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 for bookmarking websites and to create shorter links.. I prefer to 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


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


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


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.