Thursday, January 24, 2008 - A Can of Worms?

This past summer I created an account with After exploring it for just a few minutes I decided this tool deserved far more of my time and attention than I had at that moment and vowed to return to it at a later time when I could devote myself to learning and understanding this versatile tool.

I finally have had some time this week to revisit and give it the attention it deserves. This was partly fueled by the fact that I have had few teachers asking me about and partly due to my frustration of not having access to links that are stored on my home computer while I am at work.

Now, I own two of my own laptops and have one laptop provided to me by my employer. On each of these machines I have links stored as bookmarks in Firefox and as favorites in Explorer. That means that if I want to find something that I remember bookmarking or adding to my favorites I sometimes have to look six different places. All the more reason to take a closer look at

The first thing I did was import my links from each of these six locations. This amounted to a whopping 800 links that I then had to sort, tag, decide if I want to share, delete, bundle, etc. It quickly became clear that my approach to using opened a digital can of worms. After doing this I recommend to anyone setting up an account not to take the route I did. Be selective with which links you upload. Many of these links were dead. Many of the links were ones my family added. It would have been much cleaner had I been judicious about which links I imported.

After I set up my account I decided to see what fish I could catch with this can of worms. Within very little time I was able to locate accounts of other education technology people whom I know and respect. This proved to be a huge eye opener. At the same time, I was preparing for a brief training session on RSS. For my staff training sessions I almost always set up a wiki with instructional content such as embedded videos and related links. I had my own four links I was going to share but thought it would be much better if this wiki contained more stuff for those staff members who want to learn more on their own. Using my new network of users, as well as everyone else who uses I was able to quickly find an additional five links that I thought were valuable enough to share with the staff. Had I performed this search on Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, or any other search engine I probably would not have found as many quality links directly related to the topic I was interested in. Now that I have my account set up I am sure it is going to become part of my daily routine.

Some educational application thoughts: I recently set up Bloglines accounts for all the teachers in our school district and subscribed teachers to blogs and news sites related to their content areas. I did this partly to prepare teachers for what lies ahead with the evolution of web 2.0 and web 3.0 applications and what will be needed to process student information and keep up to date with professional development. So far I am not sure how many teachers have been actively using their accounts but I know some are. What if we set up accounts for each teacher to share links? With you can also burn an RSS feed of your recent links. Since each teacher already has a Bloglines account, I could subscribe them to a feed of my account. When I find links I want to share with them all I would have to do is tag them on my account and they would be sent to them in their aggregator.

Ideas for use with students: A teacher could set up a account for their class. They could require all students create accounts too. The teacher and students could place each other in their personal network. Then, teachers could require students to tag resources they find with the class name or class number. Teachers could also use this as a way of disseminating curriculum to students. Teachers could place links to all curriculum aligned websites and web resources on their accounts and tag them with the course name and the unit number. Students would have to browse the teacher's account to locate information. This would make curriculum very fluid. Students creating and publishing web content could tag it with a unique tag. Collaborations could be formed with students from other schools who could tag information the same way. A search on for this unique search term would return results from all collaborators.

I am curious if there are educators out there who have found any unique or valuable uses of this tool. If so pleas post your comment and share your experiences.

Avatar Machine

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blogosphere Survey


SEMTEC - Techspo - Podcasting Basics - Bryan Berg

Notes from Bryan Berg's Podcasting Basics Presentation

rSchool gives districts only 750mb of storage space - $10/mo for every extra gig. Gabcast gives you 200mb for free and 1gb for $12/mo.

Audacity has a program you can download and install on mobile devices.

Acid Xpress - Like Garage Band but for PC

Podcast Feed Generator

This was a very basic how-to session good for those who have never recorded a podcast before. I was hoping to hear some pedagogical stuff. Application examples were minimal. I would have blogged more but found it unnecessary.

SEMTEC - Techspo - Web 2.0 - a roundtable discussion: What is it and how is it working in your schools?

This session started with the Machine is Us/ing Us video by Mike Wesch. Most of those in attendance are tech coordinators from area schools (9 people total), two of us deal specifically with instructional technology.

Jen shared with us her account.

We then watched Lee Lefever's, RSS in Plain English.

Thunderbird will aggregate RSS feeds as well as handle email.

Discussed blogging.

Looked at Ning. -You can have a private network.

SEMTEC - Techspo - Using Signage/Distributed Video in Your School

This was a vendor presentation so some bias definitely present. My thoughts are in italics.

With streaming video with AlphaVideo:
  • faster load time
  • greater control over media distribution
  • limited by avialable network bandwidth
  • allows for live broadcasts
  • requires a streaming server
  • need - video/audio source, encoder, network connection, and a streaming server

Digital cable comes to your house in MPEG format (i did not know this).

To multi stream in a building you need Windows 2003 Enterprise Server, to stream on the web you just need a standard Windows 2003 Server.

Podcasting is not streaming. Files are transferred from server to client. Users can subscribe through syndication methods (RSS). A streaming server is not necessary, only a web server is needed.


  • Digital Rights Management
  • Controls who can view content
  • Controls how they can view content
  • Easy to implement, but can be expensive

Unicast vs. Multicast

  • Refers to the connection made between client and server
  • Unicast: every client has an individual connection
  • Multicast: data stays in a single stream until splitting is absolutely necessary
  • Multicast is not possible over the internet
  • Multicast must be properly implemented on any network, or multicast "storms" can disrupt the network.
  • Implementing multicast requires the cooperation of I.T.

LAN vs Internet

  • Multicast
  • Security
  • Bandwidth/Bitrates

Belvidere - kind of like TiVo but on the PC. Connects PC to video monitor and integrates United Streaming.

"Technology does no good if you spend the money on it and no one uses it. "

Contact Mayo clinic and see if I can get a tour of their training simulations.

The reasons these guys are giving for implementing their product seem to stem around two different main ideas: 1. Ease of use and 2. Bandwidth. I can't argue with their first point but is the first point really worth the dollars when there are free services that do the same things and don't eat up bandwidth: YouTube, Ustreamtv, etc. These services allow you to get your message out there, either prerecorded or live, without eating up your own bandwidth. It seems the big issue is ease of use.

SEMTEC - Techspo - Video Conferencing witin SEMNET

Today I am attending the first annual SEMTEC Techspo at Stewartville HS in Stewartville, MN. Today I will be posting 5-6 entries about this event. The following are my notes from the first session I attended on Video Conferencing within SEMNET by Jen Hegna (tech coordinator) from Byron, MN (my own comments in italics):

  • This technology allows classrooms to connect with other classrooms via digital video.
  • It allows you to share not only video from a camera but also computer or video screens.
  • It appears you connect via phone calls much like Skype
  • ASL so far has been the fastest growing and most popular video classes.
  • Professional development - teachers can take classes from UofM or St. Cloud State in the evenings
  • Socrates started in 1984 - Socrates is a network of video conferencing schools that began in northern MN.
  • 4 schools can share an account
  • They are looking at integrating streaming technology so it can be used on screen in a lab setting.
  • SEMNET has not yet started offering classes
  • Could be hooked up to LCD projector and viewed on the SMARTboard. Very mobile, unlike ITV.
  • Contact OET to hook up.
  • I don't see the advantage to this as opposed to using a free service like Skype other than the ability to share VHS or DVD.
  • I think this technology is best left to other districts to develop before Goodhue jumps on board. I don't think it is cost effective for us right now.
  • More info:
  • The advantage to this over Skype is quality of service. Skype can be slow if the network bandwidth is bogged down.
  • The technology is the easy part - the hard part is making the connections and establishing the collaborations.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Real Estate 2.0 Style

I thought I might veer off course for a moment today and write about real estate instead of education. My wife and I just sold our house in Cambridge, MN on Tuesday. This house was on the market for almost two years. We went through two different realtors until we finally decided to go it alone and try FSBO. This was the only way we were going to afford to get out of our house since the market had declined so much. Going it alone made the difference between being able to afford to close or having a huge looming debt haning over our heads.

The biggest problem with selling your house by yourself is not being able to list your house on the MLS. Now there are listing agents out there who will list your house for a flat fee. Usually they charge around $600 and charge you again after six months to continue the listing. We found Iggy's House, an online service that lists your house for free with no obligations. The way they work is they have a parent company called BuySide Realty. Iggy's House refers their clients to BuySide Realty when their home sells. BuySide Realty then acts as the buyer's agent and refunds much of the money the buyer's agent would receive.

If you are having trouble selling your house I would highly recomend checking out Iggy's House. It is truly a web 2.0 way of doing Real Estate and puts a lot of control in the seller's hands.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Virtual Bubble Wrap

Virtual Bubblewrap © www.virtual-


Edusim3d - New Virtual World for your SMARTbaord

I spent a little bit of time playing around with this new program today called Edusim3d. It is a virtual world platform that is intended for use in front of a classroom on an interactive whiteboard. I have barely scratched the surface with this tool. According to the website it has only been available for one week. You have to register for a free account to be able to download Edusim3d and I would quantify the download and installation as moderately difficult but once you have it installed it appears pretty easy to navigate and build. The coolest feature I played with is the paint program. It lets you freehand drawings that are turned into 3d objects in the environment. I will definitely be playing around with this tool in the near future. Thank you Jo McLeay for the links in your blog post: The Open Classroom: It really makes you think#links#links#links#links

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

AP US History at Goodhue High School - Podcasting & Class Wiki


I have been wanting to blog about this project for some time but thought it would be best to wait until there was substantial student work to publicize it. Josh Grant, our AP US History teacher, came to me at the beginning of the school year and asked me if there was a way we could use wikis or podcasting to encourage his students to do more review of their notes. We discussed the idea for a while and decided to start with the podcasting idea first.

Our first attempt was something of a failure. I created a one page instruction sheet that students could use that explained how to record their voice using Audacity and then how to login to our website and upload it. The instructional activity was each student would be assigned a chapter and would take turns recording their chapter summaries. To kick this off I visited his class and went through the procedure with his students. A couple weeks later Mr. Grant approached me with a problem. Evidently six steps was too much to remember for students who did not have to record their podcast until weeks later. About the same time he approached me with this problem I learned about Gabcast from reviewing podcast presentations from the K-12 Online Conference.

The next day we set up a Gabcast channel for his AP US History students and linked it to the school website along with instructions on how to record a podcast with Gabcast. If you are not familiar with Gabcast it is a free service that allows you to record podcasts over the telephone. Students call a toll-free phone number, enter a channel number and four digit password, then have up to an hour to record their podcast. We demonstrated this tool to his class and let them play around with it. Then the podcasts started coming in. This is a still a work in progress as Mr. Grant's students will be using this tool all year but if you want to listen to some of these podcasts (or use them to cram for the AP exam yourself) you can find them at: This tool does two things for Mr. Grant's students:

  1. It forces them to review their notes for the chapters they are assigned.

  2. Students can download these files to an iPod or MP3 player to help them prep for the AP exam in the spring.

Our second initiative was a master class notes wiki. For this assignment we set up a free wiki with PBWiki, set up blank pages for each chapter, then assigned students a chapter to record their notes. A second student was assigned the same chapter for revisions, a third student was assigned the chapter for inclusion of hyperlinks to related online content, and a fourth student was assigned the chapter for inclusion of related digital media (pictures, videos, etc.). Each student was assigned each task on at least two different chapters (different than the chapter they were assigned in the podcasting assignment). Students are then assessed on the number and quality of posts on the wiki. This assignment forces students to review their notes, addresses the needs of visual learners, provides a tool for students to use who have to miss a class, encourages them to consult other sources, and forces them again to review their notes, and review their notes, and review their notes. This too is still a work in progress. It can be viewed at:

So, how does a teacher track all this online activity without going mad? We set up an RSS aggregator for Mr. Grant to use to keep track of all postings to both the Gabcast channel and the wiki. We used Bloglines since I had already begun a school wide initiative using this tool. With Bloglines Mr. Grant is immediately notified when a new post is published on either of these sites and can review it for appropriateness, quality, and to give credit to the student publishing the post. Hopefully all this pays off in the spring when these students take their exam.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Inexpensive Multi-Point Interactive White Board

I just read about this on Will Richardson's blog. I absolutely have to try this out when I have some spare time. If anyone reading this blogpost has tried this please let me know how it worked for you.