Saturday, February 28, 2009

tt4t_076 Twitter, so easy Congress can do it

It’s Saturday, February 28th, 2009 and welcome to episode 76 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Twitter has been in the news a lot the past couple of weeks and is becoming part of American pop culture. It seems many in the US Congress have also caught the Twitter bug as was evident during President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this week. Reports in the news this week caught some in Congress “tweeting” during the Presidents speech.

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Twitter is now being used by Congressmen and Congresswomen to keep in touch with their constituencies.
Some have their staff manage their Twitter account, others seem to use the Twitter service directly themselves. While the title of this episode is a bit tongue-in-cheek I do applaud our government officials for using technology-based tools to improve the governing process. As some have found out this week social networking can have unintended consequences. Links to a couple of news articles related to Twittering and Congress are provided in the show notes for this episode.

Twittering Obama’s Speech

Congress’s new love affair with Twitter - TIME,8599,1878773,00.html

It is difficult for lawmakers to legislate if they do not understand the implications technologies can have upon society. Having them experience this first-hand is a good thing. Schools routinely deal with the clash of new technologies and outdated policies and I hope the educational system will find more advocates in Congress now that more are using social networking technologies. Perhaps the result will be more progressive policies that support our schools with implementing appropriate technologies to improve learning and will help find reasonable solutions for Internet filtering and access to Web 2.0 tools by K-12 teachers.

Network television stations are also getting in on the act with many network TV shows establishing a Twitter account and asking viewers to send in their questions via Twitter instead of email. NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and many other media companies are establishing Twitter accounts. News organizations such as CNN are using Twitter to push out news updates in short postings.

Large corporations and small businesses are also establishing Twitter accounts to promote products, manage public relations, and provide customer support. Another example is the use of Twitter by celebrities to keep in contact with their fans. Eastern Illinois University has also established its own Twitter account for university use. The list of examples goes on and on. Because of this exposure by the mass media and others Twitter is beginning to enter the average Americans vocabulary. It seems people and organizations of all types are finding new uses for Twitter.

All of this publicity has been timely for me as I recently presented two sessions on the educational uses of Twitter by teachers and how teachers can customize their very own Personal/Professional Learning Network. Personal or Professional Learning Networks are commonly referred to by the acronym PLN. The title of my conference session was “Learn more EVERYDAY with a PLN using Twitter”. Both sessions were well attended and we discussed the PLN opportunities Twitter can offer teachers for continuous professional development.

If you attended one of my sessions at the regional technology conference and this is the first time you have tuned into TechTalk4Teachers welcome. This show discusses educational technologies and how educators can leverage the power of technology to improve learning. We also share our experiences with using technologies in the classroom and what works. PLN’s are a large part of my daily routine in a never ending search for new and improved methods of teaching and learning.

For me Twitter is a cross between an instant message and a blog. Twitter is often called micro-blogging because you are limited to 140 characters in the messages you send. Twitter asks the simple question, “What are you doing?” Users of Twitter send out short messages throughout the day to let others in their network know what they are doing as well as ask questions and share resources they come across with others.

Everyone’s experience with Twitter will be different. It is a very simple concept and many may first have the reaction of “not getting it” during the first few days they use it. Give it some time and as you build your network of followers you will begin to reap the rewards of your PLN. Since Twitter falls into the category of social networking tools teachers and other professionals using Twitter need to be careful and responsible using the service. Be sure to follow your school and/or business policies regarding social networking tools such as Twitter.

You can follow other people on Twitter and selectively choose the people in your network. People who follow you on Twitter are called followers, this is similar to the friends concept in Facebook. Every message you send in Twitter is called a “tweet”. Unlike Facebook you send your messages out to the world, there are no group features in the base-level Twitter service that allow for private group messaging however some third-party applications may offer this ability. I advise new users in treating all tweets as public information because they can be searched by search engines and viewed by others that you may not have intended your original message to see.

We all leave behind digital footprints when using online technologies. Your tweets are seen by all of the people who follow you and potentially others outside of your list of followers. In fact you do not even need to sign-up for a Twitter account to see someone elses tweets if you know their Twitter name. Like other online services search capabilities and archiving can make Twitter postings live “forever”.

In terms of innovation Twitter is beginning to move from the early adopter to the early majority phase of technological adoption as described by Everett Rogers in his Diffusion of Innovations work. For the creators of Twitter this is a good thing as the number of people using Twitter is growing rapidly. It can however be a mixed bag for early adopters of Twitter as mass media and other businesses are exploring ways to monetize its capabilities.

Use good judgment on all postings and follow the guidelines for responsible social networking use. Every Twitter user will need to determine the best mix of privacy issues versus sharing with others that is acceptable for them. Tweets are being read by others that you may not have intended. For example, I recently made a tweet on a weekend that I was working in my woodshop and that I enjoyed woodworking. Not very long after I tweeted this message I was being followed by a Twitter username that I recognized as a national woodworking company. This company must have keyed in on the word woodworking and followed me hoping that I would follow them back in hopes of future sales. I give this as a personal example to others that tweets are being searched and data is being mined by others looking for business opportunities and possibly for other uses so be careful what you share in your tweets. You will need to find a balance in what you share versus the value you get from your PLN.

I go into more depth on my experiences of using Twitter back on Episode 58 of TechTalk4Teachers last October so please review that episode for more tips about using Twitter if you are interested in learning more. A link is available in the show notes.


Your use of Twitter will probably evolve over time as mine has. If you have a Twitter account you can follow me at If you find Twitter a worthy tool in developing your PLN you will be amazed by the connections you will make with other Twitter users all around the world.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a website that offers photoshop-like image editing all done completely online. The name of the site is Pixlr and a link is available in the show notes.

Pixlr – online photo-editing application

How many times have you needed to do a quick touch-up or resizing of an image but you were on a computer that did not have a photo-editing program installed? Pixlr is a great tool for you to have in your arsenal for on-demand photo-editing. Pixlr is also a great alternative to use in a computer lab environment because you do not have to install any software on lab machines.

I have also provided a link to the FAQ section of the Pixlr website for you to learn more about this online application.

Pixlr FAQ

This web-based application is really amazing and was developed by a team of Swedish programmers. It is flash-based so you will need a browser that supports Adobe Flash. Pixlr is one of the first online services that I have used that actually mimics a program that feels like it is installed on a PC. If this and other applications can be developed in similar fashion and if the performance is acceptable we have taken a big step forward in browser-based application delivery that could finally take cloud computing into the mainstream. Give Pixlr a try and let me know what you think. Oh, did I mention Pixlr is FREE!

That wraps it up for episode 76 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts 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 or 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, February 21, 2009

tt4t_075 Video conferencing, 8th graders, and snowflakes

It’s Saturday, February 21st, 2009 and welcome to episode 75 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Another busy and productive week at the ITC has just wrapped up. This week we provided several technology training sessions for our undergraduate students and are in the process of testing some new software for a possible future purchase.

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Yesterday our college assisted a local middle school class with a video conference between Charleston, Illinois 8th graders and NASA researchers that were located in Lake Placid, New York. I will have more on this video conference in a moment.

But first, before I begin the show today I would like to comment on a couple of developments regarding the ongoing digital TV transition. On February 17th of this week many television stations across the country were scheduled to stop broadcasting analog signals using the NTSC system. As previously reported on TechTalk4Teachers the United States Congress passed legislation that delayed the February 17th cutoff date until June 12th of this year, permitting TV stations the option to delay this analog cutoff date. However, several TV stations in this area of Illinois have elected to stop broadcasting their analog TV signal programming as originally planned. Our local WEIU TV PBS station now has a still image on the analog broadcast signal announcing that the cutover to digital has occurred. Several other TV stations in this part of Illinois have also stopped broadcasting their programming using analog signals. So, if you were one of the few that still relied upon analog reception you now must move to the digital format if your TV station has stopped analog broadcasting. You will now need to buy a digital converter box if your current TV does not support digital signals.

This cutover is necessary to move forward with new plans for using the freed up frequency spectrum. PC manufactures are already taking advantage of the new digital broadcasts that many TV stations now offer by incorporating DTV tuners into computers. Companies like Dell, ASUS, and others are offering laptops with optional built-in digital TV tuners in new models so that users can watch DTV using their computers. The world is yet again changing and it will be interesting watching new and innovative uses of DTV technologies in the months to come.

It is snowing here today in Illinois so my topic today is very timely. Yesterday I assisted a local middle school class with a video conference event sponsored by NASA. Over the past few months a local class of 8th grade students have been active participants in scientific research investigating the different types of snowflakes produced by various weather patterns. I have provided a link in the show notes to the class project website with more information about this project and the scientific equipment used for the project.

Charleston Middle School Snowflake Project

This week the Charleston 8th graders presented their material to a group of teachers and scientists gathered at Lake Placid, New York. The group made a video conference presentation to the teachers and also to two other middle school classes using video conferencing technologies that our university provided and setup for this special event. The 8th grade teacher worked with an EIU faculty member and other scientists across the nation on this collaborative project and shared the results with NASA and other schools across the nation.

No two snowflakes are identical and each student presented information about a snowflake that they captured themselves and classified using state-of-the-art scientific equipment provided for this project. The 8th grade students did a great job and were all very knowledgeable about the subject matter and their presentation was delivered in a professional manner. I encourage you to visit their project website to see the great work that these Illinois students have done and to learn more about their project. You can visit to learn more.

Technology Pick of the Week

I have been doing a ton of SMART Board training recently so my Technology Pick of the Week this week is a blog for teachers using SMART Boards in the classroom. The name of this blog is “getting smarter with smart boards” and a link is available in the show notes.

Getting smarter with smart boards blog:

This blog offers teachers suggestions for using SMART Boards including interactive sites to use with a SMART Board for classroom activities. Be sure to checkout the blog archive on the right-side of the screen for additional ideas for using a SMART Board in the classroom.

If you have some time please review the embedded slide share presentation on this blog called “IWBs in the Secondary: Where is the Interaction?” by Jason de Nys It is 81 slides and offers a glimpse into the pedagogy necessary to be a successful teacher. Remember it is not about the technology but rather the pedagogy that makes for effective teaching.

That wraps it up for episode 75 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.

Friday, February 13, 2009

tt4t_074 NQTY, the evolution continues

It’s Friday, February 13th, 2009 and welcome to episode 74 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This week the big news in tech was about the release of the new Kindle 2, the next generation wireless reading device by Amazon. The new Kindle device offers some improvements over the previous generation, however the device still remains relatively expensive, with a current advertised cost of $359 on the Amazon website.

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Before I begin the content of this episode I want to alert you to a program note that I will be changing the RSS feed for TechTalk4Teachers sometime in the next couple of weeks. If you experience any subscription problems or RSS feed problems please visit the TechTalk4Teachers blog to find any new information about the switch. Just an FYI if there are technical difficulties with the switch, and now back to the content for this episode.

The Kindle reading device hopes to do for books what the iPod has done for music. Some say we are living in revolutionary times where technologies are offering possibilities that were previously impossible. I take a bit longer view having lived through several so-called technology revolutions and consider the recent advancements evolutionary rather than revolutionary. After all, I am still waiting for my flying car.

As educators we are pitched new products and services all the time that promise a better way of doing things. Often the hype does not live up to the promise and a lot of money is wasted chasing windmills. When educators do resist change (even if for good reason) we are criticized for being stuck in the 19th and 20th Century way of doing business. I really want to like the Kindle after all that I have read about it, but in my opinion it is still a NQTY technology, Not Quite There Yet, but it is getting closer.

Despite the rhetoric that our schools are stuck in the past there is plenty of evidence all around us for daily use of innovative technologies being used by teachers all across the country. I want the Kindle to succeed but the price must come down, way down before it can be adopted on a large scale by our schools. There are additional costs above and beyond the device itself that include the purchase of the electronic copy of the book you want to read. There are also hidden wireless infrastructure costs that will have to be scaled up if the Kindle becomes wildly successful.

Make no doubt that the Kindle 2 is an amazing device offering the user the ability to receive new content in less than 60 seconds wirelessly from a selection of over 230,000 books! The new Kindle 2 can store up to 1500 books at a time and weighs in at just 10.2 ounces. One of the biggest surprises in the new device is the new read-to-me capability that can read text to you in a synthesized voice. The screen resolution is improved moving from 4 shades of gray on the old version to 16 shades of gray on the new. It is still missing a color screen and that is a deal-breaker for many educators, so for me the evolution continues, I am looking forward to seeing what the Kindle 3 offers next year.

Kindle 2

All of these advancements are truly amazing technological achievements; however the Kindle is also combating centuries of paper-based publications that have a tactile feel and still offer many practical advantages even over the mightiest technologies. Those advantages are however narrowing as the technological evolution continues at both the device level as well as the digital infrastructure level.

I have provided links in the show notes to information about the new Kindle 2 and a link to an article that appeared this week about the economies of the old way of doing business versus the future that the Kindle 2 now makes possible.

I will be the first to admit that $359 is a lot of money to be spending on a book reader but an article I read this week stated that the New York Times could give every subscriber of the Times a FREE Kindle and it would still be cheaper than printing and delivering the hard-copy edition of the paper to its subscribers. I won’t bore you with the math details here but I have a link to this article in the show notes that walks you through the current costs of printing and delivering the NYT newspaper. So looking at it this way is $359 a bargain? If it could save the New York Times that much how much could it save schools in textbook cost?

Printing the New York Times Costs Twice as Much as Sending Every Subscriber a Free Kindle

I am optimistic about the path that the Kindle is on and do see it or similar devices being used in schools that can replace traditional textbooks and deliver content wirelessly to students in the near future. It is just a matter of time for the technology to improve and for the costs to come down.

Technology Pick of the Week

Besides the Kindle 2 my Technology Pick of the Week this week is from a fellow teacher in New Jersey who has developed some interactive Flash programming. I have provided a link in the show notes to the Tech Fortress blog with three random name generator Flash programs.

Tech Fortress Blog

I tried out the random Seat Chart Maker, Group Maker, and the Random Name Generator and all are very quick and easy to use. Many times we teachers have a need to break students up into groups. If we let students decide they will most likely self-select into their preferred group. Using the random group maker you can randomly assign students using the easy to use Flash tool available at the Tech Fortress blog.

To use the Group Maker you go to the Flash application at the link provided in the show notes and then select the RED folder where you can type in a list of your student first names, I advise only using first names as I am not sure if any information is being permanently saved at the website.

Once you have your students first names entered scroll down to the bottom of the page and click create list. You will be given a number to remember for your class list. Next you select what you want to do, create a Seating Chart, use Group Maker, or use the Random Name Generator that will allow you to call on students randomly in class. The three Flash applications are easy to use and can offer some variety in your daily lessons. Give them a try and let me know if you find them helpful.

That wraps it up for episode 74 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, February 7, 2009

tt4t_073 Digital TV, two steps forward, one step back

It’s Saturday, February 7th, 2009 and welcome to episode 73 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This week the US Congress delayed the implementation of the digital television switch-over that was scheduled to happen on February 17th of this month in the United States. This date has now been delayed until June 12th of this year barring any other changes by legislation.

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The biggest reason cited for the delay was that the coupon system used to subsidize the price of digital TV converter boxes was not fully funded and many Americans that requested the coupons could not get them. An external digital converter box is needed for any analog TV that cannot accept digital signals. The converter box converts the new digital signal system back into a signal that an older analog TV can use. If you have purchased a TV in the past couple of years most likely you already have a built-in digital tuner in your set, however even some new TV’s do not have built-in tuners and therefore may have to rely on cable or satellite companies boxes, or use an external digital converter box to receive the new digital signals.

In technical terms the older analog system has been known as NTSC and has been used in the United States since 1953. The new digital TV standard is referred to as ATSC. You can look in the technical specifications for your TV to determine the type of tuner you have. If you see ATSC listed as the tuner you are ready for digital TV broadcasts in the States but if not you will need to buy a digital converter box or rely upon your cable or satellite carrier. Check with your local vendors if you are not sure.

I worry most about many older Americans that do not understand the new technologies that well, if at all. A couple of months ago I helped my grandparents install their digital converter box so that they would be ready for the analog cut-off. If you have older parents, grandparents, relatives, or friends you might give them a hand to make sure they are ready for the transition to digital TV. The deadline has been extended, most likely for the last time, so please make sure your older friends and neighbors are ready for the switch to all digital TV.

I have provided links in the show notes for the government website for information about the digital TV conversion and a link to the coupon program where you can get a coupon for a digital converter box to help Americans offset the cost of this transition. Unfortunately the coupon plan is currently awaiting additional funding to be passed by Congress.

US Digital TV Transition Website

US Digital TV Converter Box Program

The irony is that these informational websites, while packed full of helpful information, often times cannot be viewed by the target audience that need the information the most. Many older Americans do not have a computer with Internet access or understand the commercials about the DTV transition that have been on TV the past several months. We often take for granted these wonderful new technologies but we sometimes forget that there is a large segment of the population that do not understand the world of hyper-change that many of us live with on a daily basis.

Just because the cut-off date has been delayed by five months does not mean that you cannot use Digital TV now. In fact millions of Americans are already are using DTV and have left the analog world behind many months ago. Digital signals are being broadcast now and are there ready for you to take advantage of them.

The downside to this delay is that broadcasters will continue to broadcast both digital and analog signals and that costs them money. It also delays progress for using parts of the frequency spectrum for other uses including the so called whitespace area that some companies like Google and Microsoft want to use in new and innovative ways.

Another development that I am beginning to see as a result of Digital TV transition is that many PC manufacturers are offering a built-in digital DTV tuner in laptops. It will be interesting seeing the potential uses of a DTV signal combined into a computing device in the coming months. So if you see any of your students glued to the laptop they may in fact be watching DTV, yet another challenge for teachers to compete with and to think of new and innovative uses to harness the technology for educational benefit.

Technology Pick of the Week

I have two new products selected as my Technology Picks of the Week this week. I had downloaded the new version of the Windows 7 operating system some time ago when the beta version was first released last month but we have been so busy around the ITC that I am just now getting a chance to install the Windows 7 beta.

My first impressions of Windows 7 are very positive and from the reviews that I have been reading from other users I am not alone. I installed the beta version on a two year old Dell desktop and the installation went smoothly, taking less than 20 minutes on a new install of the Win 7 OS and it found every device driver the first time, a completely painless install. I have provided a link to the show notes from an article in ComputerWorld that describes the new features of Windows 7 in greater detail.

Review: Windows 7 Beta 1 shows off new task bar, more UI goodies (ComputerWorld)

The most notable thing for me was the speed and snapiness of the new Windows 7 OS, even on a two year old system. Secondarily the interface is cleaner but still has the familiar aero translucent windows of Vista and most notably a new and improved task bar. The task bar is one of the biggest changes over Vista. The Win 7 task bar has been compared to the dock of OS X in some reviews but it really is a completely different approach and does much more than launch applications. The task bar offers an applications approach to a workflow including new jump menus and preview features specific to each application that can enhance user productivity.

My second Technology Pick of the Week this week is the new Google Earth 5 application recently released by Google and was the first application that I loaded on the new Windows 7 install. I did not have any problems running Google Earth 5 on Windows 7. The biggest new thing in version 5 is that Google Earth added an oceans view layer. It is now possible to view the oceans of the world. You dive under the ocean by double-clicking on an ocean surface view and see the topography of the ocean floor below! Links are available in the show notes to more information about Windows 7 beta and the new Version 5 of Google Earth.

Google Earth 5 Oceans

That wraps it up for episode 73 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.