Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

There's so much to learn and I feel as if I'll never catch up. We're expecting up to 15 cm of snow tonight and since I haven't been able to recover anything on my external hard drive, 2008 will really be a year of new beginnings! For some reason, Internet Explorer continually freezes on my laptop despite running disk cleanup and defrag. I've been working on ANGEL this week and wish some of my other colleagues in the pilot were online so we could compare notes. The quick guide is fairly useless so I'm basically clicking, editing and experimenting. I've added a Week 1 folder and am attempting to compartmentalize teaching ANGEL and its features, and teaching an introduction to real estate, in a seamless way. I want to make this as interactive as possible. To interest them right away, the first tasks are to practise navigating, edit their profile, upload an avatar and communicate with other classmates. They'll have fun with that I hope. It will be interesting for me to introduce new tools to them as I've learned in this course.

I logged on to KG today and posted a comment about Google Earth for Asra. I've read so many interesting articles recently about Facebook, the fastest growing social network - apparently one in four people are using it in Canada. Employers are using it and now universities are using it as a marketing tool to attract new students. It amazes me how people don't mind being exposed to the world. Privacy seems to not be as important as it was in the past.

It's time to remove the Christmas clock and find some other real time object to insert into my blog.

When I use Firefox, I've customized my toolbar to include de.licio.us for bookmarking websites and tiny.cc to create shorter links.. I prefer tiny.cc to tinyurl.org because it allows you to insert a keyword which helps to identify the link. And of course, I love the Twitbin.

I've been on Pownce but haven't used it as you need friends to be on it as well, which is by invitation only. On Twitter, I follow Lucy Gray (elemenous), who is a librarian from Chicago. Her blog and tweets are very informative. She belongs to several social networks - I just don't know how she has the time to keep up with all of them. Most likely she posts once and has it set to post on all of them. Something I'd like to experiment with. I do have my KG preferences set so that I am sent a notice by email of any changes. And I have asked the students to do the same with their ANGEL profile. I never read blogs until I started this course, and I'm so grateful I've been introduced to them as I wouldn't want to have missed Will Rich's "New Year's Eve Parable". "Be the change" - a great mantra for the New Year. Technolibrary couldn't have said it better on his most recent tweet: "Happy New Year to a great network of dedicated educators. You all are the answer." Best wishes for a wonderful 2008...Janet

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Productivity

Christmas is over and it's been a really great holiday, catching up with old friends and family with whom I haven't been able to share the holiday season for the last seven years. Now I'm listening to Chet Baker, Stan Getz and Bill Evans on YouTube as I write. I am so grateful to the people who take the time to post these videos - it's a great way to spend a productive morning.

Two friends sent emails this week advising they're closing their Facebook accounts. This is intriguing to me since I'm writing about social networking. What intrigues me is why people join a social network and how they find the time to keep up with it. I don't have time and have barely used my Facebook account. Both of my friends have said it's too impersonal, that if they want to keep in touch with a friend, they would prefer to email them. I would have to agree with that. And I'm finding that the people who do have something they want to share, they blog. But if they have something they want to share in 140 characters or less, they tweet! And today, catspyjamasnz has just introduced me to twittervision.

Yesterday I was writing to a a former colleague in the UAE, Marc Corbeil, who suggests that the Interwrite pad can replace the need for tablet pcs or smartboards. I remember when smartboards were installed in all the labs at AAWC and now they're obsolete! The Interwrite pad allows the freedom to teach anywhere in the classroom and to make any flat surface interactive. By loading tablet PC windows onto a conventional laptop and using an Interwrite pad, you can write on the screen. I contributed to Ghassan's laptop page - although I am not using laptops here, I am enjoying the exchange of ideas on his page.

For some reason, it doesn't matter which browser I use, they freeze and I have to restart and find all the pages I...Latest tweet from elemenous....Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack! She just posted this 3 minutes ago. The link was posted 10 minutes ago by the Canadian Press. Now you see why I like tweets - short, sweet, to the point.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Catching Up!


I realize it's been almost two weeks since I've posted. That's because I have been literally snowed under with writing , proctoring and grading final exams. I teach in the legal assistant program at Conestoga College. It's the first year this program has run and you can probably imagine the work involved in preparing the curriculum. Having come from the UAE, I am so used to being able to create things at the last minute, either photocopy them myself or have them photocopied by Kasim who would bend over backwards to help you - so used to working together as a team. Here we have the most ancient photocopier that breaks down twice a week which means I had to have my exams prepared at least a week in advance to allow time for the printing department to get them ready. Even one of the photocopiers in that department was broken! I need to submit them to Disability Services prior to the exam date so they can process them for my two students who write their exams separate from the rest of my class. These students are allowed an extra 30 minutes for each hour. This is all new to me as we didn't have a disability services department in the UAE and I'm sure many of my students there could have benefitted from a department that recognizes learning disabilities. However, it worries me that in the real world, these students will have a problem as they won't be allowed that extra time to finish a rush job and I wonder how they'll cope. My three day exam was an integrated project. Students saved their files in an Exam folder each day. I wanted the folders to be locked so students could only access their files during exam times. The IT Department said it couldn't be done so I had to move the files over for 27 students each day and move them back before the next exam - very time consuming. And one day I almost wasn't prepared to begin because a student was waiting for me when I arrived at my office. She had locked her keys in her car and didn't have headphones for the machine transcription exam, or her precedents all saved on her USB. So there was an emergency to deal with and to ensure she was calmed down before the start of the exam! I was hoping that since it was an open book project, every student would do really well. Not only was it open book, but they could talk to their colleagues about it after the exam, study again before the next day, check information out on the internet, use a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, and do whatever it takes to achieve a really good mark. Much to my surprise - it didn't happen. The students didn't use the opportunities available to them to do really well. I would love to know why. Marking the exams was very painful and that is what I was doing the week prior to Christmas. Marks had to be submitted by the 21st so at midnight on the 20th, I was trying to make the formula and submit them. Guess what - I couldn't do it. The Gradebook was not working and all I could do was send an urgent message to the Gradebook developer and admit defeat. You know what the problem was - it was so simple - I was working in Firefox and our new Gradebook only runs in IE!! I could not believe it. So Friday morning, I opened IE, checked the numbers again, and finally pressed Submit! And as for being 'snowed under' - I really was. We had a record snow storm earlier in the week which stranded me in London (an hour west from Kitchener).
In between marking, I was logging on to ANGEL which is the new learning management system we're adopting at Conestoga. I'm part of the pilot project and am anxious to play with it. More on that later - I've submitted my proposal to Peter and am hoping he'll approve my ANGEL pilot project for Assignment 2.
I spent a bit of time trying to insert the Christmas clock and the digital clock into this blog, adjusting the time zone. These learning experiences are ones I shall not forget. I didn't realize choosing the correct time zone was part of the initial process when choosing the clock, before copying the code into the blog. And then of course, I didn't exactly know which time zone I'm in - is it plus or minus! Eventually I managed to change the code without starting all over again, and I thank one of my previous USQ courses for teaching me about code.

The other awful thing that happened is that my external hard drive has crashed. The message on both computers I tried is "Corrupt and not accessible." Everything I own is on that hard drive and I'll have to find someone over the holidays to see if they can recover the data. All of my USQ coursework is on it - everything I've started to write - my marking sheets for the final exams - pictures galore - I'm very sad about this. In the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Frustration

Technology can be frustrating at times. I've spent two days trying to figure out how to insert a video into a TikiWiki wiki without success. And I spent three hours trying to capture and share my video using Jing, but no luck! The Jing Project is quite awesome. As I understand it, you can capture an image or video and save it to a file, FTP or Flickr Somehow it comes up with an URL which is pasted to your Clipboard. The URL can be copied and then emailed, attached to a blog or a wiki. I just have to figure it out.!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jing and Ning!!

What's in a name - how do they come up with these names? You're probably asking - are Jing and Ning Siamese twins?? Actually, no - they were created by different developers and serve different purposes. Both are really cool. Jing is a software that will allow you to capture an image or a video, and turn it into an URL to share anywhere, with anyone! Very efficient. And Ning is a social networking software - billed as the only SNS where you can create, customize and share your own network for free in seconds.

USQ's Knowledge Garden

I almost forgot to mention that two nights ago, I was trolling through Knowledge Garden to the wee hours of the morning. Due to fatigue, I'm sure, I decided to rename my Social Networking Software facilitated page - no real reason to do so, but I thought I'd just call it Social Networking. As soon as I did that, all the links to the page disappeared! I panicked, messengered Peter, conducted a search which feature I had never used before, and found my page hanging on its own. If I had renamed it correctly, the links would have automatically updated. But by leaving an extra space - it became an orphan. Thus - all of the links to it on all of the other pages did not work! Two lessons learned from this - don't do anything like that in the middle of the night unless you have a really clear head about it; keep a backup!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wimba

Last night I downloaded the Wimba software in preparation for the Wimba session on Google Jockey tomorrow morning. I'm not sure if Wimba if it's because Wimba is easy to use or if I'm just getting really good at figuring things out - but I didn't have any problem manipulating my way around it. While I was at my desk in Kitchener, Ontario, I could see and hear Joyce in New Zealand. Wimba is really three products - a colloboration suite which I was using, a publishing service, and it also integraets with course management systems such as Angel, Blackboard, Moodle and Web CT. As a collaborative software tool, it allows for synchronous online discussion as well as instant message exchanges. My experience of Wimba is as follows:

  • Wimba quickly downloaded and the setup wizard checked audio
  • All participants who are online appear in the window
  • Click the Talk button to speak
  • I didn't have a microphone or headset, but rather used the built-in speakers and microphone on my laptop - there was no problem with echo or fuzziness
  • participants can clap, raise a hand, leave the room, smile, thumbs down, etc.
  • the webcam changes views and shows the person speaking
  • can exit to the lobby where all the rooms available are listed

I also recently worked with Audacity which is a free recording and sound editor. I used it to record mp3 files for the upcoming Machine Transcription exam. Audacity is easy to us. After recording, the sound files were stretched to easily distringuish each segment. Then the unwanted sound patterns (ums, ahs, coughs, background nosie) were selected and deleted, and Audacity automatically closed the gap.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Power of Speech

It's been a terribly busy week and although I've wanted to blog, I've been literally 'snowed under!' We were treated to the second snowstorm of the winter earlier this week resulting in bus cancellations, school closings, and lots of shovelling. Started off with a rainy weekend which resulted in black ice underneath the white fluffy snow. It certainly is a change from the seven years of warm weather in the Middle East.

I finished being Participant 8 in Jennifer's research project on the TextAloud software. This is a fabulous software that changes text to speech but so efficiently. I experimented with other similar software, but this one is a star. I know I already wrote about it earlier, but now that I finished all six exercises, I will expand here on its featuers. I like its batch converter capability. It can take any group of files, (html, Word, pdf), and with a click of a button, convert them into audio files - mp3 or wma files which can be played on PCs or any portable device (iPod, CD player). You can open a file and have TextAloud read it from the program (Speak Current Article Aloud). TextAloud will read a web page by clicking the "Speak" button on the TextAloud toolbar which can be added to the browser toolbars. The Pronunciation Editor is a great invention. You can tell TextAloud to read acronyms in full . For example, you can tell the reader to say "Learning management system" in full, every time it comes aross "LMS". I can see this software having so many uses, not just for the visually impaired. You can convert web pages, the lengthy readings we have for this course, emails, articles, study notes to audio files, and listen to them in the car, on an iPod, while travelling, etc. An author in California uses this as a proofing tool for her manuscripts - a missionary in South Africa converts his sermons to audio for his congregation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Elluminate didn't shine last night!

I forgot to write about my Workgroup's chat session last night. I was so organized in that I booked the free Elluminate room and sent the invitations out to Joyce and Nathalie in lots of time. I opened the room at 7 pm to ensure it was in good working order and then returned at 9:50 pm only to see that the connection had timed out so I had to log back in.
When 10 pm my time arrived, it didn't work for us!! It was loading very slowly for Joyce and when she did get on, her audio was all crackly. Nathalie didn't have speakers, a microphone or a webcam so we wouldn't have been able to hear her anyway. And I must've sent the moderator's link instead of the participants link to everyone, so when they logged on in Vancouver and New Zealand, there were three of me logged on as participants! It was too ironic - here we are all studying 'emerging technology' and we couldn't use it or rather, it didnt' work for us! So we decided to go with MSN! It was great that we could all type quickly and the meeting went well. I initially thought we wouldn't have a very good meeting if we were using MSN and typing on the keyboard instead of hearing and seeing each other. However, when I asked Joyce and Nathalie how they felt about it at the end, they said it was just fine and it didn't matter that we didn't have an Elluminate session after all.

So much technology out there!

Just spent an amazing day at home using and reading about technology. I only wish my students were as excited about discovering new things on their own as I am. Today I started research on TextAloud, a software that converts text into audio. I am participating in a masters research project for a colleague at USQ. I'm very impressed with the way Jennifer has organized her project. Last week she emailed a welcome letter with my log-in instructions. She is using the EDNA website and I am Number 8 in the Technology Users group (reminds me of The Prisoner!). There are six exercises that focus on a different feature of TextAloud. Since I'm using the 14 day free trial version, I couldn't change the R2D2 default voice (his name is Sam) to a more sophisticated natural voice which can be downloaded with the fully- paid version. I can definitely see advantages to this software. It takes a complete article on the web and saves it into a sound clip at the click of a mouse! Also you can edit the parts of the web page by deleting the extra frames and navigational words before saving it. TextAloud will then only read the article, and none of the non-important text.

Later in the day I tackled Wiki markup/markdown as I've been curious as to why it's so different from xhtml . I've been wrestling with wiki language ever since Day 1 of the course when I tried to set up my userpage in Knowledge Garden. Armed with new knowledge about Wiki markup and the fact that Wiki language is not the same for all Wiki software (so anticipate another learning curve in the future) , I contributed to the Wiki for Dummies page in Knowledge Garden, which I need to do to get brownie points for Assignment 1. I wouldn't have imagined I could contribute anything to a wiki page last week, but now I just type in those symbols *(^_= !{] from memory, thanks to Peter and others who came to my rescue. I even made my own facilitated page which is about social networking software.

The last thing I want to write about is Twitter. Really - it grows on you. That's where I've learned so much about new stuff . Twitter is like a name dropper - like going to a cocktail party every night and mingling with the elite! I learned how to add twitter4me to my Skype contacts so that the next time I write a chat message to twitter4skype, the entry will appear on my account and hopefully I'll receive my friends’ twitters in Skype. But the last thing I did tonight is tweet my friends. I clicked the twit this button on the blog I was reading, and it transformed the URL into a tinyurl and miraculously pasted it into the Updates box on my twitter page which I've shared with all my followers. I have a new follower - Chris of Betchablog. I don't think he realizes I'm a newbie at all of this stuff! But as my friend Laurie would say: "It's all so wonderful!" Good night.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Spoiled Already by Technology!

Being part of this course is addictive - I went to sleep at 2 am last night and was up at 6 am - couldn't wait to get to work so I could MSN with Peter about Elluminate. In my dreams it came to me that Joyce, Nathalie and I wouldn't be able to see and hear each other if we met tonight using Windows Messenger. That's what I have become accustomed to when I meet online now. I use the videocam feature in Windows Live Messenger every night with my friend in Al Ain. Peter referred me to the Elluminate website where I booked a free room for three participants. I waited for the confirmation email from Elluminate, clicked on the link for my private room and invited my two friends. Awesome stuff!

Time Zones

This morning I was chatting on Windows Live Messenger with my colleague Joyce, from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. It is quite amazing to wake up at 6 am, log on to a computer and actually 'talk' to someone over my laptop before my first cup of coffee. It was midnight Joyce's time and we had a quit chat about our Wiki page. How amazing! We decided it was time to arrange a meeting with the third member of our group, Nathalie, from Vancouver, BC. It can all be easily arranged using the World Clock. We had a lovely snow fall today and the Christmas lights at the neighbour's house look so beautiful through the snow.

Twitter, Tweet, Nudge!


I've just spent a very long time looking at Twitter. What is it - another social networking software. Do I like it - at first blush, not really. It seems to be big on interfacing with mobile devices and alas, I don't own one so I can't really experiment. In a nutshell, when you log on, you send 'updates' or 'tweets' of 140 characters or less to your 'followers'. I let my profile roam free over the twitter site and have picked up a mysterious follower. That is one aspect that instantly does not appeal to me. But for avid social networkers, this software has great possibilities. You can grow a network of friends who know friends who know friends - you can have your 'tweets' become part of your blog automatically.
When Chris, of Betchablog was first introduced to Twitter, he was a non-believer just as I am. But he's changed his mind now Why? Well in his words " What does make perfect sense is what Twitter suddenly enables. I have a network of 63 people, comprised mostly of some of the world’s most innovative educators. 63 people to bounce ideas off, share links with, get advice from. 63 people who are willing to share a little insight into how they think and what they do. 63 people all stumbling across new cool web tools and willingly sharing them. 63 people to tap into when I need to gather a crowd to try an idea, find a partner to test a technology, or simply have a whine about my day. I know it sounds bizarre, but it works, and its awesome." I'm not sure I'll change my mind just yet. If I understand correctly, the 'tweets' from friends would be an interruption, an inconvenience to me. I have difficulty enough keeping up with my emails and blogging, let alone receiving tweets from everyone throughout the day! But take a look for yourself at Twitter and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Elluminate - Session 2


Another early morning for me as I participated in our second Elluminate session at 5 am!! It was nice to meet colleagues from all over the world. Using Elluminate with voice and webcam makes you feel you're in the same room with everyone. The only thing missing are the handshake and refreshments! Interesting to note that a few of us were 'disconnected' from the session for some reason, however, it was easy to log back in. There were some audio problems causing a lot of echoing, but hopefully that will be worked out soon. Although it is suggested we use a headset with microphone, I used a headset but spoke in the microphone that comes with my laptop, and didn't have a problem with echo. It's important to remember to change the audio preferences to mute the speaker when talking.

Tonight, taking Penelope's suggestion, I edited the video that's a few posts down, in Windows Movie Maker. Because the video can't be seen in Full Screen, I added text to explain each frame since they are so small. Hope it makes the video more useful.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Add to the Glossary

Today I was reading through some posts, which led to some links, which led to some other links, and before I knew it, three hours was gone! I am so new and unfamiliar with many terms and thought I'd start a glossary of words I'm learning since this journals my learning through FET8611 at USQ. Please feel free to add new words, correct definitions or expand on my understanding of these words.
  1. M-learning - refers to mobile learning, i.e. using mobile phones and other mobile devices. That is so relevant here in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario since this is the home of RIM (Research in Motion) , developers of the Blackberry wireless communication platform. M-learning would certainly work well in the UAE where I lived for 7 years, because everyone owns at least one mobile. I'm finding here in North America, users need to sign contracts for different billing plans, and accordingly, everyone does not have a mobile. In the UAE, it didn't cost anything to accept a call. Here, unless it's in the evening or weekends, you are charged from 20 cents a minute or more. Back in the UAE, I couldn't imagine living without one, but here - I'm managing without one. If I were to send lessons to my students here, I'm sure they wouldn't be happy having to pay for it!

  2. Open Source - Moodle is an open source learning management system. I think thie term 'open source' is too technical for me to understand but I know that because Moodle is 'open source', our college decided not to adapt it. "Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in." (Open Source Initiative) Open Source has something to do with access to the source code. If your software is labelled open source, it must have a licence from OSI, otherwise, as Michael Tiemann, president of OSI states - call it something else as Microsoft did with their Shared Source software.

  3. Blog - a live journal, a web log, but so much more. Unlike a handwritten diary that is under lock and key, readers can add comments and get a feel of who the blogger is through the shared links, images, style of writing, content of posts, etc. Did you know there are some tips for writing a blog. See Daily Blog Tips. This is my first attempt at a blog. I find ProBlogger.net is a very informative site with tips for beginners like me.

  4. Push Content - content from a web site that is customized and channeled specifically for the user. For example - receiving feeds of only latest sports news from CNN. This is great for educational purposes. Push technology is used to narrow huge amounts of data and feed timely customized information into the classroom.

Janet

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Adding a Userpage to Knowledge Garden

Tonight when I logged on to the Forum, a colleague had a question about adding a userpage to a Table of Contents in Knowledge Garden. It's only because I sat in front of this computer for hours a couple of nights ago that I know how to do this!! And it's not necessarily that easy to add a Userpage if you miss clicking the Edit button. Because I find Knowledge Garden very congested, I decided to use SnagIt8 to make screen captures to clarify my response. Unfortunately, the post only allows one attachment! So I've spent an hour or so (no, probably two!!), trying to put the frames together into a video using Windows Movie Maker. Here is my second attempt at making a video. I didn't realize that when I was creating the first video, the music from the gorgeous classical music station 96.3 out of Toronto that I so enjoy listening to was recording. We didn't have any radio stations to listen to in Al Ain and I've been starved for good classical music for seven years! However, I cropped too many frames using the timeline feature and had to begin again! Ah, the trials and tribulations of a movie director!! This one still has nice music - next time I'll try for clearer pictures! Janet
video

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Elluminate - Getting Brighter all the Time!

This morning at 4:15 am, I had my first Elluminate session with colleagues from Australia and the UAE. Elluminate is a live eLearning and collaboration software - very easy to configure and work with. The time difference was the only drawback! It was great to 'chat' to Peter and colleagues. There are mechanisms to ensure there is order "in the classroom" such as raising a hand, voting, and turning off microphones when someone else is speaking. The whiteboard is fun - we all made our mark, so to speak with the drawing tools. Peter put up slides with his announcements which were very easy to follow. Although it's recommended to use a headset, I'm used to talking into my laptop and didn't have a set available which could cause a lot of background noise. To avoid hearing the background noise when someone is talking, there is a great feature under Tools - Audio that mutes the speakers when the microphone is in use. Someone signed in without a microphone but it didn't matter as they can always 'text' in order to participate. Elluminate was very 'illuminating' and I look forward to scheduling further sessions. Just hope I won't be watching the sunrise when next we meet! Over and out!...Janet

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Dashboard


The Dashboard is like being in the driver's seat and looking at the dashboard of a car. It has all the bells and whistles that lets you navigate your blog. You can edit your blog when you're on the Dashboard. But there are also links to other Help resources such as the Help Center and the Help Group. The latest news known as Blogger Buzz also provides new information. I wish adding an image to my profile was as easy as adding an image into this post. Can someone give me some advice on this subject?

Graphic Generators and General Comments

I've had a few frustrations editing this blog. Once I signed out, I didn't know how to sign back in. My advice is to jot down your username and password as you are creating your account! I was so excited about getting a blog started, that I forgot which password I used to set up this account. Thankfully I have a few standbys that I reuse! Then I found this neat code for the clock and calendar and have spent quite a bit of time adding an element to my template, editing the Html code and previewing the blog. When I was in preview mode, I didn't know how to get back to edit mode so I just started again. There are three tabs and sometimes it's confusing to return to the tab and menu you want. I'm sure with time it will become more familiar. To add an element, click Template. Once you've added an element (and they provide many element templates), click Preview. To return to the editing window, click Hide Preview.

I'm Blogging!


Signing up with blogger.com is very easy and intuitive. I like the templates that are provided when setting up an account. I am not exactly sure what to write, however. It seems that a blog is similar to a daily journal and that this blog will be used to document my learning journey through FET 8611. If I were to use this at college, at first blush, I would use it as I use the Bulletin Board feature in Web CT - to apprise students of upcoming lessons, advise them of announcements, or provide general feedback. However, I'm sure as I work further through this course, I'll find more uses for this blog.

The writing window is very easy to use. I find it easier to use this blog format than the blog in My Profile. Features that I especially like are how easily it toggles between html and compose, the preview window, the fact that it saves drafts automatically and it is easy to upload an image or video. I couldn't figure out how to do that in My Profile.