Sunday, October 26, 2008

Downloading Videos from the Web

I've just downloaded some dance ideas from youtube, to use for our performing arts routine, later on this term. I uploaded the files to moodle, using the 'upload a file or website' option, so that they are quicker to access when at school. You might want to do this too instead of having to wait ages for the clips to download.

I used TechCrunch a web2 program that is really easy to use. You just paste in the URL of the youtube video you want to convert, press 'getvideo' then 'download link' and it downloads the file to your desktop for you. The only quirk is that you need to remember to rename the file with the .flv extension so that the media plugin in moodle can recognise the file.

Another web2 option you could use is Zamzar which supports conversion of files from links on the internet (URLs) as well as from your computer and converts them to a range of different formats for you. Zamzar sends the file to your email once it has converted it for you.

Zamzar supports the download and conversion of videos from a range of popular video sharing websites but unfortunately it doesn't download jumpcut movies. I can find a downloadable .exe option which I can put on my computer, but I'd rather not do that, as it doesn't fit with my philosophy of keeping things as simple as possible, for both me and the kids. So if anyone knows of a web2 option that I can use to download and convert jumpcut movies to .flv format, it would be greatly appreciated, if you could send me the link.

Here's hoping

26/11/09 - Tech crunch not working - Just used this video2mp3- now just got to use audacity to merge Metallica/Crocodile Rock and Thunderstruck - ACDC - will be an interesting performing arts

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Keep it Simple, Stupid

If you have read my earlier post 'Where to from here' you'll have realised that I've been worrying for a while now, trying to work out how you can offer an open wifi system to students, encouraging them to bring their own devices to school (laptops, phones, PSP's etc) and at the same time ensure that their teachers are able to cope with the array of devices in the room (Apples, Windows PC's and Linux machines, as well as a whole array of phones and other portable devices).

Well I think I've cracked it. Really when you think about it, it's down to the software and web browser you use. If you standardise on these, it doesn't matter what machine the students have because the teachers will be familiar with the web browser and software they are using.

With laptops the decision is an easy one, Openoffice would be the software of choice and Mozilla Firefox the browser, as these are both open source and available on all machines. No need to worry about MicrosoftOffice and Internet Explorer. Just make sure the kids have all got Openoffice and Firefox on what ever Laptop they bring to school. Oh and what a surprise, the new era of Linux mini laptops all come with these two pre-installed.

Simple Really.
Easy Peasy.
Lemon Squeezy.

Then you can use Google Docs, Moodle (CMS), Elgg (eportfolio/social network) and a sprinkle of other web2 programs to taste.

With the phone and other portable devices Opera mini would be the browser of choice as this can be installed on most phones/portable devices.

Now that makes me feel a lot better, because I now realise that what ever machines or combination of devices our students have, we won't need to worry. By keeping it simple, stupid we'll be able to concentrate on the pedagogy not the technology.

Using web2 programs will make life easier too as we won't need to add extra software to hundreds of machines or spend extra time putting complicated images on students machines.

The new era of 1:1 is here, facilitated by web2, mobile devices and cheaper mini PC's/webtablets. All we have to do now is ensure that we have a fast internet connection and wifi set up ready to accept any device.

Which One Would You Choose?

With the influx of mini PC's/sub notebooks/webtablets/UMPC's entering the market, the decision about which machine to choose, for 1:1 laptop schemes, has been made so much more complicated.

The 4GB, Asus Eee PC 701, Linux version with its 7 inch screen, is the cheapest on the market with a price tag of just over $400. Another $100 more will buy you the Microsoft version. For $650 you can buy the 20GB Linux version and $750 will get you a 12GB Microsoft version both with the larger 9 inch screen.

Acer have their very flash looking Aspire One, 8GB, Linux version for just under $700 and the 8GB, Windows version for around $800. Both with 9 inch screens.

The 30GB, Classmate from Dell packed with a whole range of educational features including a water-resistant keyboard, collaboration software, theft deterrent features and student PC monitoring comes in at well under $600 for the Linux, version and a bit over $600 for the Microsoft version. Both with 9 inch screens.

When it comes down to deciding which one to choose, you have to consider these four things

1) functionality
2) features
3) aesthetics
and 4) price

Well the Eee PC 701, seems to win it on price. The Acer, Aspire One, is beautiful with it's shiny case and high resolution screen and the Dell Classmate is jam packed full of educational features.

All in all the functionality is the same with Microsoft costing an extra $100 and the much needed larger screen size demanding a couple of hundred dollars.

As a school functionality and added features would rate well above aesthetics but we have to be especially mindful, that we're not paying for features, that we'll never use. Let's be honest how many wash cycles do you use on your washing machine.

At the end of the day if you're happy to stick with just a few wash cycles like the internet and Openoffice, then the entry level, Linux, Eee PC 701 is excellent value for money. If you need a few more wash cycles then you'll need to be looking at a Microsoft machine. If you need to do a bigger load then the 30GB Classmate with all its added features would be the one for you. A larger screen costs you more and if you want it to look pretty then you'll have to pay more for that too.

How big is your load?
H0w many wash cycles do you need?

*all prices are approximate and have been quoted with GST
no discount has been given for bulk orders

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Makes a Good Phone for Education Pt1

Now that all the dust has settled with the iPhone, it is great to see the impact it has had on the Mobile industry. There are new innovative phones including the Nokia Xpress 5800, the Sony Ericsson Xperia and of course the G1 (see below). With all these new phones I thought it was about time to place a stick in the sand and start to look at what I think is essential for a phone for education.

1) Wifi
2) Flash enabled browser
3) Full QWERTY keyboard
4) Video capture
5) Media Player
6) Removable storage
7) Mini usb connection
8) 3.5mm A/V connection

I will now try and explain why I have chosen these.

The wifi is essential as data charges are still very high and I kind of guess there will always be a charge associated with it, which is only fair. But from a teaching point of view if the children use their phones for education, who pays for the data used? The easy way is to hook the phones onto the schools wifi network.

I have not just said browser, but carefully chosen the wording, flash enabled. There is only one mobile browser that is flash enabled and that is called skyfire. Unfortunately, it only available in the US and is in beta. Browsing the web without flash (this is a plugin and is downloaded automatically when you visit a site with flash content, normally sites that have video on them) is like looking through a pair of dirty glasses. You get some of the picture, but there are parts you just can't see.

We know children are good at using the standard phone keypad to text, but if you asked them to type in a web address, believe me I think that the novelty of being able to use the phone keypad would soon wear off. I think that the a virtual keyboard (like the iPhone) would be as good, if not better than a physical one that the Blackberry phones have.

From experience and talking with other teachers, video capture is just so good for children and creativity, enough said. Oh the iPhone doesn't have it!

The media player, well if you can create the content, you need to see it. Although I would add that the media player should be able to play all media, not just created on or for phones.

As you create more content, there is a real need for storage, but again I have been careful with the wording and added removable. This means like a memory card, similar to the ones used in digital cameras. If it's not removable, like the iPhone, then when you run out, that's it.

The mini usb connection is an industry standard that it used to connect devices together. But more importantly it can also be used as the charger connection. How good would that be to have a charger that could charge more than one type of phone, instead of having a Nokia charger and a Sony Ericsson charger etc.

Again the 3.5mm connection is also industry standard and will not only allow the children to use their standard headphones, but if they forget, any headphone will fit it. Again the school would only need to have one type of TV out cable that could be plugged into any of the children's phones, instead of them having to bring in their phone specific cables.

This is just the start of my thought and ranting. We could be looking at What makes a good Educational Phone for Education Pt52!

What do you think? Are all these needed or are there other things that need to be added to the list?

Microsoft or Linux

I've had the opportunity to play around on the Microsoft (XP) version of my Eee PC's this week. While I love my Linux machine because it's quick, simple and easy to use, I have to admit that the Microsoft version is not as bad and as slow as I thought it would be (even on this 4Gb machine) and there are some definite advantages to having a microsoft machine such as:-
  1. You have access to the Microsoft Office software suite.

  2. Shockwave player is available.

  3. You can easily map and share drives off a Windows server.

  4. You have access to Windows compatible software (such as Quest Atlantis and Scratch?).

  5. You can upload files to all web2 programs.

Personally I can live without points 1-4 above. I can use OpenOfffice and or web2 programs instead of Microsoft Office. I haven't come across anymore web2 programs which require the Shockwave player as most are Shockwave Flash based which is available on the Linux machine. I don't want to be able to synchronise my files with my 'h' drive and have to wait 5 minutes before I can use the machine. I don't want to be able to use software that is on a mapped drive, that can only be accessed from our server while at school. I don't want to spend ages putting extra software on my machine or 25 student machines to come to that. In fact I don't want to spend years upgrading and installing extra software full stop and I definitely don't want to be relying on technician support.

All I want to have is a machine that is simple to use, one that connects easily and quickly to the internet, accessing software and information from the web (in the cloud). The Linux machine is specifically designed to do this, with its large pre-installed buttons, that link you directly to the cloud (Firefox, igoogle, skype. and much more). The Linux machine is configured as a web tablet where as the Microsoft version is just a mini Windows machine.

However point 5 above does concern me - not being able to upload to some web2 programs (i.e. dipity, animoto, eyespot) which restricts my use of web2 program. Yes I can use other programs (jumpcut, voice thread, glogster etc) but my question is as more web2 programs are developed will there be more programs I can't use? This I'm not sure?

Mark seems to think that the reason why I cant upload files to some web2 programs is because the web sites have been designed using Microsoft software instead of an opensource alternative and the programs can't find a 'c 'drive which is a Windows standard (seems a reasonable explanation to me). Does that mean then that you can't use them on an Apple machine?

Surely all programs that are designed for the web should be of an open standard, designed for all machines (PC's, phones. PSP's) and all browsers (Firefox, Explorer, Opera mini). So maybe if they aren't I shouldn't be worried about not been able to use them! Oh it seems like I can live with that too.

In fact for $400 I can live without all of that. I like the simplicity and speed of the Linux Eee PC with its internet ready design and its easy to restore to factory settings button, but I have to admit for an extra $100 the more complicated and slightly slower Microsoft version with its extra features is a good option too and maybe just what we/you need for your school.

What features do you need?

Which one will you be able to live with ?

Microsoft or Linux?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Vote for us both

Both PW and ourselves have just been selected as finalists in the Interface Magazine 2008 Awards. PW has been selected in the  'Best Use of ICT in Teaching'  category with his use of Elgg for his learning goals and our blog is in the ' Best Teacher Blog' category.

Please show your support and vote for us both. It's really easy all you have to do is click here, select the radio buttons next to our names, add your email and press 'submit vote'. You have to vote for one person in each category anyway so what can be easier than that.

Thanks for your support.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Phone in the Cloud?

I have just read an interesting blog, where somebody questioned the need to have 16Gb of storage on a phone. Their argument was what would they do with all that storage and with cloud computing, would you actually need it.
Cloud computing is all well and good if you have a fast (way above 3G or HSDPA) and reliable connection. This just doesn't happen at the moment, either here in New Zealand or from what I have read, the rest of the world.
I am a big believer in cloud computing and think it will be great for education as we get the technology to work for us (and the children) and not the other way round, which I believe it has been since the introduction of the PC. Just how much time do we spend upgrading, updating, securing etc and how much do we actually use it for some use. Having it in a cloud takes away the control and responsibility from the IT department and gives it back to the end user, who doesn't have to worry about the technicalities. They just need a fast connection and a browser, how simple is that.
A phone is a different piece of kit. The fact that it is mobile and is with you everywhere, actually cries out that you need local storage, just in case the network is not available. Memory is cheap and getting cheaper and why would I want to stream music and movies to my phone, when I can only do it in the major cities. We can take this cloud computing a little too far and be caught in the big wave of optimism over it. Use it for what you need use it for, but don't think that everything will be in the cloud, well not just yet!
Personally I have around 30Gb of music alone so I can't wait until they bring out a 64Gb phone so I can store all my music and some movies as well. 
Until the networks get faster we will always need some storage, particularly on mobile devices. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Unconference Links

Here are the links from the Unconference held at Southwell School, last week, for those of you who didn't manage to get around all the tables or are not fortunate enough to be at Southwell.

If you don't know what an Unconference is, it's just an informal gathering, where people can show case their ICT initiatives/ideas. We had six tables/stations set up for the one hour staff meeting, on the last week of term 3. Everybody just moved around from table to table with their laptops, gathering ideas and discussing issues. I thought the Unconference was a great idea and a good success. I would definitely recommend it to any school who haven't tried it yet and hope we get to do another one next term so that more people can showcase their initiatives.

Table 1-TBa showed us dipity a web2 program for generating timelines. A great little program which links to googlemaps and gives you a flip book view too. Unfortunately this is another web2 program I've found which doesn't allow me to upload pictures from my linux EeePC so I won't be able to use it with my class but I recommend you give it a go with your class as it has lots of potential and is very easy to use.

Table 2-TBu showed us his class page on Moodle. TBu has worked hard on this to produce such a great design and you can too. Find instructions on how to do 'all things moodle' in the documentation section at You lucky Southwell people can also check out the moodle courses we did a couple of years ago under 'All about Moodle' in 'Teacherspace'

Table 3-GV showed you his excellent Year 8 Science exam he'd produced on Moodle. Well done Guy for daring to do this. GV won't mind me saying this but it was no mean feat. It took a lot of planning, preparation and trialing. The idea is that you design each question first (question type, image and audio) then work on putting the quiz together. 'Think big, start small and plan for early success'. also has a good documentation section on setting up your own quizzes. You'll need to register first but it's worth the effort as this site is packed full of moodle know how.

Table 4-KW showed us Glogster - a site used to apparently 'poster yourself' it mixes graphics, video, music and text into slick glogs- A pretty flash program definitely worth a play with if you haven't done so already. It works on my Asus Eee PC's too so I can use it with my class.

Like all good web2 programs glogster provides you with the URL and the embedded code to add your finished glog into your favourite website/social network. Glogs can be easily linked to moodle and embedded into the blog and text widget on Elgg (our school's private social network) but you have to remember to go to the settings (top right of the screen) and switch off the visual editor (bottom of screen) before you can embed it into the mypages-eportfolio section in Elgg- a point worth noting when you are adding other web2 stuff like voicethread and animoto.

Table 5-PW let us have a look at his netvibes page. A startup page for your PC which lets you aggregate all your news and blog feeds into one area. I have a netvibes page but prefer to use use igoogle (just a personal thing). Startup pages are quite handy so if you don't have a netvibes or igoogle startup page I highly recommend you check out these two over the holidays and work out which one you prefer.

Table 6- And finally I discussed Elgg (0ur schools private social network) a bit like bebo and facebook but with a lot more learning potential (blogs, wiki, eportfolio, etc ). Even if you don't think you are ready to use these with your class yet, just be aware that the kids are using them. You might just want to join one or check out the activity in Elgg and see what they are up to, it might just inspire you. Here is a Pdf of a few other areas in Elgg you could check out too.

Happy holidays and see you next term.