Sunday, May 24, 2009

tt4t_087 The power of now learning, adventure style

It’s Sunday, May 24th, 2009 and welcome to episode 87 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Last week I talked a little bit about the power of real-time events for learning and how current events can add value in the classroom. I gave an overview of the website called spacevidcast and how they were using Twitter to add value to their followers. Since that time I have been following Astro_Mike on Twitter who is in real-life NASA Astronaut Mike Massimino, a mission specialist that was aboard the recent STS-125 Space Shuttle Atlantis that just completed a successful mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Following Astro_Mike has given me a different perspective than I would have had otherwise regarding the latest Space Shuttle mission. Here is one of Astro_Mike’s tweets from the mission “From orbit: We see 16 sunrises and sunsets in 24 hrs, each one spectacular as the sun lights up the atmosphere in a spectrum of colors”

Seeing Astro_Mike's tweets throughout the past couple of weeks offered a unique perspective of his life aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. I was not the only one enjoying his perspective in 140 characters or less these past two weeks as Astro_Mike had 345,767 followers on Twitter the last time I checked.

There was however a bit of a controversy this week as it turns out the Astro_Mike really was not tweeting from Space as was perceived by the general public. I have provided links to a couple of articles in the show notes that explain that Astro_Mike sends an email back to Houston where the tweets are then posted, therefore the tweets are delayed and thus not posted in real-time. I have provided a link to an article in the show notes from the Orlando Sentinel that is titled “Are astronaut's space 'tweets' cheats?”

Are astronaut's space 'tweets' cheats?,0,3193045.story

I also provide a link to an article titled “HOW DOES NASA'S "ASTRO_MIKE" TWEET FROM SPACE?” If you are interested in learning more.


Some people do not consider Astro_Mike to really be tweeting because another human here on Earth is really the one doing the posting therefore claims to the first tweet from space are not true. This has created some controversy and reminds us that there is really no way to verify a virtual digital identity and faking a presence in the digital world can be very easy to do. We need to be careful in qualifying the identity of someone online in order to establish a trusting relationship, given that Astro_Mike was aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt and thank him for sharing his perspective from Space even if they were delayed a bit.

Here is another Twitter story I would like to share with you regarding another NASA Astronaut named Scott Parazynski’s who successfully scaled Mt. Everest this week. Along with Astro_Mike I have also been following the SPOTscott Twitter account for the past couple of weeks. This week I shared in the jubilation that Scott must have felt by successfully standing on top of Mt. Everest on Tuesday of this past week. Here is the Twitter posting from SPOTscott.

“Astronaut Scott Parazynski and his Sherpa Danuru are standing on the summit of Mt. Everest as of 6:15 pm EDT - 4 am Nepal time 5:29 PM May 19th from web”

I have also placed a link in the show notes to an article from Universe Today that has a picture of Scott standing on the summit of Mt. Everest with him holding up a Moon rock that was placed on the summit of Everest along with remembrances of fallen astronauts.

With Moon Rocks in Hand, Parazynski Reaches Mt. Everest Peak

Another worthwhile Twitter experience I had earlier this year was following a participant in the Iditarod dog race in Alaska that provided me real-time race conditions and updates on the various participants and how their dog teams were holding up. I later was able to watch the Discovery Channels documentary on this years Iditarod race and it was much more meaningful to me because I had the behind the scenes stories as background information that supplemented my viewing experience. We teachers can take a lesson from this layering approach of various media formats and time-shifting to reinforce learning and make connections to provide more meaningful learning opportunities for our students.

Iditarod Race 2009 – Discovery Channel

One thing I hope teachers take away from listening to TechTalk4Teachers is the ability to adapt some of the ideas presented here and customize them for your own needs. Teachers can use these adventure style Twitter postings from scientists and explorers to bring real-time and real-world events into the classroom. The power of now learning can be incorporated into any subject area as there are now millions of Twitter users that teachers can work with including scientists, university professors, explorers, community members, and other fascinating people from all walks of life.

Teachers can build classroom lessons that take advantage of instantaneous communications that are now free provided you have Internet access. Internet safety is always a concern and sources need to be vetted but the possibilities of forging appropriate relationships with others is too powerful of a learning opportunity to pass up. If you are currently using technologies in your classroom that incorporate the power of now learning I would love to hear from you so we can share your stories with other teachers.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a pick that is the beginning of what promises to be many new simulations utilizing the Google Earth API. API stands for Application Programming Interface and is used by software developers to access data and programming routines to support the building of new applications. The name of this weeks tech pick is the free Google Earth Simulation Game called Ships by a company called PlanetinAction. A link is provided in the show notes to the Google Earth Blog with information about the new game and a video demo.

Google Earth Blog: Ships V1.01

In this simulation you are given command of a ship and you use the on-screen controls to navigate your ship around the waterways of the world. The game does require a plug-in that must be downloaded before you can begin. Ships uses the Google Earth API, Flash 8.0, and Javascript. This is a version 1.0 product and there are some bugs in the initial release but it is a very promising start that shows the potential that others in the future will be able to take advantage of. When you pilot your ship you are given a Google Earth view of your location and you can change to whatever view you prefer in Google Earth. You can select the type of Ship you would like to Captain from a river barge to the Queen Mary 2! Give the new simulation game Ships a try and let me know what you think.


That wraps it up for episode 87 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the Eastern Illinois University Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

tt4t_086 The power of now and a WOW!!!

It’s Saturday, May 16th, 2009 and welcome to episode 86 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. It is the week after final exams here at Eastern Illinois University but things have not slowed down a bit at the ITC. I was intending to get this podcast out earlier this week but we have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work to be done. End of the semester duties including final grading as well as preparations for the beginning of the new summer semester have kept us all very busy this week.

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Throw in some recent new technology purchases, end of year budget balancing, and the verification of inventories and we have more than enough work to keep us very busy over the entire summer. We have a lot of exciting things happening this summer at the ITC and I will share what we are doing as we rollout several new projects so stay tuned to TechTalk4Teachers for more.

Semester schedules are now compressed and one semester flows to the next with little or no down time between. Learning is often enabled by new technologies that now make possible what was previously viewed as impossible just a few short years ago.

I would like to share with you one experience this week that serves as an example of how access to ubiquitous technologies present serendipitous learning opportunities. We teachers call this, the teachable moment, aka just-in-time learning. This week I received a Twitter message from @spacevidcast that they were streaming a live video feed of the lift-off of Space Shuttle Atlantis. This website is also offering real-time tweets throughout this mission to repair the Hubble Space telescope in the coming days. A couple links are available in the show notes to the spacevidcast website.

When you visit the spacevidcast live site you will see a video window of a live stream if they happen to be broadcasting at that moment. During the live video stream of the Atlantis launch this site had a chat window to the right-hand side that provided a live stream of Twitter postings as they happened. Marrying the live video stream with the live text-based Twitter stream earlier this week provided a viewing experience that was enhanced by the combination of the two. At its height during launch time I saw well over 5000 people viewing the launch of Atlantis and I saw many of my friends on Twitter posting messages regarding the launch. If you addressed your Twitter message to @spacevidcast you were able to see your message next to the live video stream.

I recognized many of the Twitter names making postings to @spacevidcast and many were K12 teachers sharing this event with their class. I always feel a sense of pride in being an American every time I watch a NASA launch. Being able to experience this live with a class and all at the click of a mouse is truly amazing! Because this is a video stream you will need to have adequate broadband bandwidth in order to have an acceptable viewing experience. Students are often motivated to learn about current events and new technologies are offering real-time learning opportunities that provide a teachable moment to learn relevant content in a real-world and real-time context. Students are motivated by this relevancy and teachers can harness the power of now learning at the click of a mouse.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a pick that I believe has the potential to go down in history as a mile marker in the 21st Century regarding the way humans interact with a search engine. I am not easily impressed but if this technology pick of the week can live up to some of the demos I have watched then this could be a game changer in the area of search engines. The name of my pick this week is the WolframAlpha Computational Search Engine and a link is available in the show notes.


I also have a link to a MUST SEE video about what this new type of search engine is capable of so be sure to check it out. You must watch this video as contextual search may just change the way we use search engines in the future.

Introducing WolframAlpha Screencast (MUST SEE)

Last night WolframAlpha went live for the first time to the masses and I had the opportunity to watch the live webcast of this event as it was happening. The WolframAlpha website launch got off to a rocky start as the site was up and down all night as they were doing load balancing and testing. Time will tell if WolframAlpha changes the way we use the Internet but it is a most impressive technology. Click on the link in the show notes to watch a “must see” demo and by the time you are listening to this podcast WolframAlpha will be live for the world to use.

From what I have seen of WolframAlpha, Google, the 900 pound gorilla in the search business definitely has something to worry about. Many think Google is invincible but WolframAlpha uses contextual search to provide search results back that are relevant to the term(s) that you are searching for. For example if you type in gdp of France you get back information related to the Gross Domestic Product for France complete with graphs and summary tables. Type in a mathematical formula and you get the solution, type in a stock symbol and you get the latest stock price, type in the name of a city and you get back a map with the location and statistics about the city, type in a question and WolframAlpha trys its best to provide you with a contextual answer.

Google’s search algorithm is much different and uses a combination of page rank, number of hits (popularity), and their own secret formula to return search results.

WolframAlpha has a chance to de-throne Google in the search area if their technology can scale to the heavy usage that will undoubtably follow if their product is successful. At the risk of hyping this too much I really did not think I would ever say that Google might be at risk of losing its dominate market lead of 70 to 80 percent of the search business but the new WolframAlpha search engine may just be that powerful.

WolframAlpha is still very early and in the testing phase. See the show notes for an interesting message I received from the site that said, “I am sorry Dave, I am afraid I cannot do that. WolframAlpha has currently exceeded its current maximum test load.” That of course is a reference to Space Odyssey 2001 and the HAL computer that took over the spaceship.

As I was testing WolframAlpha this morning I was still getting error messages most of the time but when the search engine did return a result it was most impressive. Time will tell if WolframAlpha can overcome the challenges it now faces as it scales this technology to be available to the masses. Give WolframAlpha a try and I bet you will also say WOW!

That wraps it up for episode 86 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the Eastern Illinois University Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Friday, May 8, 2009

tt4t_085 Let the electronic textbook wars begin

It’s Friday, May 8th, 2009 and welcome to episode 85 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. It is final exam week here at Eastern Illinois University and I am just now getting to this weeks podcast episode. This time of year is extremely hectic for teachers as we rush to get everything completed before time runs out on another semester. There have been a couple of blockbuster stories this week and I would like to highlight some very significant developments that have occurred this week related to technology and education.

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First, the Windows 7 Release Candidate became available for general public download on Tuesday of this week. I was able to get this download early in the morning on Tuesday before Microsoft’s servers slowed down because of the massive amount of downloads anticipated. I have installed the release candidate on four older Dell computers and my eee PC netbook with very few problems. Microsoft has said that the release candidate is free to use until June of 2010 with the caveat that the release candidate will begin to shutdown every 2 hours beginning on March 1st of 2010. That effectively gives the public the chance to use the Windows 7 Release Candidate for free for nine months before you will need to buy the official copy once it is released. That is a pretty generous offering from Microsoft as they try to make amends for some of the past mistakes they have made with the previous rollout of Windows Vista. A link is available in the show notes about what’s new in Windows 7.

What’s New in Windows 7

I have been using the Windows 7 beta version since October and have been quite impressed with the changes Microsoft is making. Windows 7 is much more streamlined than Vista as evidenced by the fact that I am running the full version of the Windows 7 Ultimate Edition RC on a netbook with a 1.6 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM. This combination is as responsive as the older Windows XP operating system that I previously used on this netbook.

The look and feel of Windows 7 is much more polished than Vista and the snappiness of using Windows 7 is very evident in the release candidate. Microsoft has still not announced an availability date for the official release but I will be testing out the release candidate very hard in the upcoming months. You will be hearing more about Windows 7 in upcoming episodes of TechTalk4Teachers so stay tuned.

The other really big news this week was from Amazon as they held a press conference about a new Kindle device called the Kindle DX that is targeted toward readers of newspapers and textbooks. The new DX model is scheduled for general availability later this summer and looks much like the Kindle 2 that came out earlier this year. The main difference is in the size in that the Kindle DX will have a 9.7 inch screen size compared to the Kindle 2’s screen size of 6 inches. The new DX model also supports PDF files natively. Links are provided in the show notes for more information about the Kindle DX model.

Amazon Kindle DX

Here is the Kindle Vision Statement from their press conference earlier this week: "Every book ever printed... in any language... all available in less than 60 seconds." Now that is a vision statement!

Listeners/readers of TechTalk4Teachers might remember that I gave a Kindle 2 review back on episode 79 if TechTalk4Teachers so you may want to review that episode if you are interested in learning more about the Kindle 2. The Kindle DX addresses one of my complaints in that the Kindle DX has a larger screen size. My other suggestion for improving the Kindle 2 was that it have a color screen but alas the new Kindle DX does not offer color yet. Color, for me, is a must before I think that this device will really take-off and become a viable competitor for traditional textbooks.

The Kindle DX announcement surprised me this week being that it has been less than four months since the Kindle 2 became available to the general public. I have been a bit skeptical of the ebook readers to date because of the small size and large initial expense but the new Kindle DX is getting closer to a model that I believe finally has a chance to revolutionize book publishing, particularly textbook publishing. The expense is still an issue as Amazon has announced a price of $489 for the larger Kindle DX.

I have heard that approximately 40 to 50 percent of the cost of a textbook is in the actual paper and transportation costs of getting the textbook to the end user. With the electronic delivery system that Amazon is providing the opportunity for a 50 percent price reduction is there. Anyone that has purchased a college textbook knows that they are expensive averaging well over $100 per textbook. So the opportunity is there to provide some savings and transition from the dead tree model of publishing to the digital distribution model.

Will this catch on? We will have to wait and see but I do believe that momentum is beginning to build within the publishing industry to move to a digital distribution model and right now Amazon is leading the way.

Another big development this week in the electronic textbook movement was an announcement from the Gov. Schwarzenegger of California. This week Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that California would be the first state in the US to initiate a free open-source electronic textbook distribution model at the high school level. A link is provided in the show notes to the press release and is a sign that electronic textbooks are beginning to be considered as a viable alternative to traditional textbooks and this press release is definitely worth reading. The California Governor has instructed his Secretary of Education to ensure that these resources are available to high school Math and Science classes for the Fall 2009 semester. It will be interesting watching the free open-source proponents of electronic textbooks interact with the for-profit Amazon model that is now developing.

Gov. Schwarzenegger Launches First-in-Nation Initiative to Develop Free Digital Textbooks for High School Students

Technology Pick of the Week
My Technology Pick of the Week this week is related to cell phone technologies as I have been working with college students on using available technologies that many students already have. Most students already have a cell phone and are using cell phone texting services daily. This weeks pick has been around for a while and when I looked back through previous episodes of TechTalk4Teachers I had not mentioned this service before, so here it is. The name of the website is TexttheMob and a link is available in the show notes.


The TexttheMob website allows you to collect audience feedback via cell phone texting or using mobile web browsers for up to 100 participants per question and is currently free. Signup is very easy and in less than 30 seconds you can be on your way to using this service. There are concerns for allowing text messaging services with students so be sure to work with your administration if you plan to use this service with K12 students. This service is also a great addition to meetings where you are trying to gather information from others and can be beneficial for understanding your audience’s knowledge or opinions about a particular topic. If you are using this service please let me know so we can share your story with other TechTalk4Teachers listeners/readers.

That wraps it up for episode 85 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available at the Eastern Illinois University Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.