July 2009


Before school starts up again, and designed to get you involved with new skills for the new year, TEC Professional Development Center in Dedham is offering a course for K12 teachers to get them (you) up to speed with “21st century skills, Web 2.0 tools, digital stories, webquests, podcasts, blogs and wikis”. All of these skills involve making effective use of the Internet with computers in and beyond your classroom. Students can benefit while they are with you and continue to benefit when they go home or go to study in the local library.

For more information, contact: TEC Professional Development, PO Box 186, Dedham, MA 02027

More info may also be available through the TEC Web site.

One of the activities included is, as mentioned, podcasting. Fundamentally, it involves recording some audio into a format like the open format OGG or other computer format like MP3 and putting the file onto a Web site or blog where other people can get it. Aside from the details (which the course is going to teach), it sounds pretty obvious. However, the US Patent Office has recently granted a patent for podcasting to a company called VoloMedia.

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/company_receives_patent_for_podcasting.php

Let’s hope the impact of this patent is minimized, especially for educational purposes. Giving audio and, more recently, video to students through the Internet is certainly a powerful way to engage your students in a style that is apt to attract their attention.

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High school teachers, if you teach programming, or even just computer “literacy”, here is something for you to do for your students. Promote the opportunity for your students to get involved in a free software project.

The Free Software Foundation has instituted an annual contest that will award a GNU powered netbook computer to a student at the end of each year and a tee shirt monthly based on feedback from the projects that students work on.

http://www.fsf.org/blogs/community/gnugeneration

This is a “real world” opportunity that can take your students’ work out of the ordinary limits of classroom assignments, and can engage your most eager students to use their talents to advance the FOSS community. You know some of your students will benefit. Give them the chance. Tell them about the opportunity, encourage them to get involved. Offer to give them support, too.

Another list of Open Source Software for Education from Datamation.

http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/osrc/article.php/12068_3831751_1/50-Open-Source-Apps-Transforming-Education.htm

The list isn’t all for Linux. Windows and Mac software is included, and some of the stalwarts are not there, but you already knew about them, right?

What other software have you used to “transform” your classroom?

I think the issue of Digital Rights Management will eventually resolve itself. For now, though, DRM is the main reason I am waiting, and not buying a new dedicated ebook reader, Kindle or otherwise.

The Corante “Copyfight” blog post added good perspective for me.

http://copyfight.corante.com/archives/2009/07/21/amazons_gaffe_isnt_what_you_think_it_is.php

A traditional book is “mine” from the moment I leave the store from which I purchased it. I think that the sense of property ownership is comfortable. It is more satisfying to have “ownership” than a “non-exclusive license to use” the contents of the book. If the pages of my book could suddenly go blank, I wouldn’t think I owned much since the traditional book, as property, isn’t really its paper and cover.

I actually think that the contents of a book can lead to profit for me. The concepts of a book, even if fiction, improve my scope of thought. It isn’t my ability to resell the content as-is. It is my ability to merge the new ideas into my Vast Fund of General Information (VFOGI). Thanks to my high school teacher, Hugh Semple for the term. Being able to review or completely re-read a book is sometimes important to the process. Yes, I can go to a library or pay for a second copy, but for the most significant of my resources, I don’t want to need to do either. The information needs to be within arm’s reach.

I don’t think that content held in the “cloud” space of the Internet is truly mine, as events in the Kindle fiasco show. Even if I must keep more than one backup copy of a document to avoid technological data failures, I do want to “hold” my electronic copies of resources: ebooks, digital photos, etc.

The blog’s author, Alan Wexelblat, even addresses the issue from an educational perspective. All of us who have taught know it is wise to have a “plan B” for the times a computer presentation doesn’t go well. If we were to depend on textbooks that could disappear like the books in the Kindle fiasco, whole school departments would suddenly need to do a plan B shift. That’s not a pretty thought.

How big is your school’s digital library?

What is in it?

How do you get access to it?

Who “controls” access?

There’s a free access magazine on the Internet that covers issues related to the digital content of libraries.

http://www.dlib.org

In the most recent issue, an article titled:

21st Century Shipping
Network Data Transfer to the Library of Congress

Between 2008 and 2009 the Library of Congress added approximately 100 TB of data to its digital collections, transferred from universities, publishers, web archivists and other organizations. The data comprised a broad range of content from photos to video, from books and periodicals to websites.

WOW!

I am not suggesting a school might or should have a digital collection like that, but aren’t we at a point when educational support materials can be made more accessible if in digital formats. And, though an IT department might have the skills to maintain the integrity of the content, it probably should be a librarian who is the “maintainer” of the data. It needs appropriate cataloging, integration into the scope and sequence documents of the school, etc.

Certainly, any materials that are available in the public domain and other licenses such as the Creative Commons Attribution license should be considered for inclusion, even though they are available from sources on the Internet. I would argue for local copies instead of just links to the content housed elsewhere, but maybe some combination of the two is appropriate.

More and more teachers are creating materials with computers, but I would bet that most of those materials are not often shared even among colleagues in the same building. Creative effort in an educational setting needs a place to shine through the walls of the individual classrooms. What better place to collect such artifacts than in a school’s digital library where they can be accessed, used, expanded and possibly even outlive the tenure of the individual who created them.

A school or district could even gain positive notice by generating a critical mass of such content and making it available to other schools. Naturally, such a generous spirit requires that the materials be properly licensed, but what makes more sense than that? Tying the material up in copyright because a teacher might hope to be made rich? Unlikely…and probable, too that most teachers don’t get into the field of education with expectation of riches. The more probable scenario is that the individual items in the digital collection are made more powerful when mixed with other items in the collection created by others.

Of course, I would recommend that as much of the material be created or converted to an open format so that tie in to a particular software program isn’t a limitation. Time has a funny way of making old proprietary formats inaccessible.

Start the committee, make the proposal to your librarian, IT department, principal, and superintendent. Get the ball rolling. It’s summer, a great time to start a digital library.

Network Data Transfer to the Library of Congress

Please read Glyn Moody’s recent post.

http://www.computerworlduk.com/community/blogs/index.cfm?entryid=2359&blogid=14

Are you “moved” by freedom as Glyn Moody appears to be?

I use Google because there is no alternative, just as I used Windows before I made the move to GNU/Linux. Once there is are alternatives that respect me in the way free software respects me, I shall move, and I suspect others will too.

You use software if you are reading this blog post. Is it software that respects you? Is it GPL licensed software, or at least open source with a more liberal license?

In the United States “Home of the free and the brave”, how well is your freedom being treated by your software?

Summer is a great time to do quality documentation for your students’ project lesson plans. If you aren’t making your worksheets illustrated, make that your project this summer.

I regularly do individual screen shots to include in things I write. Full screen capture is easy. Windows and Linux distributions do that when you tap the PrtSc (Print Screen) button. In Windows, the capture goes directly to the clipboard from which you can easily paste the image into a document. The paste behavior for clipboard images has been inconsistent in Microsoft Word. Some versions automatically converted the image into an “inline” image which was my preference. Other versions placed the images in a “float” condition with an anchor somewhere on the page. It is possible to convert a floating graphic to inline by clicking on it and choosing the inline (as text) option. Inline graphics move along ahead of text in the previous paragraph even if you add significant text later in editing. In word, several Word drawing tools make it easy to annotate the captured and inserted images, adding arrows, image outlines, etc. Add the draw toolbar by selecting it in the View->toolbars menu.

If you want more control in Windows, you will need to get a screen capture program. I was a fan of HyperSnap (not free or open source). Others were fans of SnagIt (also not free or open source). I did find a recent description of several free screen capture programs on the following site.

http://thefreewarejunkie.com/2008/04/great-free-screen-capture-shootout.html

The only open source Windows screen capture program I found was called “zscreen”, hosted at googlecode. It is licensed under the GPL v2. When set to “file” as the capture method, it saves to a folder on your hard drive. The images can be done as full screen, selected window or region. It requires the dotNet Framework (v 3.5) and will install it if your system doesn’t currently have it. The print screen key alone does a full screen capture, and holding down the control key while tapping the print screen key sets zscreen up to do a region capture.

http://code.google.com/p/zscreen/

In my regular Linux work, I use Kubuntu 8.04 and Ksnapshot (for KDE desktop).

When you tap the print screen key, Ksnapshot pops up a window and gives options to capture individual windows, or a “region”. The region capture is best for me. It is like cropping a photo to empahasize the best parts. Ksnapshot offers options to copy to the clipboard or save the capture. When saving, the subsequent snapshots automatically increment the file name you have selected. Therefore you might name the first clip as “button1.png” and the next capture would have “button2.png” for its name already. You can, of course, change the name before saving.

For the more common Gnome desktop of regular Ubuntu and most of the typical Linux distributions, the built-in screen capture program is launched with the print screen button but does not offer a region capture option, just full screen or window. But another “version” is available as one of the Accessories of the Applications menu. It is called “Take Screenshot” and does give you a chance to “grab a selected area”.

Screenshot-2

However, the Shutter screen capture program (which was formerly was less elegantly called “gscrot”) may be what you want because it comes with more options.

http://shutter-project.org/

If you are a user of The Gimp image editing program, you can also take screen captures with it and immediately begin editing the capture.

No matter what your choice of screen capture tool and no matter what operating system you use, get familiar with capturing images and begin this summer to incorporate them into your students’ learning materials. They will appreciate your documents more because a picture is worth a thousand words…come on, you knew it was coming.

The ability to save a series of clips from the screen allows me to think through a series of steps, capturing images as I go. Then I can separately concentrate on the illustrated writeup in a separate effort.

Back to school sales are already being run. Get ready.

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