Wednesday, December 31, 2008

tt4t_069 First impressions of the Flip minoHD

It’s Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 and welcome to episode 69 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. 2008 is about to come to a close and I would like to wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year in 2009. Yesterday we finally received the new replacement computers for the ITC Lab and I have spent the past couple of days taking out the old computers and setting up the new ones. The new computers are all out of their boxes and ready to have the software installed and configured. Now all we need to do is make the master image that we will apply to all the computers so that they will all be ready for the start of the new semester!

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The other thing that I have been doing over the break is testing out the new Flip minoHD video camera that the ITC recently purchased and I have a mixed review of the latest model. First the physical size is very compact and is a little bit smaller than the current Flip Ultra model. I do like the new smaller form factor as it is just about the perfect size for portable use and easily will fit in a shirt pocket. On the positive side the minoHD does take excellent quality video and produces a much crisper video image than the Ultra model. The minoHD shoots video in 1280x720 versus the 640x480 resolution of the Flip Ultra model. This increase in quality of the minoHD however comes at the cost of two factors that educators will need to weigh to see if the increase in video quality is worth it.

The first trade off is in file size. I did a quick test of how we use the Flip cameras in the ITC and found that a 20 minute minoHD video file came out to approximately 1.5 Gigabytes in file size in the MP4 file format. The same 20 minute video taken with the Flip Ultra model came in at about 500 Megabytes in file size in the AVI format.

If you are wanting to capture video and share it with others file size is an important practical consideration. Larger file sizes take longer to process if you plan to do any video editing. The other consideration for practical use is that the larger the file size is the longer it will take to copy from one device to another. For example we have many faculty that checkout the Flip cameras from the ITC and use them to record student presentations and share the video files with students. The larger minoHD files are of better video quality but this comes at the expense of over 3 times the file size compared to the Flip Ultra model. For our purposes in the ITC the older Flip Ultra still meet the needs of a quick way to record student presentations and is a little more convenient to share with others due to the lower file sizes of the raw video. So in the end it is a tradeoff of file size versus quality.

There is another disadvantage that I see with the new minoHD and that has to do with the default format that video is recorded to. The minoHD records to the MP4 format which is not as easy to edit in Windows Movie Maker without installing some additional codecs. For those that do not want to mess around with codecs, which is most of us, the minoHD comes with its own software called FlipShare and is an easy to use video editor for basic editing. FlipShare lacks some of the features found in Windows Movie Maker or iMovie but handles most basic tasks. The FlipShare software also works on both Mac and PC.

Video editing while easy to learn to do is still a time consuming practice even with the new minoHD model. I used the minoHD Flip Share program to make a short movie of about five minutes and the rendering time took about 15 minutes to produce the final five minute project in WMV format. The five minute video had a final file size of 700KB.

So for me the final verdict is that I have a use for both the older Flip Ultra models as well as the new minoHD model. If I am wanting a higher quality video in a widescreen 16x9 format I will reach for the minoHD. For everyday practical use the Flip Ultra model is still a workhorse for me. Both cameras have a great form factor and faculty and students will be able to easily use either camera for quick and easy videos. Please remember that both models have a tripod mount and you will be much happier with your projects if you use a tripod.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a software program that will convert files to and from different file formats. Sorry about the alphabet soup in discussing the Flip camera models but as a user of technology you need to be aware of different types of file formats, what they are used for, and the advantages of each. In the preceding discussion I mentioned the MP4, AVI, and WMV file formats for video. Each format has advantages and disadvantages. Another common video file format on the Internet is the Flash FLV format and this weeks tech pick has worked well for me in the past when I have a file in a certain format but need to convert it to a different format for another use. When I place a video file on the Internet I usually use Flash because Flash is a common standard for video on the Internet. YouTube uses Flash videos. I often convert WMV files to the Flash format for web use using this program. The name of this free converter program is called Format Factory and a link is provided in the show notes.

Format Factory

This program works with Windows so if you know of a similar free program for Macintosh please leave a comment in the blog to share with others.

Format Factory not only handles converting different video formats but also converts file formats for audio, pictures, and mobile devices like iPods, Zunes, and mobile phones. The next time you are looking to convert a file to a different format give Format Factory a try to see if it will meet your needs.

That wraps it up for episode 69 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next year, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Monday, December 22, 2008

tt4t_068 Bandwidth and Always Connected Learning

It’s Monday, December 22nd, 2008 and welcome to episode 68 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Final exams are now over at EIU and all that is left is for faculty to grade the final exams and the record the grades into the Banner system. Once the grades are posted students will have access to them online.

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At EIU we utilize technology a lot from the everyday use of classroom technologies, to online support and course offerings, to administrative uses for registration and students accessing grades online. In our college face-to-face and online components are routinely mixed to take advantage of the best of each approach for course delivery and learning. Many of our courses are hybrids that take advantage of the best of both worlds.

Many K-12 schools are increasingly using online systems like Moodle to stretch the walls of the classroom and are also making learning a 24x7 operation. More work is needed in planning and implementing online systems that will increasingly need additional support staff at the K-12 level. With Web 2.0 technologies schools are in a different position than they were only a decade ago and many free tools exist that make possible new delivery methods. All of these services rely upon network bandwidth as the common thread that holds the key to accessing online services.

School management systems are increasingly being hosted off-site by third-party vendors that provide support on a cost per pupil basis. This has the benefit of experts managing online systems but has the limitation of being only as good as the bandwidth provided by the schools Internet connection. If the Internet is down many Web 2.0 services and off-site school management systems become useless. Bandwidth is becoming the lifeblood of both businesses and schools as the march to cloud computing continues. Unfortunately many schools are not keeping up with necessary bandwidth to meet these expanding support roles for online school services.

I have mentioned before on TechTalk4Teachers that we are about to venture into the next step in the evolution of technology use in schools that I call “always connected” computing. This past year has witnessed the rise of the netbook as a low-cost device that is finally becoming affordable for parents of school-aged children to purchase on a broader scale. There have been many one-to-one laptop initiatives over the past twenty years but until recently all have been very costly and few have addressed the needed refresh in equipment every four to five years and even fewer have expanded the program to every grade level in a school district. Lower cost devices may help change this situation in the near future.

Last week, to my knowledge, Radio Shack became the first American vendor to offer a $99 netbook, that is if you are willing to also purchase a two-year data subscription plan from AT&T. I have provided a link to the Radio Shack website in the show notes if you are interested in learning more about this offer.

Radio Shack $99 Acer Aspire One netbook offer:

While this is a good first step I am worried about a developing future digital divide that I am seeing increasing evidence of. I live in rural Illinois and have had a lot of experience with digital divide issues in our schools. While we have finally reached that magical $100 laptop goal that began with the dream of the one-laptop-per-child (OLPC) initiative we are beginning to create a TERRIBLE model for the future in terms of wireless Internet access. With the increasing success of web 2.0 companies and cloud computing we are beginning to get addicted to these “free” services with many not realizing the true future cost of such a model. For these services to continue to flourish it is all about the availability of reliable and low-cost BANDWIDTH to access services reliant upon the Internet.

Going back to the Radio Shack $99 netbook for a moment, the true total cost comes in the form of recurring monthly subscription payments of $60 per month, times 24 months, or $1440 plus the original $99 purchase price. So the true cost of the two year total becomes $1539, a little bit more than the $100 laptop dreamed of by the OLPC movement. It is going to take both a low-cost computing device AND a low-cost data access plan if we are to move forward with broad access to online services for educational use.

So, I propose that we educators also consider a new goal of the $100 per YEAR subscription plan for a high-speed Internet wireless access family plan with no bandwidth caps for personal/educational use. Yes I know that wireless providers need to make money to stay in business but by simply decreasing the cost of the current monthly subscription rates to more affordable levels I believe we would finally have a model that would allow the average family to afford the advantages of high-speed wireless access for a true anytime and anywhere learning model. Wireless carriers could make up the current revenue difference through increased subscriptions since they would be more affordable and thus have more customers.

I know this can be done, we have the technology! Let’s not create yet another digital divide in the form of the wireless Internet access haves and have nots.

If the above model does not work there is another alternative that could possibly provide FREE wireless access for Americans. What is needed now is the political will to make it happen. With all the billions of dollars floating around in the form of government bail-outs investing in a FREE anytime and anywhere learning infrastructure is a true investment in the future of America that will pay dividends for future generations much like the TVA did for electricity.

With the coming switch to digital TV in February 2009 many companies have already locked in by purchasing parts of the frequency spectrum from the US government. But there is another alternative, Google and others are currently working on the possible use of white space in the 700Mhz frequency range.

The term “white space” is used to describe the unused portions of the electromagnetic spectrum that is currently going unused and is unlicensed by the FCC. There is a huge battle going on right now that few Americans are aware of, yet this battle will impact every American in the future that uses wireless Internet.

We now have a chance to provide a low-cost alternative to current costly data subscription plans. I have provided some links in the show notes that gives some hope for future white space use for free public use if you would like to learn more.

You can help by becoming educated about this topic and raising this important issue to others when you have the opportunity to do so. Talk with your legislators as this is an opportunity for our government to take a lead role in providing a digital infrastructure for public benefit rather than corporate interests.

Please do not let bandwidth become the next digital divide issue when we now have a chance to level the playing field. If we do this right it could change the future of education in America as we know it but we need voices to let others know about this opportunity. Please learn more and help raise awareness to others about this promising opportunity.

Free the Airwaves

Google White Space article

FCC votes to free white space on November 4, 2008

Google’s reaction to the FCC vote:

Technology Pick of the Week

My technology pick of week this week is a new beta plug-in for users of PowerPoint 2007 and Slide Share users. Slide Share is an online Web 2.0 tool that allows you to upload PowerPoint-like presentations and easily share them with others. You can also embed the Slide Share hosted presentations into blogs and other websites.

In the past you had to save your PowerPoint file and then open a browser and sign into your slide share account, then you had to manually add your PowerPoint files to your slide share account to be converted. All of this was disjointed and a bit of a cumbersome effort.

Publishing your PowerPoint slides to the cloud:

Download Office 2007 Beta Plug-in from here:

SlideShare Presents Your Newest Social App: PowerPoint

Slide Share

With the new Slide Share and PowerPoint 2007 integration it is now possible to send your PowerPoint slides directly to the cloud in an integrated fashion to Slide Share. The benefit of this is that your PowerPoint files can now be shared easily with the world and can all be managed right from within Microsoft PowerPoint 2007.

In addition you get the ability for users of the content to add comments and thus take the firsts step of making isolated PowerPoint creation morph into a more social approach. This plug-in allows for a much more natural workflow and you also get the added benefit of seeing presentation statistics of how many people have viewed or downloaded your shared presentations. If you are a Slide Share user you may want to check out this new plug-in for PowerPoint 2007 to make your life a little easier.

That wraps it up for episode 68 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Monday, December 15, 2008

tt4t_067 Crunch Time

It’s Monday, December 15th, 2008 and welcome to episode 67 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. It is now finals week at EIU and now is crunch time. This past week I have had several trouble-shooting incidents with faculty and students. This is not really that uncommon for this time of year as we approach the end of the semester things do get a lot busier. Both faculty and students are making that final push to completion.

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Here is some advice for all that will help you avoid hitting the panic button this time of year related to technology. First, as always, have a backup of your important files. It never fails that I have a least a few students come to the ITC that have difficulty retrieving files from their flash drive. Worse yet some lose their flash drive entirely with ALL of their work for the semester on it! For those important files here are a few tips that can help you save the day:

1) If the files are not too large (less than 5 MB) email yourself a copy of the file. I do this for important presentations I am giving just in case something happens to my flash drive. You can delete the email and attachment once the presentation is over and you no longer need the file.

2) I also suggest for college-aged students to consider an online storage location for their files like Microsoft Skydrive or The advantage to online storage is that you can login to your account from any computer in the world with Internet connection and access your files online. Both of these services have a limited account for free. Skydrive recently increased the amount of free file storage up to 25GB, that’s right 25 Gigabytes with a G. currently offers a free lite account for up to 1GB of space. Considering that most USB flash drives that students use in the ITC are only 4GB in size Skydrive is something to consider and works for both Mac and Windows.

3) If you are dealing with different versions of software or different types of computers be sure to save your files in a couple of different file formats. For example, if you are using the new Office 2007 software it might be a good idea to also save your file as the older Office 2003 format just in case you go to a lab or classroom that does not have the latest software installed.

4) Have a system to make regular backups of your files and make sure they are stored in a different location from your main computer. This should already be a part of your regular computing practice, if it is not then it is time to make it a habit.

Just a little precaution can save the day and keep you from panicking if something happens to the files on your USB flash drive. USB flash drives are very small and we have several students lose their USB flash drives every semester. Be prepared and have a backup plan so this doesn’t happen to you.

During this time of year things do seem to go wrong when the pressure is on. When things do go wrong try some basic trouble-shooting and see if you can figure out the problem yourself before calling for help. Many times the problems are simple like an unplugged cable or a device not turned on. Students often seem a little better at fixing some problems because they are not afraid of trying a few things. If you are a faculty member, remember to do some basic trouble-shooting first before calling for help.

For example, I recently received a call that there was no sound coming out of a computer. Turns out that the power cable to the power adapter was unplugged, this stopped the user of the computer in their tracks until a tech came to fix the problem. They were very frustrated by the time a tech came to fix the problem. If the user would have walked through just a couple of simple trouble-shooting procedures the problem would have been fixed and they would not have lost any productivity. If you still cannot find the problem after some preliminary trouble-shooting then go ahead and call for help.

It is much better for us to help students fix minor problems themselves so they can be as self-sufficient as possible when they do get into the work force. Basic trouble-shooting is a necessary skill for anyone that uses a computer and is a valuable skill to have as a teacher.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week relates to an issue that many students and teachers face when bandwidth becomes constrained. This time of year the EIU network is very busy as nearly every student on campus is accessing the network to finish end of the semester projects. As a result the network can become very slow due to increased use. If you are doing a presentation and wanting to use a YouTube video for a class presentation you may be frustrated because the network is so slow that the video may not play back smoothly.

One option is to download the YouTube video ahead of time to your computer. This serves a couple of benefits. First, because the file is now located locally you do not need to concern yourself with network issues. Secondly, sometimes Youtube displays inappropriate comments or offers inappropriate video suggestions on the YouTube page for an educational audience. Since you can download the file locally to a computer you can play it using a Flash Player. Be sure to abide by all copyright and fair use rules if you do download YouTube content for educational purposes.

I have used in the past with mixed results. Lately I have used the site called and this site has worked well for me. All you need to do is copy and paste the embed code from the YouTube video you want to download into the YouTube Loader website and select the format you want to save as. In addition, I use the VLC Media player to playback downloaded YouTube Flash videos. Links are available in the show notes to both of the technology picks of the week.

YouTube Loader

VLC Media Player Download

I usually choose to download YouTube videos in the Flash format. Be sure to append a .flv file extension to your saved downloaded video so that your flash player will recognize the file format and play back the downloaded video. Flash is the default video file format for most YouTube videos. If you do not have a Flash player installed I really like the free VLC media player for Windows.

That wraps it up for episode 67 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

tt4t_066 Blurred Worlds

It’s Sunday, December 7th, 2008 and welcome to episode 66 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Today is the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that was one of the defining moments in American history. We are slowly losing many of our seniors that experienced this event and other historical events of World War II first-hand and this is a reminder for those of us with relatives of this generation to learn as much as we can about our parents and grandparents lives as they are willing to share. I have provided a link in the show notes to a couple of websites that caught my eye on this infamous day that as President Roosevelt predicted in 1941 has lived in infamy.

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Eye Witness to History website

Transcript of President Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Speech
(with a link to the original audio)

It is interesting how one thing leads to another when we are learning about new things. For example, last week I talked about the ManyCam program as my Technology Pick of the Week and offered a teaching lesson using the ManyCam program. A teacher can design a lesson around a historic character represented as an avatar with ManyCam. All that would be needed is Skype, the ManyCam program, a green screen, and a selected avatar. A selected individual represented by the avatar could act as the historical figure for a two-way video conference between the classroom and avatar character.

I have experimented successfully with this technology and it is quite possible to do. The advantage is that the individual that is being represented as an avatar is of course a person and therefore can interactively work with a classroom to listen to and respond to questions from students in the classroom in real-time and with a real human intellect to respond to questions in the historic context of the lesson. Of course the more informed the “actor” you get to play the part of the historical character the more believable their answers will become to the class.

This week I was reminded of a site that I saw a few months ago that is doing something similar but taking it to the next level. Instead of using a real person represented by an avatar they are using an avatar by creating artificial intelligence built into the avatar. This software and website is in Beta testing but I was again reminded of its development this week. The name of the site is Virsona. Here is a quote from their website about what they are doing.

“Virsona, Inc has developed a highly specialized, innovative, next-generation social media web-service with far-reaching applications and benefits. This unique “Online Community,” gives you the ability to create, store and then interact with the entirety of your life experiences. Once saved in your “LifeArchive,” we create the “Virtual You” - a Virsona that can Remember, Reason and React just like you can!

The Personal Virsona that you create enjoys a permanence that will provide subsequent generations with the ability, not only to know exactly who you are/were, but to actually share interactions with you. Imagine what it would be like to be able to give advice to your great, great-grandchild before his or her first big game or first date? The possibilities are truly astounding and unlimited.

You can also participate in both creating, as well as interacting with the “Community Virsonas” – helping to recreate your favorite fictional, historical or public figures and characters. In addition, you can also create “Shared Experience Virsonas,” making it possible to view & experience shared events from multiple perspectives.”

A link is provided in the show notes to the Virsona website.

Virsona – Reason. Remember. React,

Now this is a pretty cool technology and at the same time kind of scary. The students that we are teaching today will increasingly run into this collision of the virtual world meeting the real world and the boundaries are becoming more and more blurred. This area of innovation requires the attention of educators as the technologies are becoming more and more sophisticated and this will surely have a huge impact upon our society in the future as these two worlds collide.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a free photo-editing program for the PC that is similar to Adobe Photoshop. The application is called and I have used this application on both Windows XP and Vista computers with no problems. I am always on the lookout for low-cost, and better yet free programs, that I can recommend to others. Free is always a great seller for schools and teachers on a tight budget. There are a few things I miss from the full-blown Adobe Photoshop program and the interface is not quite as polished as Photoshop, but for basic photo-editing this free application does a good job.

A link is provided in the show notes to the website where you can download this free application.

A faculty member asked me earlier this week to help them with a photo project they were doing with a class and wanted to purchase some software for her home computer to learn how to use. I recommended she give a try first since it was free and she had nothing to loose from trying this application. I spent about one-half hour with her giving her basic instruction with the program and she is now off and running with her project.

If you already know how to use Photoshop - will be easy for you to adapt to. On the flip side, once you learn the basics of you can easily move to Adobe Photoshop if you find you the need additional features. In addition to the professional version of Photoshop Adobe also offers a lower-cost alternative called Photoshop Elements for well under $100 if you are considering a commercial application.

For teachers we often just need the basics in a paint program as we often do not have time to spend hours manipulating photographs for class projects. allows you to easily resize, crop, colorize, add text to photos, adorn your pictures using layers, and use artistic filtering to give your photographs that artsy touch.

With the high-quality of todays digital cameras we often need to resize pictures in order to make file sizes acceptable for uploading to websites or sending to others as an attachment. For example a faculty member brought me a photograph that was approximately 3000x2000 pixels and I resized the picture to 1000x500 and saved the resized image under a different file name. By simply reducing the image size the amount of space the image consumed went from approximately 2 Megabytes to 500,000 bytes.

Now I ask you if someone was sending you an email with a picture attached which picture would you prefer to get? The smaller one will download four times faster than the larger one and the resulting loss in quality of the original high-resolution picture is almost imperceptible to the human eye.

That wraps it up for episode 66 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology website at just click on the TechTalk4Teachers podcast link. If you have a comment or suggestion please send an email to of leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on Learning.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

tt4t_065 Stupid parlor tricks and looking forward to next year

It’s Saturday, November 29th, 2008 and welcome to episode 65 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. I had the chance to take the week off this week for Thanksgiving break and the time sure has flown by. I had to catch-up on several household chores including getting the home place ready for winter. As the years go by there is a routine that we establish with the coming and going of the seasons. Now that the fields are harvested and the trees have lost their leaves, we are settling in for the long winter ahead here in Illinois.

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Technology also ebbs and flows with a similar technological development cycle that we become accustomed to over the years. Soon it will be January and we will be looking forward to the Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld where vendors unveil their latest wares for the coming year. There is always something new on the horizon and this can be frustrating for users who want to buy the latest technologies now but know full well that in six months to a year there will be new and improved models with more features and often costing less money. Such is the price of progress.

Over Thanksgiving break I have had the opportunity to do more research on up-and-coming technologies and find myself in a similarly frustrating position, the next improved model is just out of my reach. I know it is coming but it is not yet here and budget cycles now require purchases.

The past year has witnessed the netbook craze and there seems no slacking off in the coming year. New touch-screen models are rumored on the near horizon and new features in Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system are teasing users with increased reliability, functionality, and speed including multi-touch capability that I believe will have great uses in education. All of this innovation with PC prices continuing to drop.

HP came out with the tx2 notebook this month and it is advertised as the first consumer notebook with multi-touch capability. While technically not a netbook the tx2 has a swivel mount that is similar to other HP Tablet PC models but now you can use your fingers instead of a stylus to control applications on the tx2 screen using the multi-touch capability.

HP has also had the Touch Smart, an all-in-one touch-screen model, out for some time now and ASUS, the makers of the popular eee PC netbooks, have recently announced a new line of all-in-one low-cost computers that they are calling the eee top. The exciting thing for educators is that the new netbook and eee top models are approximately half the costs of the more traditional notebooks and all-in-one computer offerings from other manufacturers. There is a huge battle going on between these low-cost devices and the more traditional and more powerful laptop categories. The jury is still out as to if the netbooks will continue to be the hot sellers that they currently are next year.

I have provided links to the HP Touch Smart, the HP tx2 notebook, and the new eee top models in the show notes if you are interested in learning more about these particular models.

HP Touch Smart all-in-one Computer

HP tx2 Notebook Computer with Multi-touch

ASUS eee top all-in-one multi-touch computer

In these tight economic times schools need to consider their purchases carefully and give consideration to lower cost alternatives that may not have the horsepower of the traditional full-fledged computers but that can still fulfill educational requirements and do so more economically. When you can buy two to three netbooks for the price of a single traditional laptop, then the bean counters start paying attention.

Of course it depends upon the ultimate purpose you are wanting to use the laptop for but for the majority of classroom activities the netbooks are more than adequate for routine classroom tasks. The biggest complaint is the small size keyboard of netbooks but for children this may actually be an advantage. For adults that need to use a larger keyboard you can simply plug-in a full-sized USB keyboard when you need to type for extended periods of time. Because many netbooks use the energy saving Intel Atom series of processors heavy users of video and photo editing applications will be disappointed in performance of current netbooks but for those that need a general purpose computer the low-cost netbook category may continue to be a big hit with educators.

Technology Pick of the Week

Since this was holiday break here in the States my Technology Pick of the Week this week is on the fun-side of things. I will classify this pick as in the category of “Stupid Parlor Tricks” At the IETC conference last week Hall Davidson gave a demo of Photo Booth and used a green card to create a chroma key image and then used a green card to “peer inside the human brain” using a webcam when he held the green card up to his head. Of course all that was needed was a background image of the human brain that could be keyed upon using the green card to create the see inside the head effect.

Many Cam - Webcam Special Effects Program

Chroma keying has been around for years and it can create some interesting effects if you use your imagination and creativity. I downloaded and installed a free application called Many Cam on an eee PC netbook running Windows XP this week while I was off from work. Many Cam is one of those fun little applications that is good for a lot of novelty effects and can leave many wondering, “How did he do that?” It can be used with chroma keying to place yourself on screen in whatever setting you select as your background image. So if you are longing for the Florida beaches no problem, just find the appropriate themed background image and you can place yourself on a sunny beach.

The advantage of Many Cam is that you can also use it with other webcam programs like Skype and some instant messaging applications that support video. Did I mention it is free! Of course the challenge becomes to use this novel webcam application for an educational purpose beyond amusement. Educators need to get beyond the toy mentality approach and focus on using the technological tools with a clear purpose and intent to improve learning.

A couple of years ago or so Logitech came out with similar software that supported avatars that you could use with their webcams. Logitech had a shark, an alien, and a princess among other avatars. When I first saw the Logitech software I thought it would be a great application to do some remote video conferencing with schools. Schools can have guest readers that can use an avatar to disguise their real identity and select an avatar to represent a character in a story that is read to the class from the characters perspective virtually. For example the Princess avatar could read Snow White with the Princess avatars image projected on a large screen in the front of the room.

Logitech Video Effects and Avatars,en?

This activity would have to be planned with the teacher but I do believe that the technology is now affordable enough and sophisticated enough that some schools could start hosting period and character authentic avatars that students could interact with and ask questions of as if they were time traveling back or forward in time to the location of the story or event.

Of course you need to pick age appropriate avatars and use educationally sound practices when creating such lessons. Using a Shark avatar with little children could be a bit frightening for the children and an inappropriate use of this technology. The beauty of using an avatar in this manner is that there is a real person on the other side of the camera that can take and answer questions from the perspective of that character.

There still remain some technical hurdles to overcome. I still run into firewall issues and bandwidth problems with schools that are using video streaming technologies but it is getting better and there are fewer barriers than there were just a few years ago. How about you? If you are using webcams in the classroom for educational purpose I would love to hear from you and have you share your experiences with the TechTalk4Teachers audience.

That wraps it up for episode 65 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology website at just click on the TechTalk4Teachers podcast link. If you have a comment or suggestion please send an email to of leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on Learning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

tt4t_064 IETC Conference, we have been here before

It’s Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 and welcome to episode 64 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This past Thursday and Friday I had the opportunity to attend the Illinois Educational Technology Conference in Springfield, Illinois. While attending I met to a lot of old friends and also made some new friends at this years event. Some of my older friendships go back more than twenty years and it was good to see many of my colleagues from those early days of my career.

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Vicki Davis, also known as the CoolCatTeacher, gave the Keynote address Thursday afternoon and talked about some of the Web 2.0 tools available and how some pioneers are now using these technologies to establish relationships with classrooms all over the world. As she was giving her keynote I couldn’t help but to reflect back on many of the technologies that I had witnessed over the years. I had the strange sense of deja vu all over again. Vicki uses blogs in her classroom whereas teachers not so long ago teachers relied upon email and BBS’s to do similar things. I remembered back in the early to mid 1980’s that many of the teachers of that time also established connections worldwide that were made possible by the technologies of the day just as teachers are doing today. Granted we did not have high-speed Internet connections and free video conferencing tools like Skype, ooVoo, Qik, uStream, and other streaming video services back then, but it did happen, just in different ways. Teachers always find a way to take advantage of new technologies to benefit learning.

Back then people developed their own modem driven BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) around areas of interests using a regular dial-up phone line. This was more on the hobbyist level but when the Internet became mainstream in the mid 1990’s and the technologies evolved further we thought we were in heaven when some of the first webcam software like CU-SeeMe came along. Usenet groups and other fledgling Internet technologies were used by many teachers back then, before Google there was Gopher. This was back in the days of 33Kbps modems and it sort of kind of worked if you crossed your fingers in just the right way. 33 Kbps modems seemed scorchingly fast for those that had previously used 300 to 1200 baud modems a few years earlier. By no means were the 33 Kbps connections reliable enough or fast enough for mission critical educational applications that a teacher could count on everyday but it was possible to have two-way low-cost communication between schools and many teachers did use these technologies despite their limitations.

Today there are only a few technical challenges remaining. If the average teacher wants to establish a connection between schools they have many choices. The good news is that today the tools are easier than ever to use and often free for teachers use. Setting up a blog or wiki can be done in under five minutes by the average teacher.

The technologies have matured and most of the problems are not about the technology itself but rather stem from firewall issues that schools and businesses use to protect their networks. Webcams and video conferencing are opening up new possibilities for use in the classroom. Add to this the portability of cell phone cameras and sites like Qik streaming services and it is now possible to stream live video to an Internet server and broadcast the feed live to the world in real time. We have come a long way in a short period of time. Now we must ask ourselves what is the best way to harness this new found power?

Unfortunately bandwidth issues may still limit the possible uses that many teachers would like to implement, especially on a larger scale that will truly make a difference. Bandwidth is becoming the life blood of cloud computing and those that do not invest in the bandwidth necessary to take advantage of cloud computing services will be left behind and this will create a new digital divide. Schools must invest in high-speed connections to the Internet or run the risk of falling behind and isolating their schools.

I am not worried as much about the bandwidth issues as I am with the policy side of the equation. Bandwidth issues are known and can be addressed and solved with appropriating funding in the right areas. The more challenging aspects of using cloud computing services in most schools more likely have to do with policy issues of allowing teachers and students to utilize this technology. We need guidelines and best practices to help teachers comfortably use these technologies in the classroom and reduce the barriers for teachers that want to take advantage of the technological benefits. These technologies can make for wonderful possibilities for educators but they also unfortunately can be misused. This misuse often overshadows the benefits and sometimes keeps promising practices from occurring in schools.

Safety is always in the front of the line for teachers and administrators and concerns over the safety and privacy of students need to be addressed, especially for the new technologies like webcams and cell phone cameras as they are increasingly finding their way into schools. If these new tools are to be used in the classroom their use requires careful and purposeful use by teachers for the benefit of learning.

As with any technology webcams and cell phones can be abused and unfortunately some organizations do not allow their use because of this potential abuse. Teachers, administrators, parents, and students need to work together to create policies that support the appropriate use of technologies so that these tools can be safely used in the classroom.

If these new tools are not supported at the administrative level then these technologies are unlikely to be used by those teachers that see the potential they hold for learning. We have hundreds of pages of standards for teachers, students, and administrators and now it is time that we have a conversation at the State and national level about effective policies, guidelines, and best practices to address the possibilities that Web 2.0 and cloud computing services offer educators.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is Google Earth. If you have not checked out Google Earth for a while I suggest you download the latest beta version and give it a try. Currently Google Earth is at the Beta Version 4.3 level. On Friday at the IETC conference Hall Davidson from the Discovery Network gave the keynote conference address at lunch. Hall talked a lot about using technologies to engage students in technology-driven project based learning, something many educators have been doing for many years. Hall Davidson also presented a couple of sessions on Google Earth and highlighted some of the new features.

Google Earth does require a download of the Google Earth client and does require an Internet connection to utilize this software. If you do not have an Internet connection you can use Google Earth but it only uses the data that has been cached into your computers memory. In my experience the pop-up messages that occur when not connected to the Internet almost render this application useless so take my advice and only use Google Earth when you are connected to the Internet.

When you use Google Earth you will see three main categories on the left-side of the screen labeled Search, Places, and Layers. For a quick-start sample to see what Google Earth can do select the Search category and then select the Directions Tab. Enter a From location and a To location. When you click on the Play Tour button (it looks like a triangle) on the player and Google Earth will do a fly-over movie of the route you entered in the From and To fields, pretty cool! A link is provided in the show notes to a short movie about Google Earth and other resources for you to learn more about this application.

Google Earth Resources

To me the power of Google Earth for teachers and students is in the ability to go to the Places category and insert your own Placemark pins in Google Earth. Placemarks can be connected to text information providing a detailed description about the pinned location, pictures about the location, movies about the location, or a referenced website about the location pinned on the Google Earth map. These Placemarks can be saved in KML and KMZ files that can be shared with other users of Google Earth. KML and KMZ files are simply the file format that Google Earth uses, just like a .doc file is used by Microsoft Word.

An excellent example of using Placemarks for a lesson can be found at the Google LitTrips website, a link is provided in the show notes.

Google LitTrips

Please note that you do have to install Google Earth first before you can use the files at Google LitTrips. When you visit the Google LitTrips site and you will see at the top of the webpage an index that you can choose by the grade level of content you are searching for. For example, I clicked on the high school 9-12 level link and selected the Grapes of Wrath LitTrip and saved the file to my computer. Once the file was downloaded I unzipped the downloaded file by double-clicking on it and then clicked on the KML file that was extracted. When I double-clicked on this KML file it opened in Google Earth. I was able to see all of the Placemarks that the author of the KML file created from within Google Earth, in this case the route of the story from Grapes of Wrath with Placemarks along the way explaining what happened in the book at each marked Placemark.

Creating KML and KMZ files is really not that difficult and if you know the basics of creating a webpage and how to copy and paste code then you can easily create Google Earth trips, better yet show your students how to create these Placemarks and let them create their own Google Earth trips! If you have not tried out Google Earth please give it a try and let me know what you think.

I am incorporating Google Earth into some of the Smart Board training that I am doing as I believe that the combination of the two are a great way to showcase these two technologies together. There is also something visceral about manipulating map objects with your hands at the Smart Board that makes the learning experience more interactive and effective. Controlling the Google Earth controls with the Smart Board is easy and intuitive. If you are interested in learning more about Google Earth please let me know and I will discuss this technology in more detail in the future if there is an interest. Google Earth has a lot of educational potential in this free application for teachers.

That wraps it up for episode 64 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

tt4t_063 Flipping out over the Flip camera and a new choice

It’s Saturday, November 15th, 2008 and welcome to episode 63 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Well it has been another busy week around here and we have accomplished much. Yesterday morning the ITC was buzzing with activity. We were blessed with the presence of 50 third graders and their teachers from Project WOW. Each semester Project WOW teams up with two local third grade classrooms and a group of EIU preservice teachers that work together on a thematic unit as part of course requirements for one of our teacher education classes.

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Project WOW is a great partnership and everyone that participates benefits from this collaboration. Yesterday we recorded the basic segments for an audio podcast that each of the 12 teams is responsible for producing. This year the topic is 19th Century Heros and I will probably have a future TechTalk4Teachers episode about this project as it gets further along so stay tuned as we continue to work on this collaborative effort. Being a teacher I was searching for period appropriate copyright free music for the students to use in their podcasts and had to chuckle when the 3rd graders went straight for the hip hop genre for their intro and outro music, sounds like we will be having some interesting podcasts to listen to in the near future.

My main topic today is about the amazing Flip video cameras that have become a very popular checkout item at the ITC. Some time ago the ITC ordered 16 of the Flip cameras to use for class projects and for general faculty use. Recently I have been promoting their use more and more, so much so that we are now having trouble keeping enough of them in stock at the ITC for checkout use. The popularity of technology equipment checkouts is always a good sign that you are on the right track and one of those “good” problems to have. Of course we need to address this “good” problem so the purchase of more Flip video cameras may be in future ITC equipment purchases.

If we do purchase additional Flip cameras we have a new choice. There is a new model of Flip camera recently available called the minoHD or minoHD, I have heard it pronounced both ways. I prefer to call it the mino because it reminds me of a minnow, a minnow is a little fish and this camera is a little smaller than the current Flip Ultra model. Regardless of the pronunciation this camera offers some impressive features and is on my wish list as I look to purchase more Flip cameras to meet the checkout demand at the ITC. I have provided a link in the show notes to the Flip website with specifications of each camera model. It can get a little confusing as there are two models of the mino so read the specifications carefully for each model.

The biggest upgrade for the minoHD is that it is capable of shooting video in 720p HD quality video. It also has a built-in battery instead of the replaceable AA batteries that the Flip Ultra model has. The 720p video quality is tempting from the MinoHD as the quality will be a big improvement over the current 640x480 resolution of the other Flip models. The minoHD can shoot in 1280x720 wide-screen format. This improvement however is not without the cost of increased files sizes of the raw video footage so there is a trade-off. If there is a weakness to the Flip cameras it has to be the quality of the sound that is recorded. I hope the new minoHD camera has improved sound capability, a jack to plug-in an external microphone would be a great addition in future models.

I am not sure about the practicality of the built-in battery either. The Flip website states that the mino models get about two to four hours of use per charge. Let me explain why a built-in battery may not be an advantage. Both the Ultra and Mino models advertise about one hour of video storage on the devices before having to save the video to a computer and delete the video files off the camera so you can continue shooting. If you are in the field and the battery runs out all you have to do is replace the AA batteries in the Flip Ultra models but you would have to find an electrical outlet to recharge the built-in battery of the mino models. The Flip website also states that it takes between two to three hours to recharge the minoHD. If the built-in battery is replaceable and you can buy extras to swap out that would solve this issue. I need to get a review model in to test out and answer these questions for myself.

If the built-in battery is not replaceable then at some point after many charges the batteries will eventually die rendering the camera useless. The built-in battery will also require a cable to plug-in for charging so imagine having 20 flip video cameras plugged into surge protectors charging, tangled cords everywhere! At least with the AA battery models you can buy rechargeable charging stations that are compact in size and easy to use. These are the types of details that I worry about when considering supporting technologies on a larger scale for classroom use.

In the ITC we are in the trenches of providing front-line technology support to faculty, staff, and students. We need bullet-proof technologies and practicality often trumps some of the latest innovations. Anybody can buy one unit and it is easy to manage just one but when you increase that by a factor of 20 or 100 then you need a plan for supporting this volume of equipment. Teachers know this and unless you are a teacher you probably do not understand the problems that scaling up can have upon the practicality of any project.

For teachers these details and issues are important considerations. If we use technologies in the classroom we need for them to be reliable and easy-to-use. Paying attention to the mundane details like battery life and the size of files produced has a direct impact upon the practicality of the camera for classroom use. The important point is that we want a no hassle factor for faculty and students that want to use classroom technologies so these details are important. Standardization is also part of this consideration because if a faculty member wants to checkout a camera from the ITC it is very frustrating to them if they get a different model for every checkout. Standardizing on the Flips has helped by having a consistent choice for checkouts. When you standardize the price point is also an important consideration as per unit costs can really impact the budget. Savings of just a few dollars quickly add up when you need to buy in volume to stretch your budget dollars during these tight financial times.

The Flip Ultra camera model can now be found with educational pricing of under $150 and the MinoHD model for under $200 so both of these cameras are affordable for classroom use. Not so long ago we were using $500-$1000 video cameras with mini-DV tapes for video taping classroom projects. The Flip cameras are not as high-quality as traditional mini-DV cameras but their lower price has finally made them affordable enough for the average classroom. Not having to digitize mini-DV tapes is also another huge plus.

The other advantage to lower costs is that you may not be as worried about handing a Flip camera to a 3rd grader to use as you might be with more expensive cameras. In the end keeping it simple and practical is important and the Flip video cameras have met this challenge at the ITC to date.

If you are considering video projects with your students be sure to follow your organizations policies and procedures including obtaining any necessary permission forms and follow your organization’s guidelines about the use of video for classroom projects.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a website I ran across a couple of weeks ago that was interesting to look at on November 5th, 2008 the day after elections in the United States. The name of this website is the Today’s Front Pages and this website as of Saturday, November 15, 2008 has 613 front pages from 60 countries around the world. A link is provided in the show notes.

Today’s Front Pages

The nice thing about this site is that you can see thumbnail images for all the front pages of newspapers for a particular day as well as have access to archives from previous days. The front pages can be sorted alphabetically by state or by region. Since I was a former science teacher I would like to point out a page that caught my eye as I visited this site today. I clicked on a link from front page of the Stuart News from Stuart, Florida about the Space Shuttle launch last night. Night-time launches are spectacular and if you click on the link in the show notes you can see a beautiful picture from last night’s Shuttle Launch, absolutely spectacular.

Night-Time Space Shuttle Launch from The Stuart News: Stuart, Florida

Using newspapers in the classroom periodically can help keep variety in the learning experience as well as offer a teachable moment for discussions about the way the news is reported in different parts of the world. Please checkout Today’s Front Pages and I am sure you will find valuable learning resources and ideas to use in future lessons.

That wraps it up for episode 63 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

tt4t_062 Time to cleanup some delicious bookmarks

It's Saturday, November 8th, 2008 and welcome to episode 62 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. If you are like me you probably have a lot of extra resources lying around and in a state of disrepair and begging to be organized in some form or fashion. If only there were enough time I would love to get some of these resources better organized. Way back on episode 12 of TechTalk4Teachers I talked about the social bookmarking site called delicious. At that time and until recently we had to use the rather clumsy website address of to access delicious bookmarks but as reported in episode 50 the delicious website has finally changed its web address to the more user friendly and added some new features along the way.

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Before delicious came around I actually wrote a php script I called share-a –link that allowed me and other students to fill out a form and access an online database for links that could be shared with others. So when I found out about delicious a few years ago I jumped at the opportunity to use this free service from Yahoo. It was like my share-a-link script but so much more.

I love the delicious social bookmarking service for several reasons, first of course, is that it is free! Free is one of those keywords that we teachers appreciate. Secondly the delicious service allows for anyone with a delicious account to add bookmarks that are stored and accessed online for future reference. Third is that delicious bookmarks can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection. Fourth is that you can see what other delicious users have bookmarked and therefore learn a lot from the work of others. Finally one of the best features of delicious is the ability to “tag” websites with keywords that allows you to easily sort related bookmarks by a tagged keyword.

Teachers can benefit by using the delicious service to bookmark sites by keyword for a particular course or unit of study. You can use more than one tag per entry if a website might have several uses for you. The important thing is that your tags should be short and descriptive and you must be consistent with whatever tag naming convention you develop. For example when I find a website that is a good candidate for use with a smart board I will tag it with the keyword smartboard and iwb. I use the smartboard keyword because that is the descriptive name that most teachers are familiar with but I also use the tag iwb, that stands for interactive white board, because this tag reminds me that the particular site I am bookmarking is interactive and could also be used with other brands of interactive white boards besides Smart. I might also add additional tags like third grade or science to further define what the smartboard website is about.

With the recent revamping of the delicious website delicious users have some new features including better sorting options and sharing options including the ability to embed delicious bookmarks into other websites and blogs in the form of a tag cloud.

Now I have had my old delicious account called gtgrissom for some time now it has become a bit of a mess. Learning is messy and I am not the best organizer in the world so my delicious list has grown a little out of control for this account. I try to model best practices to the best of my ability so I recently created another delicious account to be used in conjuction with the Instructional Technology Center website. I will glean many of my bookmarks from the older gtgrissom account but I am going to be much more selective with what I tag and try to have a more minimalist approach to the eiuitc delicious account.

Displaying your bookmarks in the form of tag clouds is an easy way for others to quickly find tag related information. Tags are weighted and therefore as the number of entries a particular keyword tag has there will be a corresponding increase in the size of the font to display the tag. In other words the larger the size font of the tag the more entries that particular tag has. You have undoubtedly seen tag clouds on websites as they are becoming more and more common. I have embedded my eiuitc delicous tag cloud into the TechTalk4Teachers website if you would like to see an example. Please remember this is a work in progress and the nice thing about using the embed code is that this blog website will automatically be updated as I add new links to the eiuitc delicious account.

eiuitc delicious tag cloud example:

What about you? Do you have any tips and tricks about using social bookmarking in the classroom? If you do please leave a comment in the TechTalk4Teachers blog so we can share with others.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a Web 2.0 service that may be of help to you when you want to print out just a selective piece of a website. The name of this service is called Print What You Like and a link is provided in the show notes.

To use this service copy the web address of the website you want to selectively print and then go to the printwhatyoulike website. Paste the web address into the box that says Enter a URL to Start and then press the Start button.

You can then move the mouse around to different sections of the webpage and click on the sections you want to printout. Use the control panel on the left-hand side to control the area you want to print. This could save a few trees so give it a try and let me know what you think.

That wraps it up for episode 62 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes
for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send and email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Friday, October 31, 2008

tt4t_061 Its Halloween do you know where your backup is?

It’s Friday, October 31st, 2008 and welcome to episode 61 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Happy Halloween everyone! This week a couple of experiences have reminded me of the importance of backing up your computer files. I received a call earlier this week from a staff member that accidentally deleted a folder on their computer and all the files in the folder. Of course I asked if they had a backup and you can guess what the answer was.

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Once you delete a file and empty the recycle bin then it is extremely difficult to undelete the files. It may be impossible without the help of a FBI computer forensic team or dedicated expensive program that may be able to undelete something that is if another file has not already been saved over the files you are trying to recover. If the data has been overwritten there may be no hope of recovering the files.

There is always a chance that deleted files may be recovered because when you delete a file the computer basically deletes the indexing information that is used to point to the location of the file storage area on the hard disk, if an undelete program can recover this indexing information then there is a chance (although remote) that the file may be recovered. Why take a chance of worrying about recovering from an accidental file deletion or a computer crash? Take a lesson form the Boy Scouts and “Be Prepared”.

It literally only takes seconds to make a backup copy of your important data files and I hope that making backups is already a part of your routine computing practice, if it is not let me recommend that you turn off this podcast and go make a backup copy of your files right now. Go ahead, pause this podcast and I will wait.

OK, that wasn’t so bad was it? Now you can sleep better knowing you have made a recent backup of your important files especially since we are three-quarters of the way into the semester. Be sure to backup your gradebook files, email archives, and all other essential data regularly. If you have an online system and networked drives your IT department may already be doing this but you are responsible for locally stored files in most schools. If you do not know how to make a backup copy then find someone that can teach you. It really is easy once you know how and there are no excuses for not making regular backups. Consult with your IT staff regarding policies and procedures for protecting and securing school data.

Another reason that the backup topic is on my agenda this week is to protect yourself from the threat of disasters. I have had a couple of friends experience household fires that lost nearly all household possessions including their computers.

A true backup system consists of five parts, first is the backup copy of your files. Second is that the backup is stored in a different location other than the location of the computer in your home/office. Third is the need for a routine for your backups on a regular basis. You are only as good as your last backup in the event of a disaster. Fourth, is the ability to have access to a copy of the programs used to create your data. For example if you use Microsoft Word as your default word processor then you will need to have access to Microsoft Word once your files have been restored on a different computer. Finally you need to periodically test your backup plan to see if it would really work in the case of a disaster. If there is a flaw in the plan you do not want to wait until a disaster occurs to discover that you cannot recover and access your files.

Most information technology departments have disaster recovery plans that include off-site storage and most schools also have disaster recovery plans including an action plan for recovering from a disaster. You should also have a personal plan for your home including off-site storage of important files, especially digital pictures of your family that are irreplaceable. I personally have burned CD and DVD copies of pictures and placed them in my safety deposit box.

One problem with my plan is that over time there is often the need to move the data to more current technologies. I often joke that there is a conspiracy out there by corporations for what I call planned obsolescence. If you are as old as I am you have undoubtedly experienced this phenomena. For example it is getting harder and harder to find a VCR to play back old VHS tapes I have so I need to transfer the VHS content to a DVD to be assured that I can always access the content. Or you may have purchased your favorite music album several times in the form of 8-track tapes (yes I am that old), cassette tapes, CD’s, and now digital MP3 files.

Another option for storing photographs is to use online photo services like Flickr or Windows Live Gallery. Online photo sharing sites can give you peace of mind if you do not mind having your photos online that others may see. Another option would be to use an online storage solution like Microsoft SkyDrive or other online storage provider.

Our university is in the process of implementing a business class solution for online storage called Xythos that I am currently using in a pilot test and looking forward to using it in full production mode to address the needs our college has for online storage and backups. This solution will be backed up by the ITS department so it also serves the need for having the files stored in two different locations to protect against disasters.

Schools just like businesses need disaster recovery plans and policies protect information, much of which is confidential. With Internet technologies the capability of sharing information is very easy so there should also be policies and procedures in place to protect this information including backup and recovery plans.

The final reason for selecting the backup topic this week is that I migrated my data to a different computer this week and this gave me the opportunity to see if my practices really worked and I am happy to report that they did. I have a very structured folder system for storing files locally on my computer that makes it very easy for me to make backups and also allows for me to easily restore data if needed.

Let me tell you what has worked for me over the years and then you can adapt my system for your own use or develop one that will work for you. This system works for me and keeps my data files separate from the applications used to create the data. Every school year I create a new folder called AY0809 that stands for Academic Year 2008-2009. Everything that I do for the particular academic year goes into this folder. You will find that whether you work in a business or a school that there are many things that you repeat from year to year. For example, I am on several committees and I make a subfolder under the AY0809 folder for each committee that I serve on. I also have a subfolder for each section of each course that I teach for each academic year. This serves two purposes for me. First, it makes it extremely easy for me to make backup copies because all I have to do is copy the AY0809 folder and all subfolders to another storage device (whether it be a CD, DVD, Flash Drive, network drive, or external drive). Secondly, it allows for me to easily archive information from past years. If I need to go retrieve a report to see an example from a previous year all I have to do is go to the appropriate academic year and subfolder to retrieve the file that I need. Being organized in this way has been extremely helpful to me over the years and I encourage you to develop your own system of managing and backing up your data that works for you.

So when I got the new Vista PC installed this week all I had to do was install the computer applications I use like Microsoft Office 2007 and copy the files from my backup copy to the new computers hard drive and I was back in business!

Your recovery plan is only as good as your most recent backup so be sure to make backups regularly. The hardest part of moving to the new PC was setting up the email client but even this was straight forward. I use Outlook Exchange so all I needed to copy my archived email from my old machine to the new machine and then walk through a wizard to setup my email account info on the new computer. I moved from Office 2003 to Office 2007 but the migration was painless because all I needed to do was copy my archive.pst file to the new computer and point my email account to it as my new archive file. That was it, the only difficulty will be to customize my browser settings and other program settings the way I like them but most importantly I am back to work without skipping a beat!

Technology Pick of the Week

I have two Technology Picks of the Week this week. The first a hardware pick related to the backup topic just discussed. I recently purchased a Western Digital Passport 250GB external USB hard drive for a backup storage solution. This drive is well under $100 if you shop around and is compact in size and perfect for storing backup files. It also serves very well as a storage device for large multimedia audio and video files that can consume large amounts of space on your local computer. A link is provided in the show notes to the WD Passport external drive.

USB 2.0 Western Digital Passport External Drive

One caution with compact storage devices like the Passport drive and other even smaller USB flash drives is that you need to protect your data from theft of these devices by keeping them in a secure locked location. They are very small and easily stolen. Some businesses and schools may require a password and/or encryption on these devices to protect the data. Because they are small and portable they do pose a security risk so be sure you take proper precautions in protecting any data that may be stored on such devices.

My second Technology Pick of the Week is a Web 2.0 service that I have used for a few years now and was one of the first applications that I missed and installed when I switched computers earlier this week. Skype is a free audio and video conferencing solution that allows you to make free voice and video calls to other Skype users. I downloaded the Skype client to the new Vista machine and plugged in my Logitech Video Webcam to the USB port and I was back in business with using Skype. A link is provided in the show notes to the Skype service.


Skype allows for you to easily communicate with other Skype users from all around the world and all you need is a computer with a webcam, Internet access, and a free Skype account. You do not even need a webcam if you only want to communicate with other users via voice. Many of our international students use this service to communicate with their family back home and it complete avoids long distance charges. Skype also offers additional for fee services including the ability to dial regular phone lines but there are fees for these services.

That wraps it up for episode 61 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send and email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.