Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reflecting on an Almost Done Semester

Finals start tomorrow, and I've spent most of the last week grading and tying up loose ends in my hybrid and online courses. I finally feel as if I have my hybrid and online ENG102 course right where I want it to be in terms of design. It only took 7 years. I started designing the course in 2001 when I started grad school. Back then it was just a face to face course with lots of different technologies added in here and there. It grew to a hybrid that I studied and wrote my dissertation on. Now it's a fully online Quality Matters certified course, one of the first QM certified courses in the district.

I'm proud of this course, but as I wrap up this semester and reflect on what I think went well and what I think didn't, I can't help but feel a bit down about the student retention rates in my courses. I've come to the conclusion that no matter how much time and effort you put into a course to make it the best it can be, sometimes your students just aren't ready for it. In the case with our students at South Mountain Community College, they're not ready in more than one way. Many are not prepared for a rigorous college load and still others are not ready for online and hybrid courses, yet they end up in my courses.

I teach the only hybrid and online English courses on campus, two hybrid and one online. There are plenty of other sections that are face to face available all through out the day and week, but my classes fill up. When asked, most students signed up for the class because the time fit well with their schedule and not because they particularly wanted a hybrid class. And I don't even want to start to talk about why students sign up for my online class. That's just down right scary. Anyway, student don't realize until it's too late that maybe hybrid or online is not the best course format for them. Not only do they struggle with using the technology, but some struggle with the demands of a writing class. It's almost as if they didn't expect that they would have work to do.

My students are having trouble completing just one assignment a week. The assignment is designed to take 2-3 hours to complete. When I designed the assignments, I followed an honors students around the library while he completed the assignments. I timed him and took notes about questions he had about the directions. Most assignments he completed in under an hour. I took that research and adjusted the assignments accordingly. The assignments are designed to guide a student through the research process culminating in an extended documented argumentative research paper. Each step is crucial to completion of the final product, and each assignment builds off the previous one. Students who are prepared do really well. I get a good number of A's, but I get even more drops and F's.

The students who fail or just give up and drop don't do the work. They turn in incomplete assignments. They don't do rewrites or come for additional help. It's like they don't even try. They complain that the assignments are too hard and take too long to complete. Even if an assignment took 5 hours to complete, a whole week is plenty of time to complete it. I'm at a lost as to what to do about all this. I think the only solution is to force students to a study session or tutoring. I'm not sure how I could do that, but that's where I am now with this. I'm struggling with the whole idea that I teach college, but I really can't treat all of them like college students, expecting that they will take the initiative to get help if they need it. It's frustrating indeed.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Educause 2008 was Depressing

No, don't get me wrong. Educause is a great conference and definitely worth while to fly across the country to sit in on some amazing conference sessions. But when I start thinking about going back to my campus and never having the possibility to experience any of the great tech tools I learned about, I get depressed. We don't even have any IT leaders from our campus that even come to Educause, so I ended up hanging out with all the other IT, VP's, faculty and instructional designers from our sister colleges. What a treat that was as well. I get so jazzed hearing about all the cool things they are doing on their campuses.

I saw an amazing presentation this morning from some guys at Drexel University talking about a lecture capture solution they implemented on their campus:
Increasingly, colleges and universities are adopting lecture capture solutions to increase student satisfaction and learning. Join Drexel University's innovative team and other universities for an in-depth panel discussion focusing on how these institutions have implemented TechSmith's Camtasia Relay to integrate lecture capture into their existing infrastructures simply, quickly, and affordably.
It was amazing to see what they were able to do with Camtasia Relay in such a short period of time and even before the product was released out of beta. It was that easy. What was most amazing to me is that it was the IT guys and the instructional designer who came up with this solution and made it happen for the college. Sigh. Why can't we do things like that?

Our IT department and instructional designer are all caught up in doing other stuff to be able to come up with technology solutions for teaching & learning issues on our campus. I've been there 10 years and I don't think I've ever been asked what I need to help me teach my students better. Why is that? Is it not important because too few of our faculty will utilize it? or is it because only a small number of students will be impacted by the technology initially? Who knows, but it doesn't sound much like forward thinking to me.

Another session I sat in on this morning was Thinking Outside the Virtual Classroom presented by Shannon Ritter, Social Networks Adviser, Penn State World Campus, The Pennsylvania State University.
Educating our students is certainly our priority, but how can we connect learners to each other in a way that provides more opportunities for personal growth, networking, and connections? By taking advantage of virtual spaces like Facebook, Twitter, and Second Life, we give our students space to learn outside the classroom.
This was a great presentation. Ritter talked about how students in online distance programs are missing out on the college experience and have no real connection to the college because those students don't get the same interactions with their peers like the on campus students do. Many aren't learning together, and they don't have a sense of belonging. So the Penn State World Campus created orientation videos to help give students a sense of belonging. They also use Second Life, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter to help building a sense of community.

This is the same idea behind my decision to use a social network to teach my freshman composition courses in. The network has some of the same features Ritter talks about embedded in the site, like videos, photos, walls, and updates. And the whole idea is to help students feel more connected to their peers, the instructor and the class.

Those were just two of the many ideas I experienced this week at Educause. Surprisingly some of the most valuable information was obtained just from hanging out with peers from the Maricopa district and my Twitter friends from across the country. That community we build is very valuable for sharing experiences and expertise in a wide variety of areas, and their willingness to help each other is refreshing. It would be really nice to have that kind of community on my own campus, a group of like minded faculty who like to come together and share ideas about education and technology. Some day, right?

Check out the live simulcasts from the conference:
Live Simulcasts

Those unable to attend the EDUCAUSE 2008 Annual Conference are invited to watch General, Featured, and Point/Counterpoint Sessions virtually in live simulcasts sponsored by Sonic Foundry, an EDUCAUSE Silver Partner. Watch and ask questions at the Featured and Point/Counterpoint sessions.

Get ready to watch the videos by reading the Mediasite System Requirements and Mediasite Player Tutorial.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Multimedia Infused Freshman Comp

Multimedia Infused Freshman Comp

From: soul4real, 1 hour ago

Presentation for the TYCA-West conference in Clarkdale, AZ. Using pod/vodcasting in freshman composition courses.

SlideShare Link

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Multimedia Infused Freshman Comp Live Presentation

2008 TYCA- West Annual Conference
Reaching Across Communities: Service in and out of the Classroom
Friday, October 10 & Saturday, October 11
Valley Verde Campus of Yavapai College
Clarkdale, Arizona

My presentation,
Multimedia Infused Freshman Comp (M-203), begins at 4:30pm on Friday, October 10th. Join me live right here or visit my Presentation Wiki:

Synopsis: Come see how the new generation of freshman composition courses use podcasting, video, still images and interactivity to engage students in the writing process. Using various Web 2.0 tools, see how podcasting can be used not only as a mode of delivering content, but also as a mode of interaction between faculty and students. Video is used not just as a prewriting activity, but also as a mode of expression and argument. These and many others can be accomplished with little training and inexpensive tools that many students already own.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Come Experience PodCampAZ Nov. 1st & 2nd

I can still remember last year when I first heard about PodCampAZ. I was so excited only to discover that I had missed it. I was so bummed. But I'm not going to miss it this year, and I'm not going to let you miss it either. So mark your calendars for November 1st and 2nd at UAT in Tempe. VIEW MAP

This year is sure to be another successful podcamp. People still talk about it being one of, if not, the best one. So what is it anyway? Well, it's not all about podcasting, as the web concedes, but if that is your interest, you're sure to find plenty of podcasters abound.
PodCamp is a FREE BarCamp-style community UnConference for podcasters and listeners, bloggers and readers, and anyone interested in New Media. It was held for the first time from September 8-10 in Boston, Massachusetts and is now spreading across the world. (

Yes, it says free, and it is unlike any conference you may have attended before. That's why you just have to come out and experience it.

Shelley Rodrigo and I, along with ASU professor, Time Barrow, will be presenting on the use of Web 2.0 tools in education. There are many exciting presenters, so you're sure to find something of interest to you. Take a look at the line up: Look Who Is Speaking At PodCamp AZ and I'll see you on November 1st and/or 2nd at PodCampAZ.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Justifying My Teaching Methods

I had an administrator object to my taking a regular class and turning it into a more dynamic hybrid course out of necessity, so I was forced to respond with this message:

(My Division Chair) searched high and low (that's the story she gave me) for an adjunct to teach the night class, and I'm all she could fine. I haven't taught a traditional class in 7 years. I'm not even sure how anyone can teach an ENG102 class without any technology. It's research. You need a library and you need the internet. How do you teach students to do research sitting in a room with nothing in it but a Smartboard hooked up to nothing. That's a nice smartboard, by the way. Anyhoo, I'm not complaining. I'm just saying. There are 10 students enrolled. 6 of the 10 were actively participating in online activities 2-3 days before the first class meeting tonight. The other 4 were excited about the opportunity after I explained the course to them.

Hybrid just means there's online content and responsibilities involved. I teach all my classes the same way even if they're not "labeled" hybrid, as this one is not. In order to be able to spend one on one time with students, you have to give them activities in class to free up in class time where the instructor is not the focus of the class. Online activities free up in class time so that students get more individual attention. But if the classroom environment doesn't support the activities, you move them outside the classroom.

Let me explain how it works, and I'm sure you'll see there is some benefit in offering a class this way. In this class there are 10 research assignments that require students to use the internet and/or the library (an uncensored internet and a college/public library). Research is independent in that each student has their own topic. Tuesday's class students meet in the classroom where they receive general instruction on the week's research assignment. Hopefully we'll at least have an internet connection and I can hook my own laptop up to that shiny new overhead projector hanging from the ceiling. On Thursday students will work online or at their local library (with several class library visits planned-not sure where yet). When working independently students can ask questions via IM, email or phone to me about their individual project (anytime, not just Thursday night). They can also schedule appointments during this time.

There are also online materials available for students 24/7. For every assignment there are written instructions, a student example and a screencast online demonstrating how to do the assignment. Reinforcement for what I teach on Tuesday. We also have weekly podcasts to reinforce material covered in class and live office hours via (woot!). In addition, here's the best part. With students working independently on Thursdays, it frees up time to work one on one with students who need individual attention. I can schedule conferences with students during a time that is convenient for us both because it's already scheduled class time (Thursday). Good luck getting night students to come to a conference outside of classtime. It really works well.

That was my email response to why I turned a perfectly "good" course into a much better one. I haven't heard back from the administrator.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Playing with Online Video Editing Sites - Video Series (Part 5)

I've pretty much come to the conclusion that the best way to have any fun with video online is for it to be as simple as possible and to not have high expectations for quality. One thing you have to know about working with video online, the end result will be Flash Video (.flv) files. It has become the default video format on the web and most online video sites use FLV to stream videos online. What I've discovered in the process is it's probably best to just leave your fancy expensive camcorder at home and grab something inexpensive and simple to use if you're planning on posting your video on the web. By simple I mean, no file conversion and no tapes. What you want is a camera that saves video files to either a hard drive or media card in a format that is highly compatible. Make sure the camera saves files in one of these video formats: wmv, avi, asf, mov, qt, mpg, mp4, vob, rm or dv. Most online editing sites will even take your cell phone video: 3gp, 3g2 and even Flash (flv) files.

Here's a short video I shot using both the Flip Mino and my digital camera, a Canon PowerShot SD10. I wanted to compare the quality and to give you an idea of what kinds of cameras are available for you to use.
Exploring Video Cameras from Coop on Vimeo.

I made this video in Windows Movie Maker, but I also uploaded the files to several online video editing sites:
These seem to be the top online editing sites, but there are many others. I just wanted to see how easy it would be to duplicate my editing and movie making experience with Windows Movie Maker. I want to first say that these sites do so much more than edit videos, and I'm not even going to come close to giving you a review of each. I just want to share my first impressions with each.

I tried Eyespot first. It's a pretty slick site, easy to use. I was able to easily upload my 3 short videos. To edit the video I had to go the Mixer area. That is what these sites call the editing area. In there I could trim the videos before placing them in a timeline for my movie. I could also add photos, music, transitions, effects and something called Mixables. It took me a minute or two to figure out how the trimming process worked, but it's simple enough. Put the green arrow where you want the video to start and the red where you want it to stop. Hit the Done button and it places the trimmed piece in your timeline. After adding all my trimmed pieces, I added some transitions and a song and made my movie. My Lady: Yamaha V-Star

The first thing you'll notice about my movie made in
Eyespot is the ads on the bottom of the movie. Yep, Ads by Google. I do like that you can allow visitors to download your video in various formats: PC|Mac|iPod|PSP|DivX. That's sweet, but I hope the downloads don't have ads.

I tried Motionbox next, and it was just as easy to upload my files to their site. They have a different focus at Motionbox it seems. There are no ads, which is good, but it didn't seem like the typical social networking site. Trimming the clips was easy, although I was stumped at first. I had one of those Doh! moments. Anyway, from what I could see, trimming was the only thing I could do with my video - nothing else. That's it. Trim and put clips together. Okay. Next.

JumpCut is a Yahoo! site, so I was able to log in using my Yahoo! ID. I really liked JumpCut. It was super easy and I even had a little fun playing around with all the options. I could do everything I was able to do at Eyespot. It's hard to explain, but it just had a friendlier feel to the site, and I found it easier to explore the option without fear of losing my work. I also made the best movie here. Oh, and guess what - no ads.

Overall, the video quality at all three sites was equal, and I feel confidant that if I ever needed to edit video online that I would have a good place to do so. And I wouldn't hesitate to have my students use any of the sites for a class project, although my current preference would be Jumpcut. Give it a try.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Windows Movie Maker vs VideoSpin: Which is Best? (Part 4)

I'm trying out several different video editing software programs for my summer project. After spending considerable time on the Mac using iMovie and Quicktime, I decided to switch over to the PC and try a couple of free programs before exploring online editing programs. For the PC there are two options: Windows Movie Maker and Pinnacle's free VideoSpin. Let's start with Windows Movie Maker (WMM).

For a free program, Windows Movie Maker is not too bad. I was able to import different types of video, with the exception of HD video files, but most people who are going to be working with HD will probably spring for a more robust video editing software package. For standard video WMM is just fine. You can read more about my first impressions with the program here:
Editing Video with Windows Movie Maker - Video Series (Part 3) and the results of a movie created using Windows Movie Maker are below.

Trimming Bush from Coop on Vimeo.

Windows Movie Maker is probably the most widely used free video editor for Windows, but there is another out there that can give it a run for its money. It really just depends on what your needs are. And let's face it. If you're looking for free, you're probably not looking to be a master video editor. You just want to get your video from your camera and onto the web with a little bit of style as quickly as possible. Both WMM and VideoSpin can do that.

Both are easy to use. You just locate your video and audio files from your hard drive, arrange them on a timeline, and start clipping or rearranging. VideoSpin requires you purchase an upgrade if you want to use MPEG 2/4 codecs, and that will set you back $15, but it's probably worth it. You can add a variety of transitions, sound effects, and titles to your movie in both programs. Adding titles is one place where VideoSpin wins over WMM. It has some pretty fancy title options that I'd never seen before. I liked that. I also like that VideoSpin gives you the option to upload your finished videos directly to YouTube or Yahoo! Video. That's a time saving feature I like.

When it really comes down to it, both programs will work just fine for the average movie maker on the cheap. Just remember, you get what you pay for, and VideoSpin will give you more features for an inexpensive price when you're ready to move up in the world of video editing. VideoSpin is basically a slimmed down version of the commercial Pinnacle Studio, which normally sells for $50. Windows Movie Maker is free and when you've out grown it, you'll have to move on to something else.

For more information on my video project, visit Coop's Word Wiki, and read more articles below.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Editing Video with Windows Movie Maker - Video Series (Part 3)

Up until this point I've been playing with my video on my MacBook Pro, but the majority of people out there aren't lucky enough to have a Mac. So today I'm playing around with editing some video on a HP Pavilion machine running MS Windows XP Media Center (2005). It's an inexpensive machine costing only $400 after a $50 rebate. It has an AMD Athlon 64 processor 3800+ 2.41 GHz and 960MB of RAM. So not much firepower here. :-) I have Service Pac 2 installed, so the Windows Movie Maker program is automatically installed. I tried to download the program directly from the site, but had trouble doing so. Here are the instructions from the Microsoft site:

Movie Maker 2.1 is available for download with Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). You can download SP2, Movie Maker 2.1, and all future critical updates automatically by turning on the Automatic Updates feature in Windows XP.

You can also download SP2 and Movie Maker 2.1 from Microsoft Update. If you cannot use Automatic Updates or download SP2 via Windows Update, order a CD.

I tried to see if the program could be downloaded alone without the Automatic Updates feature and was unable to. First, the site didn't like that I was using FireFox instead of IE, then I was forced to download an .exe file to validate that I indeed owned my copy of Windows XP. After that I couldn't find the program for XP, only Vista. What a hassle, but most people will already have the program installed if they run automatic updates, so it wasn't too much of a big deal. You can find information about the Windows Movie Maker program here.

I started out by importing some AVI video files from an external hard drive that I have attached to the PC. The video I was playing with last week on the Mac is stored there. Some of the files came over, but the ones I converted from the HD format didn't work. I kept getting an error message. Files from the Flip Mino worked fine, so I plugged in the Flip to see if I could capture directly from the camera. You can't actually capture live video from the Flip, so I had to import the clips from the camera into MM like I did the ones on the hard drive. When I tried to capture the video, however, my webcam came on and the program opened up a video capture wizard to walk me through the process of setting up my QuickCam with MM. MM captures the webcam video in 512kbps in WMV format at 320x240 display size and 15 frames per second. This is what was recommended if I planned to edit the files in the program.

The files I imported from the Mac via my hard drive didn't look great in MM, so I'm going to stick with files I imported directly from the Flip Mino for now. But I must say, I'm not sure what the program is doing to the files on import, but it is taking forever. I definitely need more RAM on this machine if I'm going to be editing video, so I'm going to buy some before I talking my editing in Windows Movie Maker. Instead I'll tell you a little about the features of this free program.

MM has most of the basic movie making features like transitions, special effects, titles, credits, narration and music. Your options are just limited, although Microsoft does have some "Creative Fun Packs" that you can download to add more features to MM. You can edit your video in both storyboard view and timeline view. The timeline views consist of one video with accompanying audio bar, one music/audio bar, and one titles bar.When in storyboard view, the video project appears as a film strip showing each scene in clips. Windows Movie Maker can only export video in Windows Media formats (WMV) or DV AVI. Both are fine for viewing on a PC. I do like how it has some predefined profiles and users can create custom profiles which utilize newer codecs.

So I'll give Windows Movie Maker a run through after I've install more memory in my PC, and I'll be back to share the experience with you in Part IV of this Summer Project Video Series. Visit Coop's Word Wiki for more information on my research.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Project Video Experiment: HD Video on Mac (Part 2)

This is Part II of the Summer Project Video Experiment: HD Video on Mac (Part 1)

I've been playing around with my HD video camcorder, a Panasonic HDC-SD5, and playing with different output settings as part of my summer project, to learn as much about video as I can in 4 weeks. Check out Coop's Word Wiki for my research.

When I left off with the last post, I showed you how I was able to convert my HD files in the AVCHD format to MOV files on my MacBookPro, which are editable on the Mac in both iMovie HD and Quicktime Pro. Then we had to decide
which output format to use to share the videos. I decided that I would first try uploading our HD movies to popular video file sharing sites, keeping in mind that most video sharing sites, especially YouTube, will compress the video into the FLV flash format, and the beautiful HD movie will look less than spectacular. But before we even got to that we had to decide on which program to edit the files in. My two inexpensive options were: iMovie HD, free with every Mac, and QuickTime Pro ($30 upgrade). I mentioned that there are other options for editing video on the Mac, but they are out of my "cheap" range.

I decided to try iMovie HD first. I was able to create a spectacular movie by adding music, transitions, titles and still photos, and when it was time to export, my options were unlimited. I chose the Quicktime option Expert Settings and got all the options shown to the right. I chose to use the Divx since it has an HD setting. The output file size was only 36MB.

Editing the HD files in Quicktime was a different story. I got all the same options for output, but the bad thing is the editing features in QT are limited to cropping and piecing files together. You won't find themes, music, or even transitions in QT, but you'll be able to produce a movie a lot quicker. It might be just me but I thought the QT movie looked better than the iMovie HD one.

So let's take a look at the four video sharing sites that advertise HD uploads:

For the life of me I couldn't figure out if I was able to upload HD videos on YouTube, so I just uploaded my test files and then waited to see if they would play in HD. It didn't happen right away, but eventually an option appeared under the video: watch in high quality. I uploaded a Divx encoded HD file from Quicktime and iMovie HD to YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion and ViddYou. DailyMotion says that the file will eventually be encoded in HD format, but it has yet to happen; same with Vimeo. And with ViddYou you have to upgrade to premium to be able to upload HD content. The quality on Vimeo was noticeably better, but a little jittery (based on other HD videos uploaded previously). Let's just face the reality, web video is just not great when you're relying on free video sharing sites who limit your upload file sizes.

If you'd like to see the results of my efforts, here is the list:
My favorite site was Vimeo even though it has a 500MB weekly limit, but if you encode using Divx you'll end up with small file sizes and will be able to upload lots of videos. Vimeo doesn't give you a time limit. YouTube lets you upload as many videos as you want as long as they are under 100MB and less than 10 minutes. Same goes for ViddYou and DailyMotion. ViddYou allows 5 minute videos for a max of 250MB, and DailyMotion allows 20 minutes/150MB. Vimeo and YouTube displayed the movie in their version of HD, although YouTube makes you click a link to switch to the higher quality. I thought the Vimeo video looked better. All four sites offer all the basic features of a file sharing site, so it really comes down to two things: if you want the possibility of your video going viral then YouTube is your choice, and if you want simplicity and a less cluttered site to deal with, go with Vimeo. YouTube does have one up on the others with their newly added video annotation feature. Learn more about video annotations.

Next time I'll take a look at editing standard video files on a PC using free video editing sotware.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Playing with a Flip Mino Video Recorder

I got my Flip Mino from Amazon yesterday, and I couldn't wait to play with it. It's part of my summer project to learn all about video, video editing software and camcorders. I first saw the Flip at the Sloan C conference and then talked to Lisa Young at GWCC who has one. Both owners absolutely love their Flip Ultra. My first impression then was, it's cool, but it's a little big for me. Then a month later they came out with the Flip Mino, a much smaller version of the Ultra with touch controls, better resolution and a rechargeable battery. I was in for that.

First impressions: HOT! This thing is tiny. It's smaller than my Blackberry Pearl, which I carry everywhere with me and fits nicely into my pocket. Dimensions are 3.94" x 1.97" x 0.63" and it weighs in at 3.3 oz. That's 2 oz lighter than the Ultra. All three Flip cameras shoot at 640 x 480 resolution, but the Mino has a little better compression using the Pure Digital Video Engine 2.5. It also has a omni-directional mic.

Of course the best feature on any Flip is the flip out USB "thingy". I plugged it right into my MacBookPro first, and although I didn't like how it makes the camera dangle in mid air, it didn't seem to be a problem. It created a drive icon on the desktop and when I click on it I was able to open up the Flip installer and install the software. It first prompted for a 3ivx player to install before I could load the software. Surprisingly, things were even easier on the PC. Once I plugged in the Flip there, a dialogue box opened up and asked if I wanted to "View your Flip camcorder videos using the program provided on the device." Sure!

The program was installed and I was viewing the videos I'd shot just moments before. I was also able to make some quick edits, which included chopping off the beginning or end. I'm sure I could probably crop in the middle too, although I didn't try that.

Next I wanted to see what I could do with the video. The software makes it easy to upload your videos to AOL Video, YouTube and now MySpace. If you want to upload to other services, it will compress the video for you and put it in a folder on your hard drive. I tried YouTube on for size, and as always the compression really sucks. I'm not a fan of YouTube, so I tried it on Vimeo, but I didn't let the Flip program compress it. I just uploaded the video from the Flip directly to Vimeo. Vimeo also compresses the video, but for some reason, I think it looks better than it does on YouTube. What do you think?

YouTube Video:

On Vimeo:

Yamaha V-Star Custom & Classic from Coop on Vimeo.

So far I'm pleased with my purchase, and although the price of the Flip Mino is much higher than the entry Flip's $100, I still think it was worth it. I'm sure you'll find a deal out there. I found the Flip Mino White for $20 less on Amazon ($157) just because it was white. You can also try out Creative's entry into this field for a lot less, the
Creative Vado, but beware if you're using a Mac. The only knock on the Vado is it doesn't play nice with some Macs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer Project Video Experiment: HD Video on Mac (Part 1)

I'm working on my summer project, which basically is to learn as much about video as I can in 4 weeks. I did some research about video formats, codecs, commercial editing programs, online editing and free editing programs, video sharing sites, videocameras, and system requirements for working with video on both the Mac and PC. I compiled all the information over on my Coop's Word Wiki. Now I'm going to play with the 6 video cameras I own and talk about the process from shooting video to editing to posting the video online. I'll start with my best camera, the Panasonic HDC-SD5.

This is a full HD camcorder that shoots on SDHC cards. Those are just fancy Secure Digital cards. I have a 4GB and an 8GB card for this camera. It shoots in 1920x1080 HD in the AVCHD file format. The AVCHD file format is a nightmare right now. More on that later. But the video from this camera is beautiful on my 50" Plasma HD television. I love this camera.

So I shot some footage a few weeks ago while at Hawley Lake in the White Mountains, AZ. I'll use that footage for this experiment. I don't think I have many options for editing this footage on my PC unless I fork over the dough for one of the upgraded commercial packages I listed on my Video wiki page. Most of the trial packages don't provide support for AVCHD files. That's an upgrade, so I'll start with my MacBookPro.

The first thing I noticed is that iMovie HD doesn't support AVCHD files. How ironic is that - iMovie HD doesn't support HD? After doing a Google search I found a program, VoltaicHD, that would convert the AVCHD files to MOV files so I could then edit them in iMovie or Quicktime.They make a PC version of VoltaicHD as well and it only costs $30.
VoltaicHD lets you copy all your footage to your Mac, unplug your camera, then convert the footage while you (and your camera) go and do other things.
There's definitely some truth in that statement. It takes a long time for those files to be converted.
On a 2.0 GHz MacBookPro with 2Gb of RAM, a 10 second AVCHD clip takes about 2 minutes to convert. Yes, it really takes that long. But the good thing is, you have to remove the SDHC card from the camera and use a card reader to get the files on the Mac, and you need to make sure it's a newer card reader because the old ones won't read the new SDHC cards.

One other thing to note is that the files are bigger after they are converted, so you have to be sure you have plenty of hard drive room. I only have a 80GB hard drive on my Mac, so I hook it up to an external hard drive.
The converted output file will be about four times the size of the input. My first file was 11 seconds long and 17MB but the output file was 64MB.

I could use Final Cut Pro or Express to convert and edit these AVCHD files, but I'm trying to find affordable ways to make movies, and if you don't already have Final Cut, it's too expensive to go out and buy. FC Express is $200 and the Pro version is part of FC Studio which runs $1300. Ouch! Another option would be to upgrade to iLife '08 and iMovie '08 for $80, which is affordable but iMovie '08 is not worth the upgrade.

Once the files have been converted, the quality still looks pretty good. What happens is the AVCHD file is a highly compressed HD format and VoltaicHD uncompresses it into a Quicktime-friendly high definition format - HDV 1080i formatted Quicktime movie, encoded using the Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC). Now I can edit these files (MOV) in either iMovie HD or Quicktime Pro ($30). I opted for QT Pro first for ease of use. I can quickly trim off the beginning and end, edit out any pieces in the middle, and join files together into one movie. For more movie like effects like titles, transitions and a fancy theme, iMovie HD is the ticket. I created two movies on the Mac.

Deciding which output format to use can be confusing. You have to decide what you are going to be doing with the movie. If you plan to upload it to the internet, then be warned, most video sharing sites, especially YouTube, will compress your video into the FLV flash format. Your beautiful HD movie will look better than most on YouTube, but it will still look like crap. I tried out four video sharing sites that advertise HD uploads:

We'll take a look at the end result for each site and how I prepared my HD video for upload in my next post, so stay tuned. Making movies in HD takes time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Zoho Notebook as CMS, Part 2

This is the second post in a series of posts about moving from Blackboard, our current CMS in the district, to Web 2.0 sites. The first post, Moving from Blackboard to Web 2.0, Part 1, is about how I used Zoho Writer, Notebook, & Show to compile my course content into one place. This post shows you how I'm using Zoho Notebook as a writing portfolio for students and as a way to collect assignments from them.

As mentioned before, Zoho Notebook allows for users to create a notebook that can include a number of different pages. Each page can be created adding either a sheet, writer or web page. Sheet pages are spreadsheets, writer pages are word processor pages created in Zoho Writer, and adding a web page embeds the site into one of your notebook pages.

You can also add a blank page which then can have numerous elements added to it and can be edited just like a Writer page. The picture to the left shows all the options available to build a page. I like how the Add Audio and Add Video options automatically build a player for the media right into the page, and add HTML makes it possible to embed just about any kind of widget from anywhere on the web. The add video option requires that you paste the embed code from the site where you posted the original media, meaning you can't upload video directly to the Zoho site. There is, however, the option to upload audio files to Zoho, although I couldn't get it to work for me. Best bet is to upload the media elsewhere and add the URL to file into the page. It creates a nice player for you so the file can be played right on the page.

Students are required to sign up for Zoho and create a notebook. With each major assignment they are required to create a page in the notebook and post the assignment in the page. The notebook will then have tabs for each of the assignments, and thus be a collection of their work. Student can then "share" their notebooks with me, which allows for me to view and grade their work. Zoho gives you two options for sharing, and students need to be sure to share using the Read/Write option. That way I can add comments to their notebook and help make corrections.

This brings me to one of the things I'm not too excited about in Zoho notebook. There really isn't a good way to add comments to a page. You literally have to add a text box over the original content, which makes both the note and the page difficult to read. Currently I'm downloading the pages that need to be graded, grading them in Word using the tracking and comments features, and then posting the graded work back on the students notebook as an attached file. This only works if the student used a Writer page to post the assignment. If he/she used a blank page and added text, then I have to cut and paste the assignment into Word.

I've also had a little trouble with the links I get in the notices from Zoho. Whenever someone shares a notebook with you, Zoho sends you an email alert with a link to the notebook. The link takes me to my Zoho Notebook, but the shared notebook never displays. I can see it, but I have to click on my Shared tab for it to show up. All the notebooks shared with me are compiled in one spot, and I can open then all in tabs in my Zoho site.
Here is a shot of 4 student notebooks tabbed across the top, and a view of the first student's notebook with her assignments tabbed on the right (click to enlarge). This makes it easy for me to click on a name at the top and then review his/her work by clicking on the tabs on the right.

It's not even close to being perfect, but surprisingly it's working well. We'll see how the students are liking it after their midterm poll. Until then, we're moving on to the next step in our move from Blackboard to Web 2.0. - social network as CMS.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Moving from Blackboard to Web 2.0, Part 1

I made my move finally to ditch Blackboard, our course management system (CMS) of choice in the district. I don't even want to start talking about why I must leave it behind. I'll just stick with the story that I prefer to blaze my own trail. Yes, that works fine for me. No headaches thinking about it that way.

So my biggest need moving from a CMS is a gradebook, quizzing/testing capabilities, and content management. I just need a place to keep my stuff. I have already moved all the other essential course elements out of Blackboard in favor of a blog, wiki and social network. I haven't used all three at the same time, but I've tried all three. My top choice is the social network because it incorporates more of the course elements I want to maintain, and the only thing really missing is a "wiki like" tool. It's not so much the collaboration aspect of a wiki that I'm looking for, but more of a place to manage course content. I want to be able to easily and quickly edit course content and make it available. A wiki allows for me to do that, but so does Google Docs and Zoho.

So what's it going to be? I'm going with Zoho for now, so let me tell you why.

Zoho has a whole suite of productivity and collaboration apps, and I like the way they all work together. It has the usual word processor, spreadsheet and presentation apps, but it also has a notebook that is much different than Google's notebook. It works more like a content management or webpage than normal notebooks which usually just give you a place for your notes. Zoho Notebook allows you to build content which can be quickly and easily organized and published or shared with your class. Here's a video showing how Zoho Notebook works.

The biggest advantage that Zoho has over Google Docs and other online suites is that it makes it easy to group your content and documents in one place that is easy to view. It even looks a little like a CMS. Zoho creates these tabs in a notebook that you can label. New pages and tabs can be created by adding any of the Zoho apps. For instance, if I want to add a spreadsheet to the notebook, there's an option to do so on the right side menu. I can also add a word processor document, called a Writer page, to the notebook, an outside website page which gets embedded into the notebook, or I can start with a blank page and build. Now this is where the Zoho Notebook shines. It allows for you to add all kinds of things into a blank page, most notably html, which makes it possible to add widgets to a page. There is also an add RSS option which creates a RSS widget.

So I set up my summer ENG101 course in Zoho and published it so I could share it with you. I don't have to publish the course. I can just share it with only the students in the class making it private as well. I created pages for my syllabus, videos, modules, daily schedule, module I, module II, module III, module IV, Handouts, and Final Exam. I created most of the pages in Zoho Writer and then added them to the notebook, however, the handouts page is unique. I added a blank page and then added the pdf files (handouts) to the page. I will make this page private and share it with students instead of making it public for copyright reasons, but it's great how you can upload and share files on a page.

An important feature for me is also the ability to add video and audio podcasts to my pages. Zoho Notebook makes it easy to do that. I created a "Daily Podcast" for students and posted them on the "Daily Activities" pages, and I created a video page to post videos. There's also an example of a presentation that I added to my page using Zoho Show.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how Zoho is working for me. I can't say that there hasn't been a few obstacles and bugs, but it is still in beta. In my next post, I'll talk a bit more about that and how I'm using Zoho Notebook as my method of collecting student assignments and building their writing portfolios.

*Blackboard image from:

Monday, April 14, 2008

TechEd 2008: Working Together... When Apart

Working Together... When Apart – Collaboration in a Web 2.0 World

Dr. Robert Leneway, Educational Technology Program Coordinator, Western Michigan University

Web 2.0 now offers previously undreamed of potential for virtual projects and teams. But, what are some principles for getting started and ensuring success when working together but apart?

Leneway began by introducing the book Wikinomics: how mass collaboration changes everything by Tapscott and Williams. He talked about the need for Microsoft to open up their software programs – used his son who works for MS as an example of how the thinking there has changed. He uses Adobe Connect to connect with his face to face students when he is traveling around the country.

Virtual groups – why do some succeed where others do not? Same for professional organizations – can they survive in the age of web 2.0?

Presented some traits and practices of successful virtual teams, but first, virtual groups that don't succeed don't develop desired chemistry due to their physical separation, lack of familiarity and time zones. They need social networking tools and the right mix of members, and they must:

  1. establish network

  2. promote communication

  3. keep it interesting

  4. find workable technologies to support your efforts

The biggest challenge is the inability to easily learn about one another and what each person is good at doing. Successful groups:

  1. allow members to learn quickly about each other,

  2. have a few team members who already know each other

  3. idenyify “boundary spanners” with contacts and connection outside of the group

It's also a good idea to create an online site where a team can collaborate, exchange ideas and inspire each other. Assign only tasks that are challenging and interesting, meaningful tasks. Bring in outsiders to stir the pot and add a different perspective.

Why is there failure in virtual teams? He didn't answer, but added that virtual teams buzz when ignited by a question or a task so compelling and exciting that people from across the organization are drawn toward it.

Web 2.0 Tools – concept mapping

Adobe Buzzword – docs supposedly better than Google Docs

Live Skyspace – new from Microsoft

Google Docs

Office Live, Workspace Live

Adobe Acrobat 8.0

Drupal for content management

IHMC Cmap tools

Web Conferencing

Ning – create your own social network

Demoed Adobe Connect Enterprise Server. Used to be Macromedia Breeze. Didn't know about pricing, but it's expensive.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Grading Sakai's Gradebook --> B-

The gradebook in any course management system is the staple of that system. It almost seems pointless if there isn't one, and it's probably the only reason why I still use a CMS in my online and hybrid courses. I've been using the gradebook in Sakai this semester and there are some things I really like about it, but I have to admit, after 13 weeks I'm still a bit confused by it as well.

First, I really like that you can create an assignment and then attach it to the gradebook as part of the process. Then you can grade the assignments and return them to students for the option of a rewrite. This gradebook is cool because you can then create another assignment for students to submit the rewrite to and then attach it to the original assignment in the gradebook. This is in addition to being able to allow students to submit resubmission in the original assignment. There is a good reason to have both options, which I don't mention here.

The gradebook can be a bit confusing. I'm still not sure about releasing grades, and I'm almost certain I will export the grades out of Sakai into an Excel sheet to make sure they are correct. Currently my whole class is failing, not because they truly are, but because I can't figure out some of the things in the gradebook to make all the grades display correctly. And as the instructor, I can't see a total grade anywhere. According to my students, they can't either, which is good right now because I'm sure they'd all be freaking out if they could. :-)

So I like a lot of the functionality of the gradebook, but I think the use of frames in Sakai makes it difficult to maneuver around and see all the students. It is a pain to have to scroll both left and right and up and down. I wish there was a way to limit either the assignments or the students.

With that said, I'm rating the Sakai gradebook higher than expected because it does have features that I've longed for in Blackboard, like the ability to resubmit assignments, and the issues I've had are probably my fault since I never had any training. But in my defense, a CMS should be fairly easy to use and learn without having training if it is to be a success.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dumb Stuff in Sakai: Assignment Links

This is my first of a few posts about things in Sakai that just don't seem right or they don't work right. First up is linking to an announcement. Evidently I'm not viewing this whole lesson space in Sakai the same way the developers are/did when they created it. When I create a lesson, there is always an assignment attached to that lesson. In the Lesson area I can create a page with all the text, audio, video, handouts, etc for that lesson, but there isn't a way that I can see to link to an assignment that is related to that lesson. I have to type out instructions to click on the assignment link on the menu bar to see the assignment. Or I can create a document of the assignment and post it in the Resources folder and then link to that. But still students must then leave that document and find their way over to the assignment area. Why is that? That doesn't make sense.

And to make matters worse, for a few weeks this semester, linking to files in the Resources folder wasn't possible. Oh, I think they think we didn't notice, but I did! Yes, I noticed. I had to upload my documents to Google Docs instead and link to them that way. Turns out I like that method better anyway, so thanks Sakai.

Sakai Announcement Dilemma

One thing I learned early on about using technology in my courses is that I have to be creative and persistent because the technology doesn't always work the way you planned. I've been experiencing that a lot this semester working in Sakai. It really takes some ingenuity to keep the class running the way I think is best.

Let's start with announcements. I feel that podcasts and videos are best received if they are part of the initial announcement students see when they first log in to the course management system (CMS). In Blackboard, you can have the announcements be the first page students see when they log in, and I can make it the first menu item for easy access. In Sakai, the announcement page is buried on the menu. It is listed 7th and many students don't bother to click to go read announcements. There is an option to have a window in the first page in Sakai open an external webpage. I tried posting the course blog link in there but it just made a mess. Plus the available space is so small; it only showed 1/3 of the page, and it would redirect to the whole page after a few seconds leaving Sakai all together. This was not good.

What would work better is if I could put an RSS feed from a blog in there and it would show the posts from the blog as announcements. You can do this on the announcement page, but not on the front page. In fact, this is what I do. I post all announcements on the course network blog (Ning) and then I run the RSS feed through the announcements in Sakai. I do the same thing in Blackboard, and it works flawlessly in Firefox and okay in IE. But in Sakai, there are problems in both browsers.

Like I said earlier, I like to post podcasts, screencasts and videos, with the flash players, in my announcements. They play fine on the original Ning site and in Blackboard, but not so in Sakai. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with how I'm using the feed. In Blackboard I'm using Feedburner to create html code for the feed and I paste that into one announcement that then displays 5 posts from the original blog right in the announcement. It updates instantly when I post a new announcement. In Sakai, my only option is to add the RSS URL in a box. I can't add the html code for the feed. As a result, not all of my flash players will play the audio. Videos seem to work, but not all of my mp3 files. I've tried changing the flash player; for instance, the Google player will work sometimes, but the Yahoo! player will not. My work around for this was to post the URL of the podcast (mp3 file) right in the announcements. Those links work.

So I've seemed to find a work around for the podcasts, but there doesn't seem to be one for making the announcements a bit more accessible.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Using SlideShare's Slidecast Feature

SlideShare has a feature called Slidecast which allows you to sync up an audio track with your slides that you post on the SlideShare website. When I first heard about this, I thought it was pretty cool, but I didn't really have a need for it. However, lately I've changed my mind. I can do that you know. If you're not familiar with SlideShare:
SlideShare is the best way to share your presentations with the world. Let your ideas reach a broad audience. Share publicly or privately. Add audio to create a webinar.
SlideShare allows you to post your slideshow presentations on the web. Formats accepted are PowerPoint (ppt, pps & pot), PDF, OpenOffice (odp); Keynote users on a Mac can "Save as pdf"; and the max file size is 30 MB.

Initially I wasn't interested in created slidecasts because I don't use a lot of PowerPoint in my classes, and I was starting to create more screencasts for my online lessons. I didn't think there was a need for a slidecast. Then I needed to recreate a podcasting presentation I did for MCLI for faculty on my campus who could not attend. I already had slides uploaded to Slideshare, so I just recorded some audio and uploaded that too to create a slidecast.

I created the audio in the same way I would create a podcast because essentially it is a podcast, hence the name slidecast. I used Audacity. As I read through the slides on one computer, I recorded the audio on another. This can be done all on one computer as well. It just so happens that I had two, so I used them both. Once I was finished recording, I exported the audio as mp3 and uploaded it to my server. SlideShare requires that you host your audio files elsewhere, so you can pay for the bandwidth. Then in Slideshare you just post a link to the audio file. But why should I type out how to do this when you can just watch a slidecast showing you how? Enjoy.

For more information on creating your audio files and uploading to The Internet Archive, check out my wiki presentation:

Saturday, February 23, 2008 a New Kind of Dropbox

I just posted a quick commentary on on my podcasting blog. The post, as a Podcasting Tool? explores how one could possibly use it in that manner. Over here on The Maricopa Experience I want to explore a different way to use

First, here's a snippet from my first post explaining what it is: advertises itself as a simple private exchange. enables you to create simple private exchange points called “drops.” The service has no email signup and no “accounts.” Each drop is private, and only as accessible as you choose to deliberately make it. Create multiple drops, add any type of media, and share or subscribe as you want.

And I would have to agree. The site is very clean and simple, so much in fact, that I didn’t really understand how I could use the site until I actually played with it. allows for you to make drops.

A drop is a ‘discrete’ chunk of space you can use to store and share anything (pictures, video, audio, docs, etc) privately, without accounts, personal registration, or email addresses.

The first thing that caught my attention was the “no personal registration, or email addresses.” I’m not so concerned about myself signing up for yet another Web 2.0 site on the web, but more so that if I had my students use it they wouldn’t have to sign up or register for anything.

My students are currently working on research projects, and as usual common groups start to form. I'm thinking of using a drop for each of the common groups so students can share resources and collaborate with each other while they are working in their groups. makes it easy to so by giving you a widget that can be placed on a course network or blog or even in Blackboard. The widget allows for students to quickly and easily make a drop to the shared space. Here's an example of the widget below: simple private sharing

Once files are added to the drop, anyone given the address can access them, and if you want for it to be private, you can password protect the site. Here's an example of my practice drop:

The above view is the media view, but in blog view the files are listed in order of the time they were uploaded - newest items on top like a mini blog.
Blog View:

Students can add files and links to their shared site via email, on the website or via the widget. It's too easy for them not to want to use it. They don't even have to sign up. And makes it easy for anyone to subscribe to the drop via RSS or email subscription. I really like this idea for a quick and easy collaborative tool. Have a look for yourself.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New Player for ENG101 Podcast

I've been experimenting with flash players for my weekly podcasts in my freshman composition courses. I this one from was pretty cool. I'll paste the code into the course blog and see how students like it.

music player
I made this music player at

Created My First Quiz in Sakai

Okay, I admit it. I waited until the last minute to do this, and I really panicked. In my continued efforts to test out the power of Sakai, it was time to try quiz making. I had originally planned to re-create my quizzes in Sakai instead going the route of importing them from Blackboard. A fellow colleague was already experiencing that joy, and I wanted no part of it. Well, you can probably guess what happened. Yes, I forgot that I still needed to do that- re-create and left myself with about an hour to do it.

Sakai is not very intuitive at all, and can be downright frustrating. To begin, I clicked on Tests & Quizzes from the main menu. That was easy enough. I like that you don't have to go into a Control Panel to create a quiz. The picture below is what I was presented with.

The word optional is what caused all the confusion. To me, optional means I can create a quiz without "Choosing Existing Assessment Type." Turns out you can't. I typed in a title and hit Quick Create because I was in a hurry. Then things got confusing. My only options for creating quiz questions were:
General Instructions
Multiple Choice
Multiple Correct Answer
Fill in the Blank
Short Essay

My first two questions I needed to add were fill in multiple blanks and the next two were matching. Neither of which I was able to create in this set-up. Yes, I was cursing Sakai, and myself for not doing this sooner. After fiddling around with it for a bit, I discovered that if I had indeed choosen an existing assessment type - Quiz, I would have been given more options for quiz questions. So I did that.

In actuality, Sakai ended up being easier to create a quiz. For instance, when creating matching questions, you get to put the the option and the answer in the same field. Sakai will then take your options and answers and mix them up for you. I hated that in Blackboard because it was always time consuming to have to match up your own question. You have to be careful not to follow the same pattern: A, C, B, or in my case, I gave a quiz and every answer for a matching question was C, A, B. The ordering was up to me, and unknowingly I created this same pattern.

Creating a fill in multiple blanks questions was easy enough. In Sakai you write the question with the answers in it, but you enclose the word that will appear as a blank in { }. In Blackboard you enclose a number in [ ]. Then you have to later add the answers. The Sakai way is faster.

I could find an option for giving the quiz a password. Still looking. I was able to set a time limit for the quiz, and I'm experimenting with releasing the feedback for the quiz after a set date. In this case, on Monday, after everyone has had a chance to take the quiz, students will be able to see the questions and the correct answers.

Students had two complaints about the quiz. The first was that they wanted to be able to skip a question and then be able to come back to it later. You can actually set up the quiz that way in Sakai, but I had not chosen that option. I will next time. And the second complaint was that on some questions, you couldn't read the whole question unless you could scroll sideways, and the only way to scroll sideways was to type in the box enough text that it forced the window over to the far right. That was strange.

Overall, creating a quiz in Sakai turned out to be a pretty good experience. It will be close to awesome if it had password protection. I still need to figure out how to grade the quizzes.