer and put it in eBook format as well.   Actually, I shouldn’t say “finally” because there are other features to this great software program.

If you’d like to see the program in action, check out the Calibre Demo.  If you like it as much as I do, download it and also consider supporting the developers (calibre is open source)  through a donation. They have done some great work on this very useful and easy-to-use program (nope – I’m not affiliated with any of the developers in any way!).

Posted in First Look | 3 Comments »

Learning Languages Online

Posted by tektrekker on 26 August, 2009

Many universities require their students seeking Bachelor of Arts degrees to take courses in a foreign language.  Often, for those students, finding study partners and media rich practice materials can make the difference between a passing and failing grade.  Fortunately, there are a number of  helpful online sites where students, and anyone else wishing to learn a foreign language, can get assistance.

LiveMocha

My personal favorite is LiveMocha.  The site assists individual study of many different languages (I’m studying Hindi) through some well-structured learning and practice activities (developed by subject matter experts) that encourage development of reading and listening skills as well as writing and speaking skills.  There is a large support community of learners who provide feedback to each other on assignments as they are turned in.  My first Hindi assignment received feedback from 4 separate individuals within 6 hours!   The site also lets you build friendships with speakers of your target language so that you can practice with a real person.  This site would be a great site to send your students for extra practice that is both engaging and effective.

Palabea

If stronger social learning is more your style, or if you want a place to teach your online class, then Palabea might be the site for you. Much of the learning content you will find at this site is developed by the community members and includes text, audio, and video materials.  You can choose to access support materials randomly or join one of the virtual classrooms devoted to a specific language.  Teachers using this site can also create and upload their own content.  For social learning, there are discussion forums and live chats for several target languages, making this a great place to go to find communication partners.

iTalki and Babbel

Two other communities, iTalki and Babbel, also have nice community features like chat and discussion forums and some learning resources, but most instructional materials are provided for a fee.  These are both potentially good places to visit and socialize in your target language.

Summary

Each of the four sites has something interesting to offer, whether you’re looking for a more studious directed study environment like LiveMocha or a more socially-oriented space like  iTalki and Babble or even a place with course creation features like Palabea. Visit them all and pick the one that best meets your needs and the needs of your students.

Posted in First Look | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Personal Learning Networks

Posted by tektrekker on 18 August, 2009

I’ve been collaborating with some colleagues to develop a series of webinars and challenge activities about personal learning networks (PLN).  The entire experience so far has been fantastic – especially the discussions as we each tried to explain what our PLNs mean to each of us.

If you’re interested in exploring the topic of Personal Learning Networks and want to join in the discussion, come check us out at Connect! Your PLN Lab.

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Podcasting via Email? Yay!

Posted by tektrekker on 19 May, 2009

While preparing for a workshop and a webinar on audio tools, I happen to run across Posterous and was immediately intrigued.  This blog tool lets you easily post via your email and even cross-post simultaneously to a number of other sites, including Twitter, FaceBook, Flickr, Blogger, WordPress, and more.   And, while those are really cool features, what really got my attention was the ability to podcast via email.

I’ve taught a lot of podcast workshops and I’m always looking for new tools that make it easier to become a podcaster without having to learn a lot of the technical stuff.  Posterous is that new tool.  Imagine it – create your mp3 audio file, email it to your blog, and voila! You’re a podcaster. Posterous takes care of the rest – putting your file into your blog so that it can be listened to there and also having a feed automatically generated so people can subscribe to it in iTunes.

If you’ve been waiting for a simpler way to podcast, then give Posterous a try.  And, while you’re at it, check out how easy it is to use the other features of this blogging tool: you can send ppt, doc, pdf, jpg, avi, mpg files and more to your blog just by sending an email with an attachment. They’ll be put in a format that can be read online and even downloaded and shared with others.  You’ll be amazed at the simplicity and usefulness of this cool blogging tool.

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Getting things done…with audio.

Posted by tektrekker on 26 April, 2009

Recently, I spent some time reviewing technology for a webinar on audio productivity tools that I was presenting.  The goal was to find some tools that somehow helped with productivity and had an audio component.  I found several:

Dixero – a great little RSS text-to-audio podcast tool. This simple tool provides a way for you to create playlists of your favorite text-based RSS feeds which are then converted to an audio podcast.  In terms of productivity – now I can listen to my favorite updates while I walk or commute.

File2WS – easily share files on the web for viewing or download.  Many teachers I know like to make text, images, audio, and video files available for listening to or viewing on the web but don’t really want to deal with the hassle of figuring out how get these things in a blog, wiki, or other service.  This service takes care of that – freeing up your time to do other things.

Posterous – blog posting of text, images, audio, and video using just email with attachments.  This service does so much more, but just the convenience of emailing posts and having attachments automatically converted for web viewing is awesome.

Dial2Do –  use your phone to send email, SMS, IM, record notes, calendar items, t0-do lists, post to Twitter, FriendFeed, and various blogs PLUS listen to RSS feeds.  The possibilities (and ease) of this tool made it the hands-down favorite during the webinar.  Please do yourself a favor and check out this tool.

I hope you find at least one of these tools useful!  If you do try them out, let me know how it went.

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Web 2.0 Selection Criteria

Posted by tektrekker on 2 March, 2009

I often post info about tools I find and I think those posts are generally helpful. However, I thought you might like to know how I decide which tools I’m going to use in my classes.

The appropriate use of the right Web 2.0 tool can ensure better access, strengthen interactions, increase learning, and improve satisfaction (all in a generally cost-effective manner!). However, once you’ve chosen a particular class of Web 2.0 technology (i.e. content creation tools, communication tools, social networking tools…) making a selection from among several seemingly similar Web 2.0 tools in that class can often be challenging and time-consuming. That’s why a checklist is useful. It will save you time by helping you eliminate poor tool choices. Once you’ve eliminated the poor choices, you will have fewer tools to test and a greater chance of finding that perfect tool to satisfy your course goals and learning objectives.

Of course, the number one criteria on any checklist should be that the tool supports your learning objectives. That being said, there are many other criteria to consider. You can download the full checklist (attached) and use it without reading any further. However, if you’re the type of person who prefers to see how a checklist is applied, keep reading to see how I applied this checklist during a search for a specific type of tool.

Scenario

I decided that student presentations (with peer assessment of those presentations) would satisfy a number of my learning objectives and since I knew there would be a significant time-commitment to create the instructional materials for this new activity, I wanted to make a careful selection. So, I went to one of my favorite places to find new tools – Go2Web20 and did a search on presentation tools. The results yielded several possible choices including Viddix, MyPlick, AuthorStream, SlideShare, Preezo, PreZENtIt, and Spresent. With my list in hand, it was now time to refer to my checklist to begin eliminating tool options to find the best choice for my needs.

Criteria 1: Access

Immediately I saw that I should eliminate MyPlick, AuthorStream, and SlideShare because while they allow you to share presentations online, they didn’t allow you to create them. I felt that both options were necessary in case I had students who didn’t have, or couldn’t afford, PowerPoint.

Further reading suggested that I should also eliminate Spresent because its future as a free tool was in question. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time creating instructions and support documentation for a tool that might not be available next semester. Additionally, it is a flash-based tool which puts its ADA compliance into question (without extra work,that is).

After even more reading, I noted that Preezo required “a modern browser.” I know many of my students have computers that are about 4 years old on average so they probably don’t have up-to-date browsers. I’m not entirely convinced this would be a problem but, I’ll eliminate this tool for now and only come back to it if my other options are unsatisfactory.

Finally, I was also able to eliminate Viddix because the format of its product will probably not meet ADA requirements. Of course, as with Preezo, I’ll keep this in mind for further testing if I have time or if the other options don’t work out.

Criteria 2: Usability

At this point, I haven’t even had to try out a new tool yet and I only have one tool left to check against my criteria. This is one of the major benefits of having a well-defined checklist: it saves you time. There’s no point in testing tools that don’t even seem to meet the accessibility criteria.

A quick test of the tool shows that, from a usability perspective, PrezentIt is fairly simple to use. The account creation process was simple and the interface seems intuitive. Unfortunately, the help section is almost non-existent but, since the tool seems easy to use and since I’m comfortable providing tech support, I don’t feel this is a major concern.

Criteria 3: Privacy & Intellectual Property

I’m always cautious when reviewing tools for privacy and IP issues. PrezentIt states that it will not share private data and it doesn’t place a claim on any IP rights to data you create or post there. Not all services make this claim, so it is good to read the End User License Agreement and Terms of Use prior to using a tool or making your students use it.

PrezentIt has options to make content totally private (creator’s eyes only), totally public (anyone can view) or view/collaborate by invitation. This is a bonus because students can work on their presentations privately and then share them with others only when they’re ready.

Criteria 4: Workload & Time Management

Because each student has to create an account, I can easily track who has done what. There is also a comment feature which is tied to an account so it will be simple for me to determine who has done a peer assessment. Finally, the presentation can be embedded in the LCMS which will save me time be letting me view all presentations in our course room instead of visiting multiple sites.

Criteria 5: Fun Factor

The tool allows for insertion of images and text and has some interesting slide transitions as well. It doesn’t have the capability to add sound, but I think that the ability to have discussions around text and image presentations (as opposed to just text-based discussions, for example) does add some fun and creativity to the learning activity.

Overall, I would say that PrezentIt meets the checklist criteria and my stated needs and objectives. Of course, this was just a first pass using some very quick guidelines to eliminate obviously poor choices. Now that I’ve eliminated all but PreZentIt, I have time to focus and refine my testing to ensure a perfect fit with my learning objectives.

I hope the checklist is helpful to you. It’s a fairly generic version that should work in a variety of situations with many different types of tools. However, I would like to mention that, in actual practice, there is more of a feedback loop when using the checklist – initial goals and objectives inform basic choices then, as tool testing begins, some refining of specific requirements usually occurs. For example, in the above situation, I initially excluded three really decent tools simply because I specified that the tool should be a content creation and content presentation tool. Normally, I might have reconsidered my requirements or at least applied the checklist to those tools while I was applying it to PrezentIt, just in case I changed my mind about my needs.

Web 2.0 Technology Selection Criteria

Evaluate your possible tool choices using these criteria to eliminate poor choices quickly. Then, do more extensive testing to find that ‘perfect’ Web 2.0 technology.

Criteria 1: Access

  • Is the tool accessible by Windows and Mac users?
  • Is the tool / product of tool viewable in a variety of web browsers?
  • Does the tool work well for those with dial-up connections?
  • Does the tool provide options that support ADA compliance?
  • Is the tool free?
  • Will the tool be around for a while?

Criteria 2: Usability

  • Do you have to create an account to use the tool?
  • Is the tool easy to use?
  • Does the tool have a robust and easy to use Help section?
  • Does anything have to be downloaded and installed on the computer to use the tool?

Criteria 3: Privacy & Intellectual Property

  • Does the tool allow you to restrict access of your work/your students’ work?
  • Does the tool protect your personal data (e.g. email address given when account created)?
  • Does the tool allow you / your students to retain sole IP rights to the content you create?
  • Does the tool allow you to determine the copyright status of the content you’ve created?
  • Can you save a copy of the product to your desktop for archival purposes?

Criteria 4: Workload & Time Management

  • Does the tool make it easy to track student work (for grading purposes).
  • Does the tool support private and public commenting (for individual and group feedback)?
  • Does the tool provide for an RSS feed to track work via email or an RSS reader?
  • Is it possible to embed the tool into the LCMS you’re using?

Criteria 5: Fun Factor

  • Does the tool allow you to be creative during the learning process?
  • Does the tool allow you to demonstrate creativity in the learning product?
  • Does the tool provide opportunities for different types of interaction (visual, verbal, written)?
  • Does the tool increase the perception of connectedness?
  • Does the tool encourage collaboration?

Feel free to use/distribute this checklist to other educators who may find it helpful.

Web 2.0 Selection Criteria

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Science Game for Middle School!

Posted by tektrekker on 12 February, 2009

Normally, I confine my posts to web 2.0 technologies; however, I thought the Science Pirates game was important enough to break with my self-imposed restrictions!

The people of the NMSU Learning Games Lab do some tremendous work and their work on Science Pirates is no exception.  That they care deeply about learning  is evident throughout this game – from the programming, art work, and voice talent to the instructional design and science curriculum!  I can’t speak highly enough of this team or their work.

So, if you teach science or middle school children, check out Science Pirates. Then, if you have time,  help the great folks at NMSU who created it by testing it out and giving them feedback.   Enjoy!

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