Using EdTech tools – where to start?

217 educational technologists and learning professionals from around the world are currently collaboratively to create a list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning in 2008.

This list has been compiled for the past few years by the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, and is a good jumping off point if you have been thinking of trying out some new tools in your teaching practice, or are looking for new tools to boost your own productivity.

Social bookmarking tool Delicious, web browser FireFox and RSS reader Google Reader currently sit 1, 2 and 3 on the list.

Tools that seem to be gaining traction among educator and educational technologists are the microblogging site Twitter, (although at least one high profile EdTech user has recently abandoned the service). Twitter is up from 43rd to 11th place since last year. Social networking site Ning (31 to 16) and collaborative slideshow tool VoiceThread (101 to 23) are also on the rise.

The Centre is accepting entries and votes for the list until October 31.


On Free and Open Learning Content

I spent the day in Vancouver yesterday talking content with a great group of EdTechies from around BC. The one day Learning Content Strategies session was organized by Scott Leslie from BCcampus.

Much of the talk revolved around open education resources and some of the common barriers we face when trying to open content to the outside world, beyond the confines of the LMS. Copyright, collective agreements between faculty and institutions, and a reluctance on the part of some faculty to open their content (for a number of reasons) seem to be the major hurdles institutions are facing when it comes to making their content open.

I was thinking about this more last night, and wish now that I would have contributed more to the conversation. Specifically, there are 3 additional issues that I see as potential hurdles to adopting open content practices.

You want me to change this?

Issue one is existing process. Over the past 10 or so years since the LMS emerged as the primary vehicle for delivering content, considerable time and energy has been expended by institutions to establish LMS centered processes for content creation. No wonder talk of inserting a new strategy to make content open is seen as potentially disruptive to established processes – processes that took many people much work to establish. We have to figure out a way to incorporate strategies into our process that allows for open content without making it seem like we want to reinvent the process wheel.

What’s in it for me?

Faculty hesitation was touched on at the session, but much of it revolved around notions of the fear some faculty have that they might lose control of their work, or their effort would somehow be taken advantage of by others.

But for some faculty, I think the reason why they don’t adopt open content policies is a bit more pragmatic – they could view it as extra work.

I think there has to be something in it for them before they contribute. I don’t mean this as an ego bash against faculty, but rather an acknowledgment that they are busy people. They have to see some value in doing this otherwise it becomes just another task. The last thing they probably think about when creating content is the value of sharing it with others, if they even think of it at all. Which leads me to…

What do you mean open?

The last issue is awareness. At my institution there are probably many early adopters who would be happy to contribute their material to the common good if they were even aware this was an option.

This is where I can play an immediate role in my institution. Talking about initiatives like Creative Commons, pointing them to existing OER resources and generally raising awareness of open content on my campus will, hopefully, draw some of them out. I need to keep the conversation going that Brian Lamb started at my institution last spring (zip ahead to 11:50 to see Brian’s presentation, or check out his presentation notes).

Free Learning

One of the tools given to us by BCcampus yesterday to help continue the conversation is a new website called Free Learning. A custom Google search engine that only searches vetted, high quality open education resources, Free Learning allows educators to search for free and openly licensed educational resources that they can then reuse or remix for their courses.

The second resource I have are some of the loosely coupled presentations. Brian Lamb and Novak Rogic’s presentation has some fine examples of how content can live outside the LMS and the advantages to using blogs and wiki’s as content delivery platforms (as well as some super spiffy JSON code for embedding content from one page into another). Grant Potter from UNBC also demonstrated how distributed UNBC faculty are using a wiki to create a course and Richard Smith from SFU gave us the faculty perspective with a look at some of the tools he uses in his class, most notably livestreaming his lectures using uStream.

When it comes to bigger picture issues in educational technology (like Open Educational Resources), I am a neophyte. I haven’t spent nearly the amount of time working on these types of issues as my contemporaries. In the edtech scheme of things I am much more tech than ed. So I truly appreciate events like these that make me stop and critically think beyond the code about the work I do.


Capilano University embraces OpenCourseWare

This is pretty exciting. I just came across Capilano University’s OpenCourseWare site where anyone can access and reuse Capilano University course material. Like the MIT version, Capilano has made learning resources available for free to anyone in the world.

What this means for faculty at other institutions is that Capilano has released this material with a Creative Commons attribution license meaning other faculty can reuse and modify any of the content for use in their courses providing they follow a few simple rules – give attribution, do not use the content for commercial work and share alike.

There are currently about 20 courses available from Capilano, but the long-term goal of the program is to have most of Capilano’s courses available using the OCW model.

As far as I know, Capilano is the first institution in BC to adopt OpenCourseWare.


My Camosun – 30+ videos and counting

Just a couple of weeks left in the My Camosun video contest (that I first wrote about a few weeks back) and right now there are over 30 student and community produced videos posted on YouTube.

I’ve been watching the videos come in. Many of the entries take a fairly light approach to life at Camosun. Most are produced by current students and are aimed at potential students. But there have been a couple of very personal, very touching stories.

I hope this doesn’t come off too self-aggrandizing, but if you are an educator and sometimes felt bogged down in the day to day battles, here are 2 stories that I hope will help you regain the sense that we are part of something bigger and that the work we do truly changes lives.

These videos have certainly renewed my commitment to the minor role I play in the process. I may sometimes feel like a small cog in the education machine, but it’s nice to have reminders like these that the machine is vitally important as an agent of social change. I thank both Amanda and Andria for sharing their stories.


14 Tips for Better Web Surfing

If you’ve been a power user of the web for years, then some of the tips on NY Times writer David Pogue’s list of Tech Tips for the Basic Computer User may seem old hat. But quite often I come across seasoned veterans who haven’t heard about time saving tips, like using the keyboard controls Ctrl-x, Ctrl-c and Ctrl-v to cut, copy and paste.

There are over 1000 comments from readers adding in their technology tips, both common and obscure. That’s a lot of tips, covering a wide range of technology from cell phones to Office. The sheer volume makes it tough to glean out the really useful web ones.

So, to save you having to sift through the list, here are 14 tips that might save you some time, make you more productive, or just generally lower your frustration level when surfing. Some of them are Windows tips that would work in other Windows programs (like the above mentioned cut, copy and paste keyboard commands), others are browser specific. Feel free to add your faves.

  1. Just about every faculty I work with has had this complaint at some point – text on the web is too small. Needless to say, they love this tip when I show them. You can enlarge text on a web page by hitting the Ctrl and plus sign (+). Make text smaller by hitting Ctrl and minus sign (-). Mac users can substitute Command for Ctrl.
  2. Ctrl and mouse scroll will also increase or decrease the size of a web page.
  3. “http://www” is not needed in your browser. The domain name will do. For example, enter instead of into your Web browser address bar and save yourself a few keystrokes each time.
  4. The space bar will scroll down one screen on a web page. Shift spacebar goes up one screen.
  5. Tab will move you from field to field when you fill out a web form. You don’t have to mouse click in each text box.
  6. Google does math. Type an equation into Google and hit enter. Voila!
  7. Google also does time and weather. Enter the word “time” or “weather” followed by a major city and get the time and weather for that location. For example, “time Vancouver” or “weather Vancouver” gives you the local time or weather forecast for Vancouver, BC.
  8. Alt+D pops your cursor up to the address bar
  9. Alt+left arrow takes you back a page in your browser. Alt+right arrow moves you ahead.
  10. Ctrl+Tab moves you from tab to tab in a browser.
  11. F5 wil refresh/reload a page – handy when you make a change to a page and it isn’t showing up in your browser like you are expecting it to.
  12. Ctrl+F let’s you search for text on a web page.
  13. Ctrl+T opens a new browser tab
  14. F1 opens Help

For more tips, check out the keyboard shortcuts for Firefox, Internet Explorer and Google.

via tweet from The Clever Sheep


Posterous is the easiest way to publish content to the web

There is a multitude of ways and methods to post content on the web, but I have never come across one so easy as Posterous. Simply email the content you wanted posted on the web to an email address and, uh, we’ll, that’s about it. A few moments pass and you get an email back with a link to your webpage. You don’t even need to create an account.

For something that is so simple, the application is surprisingly feature rich when it comes to multimedia. Attach photos, documents, video, presentations and MP3’s to your email and they will be converted, resized and embedded into your web page. Include URL’s and they become links. Include a YouTube link, and the video will be embedded in your final page. That is slick.

Here is an example of a page I created. I sent an email to Attached to the email was a PDF document and an image. The subject of the email becomes the page title, while the email itself became the post.

There are options once the page is created to then create an account, which then let’s you have a permanent website to post content to. But that isn’t necessary. You can one off publish content quickly and easily just by firing off an email. Doesn’t get much easier than that.


Splicd lets you edit YouTube videos

Video is great, but the linear storytelling format sometimes forces you to watch a lot of irrelevant content before getting to the meat of the clip. Which is where a handy tool like Splicd comes in. Splicd let’s you edit the start and end points of a YouTube video. Enter in the url of the video and a start time and end time.

It feels a bit like a quick and dirty implementation, but it works. Here is an example I took from the recent video of our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, copying word for word a speech given by Australian Prime Minister John Howard on the eve of the Iraq war. The original video is about 3 minutes long (and well worth a look, imho). With Splicd I was able to isolate 30 seconds that really illustrates the the point.

There are limitations. Splicd only works with YouTube videos and there is no method to embed the edited video into a website. Only allowing increments of seconds as opposed to tenths of seconds makes some pretty jagged start and end points. Allowing smaller time increments would make the edits a bit smoother. But this simple little tool does the trick.

via Webware


Why you shouldn't post your PowerPoint slides online (and the alternatives available)

This is not going to be a PowerPoint is Evil rant. Heck, some people have even won Academy Awards and Nobel Prizes with their PowerPoint presentations, so there is no denying that, when used correctly, can be a powerful tool to convey meaning to a live audience.

But that is it’s place – in front of a live audience. PowerPoint is a presentation tool and was never intended to be a web friendly format. So you should avoid putting your PowerPoint presentations online and here is why.

It doesn’t work

There are 3 technical reasons why you don’t want to put your PowerPoint files on the web.

  • The files are big, especially if you use lots of animations and fancy transitions.
  • They require students to have PowerPoint or the PowerPoint viewer installed on their computer.
  • Depending on the browser, how it is configured and the security settings, PowerPoint files can cause strange and unexpected behaviours. One user may have that PowerPoint file open in their browser, another may be prompted to download the file while a third may get a security warning that a potentially malicious file is about to be opened.

These are barriers for students and should be reason enough to shy away from putting your PowerPoint presentations online.

What do these slides mean?

For me, however, the overriding reason to avoid putting your PowerPoint presentation online is that your students are missing a fundamental piece to help them truly understand the content- you.

In order to be a useful methods of delivering information, PowerPoint requires someone at the helm to guide the viewer and fill in the space between the bullet points. Without you, PowerPoint slides are just disjointed bullet points of facts and images with no context as to what those facts and images really mean. You provide the context that is critical to understanding. Take you out of the picture and the presentation is useless.

The design problem

You approach different mediums in different ways. Decisions on how you craft your message needs to factor in the medium you use to deliver that message.

Designing for presenting is completely different than designing for the web, just like designing for print is different than designing for video. In order to effectively communicate meaning, you need to structure your content in a way that correctly uses the medium you are designing for. Each medium requires different strategies to be used effectively.


The first solution is the one that takes the most effort, but has the biggest payoff in terms of making sure your content is both understood and technically accessible. Recreate the content in your PowerPoint presentations in a web friendly format. Rewrite your bullet points in HTML, convert your images to jpeg or gif, and build some web friendly pages of content. It fixes all the problems mentioned above. You can do this in Powerpoint by saving your presentation as a web page.

I am not a big fan of this method for a couple of reasons. For one, it is still content that has been designed for Powerpoint and brings with it all the constraints and none of the benefits of that format. The second is the geeky reason – the code is poor and it tends to create whacks of files and folders that all need to be uploaded for the pages to work correctly. For more tech savvy faculty, this may not be a problem. But if you are the type of faculty who can’t find or organize files and folders on your computer, this may be a challenge. It’s better to use other HTML editing tools (like the built in editor and content manager in Desire2Learn) to do this.

If you absolutely must post PowerPoint presentations on the web, at least do your students a favour and don’t force them to download large files or the PowerPoint viewer. Chances are they already have a PDF reader installed on their computer, so convert your PowerPoint to PDF and post that instead. PDF is a much more web friendly format than PowerPoint.

An option that is becoming more popular is using a web service and posting your PowerPoint online. A service like Slideshare works like YouTube for PowerPoint. You can create an account and upload your presentation. The presentation is converted to the (close to) ubiquitous Flash format which you can then embed in a web page, blog post or D2L course content page. No downloads for students.

There are also online presentation tools, like Preezo, SlideRocket and Google Presentations that you can either use as a starting point for creating web friendly presentations, or will convert your existing PowerPoint presentations to something you can easily embed into your course. While not as feature rich as PowerPoint (and who really uses all those features anyway?), these are still powerful tools for creating web friendly presentation that won’t make your students curse you as they wait for your 100 meg PowerPoint file to download.