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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

iTunesU is Finally Here!

Our 21st Thing is podcasting. I just signed on with MCLI to do more podcasting workshops throughout the fall and spring semesters. See the schedule below. We added a fourth workshop to share information about iTunesU and copyright issues.

iTunes U, Copyright for Podcasting (1.5 hours) (prerequisite: none)

  1. iTunes U overview
    1. Maricopa college sites
    2. Depositing content
  2. Copyright for podcasting
    1. Overview
    2. Resources
  3. Blackboard Learning Objects: podcasting tool
    1. Overview
    2. http://www.learningobjects.com/podcast.jsp
I feel like an evangelist for podcasting. But with the addition of iTunesU, I'm hoping everyone will want to jump on the bandwagon. So far Mesa, CGVV, PVCC and SMC have functional sites. Some are live to the public now and others will be in the fall. I'm quite surprised we at South are not the last for a change to jump in on something new in technology. We get to help lead the way for a change. Veronica Diaz is working hard to get all the other colleges on board by creating an iTunes user group. Many of the administrators are having some of the same problems with getting up and running, so she will try to get them all on the same page so they can share resources and knowledge. It will be tough with most everyone at the district buried in New Student System implementation.

So, I'm playing alone now in iTunesU with not a clue in the world. I'll be blogging about my experience on my podcasting blog starting in the fall. If any one out there (in the district) wants to come play with me, let me know. I'll have our guys create an account for you, and we can figure this iTunes thing out together. You can view our site as a guest. There's not much there, and we haven't even skinned it yet. I posted all three types of media that you can use in iTunes, audio (mp3), video (screencast saved in iTunes format) and pdf files. But there's a lot to figure out still. Help!

Podcasting Schedule for Fall 2007

Getting Started with Podcasting

SCC (9/7, 2-3p) & Rio (9/12,2-3)

Creating Audio for Podcasts using Audacity (PC) and GarageBand (Mac)

GCC (9/21, 2-4p) & Rio (9/14, 2-4p)

Making a Podcast

CGCC (10/19, 3-4:30p) & GCC (10/5, 3-4:30p)

iTunes U, Copyright for Podcasting

CGCC (10/30, 3:30-5) & SCC (11/7, 3:30-5)

22nd Thing and Working Backwards

Books on tape? I have to admit that I've never listened to a book on tape. Just seems odd to me, especially since I was a English Lit major in college. Where were these books on tape then? Now that I read for fun, I still like the feel of the book in my hand and the look of the words on the page. I need to see the word to fully understand it sometimes, and I don't want to be rushed through a passage that might need to be paused and thought about to fully absorb the full meaning of the words and action on the page. So no thank you; I'll take my books in print.

A few years ago, however, I bought the Kenwood Music Keg, a mp3 hard drive player, for my SUV. In the package was a coupon for two free books from Audible.com. I thought, what the heck; it's free. I downloaded White Oleander by Janet Fitch and This Much I Know is True by Wally Lamb. Both were listed on the Oprah Reading List, so I figured I couldn't go wrong with an Oprah suggestion. Let me just say that listening to an audio book in your car is NOT a good idea. I never wanted to get out of the car. I'd arrive home, pull into the driveway, and sit. My partner would have to send the kids out to get me. When I'd arrive at school, again I'd sit listening, checking the clock so I wouldn't be late for class. I spent way too much time in my car.

I like the idea of textbooks in audio form though. Audible has my ENG101 Handbook in audible form for sell, but it's not cheap. I would never require students to purchase it. After having a quick look at all the free options posted on the 23 Things blog, I might have to give audio books another try. It would be especially useful for literature teachers. LibriVox is really neat and has all the books I had to read in college. I think Karen should volunteer to read and record chapters of books in the public domain. She has a great podcasting voice.

Bye Bye Microsoft: Word Processor Review

I probably could write a review on all the word processors out there myself since I've used just about all of them at some point, but I'll leave this to Zaine Ridling of DonationCoder.com. He does a very thorough job of reviewing the most popular word processors on the market, including all the free ones. He even covers the online word processors, like Zoho Writer, Google Docs and my favorite ThinkFree Office Write.

This is great information to share with students because they struggle with the high costs of getting an education, and laying down $100 for MS Word is not always an option, especially since Ridling agrees that some of the other options are just as good if not better. He says,
Telling someone which word processor is best is like telling someone which browser is better; I'll leave that up to you. As you've read through the review, there are many good choices, and always more than one that will fit your needs and workflow. And if you reread it, you'll notice that the major word processors are in a gray area right now, still tied to the desktop (naturally), but wondering how to tie themselves to the web.
Give it a read.
(Thing #18)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

You Have to Watch This

I was reading my RSS feeds when I came across this video in "Loads of People Are Feeling Web 2.0 Fatigue." on the Digital Inspiration blog by Amit Agarwal. That's not really what the video, titled "Did You Know? 2.0," is about. Just watch, and let me know what you think.


Did You Know? 2.0 - video powered by Metacafe


If you don't see the video, you may have to visit the blog. (Thing #20)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Twit Twit Twitter Useful Uses

I've been using Twitter for 4 months now. There are some interesting blog posts out there about the Twitter cycle, so I won't bore you with my rendition, but I will say I wholeheartedly agree. I just can't convince any of my friends that Twitter is useful, so I'm going to try again. Right here.

I have 11 Friends. Well, a few are really friends, but the others are just people who I follow, like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. The latter is not the real Clinton, but Obama was:
"In DC heading to Howard University for the presidential debate @ 9pm EDT on PBS stations. Txt your thoughts on the debate to OBAMA (62262)
I have 9 Followers. When you follow people on Twitter, it means that you get all of their updates when they post. The question you answer on Twitter is: What are you doing? Whenever you feel the urge, just type in the box your response, and all of your followers will get your post. You can only post 140 characters, so you can't really say too much.


So what can be useful about telling people what you're doing all the time? Well, all fun aside, let's talk about organization and getting things done.

I'm in the middle of selling a house and preparing another for new tenants. It's a big project that needs to be organized into my normal already busy life. It doesn't help that the house I'm trying to sell is the one I'm living in. So I use technology (of course) to help me. First is Remember the Milk (RTM). RTM is a GTD (Get Things Done) website that helps you get things done by creating to do lists. I'm a list maker. I can't do anything until I have a list. If it's not on the list, sorry, no can do. :-) And yes, I do have a list of blog posts I want to write. I can check this one off now.

The hardest part of being organized and staying on top of your to do list is being able to quickly add to and check your list. The one thing that I have with me always can help with that - my Blackberry. I can use my Blackberry to quickly add things to my to-do lists using Twitter. I can also have RTM and Twitter send me reminders about things I have to do on my list. And if your friends or significant other is using Twitter, he/she can add things to your list for you to do to. Hmmm... I'm not sure I really want for that to be known.

One other thing I use to help keep me organized is an online calendar. I'm constantly checking my calendar, but I'm not always good about syncing my calendar with my Blackberry. As a result I don't get the reminders I always need to get me going. Plus, sometimes I just don't have the time to add events on my phone when I'm in a hurry. Sending a SMS text to Twittercal is so much easier.
Twittercal is a twitter bot that allows you to send a special coded message via twitter, through any twitter channel (web, sms, mobile, twitter client etc.) that will update your calendar at Google.
All I have to do to add to my to do list or calendar is send a direct message to either RTM or Twittercal through Twitter. It looks something like this:

d rtm pick up the kids after school on Friday or d gcal dinner with Jo @ 5pm on Thursday

Send the text and it shows up in Remember the Milk and/or my Google Calendar. Then they both will bug me to death to get it done or make it on time. It's great.

Here's a quick list of posts about Useful Uses for Twitter
If you think you might want to give Twitter a try, add me, soul4real, as a friend.

Easy Screencast Creation with Jing (aling)

I just want to say Jingaling for some reason. :-) Veronica and I were talking about podcasting, Thing 21, the other day while we were planning our podcasting workshops for the fall. One thing we discussed was that podcasting is starting to be used in more broad terms in education. For some, the line starts to blur between podcasts, straight audio files, video, and screencasts. But if you've read the post on the 23 Things blog, you'll know that it's not a podcast unless you can subscribe to the RSS feed of the audio file. But hey, let's blur the line a little further by blogging about screencasting in a podcasting post.
A screencast is a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration (Answers.com).
I was reading about this new website that makes it possible to record screencasts for free on a Mac or PC. The site is called Jing, and it comes from a company called TechSmith. This company might sound familiar since they are the creators of Camtasia Studio, a screencasting program available for the PC (no Mac). I've posted about Camtasia on my podcasting blog. The program makes it possible to record enhanced podcasts on a PC, as well as the regular screencasts. I really like the program and use it just about everyday, but it's not cheap.

It's a great program and worth every penny, but I wasn't happy about having to pay for it out of my pocket since I primarily use it for school. I paid $179 for version 3, and then shelled out another $90 bucks for the upgrade to version 4 a few months later. I was surprised to see a watered down free version offered online at Jing.
The concept of Jing is the always-ready program that instantly captures and shares images and video…from your computer to anywhere.
Actually Jing is not even close to being as robust as Camasia Studio, but the basic concept of capturing your screen is there. It looks like it might be a marketing ploy to draw users to Screencast.com, since that is the main focus of the site. After you create your screencast, you're able to upload the file seamlessly to Screencast.com for free. Well, free for 2 months. It's only a trial, but hosting rates aren't too bad. I think it was $69 for a year for 25gb of space and bandwidth. Very reasonable if you're not a heavy user. See pricing plans.

I'm not doing the program or website justice. Watch their video below for a better explanation. If you find yourself needing to share screen captures and video of what you're doing on the computer, this might be a great solution for you. Go download the free software and give it trial.

Click here to open the video

Want some tips on how to create better screencasts? Check out: Screencasting 101 - Fundamentals of Screencasting

Tech Overload, but it's Still Fun


I completely understand why so many professors shy away from technology use in their lives and in the classroom. It can be overwhelming at times. I can admit I'm overwhelmed a bit at the moment. There's so much out there to learn and experience that I just want to do it all. I want to podcast, shoot video, play in Second Life, explore iTunesU, get organized with GTDs, read my RSS feeds, listen to new music, play with Twitter and Pownce and Facebook and del.icio.us. And I need to organize my wiki, update my blogs, and I can't forget my 15 online students stumbling through ENG102 in a 5 week summer course. Poor souls. Better yet, poor me. When did having fun become so much work?

Ah, but it's still fun. It's like working out. It's such hard work and you get all sweaty. It takes an hour or more out of your day. You might have to drive to the gym or get your bike ready to ride. But once you're out there doing it, it's fun. And when you're all finished, you know you did something good for yourself. Tech is like that. It might seem like a lot of work, but in the end it can end up being something good for you. For me, it has saved me tons of time and helped me become a better teacher.

So here I sit with so much to share about technology and so many "23 Things" to catch up on, and I just don't know where to start. I want to blog about Twitter, but I haven't found a good way to describe what it is or share any useful educational way one might use it. It's just fun. I was just reading an article in Wired, "Clive Thompson on How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense." He has an interesting take on what Twitter is:

It's like proprioception, your body's ability to know where your limbs are.
That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps
you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing
feats of balance and dexterity.

I found myself shaking my head in agreement with this one. Maybe I'll start with blogging about Twitter afterall.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Two Days Without Tech

I'll jump to the chase and say right up front that I didn't make it. It was a great plan to get away from the computer for a few days and enjoy nature, but I failed miserably. I just couldn't do it. My downfall started when I packed the car. Not only did I have a boat load of tech that goes with all my bicycling equipment, like GPS, heart rate monitor, data collector, and bike computer, but I also had good justifications for bringing my Blackberry and two iPods. Hey, I can't drive 4 hours without having some tunes in the car, right? And what if I break down? I need my phone to call for help. Never mind the fact that my car is already equipped with OnStar and a Kenwood Music Keg with 3,000 songs stored on it.

So I packed up the car and headed to Pinetop, AZ for Track Camp. Yep, track camp - high altitude running in the pines. Cool air, rain, star filled nights and no tech! Riiiiight.

One hour into the trip, as I was listening to my iPod hooked up to my car stereo, my phone rings. It has bluetooth technology, so I can answer it through the stereo system. It was a student with a question, and as I listened through the car stereo speakers it dawned on me that I should send a note to the whole class with my answer, since it was a good question. So after I hung up, I sent an email post to our course blog using my Blackberry with the information that the student needed so the whole class could have it. Fifteen of the 20 students have signed up for email updates from the blog, so at 11am everyday they get an email with all the updates on the blog. For the five that didn't bother to sign-up, they'll see the RSS feed from the blog on the Blackboard Announcement page if they choose to log in since I have an automatic feed set up to display them there. So with that completed, I continue on with my "two days without tech" trip.

A few moments later, I get a Twitter update from the CogDog, Alan Levine, on my Blackberry. That reminds me that I haven't updated yet today, so I type in "heading out of town. Pinetop here i come" into a text message and update my Twitter account. But you see, Twitter is addicting. When ever you find yourself doing anything remotely cool, you just feel the urge to share it with the world, so you twitter. When I ended up on the rim between Payson and Heber, I just had to twit about the beautiful views from up on the rim. Oh, and who would pass up a photo op like that? Not me. Whipped out the Canon Digital Rebel and took a few shots. Hmmm... Did I pack a camera too?

There's generally not much tech involved with running. You lace up your shoes and hit the pavement. When I coached, we discouraged runners from running with music players, so I'm still not big on it to this day. But I do like to know how far I've run and how long it took me, so I bought the Nike+iPod kit to attach to my iPod Nano and my hacked Adidas shoes. I was planning on logging some serious miles while up at track camp, so I couldn't resist this tech. It was to be my one indulgence. When I laced up my shoes for my first run at camp, I strapped on my Nano sans headphones and hit the road with 100 kids from all over the valley. My Nano reported later that I had run 3.2 miles in 30 minutes.

I'd pretty much given up the idea that this would be a techless trip for me half way up the mountain on route 260. Okay, okay. I knew before I left the valley. It's just a part of me I guess. I did find myself bored for most of the day while I was there. I even read a book, but my mind ached to be engaged in some technology. So I hooked up the bike with the Timex Bodylink system and hit the road. And later when I was finished I whipped out my MacBook Pro and blogged about it. Yeah. Guilty. I packed that too!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Meebo: 2007 Web 2.0 Award Winner

I'm killing two birds... uh, I mean two things at once here. I'm posting about Meebo, a 2007 Web 2.0 Awards winner, using my Google Docs account. I use both quite a bit, but I'll talk about Meebo. Most people I know my age don't want to have anything to do with chatting on the internet. I'm not so much into it either any more, but I recognized the convenience of it long ago. I can remember chatting in the chat rooms on AOL back in 1994. If you don't remember, AOL launched a windows version with links to graphics in January of 1993. I think I was on Prodigy too at that time. I really thought I was a pioneer. I spent a lot time online chatting back then. It was a complete time waster, but I loved it.

Today, I barely have enough time to read and respond to all the email I get, let alone waste time chatting online. So I limit my chatting to work related tasks. I've found that many students like online chatting, also known as IMing (instant messaging), and actually prefer to send a short message asking a question rather than calling or writing out an email. With the latter two, you never know if you are going to make a connection, so you may just end up leaving a message and waiting for a response. With IM you know if the person you want to talk to is online right now, and your chance of getting an immediate response is greater.

But somewhere along the line, trying to keep up with different students and friends online left me with every imaginable IM service available. There's AOL Instant Messaging (AIM) and ICQ, Yahoo! IM and Google Talk, Microsoft's MSN (now Windows Live Messenger) and Jabber, an open, secure, ad-free alternative to consumer IM services. I have accounts for them all. You can imagine what a hassle it would be to have to download, install and log into all 6 of these clients everytime I wanted to chat, so it was a great service to see Meebo show up on the scene last year. Yes, there were other clients available that allowed you to combine all six services with one client, but they have to be downloaded to the desktop you are currently using (Trillian and Adium). This is troublesome if you want to chat at school because IT departments don't usually let you install software on the school computers. But Meebo is different because it is a web program (Web 2.0). All you have to do is log in.
You can either log into Meebo, which logs you into all of your clients, or you can log into one individually. Below you can see that I've logged into all six, including Meebo.

It does a nice job of combining all of your buddies into a nice neat buddy list. Your buddies are identified by the icons from each client like the ones you see in the above photo.

What makes Meebo and websites like it so revolutionary is that they make it possible for people to chat anywhere with out the need of altering the host computer by downloading files. The old way was good for education because you could keep students from chatting if you wanted, but with these new sites, anyone can chat when ever and where ever they like. Today's a good day, no IM's. I must be doing a good job.
(Thing #19)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Quick Update on Bluegrind

I got an email from a developer of the Bluegrind engine today, and he was eager to help me troubleshoot the problem I was having with getting the service to work on my Blogger blog. He read my post that I wrote two days ago about the service, posted here and on my Podcasting blog. I sent him a screenshot of what I was doing, and he quickly discovered the problem and fixed it for me. I was then able to add the audio players to my posts on my Maricopa Experience & 23 Things blog on Blogger. I'm so happy, because I really like the service.

One of the reasons I like this site is because their main focus is not just to create a text-to-speech engine to make blogs more interesting, but to help make the web more accessible to visibly impaired users. Serge shared this with me:
As a little background history, we started bluegrind in the hopes to make the web more accessible to visually impaired users. We have a completely operational mirror site on bluegrind that has no visual elements and is completely navigable using audio and key presses. You can see this version by going to http://www.bluegrind.com and pressing "1" on your keyboard. The more sites and blogs that have audio enabled posts, the more accessible we can make the web, that is why we try to reach out to all our users and help them set up the audio player.
The mission of the Disability Resources and Services Office (DRS) at South Mountain Community College is to provide qualified, self-identifying students with disabilities equal access to a quality postsecondary educational experience by administering reasonable accommodations as needed. With more and more use of the internet, it's getting increasingly difficult to accommodate disabled students if we aren't aware of them when we design our hybrid and online courses. There are many tools available to help with this as I've mentioned several in the past: TextAloud, Feed2Podcast, and now Bluegrind. It would be a wonderful thing to have a service like this on every website. I have it on all of my mine now thanks to Bluegrind.

If you're reading from a feedreader, you'll have to visit the site to see my audio players above each post. Just click the title of this post.

Animate Yourself with Gizmoz

You have to visit the blog to get the full effect of this post. I've animated myself using Gizmoz. It was really easy. I took a head shot of myself and uploaded it to the website. Then I chose my fancy outfit and hairdo. That was fun! Then I recorded my voice just by clicking on the record button. It was fast and easy, and the end result is hilarious if you ask me. Check it out, and create your own avatar.

Gizmoz characters can be fashioned either as a self-portrait starting from a single personal photo, or created using images from the Gizmoz library, all in just a matter of minutes. The result is a customized digital character that consumers can use to deliver personalized, lip-synched messages in video clips and other forms of original content.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Stop Reading, Start Listening

I was reading a great blog post, Podcasting Toolbox: 70+ Podcasting Tools and Resources, on the Mashable Social Networking News blog earlier when I came across an interesting website that converts written text from blogs into audio for easy listening. I've written about text to speech in the past on my podcasting blog, Podcasting & Blogging in Education, and I was just looking for a few more resources to add.

The Podcasting Toolbox blog posts offers up a few options in this area to explore:
  • BlueGrind - Converts text (especially blogs) into podcasts.
  • Feed2Podcast - Convert any RSS feed into a podcast.
  • Talkr - Convert blogs to audio podcasts.
  • Odiogo - convert RSS feeds, text articles and blog posts to podcasts.
I've tried and currently use Feed2Podcast. You can read my post HERE, but I thought it might be fun to see what else is out there in this area.

Bluegrind boasts:
If you like reading the news, you will love "hearing the news". With BlueGrind.com, you can have your personal news anchor reading the news to you every day. It doesn't just stop at your computer, you can take it with you wherever you go. Long wait at the airport? No problem, you can download enough for hours and hours of News and Blogs that you can listen to.
I can't say the Bluegrind was easy to figure out at first. I had to sign up before I could discover what it actually does. Within a few minutes I had added two of my blogs. I just added the URL of the blogs to my blog list. Bluegrind then gets the posts from the blog and creates audio - automatically. And it was quick. It displays all of your posts with media players on the bottom, so you can either read or listen. It looks nice, but the most amazing part is the voice is quite good. It's almost realistic. I could listen to it for a while if I had to. This is one up on the Feed2podcast service.

They make it easy to download the audio to take on the go. All you have to do is click the "Add to List" button on the side of each blog post and the audio gets added to a download file:
The Download File will include all the Articles you have selected to Add. Each article will be downloaded as separate MP3 files, which will give you the ability to play in an Audio player, and/or burn them on a CD.
I'm not sure if my blog page is viewable to the public. Guess we'll find out: http://www.bluegrind.com/feed.html?feed_id=38

You can offer up this wonderful text to speech service to your visitors on your own blog by adding a snippet of code to your blog index template file. Sounds complicated, and it actually was with this Blogger blog. I just couldn't figure it out. It kept telling me my code was incorrect. I was successful on my first try with the Wordpress blog I tried. The code embeds a media player with the audio on each blog post, right on your blog. You can see what I mean here: Freshman Comp II Online. I'm thinking it's a little overkill for audio on that blog, but it might work nicely for a blog that doesn't already offer podcasts, like this one. Too bad I can't get it to work.

I tried subscribing to the blog in iTunes after I set up Bluegrind on it, but it doesn't pick up the audio as a podcast. It only gathered the podcast audio that I placed in each post. This is probably the case because Bluegrind doesn't post the actual mp3 file on your site; I believe they stream it from their server. Podcatchers only catch the audio that is actually on the site.

So I'm not finished playing with this new tool, but I think it really has potential. I'm off to see if I can change voices. Enjoy.