Category Archives: Technology

On Demand Education

circuit boardMany of us are old enough to remember when VCRs first became popular. Before then if you wanted to watch a movie you had to go to the theater or wait for it to show up on TV. Once VCRs got past the legal problems (The movie industry thought it would COST them money .. HA!) you could see a movie any time you wanted to. If there was a cool show on TV but you still wanted to go out someplace with your friends, all you had to do was program your VCR and walk away.(Yes, I’m looking at history through rose colored glasses. Our display was always flashing 12:00, I admit it.)

Nowadays we have Tivo and other digital recorders to do the same thing for us, only better. On top of that we have podcasts, RSS feeds, voice mail, and all other kinds of cool things that let us get our information when we want it, not just when it’s convenient for others.

That right there is the heart of this little spiel of mine.

You see, we can use this to our advantage in education. Imagine a school where every student is required to have an MP3 player. The teacher could record the lecture and / or supplemental information and distribute it to the students. They could listen to it while on the bus, doing chores, or even when playing their favorite video game. Students could make the time for education while doing other things as well, thus taking a load off of their shoulders.

Now I don’t think that audio should replace text entirely. Not all students perform well by being lectured to, just like not all students perform well by being given worksheets. Rather, I think it would be ideal to have the two elements combined, with one reinforcing the other.

Sound like more trouble than it’s worth? Not really. Most podcasts out there right now have corresponding “show notes” for each episode, including links, downloads, and more. If people can do this for a hobby, why not do this for a class? If each teacher had an RSS enabled blog, the homework, notes, audio recordings, handouts, JPG files of sample artworks, and anything else that needed to be distributed could be sent directly to the students. The students could even have their own blogs with which they could submit their assignments. Imagine: students could no longer use the “You never gave me that,” or “I know I handed it in, you just lost it,” excuses. One quick trip to the news aggregator would prove them wrong or right instantly. (Those excuses would have to be replaced with “I have a virus,” but that’s your own fault if you’re still using Explorer.)

Naturally this could invigorate distance learning programs, (I’m in one now as I’m enrolled in University of Phoenix’s online Master’s Degree program, but I think they could make a good program into a great program if they started using RSS and podcasts in addition to the newsgroups and email they already use.) but I can see this being used in the regular classroom as well. The only things holding us back are the lack of a 1:1 student/computer ratio (not including an MP3 player) and the inertia that keeps teachers from trying new things.

I know I’m not the only person who’s thinking along these lines. David Warlick, Steve Dembo, & Steve Sloan have voiced similar opinions. I’m just agreeing with them here.

Free Site Features

circuit boardI’ve added quite a few free things to my web sites over the years, including some new ones quite recently. As such, I decided to take the time to plug each of them for you. After all, you might want to use some if them on your own web pages.Thingamablog: This is a nice open-source blogging program. It’s written in java, so practically any OS can use it. There are some good points and bad points to it, but it creates RSS feeds and it’s customizable so I like it.

Haloscan: One of Thingamablog’s bad points is that it doesn’t support comment or trackback codes, so I signed up with Haloscan to add them.

eXTReMe Tracking: Of course everyone needs their ego inflated now and then, so I use eXTReMe Tracking to tell me from where my visitors are coming. I’ve been using this free service for years and I’m very happy with it.

TrueFresco: Another thing you can do is return the favor to people who link to you. TrueFresco allows you to do that instantly, but I only recommend it if you already have a lot of incoming traffic. If you don’t, it might be a little embarrassing.

Furl: There are a few services out there that allow you to bookmark sites for future reference – like a web browser does it, but better because you can check them out at any computer. Some people like del.icio.us more, but I like how Furl has extra features.

Flickr: A lot of the bloggers I’m reading nowadays have Flickr accounts to show off their pictures, so since I’m an Art teacher I said “Why not?” I haven’t fully integrated it into my site yet, but right now I have 22 pictures uploaded onto my account. (Sorry, no pictures of students. I refuse to do that without parental permission.)

Feedburner: This service is only useful to you if your site generates an RSS feed, but if your site doesn’t then you should really think about adding it. It allows you to maintain the same RSS address in spite of a change of web URL, track to see how many subscribers you have, and even incorporate your Furl, del.icio.us Flickr, and Bloglines Clip Blogs into the same RSS feed.

WebAlias: Sometimes, having an incredibly long and hard to remember web address can be a bit of a problem. I use WebAlias to create a new, more memorable URL and forward visitors to my site through that. It causes some slight but acceptable problems, such as a small pop-up, but you’re already using a web browser with built in pop-up blocking, right?

Bravenet: I use Bravenet for it’s free web counter service, but they’ve got all kinds of site tutorials, services, and add-ons. If you’re creating a web site on a small or nonexistant budget, then you should really check this one out.

Google and the Global Community

Browser Window pixI suppose every blog should have at least one rambling post about the global
community, so here’s mine.

You may or may not have heard the story about Google wanting to create an online library of famous / important books. Good for them, I say, but not everyone agrees.


Some people over in France, for example, are concerned that this new
universally accessible library may focus too much on the U.S. perspective
of world events. The example given was “I don’t want the French Revolution
retold just by books chosen by the United States. The picture presented
may not be less good or less bad, but it will not be ours.” When I first
read this article I was a bit indignant. After all, they more or less said
the U.S. way of looking at things is no good, right?

Wrong. What they’re asking is that the library show more than JUST the U.S. point of
view.  David Warlick has some commentary in one of  his podcasts (I forget which one) about how back in the day the internet was for the most part a U.S. phenomenon. Now of course, it’s international. That person you’re talking to in a chat room? They could be next door or on the other side of the world. The United States cannot claim ownership of the internet, and the world is better off because of it.

One of those buzz words that keeps popping up is “Global Community.” Ok, that’s two words, but you know what I mean. With the internet we’re able to share a lot of
things in common, but we have just as many differences as commonalities.  Rather than ignore those differences I see them as things to explore.  Doing so can help us learn about other cultures just as much as exploring our common traits.

So what does all this make any difference in the world of education? Believe it or not, it can and does. History books might be filled with facts, but they’re also filled with interpretations of those facts based on the culture of the organizations that published the book. (Today a coworker of mine told me about how one of her U.S. history
classes had used a textbook printed in the U.K. – I would have loved to see their view on the American Civil War.)

Foreshadowing?

I’m seriously hooked on listening to podcasts, particularly ones geared towards education – Connected Learning, teach42, & Teachnology post such wonderful things. Unfortunately a 64 meg card only holds so much. Sure, I could buy a a new card for my Palm Tungsten E, but I’ve been thinking about getting a new MP3 player for a while.After a little bit of research, I found this little beauty. Not a bad price for the storage space, and get this:

It has a built in microphone.

Could podcasts of my own be in my future?

Could be.

Thingamablog updated!

Browser Window pixFor those of you that tried using Thingamablog to build a web site and felt intimidated by it’s heavy use of code, you might want to check out the latest version. Don’t worry, it’s still free.

Thingamablog’s now been updated to be a lot more WYSIWYG (That’s What You See Is What You Get, for those of you not in the know), so those of you that aren’t html freaks might have an easier time with everything. I think I’ll stick with editing the code by hand, though. What can I say, I’m a tech geek!

So is the new version of Thingamablog better than the old version? I’ve no idea. I’ll have to play around with it first to find out.

A day in the life of a tech addict Art teacher

circuit boardAs a teacher, I pride myself in using technology intelligently every day to help with my lessons. I include the word “intelligently” because as cool as computers are, they aren’t always the best solution for every problem encountered.

For example, let’s take a look at my typical day. I start off checking my e-mail and my schedule for the day. As I can only teach each class once before I move on to my next building, every day’s schedule has different classes at different times. My brain would deflate if I tried to remember everything, so I write my schedule out in iCal (a calendar program for the Macintosh) and sync it with my Palm Pilot. I have it set so an alarm goes off five minutes before class starts as well as five and ten minutes before the class ends. That way, I can’t loose track of time.

In the classroom my main use for technology has normally been for presentation purposes, but it’s difficult for me to use it on a frequent basis. As I have no room of my own and teach in four different buildings, I have a wide variety of classroom settings – some rooms have computers hooked up to TVs, some have opaque projectors, and other rooms have only the standard overhead projectors and blackboards. This limits my technology usage, as it’s often not worth it to create a PowerPoint presentation for a single class when you have twenty classes or more for which you have to prepare.

Lucky for me, this does not mean I must forgo technology entirely. Whenever I want to include a photo of a famous artwork or some other reference material for the students, it’s a simple thing to print it out on the school’s color laser printer. Websites like Artchive.com are full of images that are perfect for my lessons, although sometimes I have to pick them carefully.

During the lesson I’ll often walk around the room with my digital camera and take pictures of students with their art projects. The kids really like this and are often more than happy to work harder so they can show off for the camera, but my main objective is to archive the activity for later display. Parents and kids love to see visual references to projects they’ve done, and the display helps to reinforce the lesson later on.

After each class is over it’s my job to show off, or as my job description puts it, set up a display of student work. If the project is flat I can do this by hanging them on the wall and printing out a paper with the project title, objective, grade, and teacher’s name.

I’d love to hang three dimensional work from the hallway ceiling, but then any small air current would cause them to move, which would result in the alarm system going off at 3:00 in the morning.

I don’t wish to be chewed out at 3:30 in the morning when the Principal, Building Supervisor, and local police find out it was my display that triggered the alarm, so photographs have to do. Lucky for me I’ve been taking photos of the kids with their projects during the lesson so I can print them out after minor adjustments.

Modifications include some cropping, but mostly eliminating those glowing red demon eyes that some kids seem to get. Using the “red eye reduction” setting on my camera doesn’t work well, since that involves multiple flashes and the younger kids just won’t hold still for all of them. (I end up with a lot of pictures of kids walking away when I try that.)
I teach three classes a day like this, with my so-called free time dedicated to setting up displays and preparing materials for the next day.

At the end of the day I check my email once more, throw a few podcasts on my palm pilot for the ride home, and head out.

When I started working for my Master’s Degree my situation was much different. Instead of four elementary schools I taught at one high school. While I had my own room with a TV I could hook up to my computer or one of the two classroom computers (thus allowing me to incorporate all kinds of technology into the daily lessons) I still maintain that wild horses couldn’t drag me back to the higher grade levels. Maybe I’ll teach college some day, but never high school.

I didn’t just use computers and TVs last year; I also made good use of my digital camera. My Art II students spent the good portion of a marking period drawing out short animations frame by frame, then digitizing them using my camera and a tripod. The final steps were completed when they compiled them in iMovie and added sound effects.

Of course I also did the standard PowerPoint presentations, but when we went into the computer lab I also made sure all their instructions were on my school web site. That way if they missed a day (or if there was a substitute) they were still able to work. (Of course few of them worked away from my presence, but it really mattered for the handful that did.)

Suffice to say, I used technology a lot more in the classroom last year than I do this year. I like to think I still provide a good educational experience, it’s just that it’s more analog than digital now. Last year I could open a web page to show the entire class an artwork, and this year I have to either show them a page in a book or a printout from that website. I still think I use technology well every day, but a lot of my tasks are
more support tasks that the students don’t actually watch me perform.

Since I only see my kids up to four times a year this time around, fancy technology lessons are still in development. (Digitizing animations is almost out of the question entirely, although we do happen to have some digital video cameras I could borrow …. )
My students last year were encouraged to use technology several times each marking period, if not every month. My elementary schools this year are quite different, with one school not able to use the computer lab for anything other than testing for most of the first marking period. When I eventually do a computer lesson, it will most likely be in small groups using my own laptop, since it’s the only computer in all my buildings of which I can be certain of it’s abilities.

Mastering PowerPoint

circuit boardThere are some who would say that PowerPoint® is a teacher’s best friend. After all, here is this simple little (ok, not so little …) program capable of displaying any media you choose, and all you need to do is drag and drop! If you’re giving a linear presentation, and chances are you are, then this is all you need to know.

However, there are other times when a linear presentation just won’t do. Perhaps you need to go to a certain slide during a question and answer session. Better yet, what if you want to create a quiz? What to have some mathematical computations going on in the background to make the whole presentation more interactive? Sure, go ahead!
Oh, wait … they didn’t cover that in the faculty in-service, did they? Oh well, what do you expect from fifteen minutes of instruction and a half hour of “play around with the program” time. Lucky for you, there are enough people out there who have not only figured this stuff out, but are willing to share. Among them are the good people who maintain the Internet For Classrooms website, which happens to have quite a few tutorials on it.
Scrolling down to the “Advanced” section of the tutorial list, the instructions on how to create invisible buttons caught my eye. Wait, invisible? What good is that? Bear with me here, I’ll get to that.

First of all, the tutorial is written totally in html code – although at the end a link is provided to a sample PowerPoint. The text includes many, many pictures that show in detail exactly what needs to be done. These pictures are simply wonderful – in fact I think that I wouldn’t even need to read the tutorial so long as I could look at the pictures. These pictures are obviously screen captures from an older Windows operating system, but I won’t hold that against them. They were just planning to help the largest percentage of PowerPoint® users possible. The Macintosh version is still similar enough to make this tutorial useful to me.

So what could I use this for? Well, it’s rather convenient that you asked. Something I routinely do as an Art teacher is show artwork to my students. Normally this requires that I be there to point and talk. With this setup, however, I could section off different parts of an artwork to be buttons and have each button link to a different slide. When students see a section that interests them, they can click on it to learn more about it. If I’m lazy and don’t want to make multiple slides, I could have the buttons play audio files where I talk about that section of the artwork rather than force them to read.

I could put a bunch of artworks like this together to make whole chapters of informative multimedia books, then go take a break while the students all use my PowerPoint® presentations and become so enthralled that they fail to notice my absence … or rather, maybe I should stay in the room in case anyone has any questions for me. Yeah, that’s what I meant.

Oh clip art, where art thou?

I’ll admit I myself have an aversion to clip art, but then I make my own stuff all the time and not everyone does that. As a result, I present to you several alternatives to making everything from scratch. I assure you that I’ve never seen a principal act in the way portrayed below – I just wrote that to add some humor.

Your mission: Replace the school’s old web site with a web site that looks nice. “Looks nice,” so far as your principal is concerned, means graphics on every page.
The problem: You’ve hardly any time to finish it (your principal is already planning to show it off this Friday during an in-service) and your school hasn’t bought new computers since 1996. You’d use your home computer, but a recent accident involving a cat, pet allergies, and a double tall mocha latte has rendered your home computer temporarily inoperable. What do you do?

Wait, before you start revising your resume (there’s plenty of time for that this weekend) there is hope. A good color scheme and table layout can make a web site aesthetically pleasing, and the information you can’t reuse from the old site can easily be updated to be current, assuming you’re on good terms with the school secretary.

95% of your work is done – now all you have to worry about is your principal’s hair brained … that is, visionary idea of including graphics on every page. Making decent graphics on a school computer is out of the question. Not because they don’t have graphic design software that can run on the school computers, but because you don’t have graphic design software that will run on those computers.

Fortunately for you, there’s plenty of clip art out there. The nice thing about clip art is that it’s free, but the downside is that you often get what you pay for. Sifting through the pixels, you come across a site called FlamingText.com. FlamingText has clip art you can use, but its most noticeable feature is its free header image creator. Less than five minutes after finding the site you have a title image with the school’s name ready to display on the school site. A weaker teacher would have cringed at the pop-up ads, but you toughed it out.

But one title does not a happy principal make. With more exploration you come across a site called Classroom Clipart. This site does have a place for you to sign in and another to sign up for it’s newsletter, but it’s still free so long as it’s used for educational use (K-12 only) and you don’t get rid of the watermarks. The clip art is all organized by category, and offers a variety of pictures from low resolution computer generated images to some rather nice looking photos. You grab a few images that relate to the different subject areas and move on.

Your final stop in search of graphics takes you to Web Clip Art, brought to you by the good people from About.com. This free site has it’s own clip art (including some background images), as well as tips, tutorials, and links to other good clip art sites. Perhaps you should have come here first? No matter, you now have all the graphics you need and you still have time to go to lunch and complain about working too hard to your coworkers in the faculty lounge – and all you had to do was have your morning classes watch movies instead of doing any real work!

Edugadget

Browser Window pixGolly gee whiz, I’ve got more content!

When I created this blog I wanted to use it not only to to provide useful information to others, but to also show the blend between art, tech, and education. (Insert venn diagram … here.) As such, I always get a kick when I see other web sites that blend some or all of these things.

So when teach42‘s Stephen Dembo podcasted about Edugadget, I was quite pleased indeed. Edugadget (not to be confused with Engadget, another nice tech site) has a plethora of posts on software, websites, and ideas on how to use technology to improve the quality of education. If you’re a teacher who’s interested in technology, then you should check this site out – or better yet, subscribe to their RSS feed.

Edit: Just found out I wasn’t linking to teach42 as much as I was linking to Edugadget again. The problem should be fixed now. Thanks to Stephen Dembo for pointing it out. And no, I don’t think you’re egocentric. :)

myImager.com and FlamingText.com

brushesLet’s say you’re teaching a web design or digital photography lesson. You’ve made all your plans, you’re ready to go, but you have one problem – you didn’t sign up early enough to use the computer lab that has Adobe Photoshop installed on the computers. There’s still a lab available, but those computers are so old that they won’t even run a current version of Photoshop.

So what do you do? Well you could reschedule, but do you have a plan B to be working on in the classroom? There is a plan B, and it can be used in that other computer lab. myImager.com is a website that allows you to upload and image, then edit it in a variety of ways. It’s not as full featured as some of the more well known image editing programs out there, but in a pinch it’ll do the basic stuff for you.

If you have an image already uploaded to a server but want to edit it a bit, you can always head over to FlamingText.com and use their photo service. This isn’t FlamingText.com’s key feature (as you may guess by it’s simplicity). Rather, they have a very nice system for creating headers and banners that say whatever you want them to say – including choice of fonts, colors, and even (in some cases) animation.