Flowgram

Flowgram is a nice tool that I think many educators would find useful. Flowgram allows you to take webpages, photos, or PowerPoint presentations, put them into a linear sequence and add audio narration and notes. The result is somewhat like a screencast. It is free, does not require a download, and Flowgrams are embeddable in your blog, or can be shared in other ways (e.g., Facebook, Delicious, etc.)

Abhay Parekh, founder of the company, created a Flowgram to demonstrate the capabilities of the tool. Click on the image below:

Flowgram may be useful to yourself, or students. I can think of a number of educational applications.

MovieStorm

I just discovered MovieStorm, free software for Mac or Windows that allows users to create animated movies. The software download is quite large (in total, almost 500 MB), so if you are trying this, be sure to use a solid, high-speed connection.

MovieStorm Demo

Click here to watch a demo.

While I have not had a chance to dive deep into this tool, it seems fairly easy-to-use and has enough potential to keep more advanced users engaged. The tool could be used as intended for creating and narrating movies, and then sharing with a wider audience. Or, the program could also be used to plan, storyboard, or sketch ‘real-life’ video projects, including set design, lighting, camera angles, and script. While the tool is free, there are content packs that can be purchased.

I am not sure how long this tool has been around, or if there has been much work done with it in classrooms, but I am excited by the possibilities for movie production and storytelling.

Speak Up 2007 – Selected National Findings

Project Tomorrow has released its “Selected National Findings“, an analysis of data from online surveys, focus groups and interviews of parents, teachers, school leaders and students in the US. Project Tomorrow touts itself as “the nation’s leading education nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that today’s students are well prepared to be tomorrow’s innovators, leaders and engaged citizens of the world.”

These findings were particularly interesting to me.

Re: Filters (both technical and human) –

Students’ frustration with school filters and firewalls has grown since 2003, with 45% of middle and high school students saying now that these tools meant to protect them inhibit their learning. And since 2004 we have heard repeatedly and more strongly each year, students’ discontent with school rules that limit their access to technology at school and rules that prohibit them from using at school the very technology tools and devices that they use constantly outside of school (cell phones, email, IM, Text messaging) in all aspects of their lives. That discontent factor has grown by 46% over the past four years. The other major obstacle today is the teacher – over 40% of students in grades 6-12 cite their teacher as an obstacle since it is the teacher who increasingly is limiting the “when and where” of using technology at school.

Re: Personal Learning –

When asked how their school could make it easier for them to work electronically, almost 2/3rds of middle and high school students said “let me use my own laptop, cell phone or other mobile device at school.” 50% would like to be able to access their school work related software applications and projects from any computer in the school network and have unlimited Internet access on campus. Students also would like tools to help them communicate with their classmates (45%), their teachers (34%) and to organize their schoolwork (42%).

Re: Emerging Technologies –

Over 50% of students in grades 3-12 would like to see more educational gaming in their 21st century school; only 16% of teachers, 15% of administrators, and 19% of parents endorse that concept. While 53% of middle and high school students are excited about using mobile devices within learning, only 15% of school leaders support that idea. Less than half as many parents as students see a place for online
learning in the 21st century school. And even fewer teacher, parents and school leaders want students to have access to emails and IM accounts from school.

Re: Student-Directed Change –

As one high school student in a recent focus
group told us, his vision for the ultimate school is a school where the teachers and the principal actively seek and regularly include the ideas of students in discussions and planning for all aspects of education, not just about technology. As the student so eloquently said, “This is about our future after all. Our ideas should count, too.”

There are many familiar themes here, yet the same barriers exist. While it is great to see another report supporting much of what is written daily in my corner of the edublogosphere, I am looking forward to reading a report that describes the results of a project in an educational context where many of these barriers have already been addressed.

Adobe Launches PhotoShop Express

Adobe has released PhotoShop Express, a basic version of Photoshop which is available to use online.

The maker of the popular photo-editing software Photoshop on Thursday launched a basic version available for free online.

San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc. says it hopes to boost its name recognition among a new generation of consumers who edit, store and share photos online.

While Photoshop is designed for trained professionals, Adobe says Photoshop Express, which it launched in a “beta” test version, is easier to learn. User comments will be taken into account for future upgrades.

Photoshop Express will be completely Web-based so consumers can use it with any type of computer, operating system and browser. And, once they register, users can get to their accounts from different computers. (link)

I just signed up, and it seems like an easy-to-use basic photo editing service. It features some integration with the online album services of Picasa, Facebook, and Photobucket, with the notable absence of Flickr. I assume this may be due in part with Flickr’s relationship with Picnik, likely my favorite online photo editor.

It will be interesting to see how well this product is received and how quickly it will bring in new features. Obviously Adobe has name value in software market, but there are many services online including Picnik, PhotoFlexer, Flauntr, Pixenate, LunaPic, Phixr, Pixer

Taaz.com

Taaz.com is hair and make-up marketing fun. The site allows you to upload your photos, apply make-up from various companies, and change your hairstyle. I hate the sneaky marketing, but look at me … I’m beautiful!

I'm Beautiful!

Interestingly enough, as I was applying virtual make-up to myself, one of my EC&I 831 students entered my office. It was a tad embarrassing, but all in the name of education.

Google Sites Tour

I am sure that many of you have already heard that Google Sites was released today. However, if not, the following is a product tour that gives an idea of what it is, and how it works.

And, here’s some more information from Wikipedia:

Google Sites is a structured wiki offered by Google as part of Google Apps. It was launched on February 28, 2008 and is currently in beta stage. Google Sites started out as JotSpot, a software company that offered enterprise social software.

Looks like a great tool so far, and I am already contemplating its usability as an educational tool.

Web Tour on Ustream

Rob, Kyle and I used Skype, HighSpeed Conferencing, and ustream tonight to do a very quick web tour for EC&I 831. Here is the recorded video, as it may be of interest. We have been heavy into the theory of edtech lately, and I was hoping that tonight we could look at some of the (mostly free) tools available.

I’m liking this format, although I’m still annoyed by the echoing that the presenter has to deal with (you won’t notice it). I feel it makes me a bit incoherent at times.

All of the tools and resources covered in this web tour are available here.

Small Things

Sometimes I worry that my sharing of links in Twitter may be seen by some as spamming. After all, dropping links into Twitter does not usually answer its prime question “What are you doing?”, and to some, that may be perceived as breaking one of the Twitter commandments.

A while back, I shared the comiqs.com link. Brian Van Dyck, a middle years teacher located in Sunnydale California, thought there might be some potential for his students. I noticed these recent tweets from Brian.

@courosa the http://comiqs.com/ was a hit with 6th graders. Book reports and story boarding for narrative writing underway. Thank you! (link)

@courosa One of my students is featured on Comiqs. Working on “How To” writing. http://tinyurl.com/ynrjwd One proud teacher here. Thanks. (link)

Here is one of those featured Comiqs, “How to Catch Crayfish.”

This is a really neat piece from a very creative 6th grader, and it demonstrates the potential for a tool like this in the right hands, with the appropriate encouragement from a teacher. This is great to see, Brian. Do congratulate your students!

And, to get to a bigger point, I still think it is amazing to see such a tiny digital event can positively affect students over 2700 kilometres away. This is the type of thing that I have experienced many times, but usually on the recipient end. My students and I have benefited countless times from the Twitter network, and this reciprocity may be one of the most compelling reasons I have for my continued use of Twitter.

How to Stream Skype to Ustream (Mac)

I feel that my EC & I 831 course is going well so far. On Tuesdays, we have been using Elluminate and it has been a rock solid tool. On Wednesdays, we have been using Adobe Connect, and unfortunately, the experience has been unsatisfactory. Therefore, I have been looking for and experimenting with tools that could be used to provide audio conferencing in combination with video and image casting.

Note: This tutorial is for someone wanting to set up/direct/facilitate a conversation. It is a complicated process. I do not want to confuse my students here. Participating in such a conference is a much easier process, and participants do not need to know these setup details.

Rob, Kyle and I played with WizIQ web conferencing. It is free, it does audio conferencing well, but is quite limited in its functionality. It does not provide for screen sharing/casting. It is not quite what I need for my students.

I’ve found a solution-of-the-day which is a combination of Skype, Ustream, Camtwist and other free tools. Using the following information, you will be able to:

    - stream a Skype conversation to Ustream (2 to 100 participants),
    - record the video and audio of the conversation,
    - project your screen, or portion of your screen,
    - broadcast video files through Ustream, and
    - incorporate a number of useful (and not so useful) video effects.

Here is what you need:

Step 1: Install Skype, Line In, Soundflower, Camtwist, and be sure you have a Ustream and Skype account. Restart your computer.

Step 2: Start Line In. Select your audio input. In my case, I am using the audio input based in my iSight camera. This could be your “built-in line input” or a USB mic if you have one. Then, be sure that your output is to “Soundflower (2ch)”. Be sure to select “Pass Thru”.

Line In Settings

Step 3: Launch Soundflower (I think the application is actually called Soundflowerbed.app). In the Soundflower settings, change the Soundflower (2ch) settings to “Built-in Line Output”. I strongly recommend that this should be set to headphones or you will likely get disastrous echoing effects. The Soundflower (16ch) settings should remain on “None (Off)”.

Soundflower settings

Step 4: Go to your Apple System Preferences. Set your Output and Input settings to “Soundflower (2ch)”.

System Settings - Output

System Settings - Input

Step 5: Launch Skype. In the Skype Preferences Menu (Skype -> Preferences), click on Audio. Set all Audio settings to “Soundflower (2ch)”.

Audio Settings - Skype

Step 6: Go to Ustream. When you login, you will see a “My Shows” option. If you don’t have a show, click on “Create New Show” on the right-hand side. Fill in all of the necessary information and tags. Note, there are a number of tabs that are important, with required information in each section. My assumption here is that you already have used Ustream, or that you can pick it up quickly. If not, go here.

Step 7: In Ustream, click on “Broadcast Now”. You don’t need to broadcast at this time, but this is where you will change your audio and video settings. You will have to allow Camera and Microphone access. Then, adjust your Video Source appropriately (you will know if have set it correctly if you can see yourself), and then set your Audio Source to “Soundflower (2ch)”.

Ustream Settings

Step 8: Call someone on Skype. You can bring in one other person for an audio conference, or (I am told) as many as 10 total. For more people, you could use the Skypecasts service although this has NEVER worked for me … and I mean NEVER, not once out of many attempts. Perhaps others have had better success.

Step 9: Once you have your call initiated in Skype, click on the “Start Broacast” button in your small Ustream window (the one you see above). Note, you can record the session here (“Start Recording”). If you have done everything correctly, Ustream is now streaming the entire Skype conversation (all parties) and thus, will be able to record everything.

Important note: If you are hearing echoing at this point, it is likely because participants have the volume on in their Ustream and it is feeding back into the Skype conversation. People who are talking in Skype should mute (or lower the volume in) their Ustream sessions. Volume controls are found on the Ustream session pages.

Step 10: If you want to go beyond talking heads on Ustream, Camtwist allows you to change the virtual video device so that you can broadcast parts of your screen, produce visual effects (e.g., text tickers, RSS feeds, imagery, etc.), or broadcast videos previously saved to your computer. This is a great tool that has a lot of potential for conferencing sessions.

Bonus: As I mentioned, it is possible to connect 100 (or even more) people via Skype conference. While Skypecasts has not worked well for me, I think I have found a reasonably inexpensive pay service which does this quite well. High Speed Conferencing provides a service where up to 100 people can connect via audio-conferencing. Individuals are able to call in through a Skype number or through a toll-free (for the end user) telephone number. The facilitator of the conference can view the connected calls, can mute audio on any call(s), and can drop people from the conference. It is not a very sophisticated interface, but the system worked very well, and I was able to test this with up to 15 concurrent users.

I hope all of this information makes sense, and is accurate. If anyone attempts to use this information and there are any errors, let me know and I will be sure to update. I’d love to know if others can get this working.

And here’s a dare for you. I DARE someone to create a Windows version of this tutorial. :-)

Ripping Through Tools

This first week of teaching my online Graduate course was as expected, many technical issues, some student frustration, and a few early successes. Here are some highlights (the good and the bad) of the week.

1) Adobe Connect was working fairly well in most of the tests I had with Twitterverse members prior to the beginning of the course. However, I have some criticisms of its performance so far.

    - Audio conferencing performance has been poor.
    - Screensharing features cause crashes.
    - Session recordings are missing significant chunks of audio.
    - Connect needs more granular permissions, if students are able audio/video enabled, then can then do a lot more (e.g., opening, closing Windows which effect all users).

The experience was better as we went along. However, it looks like I will be trying (the much more expensive) Elluminate next week.

2) I finally got a chance to play with Yugma and Yugma Skype. Yugma is a simple and very nice screen-sharing tool. However, Yugma lacks integrated audio. YugmaSkype is a modified version which integrates Skype directly into Yugma. While certainly you can just run both applications at the same time, it is nice to have these tools a bit more integrated, especially for novice users.

I’m thinking about Yugma and how it could be used as a tool for the hands-on sessions in my course. YugmaSkype would work fine for these, with groups under 10 participants. For larger groups, I’d have to find an alternate audio-conferencing tool as there are limitations on Skype conference calls.

Note: Yugma is now giving away free Premium accounts (connect up to 10 people) to bloggers show sign up before Jan 31, 2008.

I tried setting up a Skypecast, but I was never able to get a session running. I have tried Skypecasts from 5-7 times since they’ve been available, and I have yet to have one work. I am not sure what the issues is.

I then tried setting up several audio conferences through highspeedconferencing.com and each conference worked very well, and I connected up to 10 people without a problem. And, the pricing seems reasonable for this type of service. Participants are given the option to call via Skype (free), a toll free number or a toll number.

3) As a sort of personal note, I somehow managed to hit #1 on Tweeterboard.com this week. I am not sure what that means, it’s really more silly than meaningful. I know many people have done so already, but at some points I am going to write something on the importance of Twitter for my own personal learning. Honestly, it has been unbelievable. I love my network, and I have benefited so much from my new and old connections.

Number One Tweeterboarder!

4) Oh, and one last thing. I am having a great time with the 366/2008 photo pool project thingy (inspired by D’Arcy Norman’s very impressive work). Check out my 366/2008 photo set here, or check out the 366/2008 Flickr group with 28 current members. There are some great photos here!

To be continued.