World eBook Fair–free through Friday

July 31, 2006

I returned from my two weeks of traveling (a wedding in Austin, a honeymoon in San Francisco, and wrestling nationals in Fargo) to have my wife tell me about the World eBook Fair. If you have not had the opportunity to check this out, Wedding Partydo so before Friday. This is the last week a free access to the World eBook Fair search engine. After this Friday the website will return to its $8.95 yearly fee, still a great deal. Currently, World eBook Fair provides access to 1/3 million eBooks. The goal is to have one million eBooks by 2009.

The current free month is in celebration of Project Gutenberg, 35 years old. I started using Project Gutenberg in college as a means to complete research at the library without having to carry several literature books at once. This was also in a time when PDAs and laptops were not a common among students. As schools continue to embrace technology I feel that eBooks will become a popular trend. I have been using on-line text as alternatives in my English and History courses the past three years.

San Francisco

Will eBooks work in educational settings? Consider this: Weight—this is a concern of parents when purchasing text books. I see more students each year arriving to school with back packs that resemble airport luggage relying on wheels to transport books from classroom to classroom.

Cost: many of the books used in schools are texts that do not fall under copyright laws because of their age. Textbooks companies make money by organizing these texts into a single book. Using eBooks can eliminate the need for a single textbook with all of these eBooks available on a PDA. This can reduce costs as current research shows that schools are using PDAs as an alternative to laptops when the school is facing financial difficulties; which are most schools I know.

Flexibility: If a student has on-line access to text, then you eliminate leaving your books at school or home. This also assists those students who think they are too cool to be seen with books. Putting a PDA in your pocket takes little space.

Readability: I feel this is an unsupported excuse for those resistant to embracing technology. While researching the educational uses of PDA for a graduate class I found no information that supports difficulty with students reading texts from PDAs. Students already read text messages on phones and instant messages on home computers. The screens on PDAs are usually larger than both phone screens and text message boxes. Secondly, if a student has a home computer they can upload the text to a PDA and use the larger screen. Most businesses require employees to read information from a desktop computer, so this is a skill that our students should learn in school anyway.

Regardless of your thoughts on this issue check out the World eBook Fair and see if any on the eBooks interest you. Just remember, the free period ends this Friday.

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Classblogmeister

July 11, 2006

Mark Ahlness has written a great posting on Classblogmeister, the blogging website designed specifically for classroom use. I have used Blogmeister in my sophomore English and sophomore History classes through out the past six months. Personally I found Blogmeister as great way to engage my students while focusing on the writing process. It allowed them an opportunity to not only focus on writing, but also allowed them the opportunity to view the writings of fellow classmates. It also provided them a venue to a larger audience, the world, as supported by the Clustrmap displayed on our website.

While the website did have some technical issues, the listserve is a great way for quick responses from teachers using the program. Often tech support comes in the form of a computer specialist; however the listserve is support from fellow teachers. It is also a great way to share ideas. David Warlick has worked hard to make corrections to the program; most of which were the result of a feverish increase in popularity. He continues to improve the service while still not charging its users.

Feel free to check out my previous posting on classroom blogging for other ideas.


Hitchhikr

July 6, 2006

I began reading the posting by all of the bloggers at the National Educational Computing Conference tonight. While I was reading I used my teacher’s multitasking abilities to listen to the most recent Connect Learning podcasts. In episode 63, David Warlick described his new idea of Hitchhikr. Hitchhikr will allow registered users to hitch a ride to conferences with those who are attending by using common tags to blog about events. I am sure that my principal will appreciate this new site. I was all set to hitch hike to San Diego by taking the time to find blogs about the NECC. This site coordinates all of this information for us. Not only that, but by listing my interests the site also listed several conferences that may interest me. As with most information being added to the web, an RSS feed for these conferences are available. The RSS feed allows me to focus my time on my aggregator browsing all of my feeds and frees me up from checking back to Hitchhikr.

While I agree with David that nothing is like being at a conference, this is the next best thing. I have attended various teaching and coaching conferences and workshops and continue to learn new information at each session. Sometimes it is just not possible to attend all of the conferences we desire. Sometimes it is simply too expensive to attend the powerful, national conference. This tool will allow us to gain the insight and information when we physically cannot make it to the show.


Educational uses of Audiocasting

July 6, 2006

Yesterday I posted on how to create an audiocast.  At the end of my posting I ask everyone to think about how to use audiocasts in an educational setting.  Notice that I posed the questions as audiocasts for educational purposes.  What I did not say was audiocasts in the classroom.  One of my primary reasons for supporting the use of technology in education is to expand education beyond the walls of the classroom.  The key to realize is that there are no new answers to this question; rather audiocasting presents a new medium for the same activities teachers have been using for years.  What is new is that this medium opens countless opportunities to use these new activities.
1)      Teacher lectures

The most obvious use of audiocasting is recording lectures.  When to record and how to use these recording vary depending on the comfort level of the instructor and the accessibility of the students to such recordings.  Two options exist for teachers to record lectures for use as audiocast.  One is during class.  A teacher can do this easily using a handheld recorder such as the attachment to an iPod or the internal microphone on a Creative Zen.  Recording during a presentation presents some limitations as to the use of the audiocast.  Primarily this audiocast can only be use by students for reviews.  Students preparing for an exam or a presentation can replay the lecture.  Students who missed a lecture due to an absence in class can review the information missed.  While this is a nice gesture, I see more advantages to recording lectures prior to class.  That said, I have enjoyed several lectures recorded in this fashion.  The difference I have noticed in those audiocast of lectures recorded while the instructor is presenting is those lectures seem to be geared toward fellow teachers; a professional development session.  My belief is that most instructors realize that few students will replay an entire lecture, so the instructor realize that he or she can better spend the time making an audiocast for other reasons.

 

The second method for teachers to record lectures is those lectures recorded prior to class.  This provides various opportunities of use, depending on student availability to technology.  “Why would I record my lecture prior to class?”  Obviously when you are planning your lessons recording your lecture gives you a chance to preview your information.  We always tell our students to proof read their work; occasionally we should follow our own advice.  Second consideration when pre-recording lectures is the access to technology of your student.  While teaching three sections of World History last year I began to record my lectures prior to class and combining the recordings with visuals using Microsoft Producer.  This added a concrete image to the words.  My students had access to computers during class.  After providing my students with an outline my students were able to listen to the lecture at a self-guided pace.  This allowed me to pace around the room answering specific questions in a less intimidating environment.  It also allowed my students to replay portions of the lecture without the fear that associates itself in asking “what did he say”.  It also ensured that my lectures were consistent, at least in basics.

 

While I was able to do this because of consistent student access to computers, students with iPods or similar MP3 players could still complete such an activity in class.  Our class schedule is block, so typically I would follow a lecture in this format with a partner activity applying the lectured information.  I found through trial and error that students use twice as much time to listen and write down notes from a recorded lecture as the actual time elapsed if the lecture played through without interruption.  Therefore in a block setting I would record twenty minutes of information and students would complete the lecture in about forty minutes.  If I wanted my students to download from iTunes the audiocast for Friday’s class, I would make that available for my students beginning on the Monday prior.  This four day time gap will ensure ample opportunity before or after school or at home for students to download this audiocast.  Then in class I would handout copies of the visuals and the accompanying questions/activities.  If the students had a video iPod or similar video player you could create an enhanced audiocast.  (Information on this comes in future postings.)

 

But not all of my students have iPods or access to computers, how can I use audiocasts?
 

2)      Exam reviews

Over the past year I have listened to several teacher audiocasts providing students with exam reviews.  Remember that students can listen to audiocasts directly on a computer.  Even students with slow internet connections can download the audiocast and then listen after the download completes.  I have listened to some teachers who provide bonus points for students who can name the music played during a review or provide bonus information that only students who listened to the audiocast would know to review.  This type of bonus information also provides the instructor with an unscientific means of assessing the use by students of such reviews.  And since they are bonus, students who do not take advantage of these opportunities face no penalty.

 

These ideas are great (thanks), but what if my students listen to Friday’s lecture before Friday or stop listening to my lecture because they know I am recording it and will post it online?
 

3)      Application of Knowledge

If those teachers who find this to be a problem could please share with me how they were able to do this I would appreciate the secret.  If you can get the students to review the information for class before the class day reserved for that information you are in my circle of envy.  This means that you can spend your entire class completing activities and applying the information they have gained.  This is like students reading the textbook before the class. 

 

I recall a discussion from a professor at Duke who cited just this complaint.  I wish I bookmarked the comment, but I could not believe what I read.  He was actually upset that students did not attend his classes because students could pass his exams by listening to his audiocasts.  I had a professor who did the same thing, only we could pass his exams by reading the book.  Had the availability to download the lecture existed I would have save the money spent on the book.  I would assume that a professor at a university with the reputation of Duke would understand that if students can come to class with the information then this provides you the opportunity to use this information.  Imagine never having to lecture again and guiding students through creative assessments where they apply rather than regurgitate the information.  Alas, these thoughts are becoming a separate monster that we should save for a future discussion.

 

While these general ideas are great do not forget about student audiocasts. 

4)  Student Created Audiocasts

This is truly an avenue of endless opportunities.  In my World History courses my students created on-line text books and recorded brief (three minute) lectures highlighting three items they viewed as significant.  As soon as we linked these recordings to their blogs, you could not believe the sense of accomplishment I saw.  In my English course my students recorded an audiocast of a personal essay based on the NPR series “This I Believe”.  I received more positive feedback from this activity than any other throughout the year.  The written portion of this activity was my focus, but I allowed the students to record their essays after we listened to some from NPR.  They recorded while other students edited their essays. 

 

These are just general thought on audiocasting.  While I am of course bias toward the social sciences and English, think of how useful this would be in any discipline.  After all, every discipline is just a new language.  My historical people are French nouns.  My literary terms are scientific formulas. 

 

I recommend subscribing to some of the audiocast listed below.  Either access the websites directly by clicking the link below or search iTunes’s podcast directory for key words.  Listen to a few and start jotting down your ideas.  If you are worried that you will lose your list before you finishing planning your lessons for this fall; I have a great idea.  Post your list as a comment to this article.  Then whenever you need to you can refer to this posting.  This will give you a reason to view the ideas of other teachers and see what new ideas arise.  If you have written a similar blog posting link us to it.  I am curious to all the various ideas we can pile up.

Speaking of History 

AP World History

Literature Circle

Econ 100 UC Berkeley

French for Beginners

Learn Japanese  

SMARTboard Lesssons 

Wichita Public Schools IT department

St. Thomas Aquinas High School–link does not work, but do an iTunes search for the morning announcements

 

Enjoy your day,

Kyle

 


Creating an Audiocast

July 4, 2006

Well my relaxation month of summer concludes with this Fourth of July weekend.  During this month I slacked off considerable from the amount of blog posting I originally set for myself.  I did get the opportunity to subscribe and to listen to several different audiocasts via iTunes.  As I begin to organize my courses for this upcoming fall semester I will include examples of audiocast that I will be creating.  With this on my mind, I realize that not everyone may be familiar with the easy of creating an audiocast.

 

The first thing that we must do is ensure that we have all the necessary software.  I know that some people think that you must have a Mac to create an audiocast.  I use my Dell laptop, Audacity (open source software), a free subscription to Gcast, and a $15 microphone.  Using these four items I can successfully create an audiocast.  By adding iTunes I can make this audiocast a subscribable channel.

 

The ease of use is one of the better functions of Audacity.  First you need to download both the installer and the LAME MP3 encoder.  Once you have downloaded the program and the encoder you are ready to create a podcast.  By using the $15 microphone you can begin recording.  Simply depress the (1) record button and the program will start recording your voice.  When you are finished, simply depress (2) stop and your track is ready for editing. 

Editing your recording is as simple as cutting and pasting.  Begin by playing the audio from the start, I would first increase the (1) Gain, it will increase to output volume of you recording.  Audacity allows you to stop the track, (2) highlight the portion you wish to delete and then (3) remove it from the recording.  The simplicity of this action allows you to keep recording when you know you misspeak or misread during your recording.  What I recommend to my students is to pause, allowing a break in the recording increasing the ease of deleting a segment, and then begin rereading from a point where you know you properly spoke.

Once you have concluded your editing, (1) save the project and then after you save the edited version (2) export as an MP3.  If you did not download the LAME MP3 encoder previously, you will have to do so before you can export as an MP3.  Now your audiocast is complete and ready to upload to Gcast.

Gcast is a free service provided by the Garage Band record label.  I have found Gcast to be simply to use and provides several options to distribute audio recordings.  With your one Gcast account you can create several podcast channels with unique XML codes (we will get to this later).  Another cool option is that you can record audiocasts directly to Gcast from you phone.  I have not done this yet, but I am looking forward to this feature.

 

First of course is that you will need to create account.  Once you have created an account use the table of contents on the left sign to select “Upload new audio.”  On the Upload new audio page type in (1) the title of your audiocast and then a (2) description of the recording.  After you have done this depress the (3) browse button to locate the MP3 you made using Audacity.  Locate the file and depress open.  After you depress the agreement button at the button of the page your audiocast will be uploaded and appear on your master playlist.  Now that you have uploaded your audiocast to the internet, it is time to create a subscribable channel on iTunes.

If you do not have a copy of iTunes you will need to download this program.  iTunes is not the only program that will retrieve audiocasts, it is just the most commonly used.  In the future we will explore the various programs available.  After downloading the program choose the (1) Music Store in the source column on the left side and once on the Music Store page choose (2) podcasts as the genre.

 

After selecting Submit a Podcast from inside the music store you will need to return to Gcast to retrieve the URL feed you created.  Once on your home page on the Gcast website right click the mouse when the cursor is on the XML button for the channel you wish to upload to iTunes.  This should pop up a new window that contains the URL of your feed.  Copy this URL and return to iTunes to past the requested URL information.  Congratulations.  Once you have submitted this information you now have an audiocast channel to which anyone with an internet connection can subscribe.

Now that you have created your own audiocast channel, subscribe to some of the available podcast and think about some of the ways in which educators can use audiocast for educational purposes.  This will be the topic of our next entry.

 

Enjoy your day,

Kyle