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Archive for November, 2007


Gmail is one of the best Web-based mail services and has integrated other Google services like instant messaging and RSS readers. It is free for everyone. If you have a Gmail account, you can use it more than just emailing since Google is very generous and provides you with a huge 5GB of storage space. You can also use your Gmail storage as a virtual drive. This is a great service for teachers and students and they can use Gmail as a Web-based mail service as well as a virtual drive anywhere.

I have used two different utilities (Gmail Drive and Gspace) to access my Gmail storage as a virtual drive. Both work great for me. Gmail Drive is a free Shell Namespace Extension that creates a virtual file system on top of your Gmail account. GMail Drive enables you to access files stored on your Gmail account directly from Windows Explorer. It adds a drive icon to My Computer that allows you to access your storage space like any other folder. Also, you can upload files via drag and drop. GMail Drive is very easy to use. Unfortunately, it is available for Windows machines only.

GMail Drive

Gspace is another utility that can help you use your online Gmail storage space as a Virtual drive. Gspace is a Firefox extension that requires running Firefox. Also, it a cross-platform plug-in that works on Linux and Mac, something that Gmail Drive does not. Once Gspace is installed on your Firefox browser, you can access Gspace via a toolbar button or from the menu bar that opens a new tab with an FTP-style interface. You can transfer files by highlighting them and selecting the directional arrow. Unfortunately, drag and drop is not available with Gspace.

Gspace allows for proxy authentication and secure HTTP and preserves long filenames. Also, you can auto-login your Gmail account for file transfers. If you have more than one Gmail accounts, Gspace allows you to switch between different Gmail accounts. Also, Gspace has an Inbox button so you can quickly jump back to the standard Gmail interface. Furthermore, Gspace supports different uses of the virtual drive such as Web-based MP3 player, and photo viewer.

Gspace

Both Gspace and Gmail Drive let you keep track of your files from within Gmail via e-mails and attachments. The uploaded files appear in your Gmail Inbox as messages with the file attached. The messages have a special subject, so you can use the Gmail inbox tools to automatically move them to a separate folder. By creating an appropriate filter and folder, you can easily keep track of the files you have uploaded. But, deleting the file from Gspace also deletes the email.

Overall, both utilities work great for providing you a virtual drive. However, I prefer Gspace since it is far more robust than Gmail Drive. Besides, I am also a big fan of Firefox and I can access my Gmail online storage within the Firefox browser.

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Mobile Web Design


Mobile phones and Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are changing the way people access and work with information. These devices are becoming smaller, cheaper, better, and more connected. Mobile phones and PDAs may just become the mobile computing technology that revolutionizes the face of learning. These mobile devices give students wireless connectivity while expanding where educational computing can take place to the home, field, and any places. The ability of accessing Web sites using mobile browsers allows students convenient access to course Web pages, syllabus, tutorials, magazines, newspapers, and reference materials on their mobile devices. This access, along with basic search capabilities, provides many learning opportunities for students that would generally not be possible or efficient before.

Today, there are 1.5 billion mobile devices in the world, more than three times the number of PCs. As the mobile devices increase capabilities and networks get faster, users are using mobile devices more and more for common computing and information gathering tasks.

Making educational Website friendly to mobile devices is worth serious consideration. If a Web site is set up correctly, the same pages will be compatible with conventional desktop/laptop browsers and mobile browsers. Designing an effective, mobile-friendly, educational Web site requires careful planning and basic knowledge of Web design and development for mobile devices. When designing a Web site for mobile devices it is even more important to work out the site design before dealing with individual pages. As compared with desktop Web design and development, site development for mobile devices force Web designers to work within fairly tight constraints: access speed, file size, memory space, mobile browser, screen size, page length, font, graphics, multimedia, and form. Web designers must deal with these design constraints and decide the trade-offs. For example, it is important to decide what information is essential and then present that information in a manner that is clear, concise, efficient, and easy to navigate. In addition, given the smaller screens of mobile devices, Web designers should avoid including more than one topic onto the same page. It is important to strike a balance between the depth of the page hierarchy and the length of the individual pages.

Currently, there are several technical guidelines for mobile Web developers and designers available online for guidance and tips. Microsoft creates pages for designers of Pocket PC: Designing Web Sites for Internet Explorer for Pocket PCs. mTLD (mobile Top Level Domain) published the DotMobi Mobile Web Developer’s Guide in March 2007, a comprehensive guide to mobile web development. Both these publications detail layout considerations, image production, multimedia and HTML support. In addition, the W3C, the leading consortium for the World Wide Web, launched the Mobile Web Imitative (MWI) that is focusing on developing “best practices” and a trustmark “mobileOK” for Web sites in May 2005. The “mobileOK” allows Web authors to check their mobile sites whether they are conformance to the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices. Also, The Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group released the First Public Working Draft of “Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0” in November, 2006. The document specifies best practice for making Web access from a mobile device as simple, easy and convenient as Web access from a desktop device.

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USM Podcasting Pilot

In spring 2007, Dr. Sharon Rouse and I collaborated with the Learning Enhancement Center at USM to launch a podcasting initiative for improving student learning opportunities through the use of podcasting technology. Faculty members were invited to submit proposals detailing their ideas and plans to use podcasting in teaching and learning at USM. The project involves USM’s faculty to: 1) deliver alternative course content to students that would enhance their engagement with content and audio/video, 2) offer a richer learning environment, and 3) increase students’ podcasting use on campus. However, the ultimate goal of the project is to test podcasting technology with pilot faculty before campus wide implementation.

To help implement the project, each participating faculty member was awarded an iPod, a Belkin Recorder, as well as a MacBook to use in the pilot project. To assist faculty participates in developing podcast, they were required to attend several training sessions and roundtable discussions during the summer 2007 to prepare them to integrate podcasting in their classrooms.

The pilot project involved training on several podcasting software tools, provided understanding of how podcasting reinforces student learning, encouraged innovative thinking in roundtable discussions, offered brown bag seminars and promoted sharing podcasts project experiences. These training sessions included such topics as subscribing to podcasting, using Wimba podcasting, working with Audacity, Apple iTunes, and many others. A listserv and a podcasting blog were established to further encourage discussion among the participants.

Currently, the pilot participants are developing podcasts for their courses. Several of them have already integrated podcasts into their teaching this semester. It is expected all pilot faculty will integrate podcasting in their classrooms in Spring 2008. A student survey will be conducted next week to collect students’ feedback regarding their experience of using podcasting as a learning tool at USM.

To learn more about the Podcasting Pilot Project at Southern Miss, please visit the Web site at: http://www.usm.edu/lec/podcasting/index.html

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With the software applications become increased complexity and more visually oriented and learners are growing larger and more distant, teachers need a tool that will assist them in delivering learning objectives and help them with the demands of software demonstrations. Screen-capture based video software appears to be one tool for developing prerecorded presentations that can be used to assist instructors with software demonstrations as well as allow students for further review. A screen capture video is a recording of movement on a computer display, including any “click” or selections made by the instructor. In addition, screen-capture software allows a voice over to be added as the computer is used. The screen-capture videos can then be played back by either the teacher (in-class demonstrations) or the student (self-paced demonstrations). Furthermore, these videos can be streamed to allow anytime anywhere access across the Internet.

Video has played an important role in teaching and learning. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is invaluable for explaining and demonstrating the complicated content on today’s computers. Prerecorded videos of computer-based steps have proven to be an effective means of showing how software applications work. Screen-capture based instructional video is one of the most powerful tools for creating effective training, tutorials, and presentations. The digital video technology and screen-capture software allow teachers to easily create and record original, high-quality prerecorded software presentations that can be used for in-class demonstrations and run by students for further review at their convenience on the Web. Students can follow the videos and then practice on their own and complete the assignments. They can learn complex computing techniques and tasks via digital videos or access material when they miss a class due to illness or unexpected circumstances. The screen-capture software is a very effective way of delivering software instruction and is ideal for student-centered learning and an online learning environment.

There are many screen-capture video software. Camtasia is by far the most popular and powerful screencasting software. You can use Camtasia to create any type of video (training, demonstrations, presentations, online courses, etc.) with inclusions of screen recordings, audio, voice narration, PowerPoint, Picture-in-Picture and webcam video. Also, you can edit and enhance your video with callouts, titles, credits, zooming, panning, quizzes and additional audio tracks. Finally, you can publish and share your screen-capture videos in Flash, AVI, QuickTime and a variety of video formats on the Web, CD or DVD.

Camtasia

However, Camtasia is not cheap. Even with educational discount, it still costs about $179. So, if you and your school have limited budget, you may consider Camstudio, a free, open source option. CamStudio allows you to record all screen and audio activity on your computer and create industry-standard AVI video files. In addition, you can use its built-in SWF Producer to turn the AVIs into lean, mean, bandwidth-friendly Streaming Flash videos (SWFs). My experience of using CamStudio is positive. It is very easy to use and the quality of recorded video is quite good. I think Camstudio is an excellent tool for teachers and students. Particularly, it is FREE.

Camstudio

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USB flash drives are compact and easy-to-use storage devices. They offer the real promise of the digital age: complete freedom and mobility. However, USB flash drive is good for a lot more than data transfer. It can be a whole office on the go.

USB flash drives can carry portable applications such as Open Office, Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird, and NVU to serve as a personal office on the road. Teachers and students can use these applications and have their e-mail and instant messaging accounts, bookmarks, log-on passwords, a Web browser, a calendar, as well as a Web authoring tool available to them on any computer they use. Also, they are sure that their settings, passwords, account information will stay on their USB drive and won’t be stored in the browser cache or anywhere else on other person’s computer.

I have been using open source applications on a USM flash drive for several years. I think it is convenience and secure to carry my portable applications wherever I go. Also, I have introduced the open source applications to many teachers and students and most of them like the idea. To learn how to put your USB flash drive to work as a portable desktop and access open source applications on any computer with no trace behind, please view the presentation Patrivan Yuen and I made at the Teaching in Higher Education (THE) Forum earlier this year.

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InspireData is a powerful data analysis tool for students in grades 4 to 12. InspireData applies the strategies of visual learning to data literacy and inspires students to discover meaning as they collect and explore data in a dynamic inquiry process in science, mathematics, and social studies. Students formulate questions and make connections between data and its visual representations to interpret information, solve problems, and draw conclusions. As a result, students build deeper content knowledge, develop analytical skills, and strengthen critical thinking skills. I think InspireData is a wonderful tool for teachers and students. It has many powerful features to help students collect and organize data, analyze data dynamically with multiple plot types (Venn, bar, stack, pie and axis plots), and communicate findings with Slide Show. The latest version of InspireData (version 1.5) even has an e-Survey tool that allows students to create and publish an online survey to gather data and then instantly download results for further analysis.

I think integrating InspireData into the school curriculum can build data literacy skills and makes learning a richer, more meaningful experience for students. You can view the video from the Inspiration Software Inc. to learn more about the features of InspireData at http://www.inspiration.com/quicktours/index.cfm?fuseaction=inspiredata_QT

Also, the video gives brief demonstrations from data collection to data analysis with the integrated Table and Plot Views. In addition, it walks through different plot types to identify patterns, trends and relationships.

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Teachers who use computers may not be aware of it, but it is quite possible that they are running pirated software on the computers they use at school or at home. Their students may be doing the same. On the other hand, they may be well aware of the existence of pirated software and know that it is, strictly speaking, stolen property. According to the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), one-quarter to one-third of all software used in K-12 schools in the U.S. is illegal. This is one of the major problems facing U.S. schools today. Part of this significant problem is rooted in ignorance, a lack of understanding of what software use is allowed under the law, the high cost of software, and lack of adequate budget to purchase software.

Software is protected by copyright law. The law says that it is illegal to make or distribute copies of copyrighted material, including software, without authorization. If you do so, this is piracy, and you may face not only a civil suit, but also fines of up to $100,000 and jail terms of up to 5 years. So, as a technology coordinator, how do you protect yourself and your school? What steps your school should take to discourage software piracy?

Here are some of the strategies that schools should take to discourage software piracy:

  • Education, education, and education. Provide copyright workshops and classes for administrators, teachers, parents, and students so they understand the copyright law as applies to software and consequence of illegal use of software. Hopefully, this will develop a sense of ethical responsibility for everyone in schools.
  • Establish a clear software policy and make the policy known to administrators, teachers, parents, and students.
  • Develop a software code of ethics. Students and all school personnel must fully aware of the software policy. They must sign and agree to abide by the policy.
  • Appoint a software manager or a committee for keeping records on purchase and software use.
  • Install system protection software that prevents system modification and software installation on school computers.
  • Keep a software log. The log should include records of a program’s date of purchase, license agreement, user, and machine ID.
  • Perform regular audits. Compare the software installed on a machine against purchasing records.

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