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.

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