"Dad! There is nothing good on television!"

Once when my daughter was watching what I considered "junk" on TV, I pointed out that there was good stuff on Discovery, THC or TLC. Problem was finding a good show, appropriate for her and then making sure she was free at that time or tape it for future viewing (what a pain).

One of the fundamental principles of education is for the learner to learn at their own pace and learn what they are interested in. Maria Montessori advocated the same approach. Setting specific times to learn specific topic based on an arbitrary schedule is contrary to this principle.

Now we have the WWW, great search tools, terrific information resources and ubiquitous broadband access. Still finding good information from reliable sources and separating the wheat from the chaff has been a difficult task. We may just be getting closer to solving this problem. YouTube EDU just went live last week:

From YouTube Blog (3/26/09)
"Do You EDU? Educational Hub Launches: Using YouTube as a vehicle to democratise learning is one of the coolest, unintended outcomes of the site's existence. YouTube EDU is a volunteer project sparked by a group of employees who wanted to find a better way to collect and highlight all the great educational content being uploaded to YouTube by colleges and universities. We'll feature some of these videos on the home page on Friday and elaborate further in a separate post on that day."

As I look at the growing number of sites promoting democratisation of education, I can't help but think that we live in great times! Here is my short list of sites that almost uniformly provide terrific educational value. While the amount of medical information on these sites leaves much to be desired, it is just a matter of time.

Youtube EDU

Academic Earth

TED talks

iTunes University

As a complete TV-Computer integration gets closer, we can easily see this content on our TV screens/monitors. In addition you could dump this into your mobile device like iPod or Zune. Now I will not cringe when I next hear the rant "there is nothing good on television!". When someone has "spare time" and is looking for something mentally stimulating, it may not be hard to find!

Another question is whether these online "universities" can replace classrooms and professors.

We are all familiar with the recent paper on Podcasts replacing Professors by McKinney, Dyck and Luber in Computers and Education. The study abstract:

"iTunes University, a website with downloadable educational podcasts, can provide students the opportunity to obtain professors’ lectures when students are unable to attend class. To determine the effectiveness of audio lectures in higher education, undergraduate general psychology students participated in one of two conditions. In the lecture condition, participants listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Copies of the slides were given to aid note-taking. In the podcast condition, participants received a podcast of the same lecture along with the PowerPoint handouts. Participants in both conditions were instructed to keep a running log of study time and activities used in preparing for an exam. One week from the initial session students returned to take an exam on lecture content. Results indicated that students in the podcast condition who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the lecture condition. The impact of mobile learning on classroom performance is discussed."
The study showed that when students listened to the podcast of a "lecture" more than once and took notes (thus transforming or encoding the information) they did better than their classroom colleagues.

I would love to know a couple more things:
1. What was the level of interactivity in the live class? Did students or the professor ask questions? Was there any discussion? Was this captured in the podcast?
2. How big was the class size?
3. Did the professor use an audience response system to gauge student needs, assess comprehension of the material or customize the lecture?
4. Why choose 25 min as the lecture length?
5. What was the complexity of the content compared to the average student's understanding of it?
6. Why choose a week as a recall period?

Education in general is moving away for passive lectures to large groups - because most educators would believe that active learning in small groups which allow for some transformation of the knowledge into non-textual formats works best. Maybe we need to look at this by doing a study that compares one such "ideal" class with a passive podcasts with ability to listen multiple times and take notes.

The other issue is whether we are trying to impart knowledge or educating our learners about how to acquire knowledge.

What one would love to see is a pedagogic model that incorporates podcasts into interactive small group learning. There have been studies where this has been tested and shown to work.

Well sounds like thats enough food for thought for now!

JING - Inserting flash movies into PowerPoint

Have heard a lot about Jing as a great screen capture utility. Some key features of the free version:

  1. Image and video with/without audio capture

  2. Integrated upload to server

  3. Annotation tools - arrows, text, rectangles

  4. Cool interface

I tried it out and while it works as stated I found several issues

  1. The video saves only as swf files (for free version)

  2. The end of the video has a Jing splash page which means you would not use this for any professional use. (the Pro version does not have this)

  3. It does not allow one to select a particluar application window - just has cross hairs to select an area.

So if you want to capture static images from your screen, it works fine but there are several other similar tools to choose from. I found this review by Matthew Ellison which includes reviews of 2 free utilities ScreenHunter 5 Free and TNT ScreenCapture 2.1. Of course One Note does a great job of grabbing the screen shots and then letting you annotate them. The good old method of [Print Screen] and then pasting into your favorite image editing application works too.

For screencasting software or video screen capture (used for software training) I found a list on Wikipedia. In addition Microsoft has a simple tool called community clips recorder.

Having made these screencasts I wanted to put them into a PowerPoint presentation. This was easier said than done. You cannot just insert the swf file created by Jing into PowerPoint. You have to go through some steps which are not difficult. These are outlined here by Geetesh Bajaj. The key step there is to get the Shockwave Flash ActiveX control. Surprisingly neither Microsoft nor Adobe provide this control! But you can get it by just searching in Google.

Summary of steps (PowerPoint 2003):(added 3/28/09)

  1. Save/copy the flash movie to the same folder as your PowerPoint file
  2. Go to the slide where you want the movie to show
  3. View >> Toolbars >> Control toolbar
  4. On Control Toolbox >> click on More Controls >> Scroll down to
    Shockwave Flash Object
  5. If you don't have this option, Google for Shockwave Flash Object ActiveX
    control and install it.
  6. Drag the cross-hairs on your slide and size and position the object
  7. Right click on the window and choose Properties
  8. In the table that pops up do the following:
    a) Opposite Movie type in
    the name of your swf file (since it is in the same folder you don't need to type
    the entire path)
    b) Change Embed to True
  9. Now run the slide show and you should be able to see the movie!

The next big challenge is to navigate the slide show with the flash movie playing. The normal keyboard arrow key shortcuts do not work to go to next or previous slide while the Flash movie is playing. The best option is to create some action buttons for next and previous slides on the master slide. Make these quite small and size the flash control so that these buttons are not hidden. Then you can navigate the slide show and if you get your timing down you can jump to the next slide just before the Jing Splash page shows up at the end of the movie. If you are going to create the show as a tutorial for someone else to navigate, might be best to set up timings. You can do this by Slide show>> Slide transition >> Advance slide automatically after XX seconds (depending on length of movie).

Have fun!

Using Zotero in an ePortfolio

Zotero has become one of the most popular Reference management and bibliography tools. Created by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University with funding from the US Institute of Museum and Library Services, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It is an extension (add-on) for Firefox and is free.
Zotero is among the many excellent applications developed by the Center. The appear to have some very creative minds and an excellent team of designers, user interface experts and programmers along with some strong funding.

Zotero is in some ways like other reference managers:
  1. Allows one to build up a library of references along with specific information like Author names, dates, journal name, pages etc...
  2. Has a Word (and Open Office) plug in to insert citations into articles you write and to create a bibliography of the citations you use at the end of the article.
  3. Has multiple styles for citations and bibliographies that you can use based on which journal you are sending your manuscript to.
Zotero is different from out reference managers too:
  1. It is free
  2. It is an extension of a browser - this feature means Zotero understands that most databases of information are now online and people use a browser to search these databases. Even if you do want to add an article from a print journal into your library, you could still go to the appropriate database where this journal is indexed and find that article.
  3. Adding the article's appropriate information to your library is often seamless. A large number of these online databases (e.g. PubMed) are now Zotero ready. What this means is that when the browser opens a web page with information re' say a journal article, Zotero "senses" this and a small icon appears to the right of the URL box. Clicking on this icon adds all the metadata about that article into the appropriate fields in the Zotero Library.
  4. Zotero allows you to tag the article with keywords and also to add it to various "Collections". It also has a powerful search tool to search for through your references.
  5. Zotero allows you to get a "snapshot" of the webpage and annotate your copy of this snapshot (much like highlighting or commenting in a PDF file).
  6. Zotero also allows you to add your notes to the reference.
There are numerous features like this and Zotero is under constant development and new versions are being released regularly with additional features. Zotero user forums help to gather ideas and suggestions from the users and are regularly monitored by the development team. So is Zotero PERFECT?

I have one specific problem when using Zotero for a specific purpose. I am working with a couple of medical students to use Zotero for their ePortfolios. We have a home-grown ePortfolio system where all medical students get narrative formative and summative feedback through out their 5 years. These assessments are competency based (similar to ACGME competencies) and organized into areas of improvement and areas of strength. These are all done online and when submitted, they appear in the students' ePortfolio workspaces. The students write essays (ePortfolios) regarding their meeting various standards in each competency citing the evidence from the assessments.

We use EndNote or RefWorks to allow students to download all their references (assessment information), write their essays, cite the references, and then upload it all into a review area. The citations work as hyperlinks so when reviewer reading the essay wants to look at one of the cited references s/he has to just click on the citation to open a new window where the assessment form is displayed.

The problem I am facing with Zotero is that we cannot figure out how to make the citations in the text of the essay or in the bibliography clickable without going to each one and editing them. Since some of the students have as many as a 100 references in their bibliography this is not a viable solution.

It is very surprising that though Zotero is built on the philosophy of getting the references from online databases, it seems to have neglected that the manuscripts written by people using Zotero would be reviewed online where it would be critical for these citations to be hyperlinks!

I am relatively new to Zotero and am quite possibly missing something. I have scoured the Zotero forums, Googled the web and found nothing so far. Maybe the CSL does not at present allow this to occur? Would it be possible to add a "Web style" to Zotero's growing list of styles? If someone can do that, it will be the most appreciated!

A 50 dollar Smart Board?

While reading a recent article in Edutopia "Why integrate technology into the curriculum? The reasons are many." I found a post by Chris with a link to Johnny Lee's demo. A few seconds of following hyperlinks brought me to his home page and his Wii Remote Projects website. The website indicates that he is/was at Carnegie Mellon University (of Randy Pausch fame) working on Human Computer Interface. The two projects that are quite fascinating are the 40 dollar smart board and the 10 dollar head tracker.

For the smart board one needs the following:
  1. A bluetooth enabled computer (Win)
  2. A Wiimote (Wii Remote) - need to set up bluetooth connection with computer
  3. An infrared LED pen - could test with just a infrared remote of a discarded appliance?
  4. His software (Free download from his site)
  5. A projector or any LCD display connected to the computer.
Some people have had problems connecting the Wiimote with the computer using bluetooth. Others have struggled to create the LED pen. I am sure someone will come out with a commercial kit for this.
Kudos to Mr. Lee for his imagination and skills in putting this together.

I spent a good 2 hours this morning trying to get this to work. I have a Fujitsu Lifebook tablet PC with a built-in bluetooth adapter. It has Win XP. Its had a Toshiba Bluetooth stack that did not recognize the Wii Remote. So I found a newer version and installed that. Heart stopping moment when it uninstalled the older stack and the installation of the new stack stopped half way. Luckily after a couple of reboots, the new stack was installed and working.

Next the details of the bluetooth connection. I found several tutorials on this and the key things to remember are
  1. Use the 1 and 2 buttons on the Wii Remote simultaneously to put it in Discovery mode. If you want you can use the red button under the battery cover. The 4 blue LEDs at the bottom of the Wii Remote need to be flashing - this means it is in Discovery mode.
  2. Run the bluetooth manager on the PC and it should recognize the Wii Remote. Keep repeatedly pressing the 1 + 2 buttons to keep the LEDs flashing. When asked for a Passkey - choose the radiobutton that says "Do not use passkey". If you do not have that option, you need a newer Toshiba Bluetooth stack.
This allowed me to get the Wii Remote added to ly Bluetooth devices. But what do you do with this? Well even without Mr. Lee's software you can use the Wii Remote on your computer to do different things using a software called GlovePIE. This is a free download (Zipped archive that needs extraction). When you start the Program and open a file called testwiimote.pie and run it, it detects the mouse and some numbers change on the screen indicating that it is working.

I got this far and then I tried to run another script in GlovePIE (it comes with several) and it stopped detecting the Wii Remote! Also Mr. Lee's software said no Wii Remote detected under HID device list! The Bluetooth manager still showed the Wii Remote as connected to the PC. Did not have time to troubleshoot this further. Needless to say this is not a easy install. People might want to wait for a more seamless solution - a bundled BT adapter + driver/stack + a script to use it as a mouse + some LED pens! I will wait for a while before I will have the time and energy to try this again.
Well ... so much for waiting a while. Came home late tonight and saw the Wii Remote sitting next to the laptop and had to give it one more try. AND SUCCESS! I downloaded the latest version of the Toshiba BT stack (version 6.30.01) and rebooted and it worked like a charm! I had not downloaded this earlier as the website said it was only for Toshiba Laptops.
So it works very well with the GlovePIE software where there is a script for using this with Firefox. Angling the Wii Remote in various directions, moves the cursor. The A button is a left click and the home button is a right click. Now just have to figure out the LED pens and then use the smart board software from Johnny Lee!
Shall I saw a day well spdnt?

NPR segment on Clickers in the Classroom

This "All Tech Considered" segment generated quite a buzz.  There was a comment about the limitations of clickers as they can only support multiple choice questions.  Luckily several comments clarified the concept of how these can be used for needs analysis and for leading to active learning using the Think-Pair-Share technique.  

I use the clickers to poll the audience on questions where there may be no right answer (e.g. ethical issues) and then allow them to discuss the issues amongst themselves and then maybe poll again.  I also create questions on the fly to decide on what the class wants to learn or to make sure they understand  the concepts before moving on to the next step.   I create hyperlinks in the presentation that let me jump directly to a specific topic if indicated by the audience responses.

This helps to keep the learning student-centered.  When used appropriately, the clickers are a wonderful tool!

Second Life in Higher Education

Campus technology has an article http://campustechnology.com/articles/2009/03/04/second-life-engaging-virtual-campuses.aspx describing the "ghost towns" created by various corporations and universities. It also describes the SL campuses of several universities like the University of Delaware and Montclair State University.

The question is whether the real use of SL in education is the structures and buildings of these universities or is it the ability to interact with others in a unique way? The ability to cloak oneself behind one's avatar lends a special characteristic to SL interactions.

Physicians are well aware of how some patients are able to ask questions more frankly via e-mail rather than face to face (See article by Daniel Sands http://www.mahealthdata.org/data/library/guidefiles/1999_PatientCtrdEmailGdlns-Sands.pdf). Does SL allow a similar disinhibition and thus a more free and frank discussion? Are students more likely to admit that they don't know something and ask more questions? Is the interaction in SL likely to be healthier?

At least with the present technology and bandwidth it is difficult to provide simulations with enough richness and detail in SL. On the other hand the ability to voice chat and convey some emotions maybe sufficient to use SL as a medium for collaborative learning specially when participants are not all at one site.