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.