Thursday, February 23, 2006

ITSC conference packed with ideas and hands-on activities

I just returned from the Instructional Technologies Strategies Conference and it was one of the most productive conferences I have attended in quite some time. Although I am using a number of Web 2.0 emerging technologies such as Flickr, blogging, RSS, etc. I learned about how I could extend the features of these products with a little open-source scripting tool called "Greasemonkey" at the Emerging Technologies Workshop. The feature I was most anxious to learn about was the ability to add geotags to my collection of online images up at Flickr. The researchers working on the Nolli Map Project wish to use a number of my images of Rome for a new image layer they will be adding and it will help them immensely if I have all of my images tagged with map coordinates. Installing Greasemonkey was a snap as it is an extension for Firefox and I only had to select it from the list of extensions up at the Firefox website then click Install Now. Then I had to find the GMIF Greasemonkey script and simply click on its link and Greasemonkey popped up a window and asked if I wanted to install it.

Then I logged in to Flickr and selected an image and a new action button appeared to the right of the regular Flickr command buttons named GMap. I click on it and it takes me to Google Map where I can zoom, scroll, and place a stick pin in the location where I took the picture. Then I can right-click on the stick pin and select Add Geotags. The latitude, longitude and geotagged tags are then added to my picture's list of tags.

For countries outside the US, I found I could use Multimap. I also installed a Greasemonkey script for Multimap but it cannot run while the GoogleMap script is enabled. So, I simply used Multimap to locate the coordinates of my picture location then copy and pasted their Latitude, Longitude and geotagged tags that are listed under the map where you have placed your stickpin into the tag field on the photo's Flickr page.

Another easy to use product I saw demonstrated at the conference was Microsoft's Photostory 3. I was particularly interested in it because it could be used to make the video podguides I would like to produce. It's also a free download from Microsoft so the price is certainly right. Photostory has the capability to import still images, arrange their sequence, attach transitions including the panning effect that you see on the History Channel all the time, overlay music, and add voice narration to produce a Windows Media file. Although I will have to use a utility to convert the Windows Media file to a file that can be viewed on a Video iPod, Photostory has all the basic functionality I need to produce a nice presentation. My first project is a non-gambler's Guide to Las Vegas! I've been there four times attending Comdex and have a wealth of images of educational activities to do when you don't like to gamble and end up in Las Vegas for a conference.

The presenters demonstrating Photostory also conduct a Tech Camp for Middle and High School students each summer and it was quite interesting to see some of the projects the kids have produced. They passed around quilts, pillows, lampshades, pamphlets, and framed three-dimensional art produced by printing images four and five times then cutting out sections of the images and layering them on top of the original image with little spacers available at craft stores. The result is a very sophisticated, professional-looking piece of art. I'm going to have to give that one a try myself.

I also attended a presentation about Moodle. I thought Moodle might be related to text-based gaming environments (Moos) but I learned that it is an open-source content management system that was created to provide a free alternative to WebCT and Blackboard. In addition to the usual CMS tools like assignments, discussion forums, basic quizzes, gradebook, and chat, Moodle incorporates

Here a teacher asks a question and specifies a choice of multiple responses. This can be useful as a quick poll to stimulate thinking about a topic; to allow the class to vote on a direction for the course; or to gather research consent.
Choice A Choice with anonymous results
Choice A Choice with non-anonymous results
Choice A Choice that allows you to update anytime
Choice A Choice with a limited number of responses allowed


This activity allows participants to create and maintain a list of definitions, like a dictionary.The entries can be searched or browsed in many different formats.
Glossary Teacher-Defined Glossary
Glossary Learner-Defined Glossary
Glossary A glossary of common terms


This module allows teachers to create multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill quizzes using Hot Potatoes software.
Hot Potatoes Quiz Newton's 2nd and 3rd Laws Quiz
Hot Potatoes Quiz Crossword Puzzle with Timer


A lesson delivers content in an interesting and flexible way. It consists of a number of pages. Each page normally ends with a multiple choice question. Navigation through the lesson can be straight forward or complex.
Lesson How to use the Lesson Module


The Survey module provides a number of verified survey instruments that have been found useful in assessing and stimulating learning in online environments.
Survey Critical Incident Survey
Survey Constructivist On-line Learning Environment Survey
Survey Attitudes to Thinking and Learning Survey


A wiki is a web page that anyone can add to or edit. It enables documents to be authored collectively and supports collaborative learning. Old versions are not deleted and may be restored if required.


A Workshop is a peer assessment activity with a huge array of options. It allows participants to assess each other's projects, as well as exemplar projects, in a number of ways.

Our university is heavily invested in Blackboard already so I doubt that the course management folks here would consider a different product at this late date but Moodle seemed very powerful and flexible.

The best part of the conference was talking with other educators who are as excited as I am about instructional uses of technology!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Students use claymation to bring Greek mythology to life

"Here's an interesting juxtaposition of ancient history and modern technology going on in Deb Canton's sixth-grade classroom at South Middle School, where students are telling mythology stories using clay figures, cameras and computers.

So, where 3,000 years ago the poet Homer wandered from city to city to tell the story of the Trojan War, today Canton's students are making clay animation movies (sometimes called Claymation) to do the same thing.

Of course, Homer never had to worry about the clay arms and legs and heads of his figures falling off between shots. Students Briana Bridgeford, Chad Loeffler and Joshua Saunders said they struggled to keep their clay figure of Hera, queen of the gods, intact as they posed her to bend over and pick up an apple.

'It was really hard because Hera's back kept breaking in half,' Loeffler said.

The sixth-graders venture into Greek mythology began in the library, Canton said, where they read stories like the one about the Greek prince Theseus, who braved the labyrinth to kill the half-man, half-bull minotaur, and about the fabled musician Orpheus and his trip to the underworld to rescue his beloved wife, Eurydice.

Carla DeHaaven, South's curriculum technology partner, had received two grants $180.60 from North Dakota Arts Council and $405 for Grand Forks Foundation for Education to purchase clay and a camera and other equipment to make the movies.

From there, the class was split into groups of three to four students. Each chose a story to tell. They wrote a script, made a story board, designed clay figures, built sets of cardboard boxes and then starting taking the still photos they needed to make their movies.

'We've kind of run the gamut from ancient history to modern technology,' Canton said Thursday as the students kept rearranging their clay figures and shooting photos with small digital cameras perched on six-inch tripods. '"They like it."

The next step will be the computer work of using the still photos to make animated iMovies and adding dialogue and voices.

In addition to the stories of the Trojan war, Theseus and Orpheus, students were making movies about Phaethon and the horses of the sun and the tragic nymph Callisto and her son Arcas.

Through their work, the students are learning about history, mythology, art, technology and storytelling, and about collaborating and problem solving, their teachers said. And they're learning about how the lives of the ancient Greeks, their politics and stories, remain relevant today."

Of course, once they have an iMovie they can easily create a podcast as well and share their efforts with other history enthusiasts all over the world!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

iPods offer way more than just music

I stopped by the University bookstore last Friday and they had a previously opened 60GB video iPod for 20% off. So, I couldn't pass up a deal like that. Yesterday, I spent quite a bit of time getting to know my new iPod. It was recognized by my Windows workstation as soon as I plugged it in and I could see the iPod's drive from "My Computer" but it did not show up in my latest version of iTunes. A call to Apple tech support resolved the issue. Apparently, in Windows 2000 and Windows XP, there is sometimes a problem with iTunes recognizing an iPod that has mapped itself to a drive letter adjacent to a mapped network drive. The Apple technician had me remap the iPod to another drive letter and soon had me downloading files without a problem.

Then I set about downloading the Rome travel guides I had found on the web. I have a PDA so I was used to simply creating a folder on the PDA's hard drive and dragging files into it. However, even though I could access the iPod's hard drive in the same way and create a folder and drag a file into it, I could not access the file from the available menu folders using the iPod's built-in interface. Another call to tech support confirmed that, although the iPod allows you to copy files to its drive using this method, the files cannot be browsed by the iPod once they are copied to it. I learned that I really need to unzip the files onto my hard drive, then import them into iTunes and use it to transfer them to my iPod. Apparently, sometimes having knowledge of similar devices is not necessarily helpful.

I also learned that the hold button controls the use of the smartwheel. At first I couldn't figure out why I couldn't navigate the menu but the hold button was in the locked position. Just a few minor technicalities!

After downloading the guides to Rome, I discovered that these guides were audio only. As I have thousands of pictures that I took when I visited Italy last spring, I called to see if there was a way I could take an existing audio guide and add images to it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Podguides highlight the glories of Rome

I found a website the other day that is really fascinating. It is called Virtual Rome and it is very well done, employing some of the latest technology. I really enjoyed their Panoramic videos. I particularly enjoyed looking around the Baths of Caracalla because I didn't have time to visit them when I was in Rome last spring.
Another new feature that is really wonderful is a selection of free iPod guides. I don't know if Apple iPods are as popular in other countries as they are here. I just know that here you don't hardly pass a college student that doesn't have iPod earphones in their ears. Anyway, these little mini-guides include pictures and audio information keyed to a little map of the site or building you are visiting. Because of their video component they are much better than the typical audio guides you rent at museums and some "hosts" can be quite funny as well as informative.

I found another website, that hosts free iPod guides created by anybody. They have easy instructions on how to create a PodGuide using an MP3 audio file and pictures you have taken with your digital camera and even have a free PodGuide generator available for download. I think it would be great fun to build up a library of guides of Roman sites around the world. It looks like I'm going to have to get an iPod before I leave for London next month! My friends there are planning to show me some great Romano-Britain sites while I am there and another friend in Fleetwood is taking me to York and Chester too so I would have a lot of raw material for some PodGuides!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

New Digital Camera "Smarts" sound exciting

I was just reading David Pogue's interesting overview of new digital camera features.

"They may include global positioning system receivers, so that, as you browse your photos in iPhoto or Picasa, you'll know not only when you took them, but where."

What I would like to see is a camera with a built-in barcode scanner. Then, if museums and tradeshow vendors would include a barcode providing details of individual exhibits, I could just scan the bar code rather than my current technique of photographing the exhibit labels. Photographing the labels not only takes up as much space as a regular picture but can be quite tricky in low light conditions trying to get sharp focus to enable me to read it afterwards.

"Some of Nikon's CoolPix models already contain face-recognition software, a feature that supposedly assists focus by scanning the scene for human facial features. And Canon is working on even more sophisticated recognition software. One, called Blink Shot, would prevent the camera from taking the picture when your subject's eyes are closed. A companion feature, called Smile Shot, waits to fire until your subject manages a grin."

Of course batteries are getting better.

"According to Mr. Westfall of Canon, however, the future is hydrogen fuel cells, which will provide far longer-lasting power. "This technology is already in development," he said. "They'll probably make their debut in laptop batteries first, and then make their way into cellphones and digital cameras."

There's the predictable push for bigger and brighter viewing screens as well.

"Unfortunately, the bigger the screen, the greater the power drain. The buzz among camera designers these days, therefore, is OLED screens (organic light-emitting diode), which offer much better brightness but much lower power consumption. You can expect to see such screens within the next year."

New liquid lenses are predicted to replace the heavy glass lenses and lighten the load (and improve camera stability) as well.

"When an electrical charge is applied to a liquid lens, the droplet changes shape. Apply the charge in just the right way, and you can make the droplet change focus, or even zoom. Although liquid-lens technology is only in its infancy, it could one day replace the huge, heavy discs of glass that weigh down the digital S.L.R."

David says the megapixel race is finally coming to an end with the current 8 megapixel range. ( Personally, I stopped worrying about megapixels at 5).

The one thing he didn't mention that is important to me is an improvement in ISO range. My Panasonic FZ20's ISO range of 400 is really nice but would be even better at 800 or even 1200 without the introduction of unacceptable noise levels. I prefer never to use a flash if at all possible so I can retain as much original color depth as possible (I shoot a lot of museum exhibits for educational use). Camcorders seem to have conquered the low light issue. I would like this issue more seriously addressed in digital still cameras as well.