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.

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