Saturday, September 29, 2007

Minor Frustrations: Vent! (People given the task of designing things who have never actually done that thing)

To its credit, the school district opened up a new computer lab at the main headquarters building where I work. A brand new room with 40 computers. When I first heard about it, I was quite excited because I've been delivering my trainings using laptops in a conference room. Using the laptops means a lot of setting up including rearranging tables and laying out electrical cords and powerstrips for the adapters since the batteries on the laptops don't carry a sufficient charge anymore. The conference room also feels very crowded when there are more than 15 participants. The computer training room must be reserved in advance and there's a bit of a procedure for that, but nothing insurmountable.

In any case, I walked into the room for the first time a few weeks ago when I first heard about it to see what the accomodations were like. It's a beautiful room of course and it even has a side alcove with a kitchen area that can be used for breaks. So what's the rant? I look up and there isn't an LCD projector hanging from the ceiling, nor a screen to project anything on. Just a couple of white boards hanging at the front of the room! Can any of you imagine creating a computer training room in the year 2007 without an LCD projector and screen? Of course not! But you weren't asked for suggestions when somebody decided that having a training room would be a good thing. Now it's not like there aren't other training rooms in the headquarters. Other departments have created small rooms for their use where they do training, just as I have done using laptops. And in every single one, there's an LCD projector hanging from the ceiling! It's just the brand spankin' new one that doesn't have one...

Now that I've given my first training in the room (yesterday) I have a few added comments. The rows of tables are too close together so that the presenter has a hard time walking between them when people are actually sitting down and using the computers. The tables themselves are arranged in long rows of 8 stations across with no center aisle and one end of the tables pushed up all the way against the wall so that the electrical and internet connections go directly from the wall to the computers without an aisle. For the presenter, this means that to take a look at a computer screen or to provide assistance means walking all the way to the other end of the row to the aisle and then returning the same way. Did I mention the rows are too close together already? So not only do you have to walk all of that distance you have to keep bumping people and saying "excuse me" the whole way!

Finally, the computers themselves are "old-style" large CPUs sitting right on top of the tables taking up space and blocking the line of sight.

Is using the room easier to make use of than setting up laptops on a conference table and running electrical cords? Yes it is, but not by a lot. Could it have been designed to be much much better? Yes again. I did get a chance to talk to the guy who was in charge of design and installation. He did say that there are plans to go back and install a screen and an LCD projector but that hasn't happened yet. I haven't had a chance to talk with him about the aisle issue or having the rows of tables too close together. I don't know what can be done about that at this point without re-doing all of the cabling. Nowadays, it seems like the installation method involves tying down every bit of cable without an inch of slack. Even if I wanted to move the tables (they're on wheels) there's no leeway to be had. I had a hard time moving a keyboard more than a few inches away from the monitor much less trying to move an entire row of tables...

Would it have hurt to try to find any of the individuals in the school district who provide training in lab situations and ask what makes a good training room?

Trying out VoiceThread

VoiceThread is a new site that allows you to connect your voice to images to make presentations. Obviously there are a lot of implications for language teaching. I have started to experiment of course. Here is my first presentation. Unfortunately, not a single microphone appears to be working correctly where I am doing this so at this point it's only text accompanying the photos. I'll try again when I'm "back at the office!" See it at http://voicethread.com/view.php?b=8547

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What did we do in class today? Watch a video and find out!

I've started a new experiment using short videos to tell absent students what the rest of us did in class on any given day. I now have a webcam and I've been making very short video clips announcing the assignments. I upload the video file to my wikipage and then put a link to the wikipage on my class pageflakes home page. I'm not sure that's the most efficient way to do this yet, but it seems to be workable. I'm going to introduce the class pageflakes page to my new group of students tomorrow. I'll keep you posted about their feedback. In the meantime, feel free to check out the first two video clips. You'll find the link in the left column under the calendar "flake."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Web Cam?

I decided that it was time to move from text and photo-based blogs only to being able to include a video if I wanted to. I purchased a Logitech "Quickcam" and this is my first video... video

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Would your students enjoy creating a project like this?


More experimentation at PictureTrails!


A new student project

This is another way to share photos that while not as visually captivating as the rotating tube, does include a way to turn a photo project into a language project because you can include captions. This one is experimental. The captions are unfortunately limited in length or they run over the photo (as on the last page). Click on the page to see the next photo. Perhaps uploading a smaller photo will do the trick...


Exploring with PictureTrail

Saw an example of this on Hans Feldmeier's page at Classroom 2.0 and felt I had to get one too! Classroom 2.0 is an example of what's called a "social networking" website. One way social networking happens is when groups of like-minded individuals or individuals with a common interest use the new web 2.0 tools to communicate, and share information with each other about their common interest. Older examples of Internet-based social networking are listservs and email discussion lists. Today, newer "tools" allow for sharing information in new ways. The fact that I read about Classroom 2.0 on Marian Thacher's blog, investigated it, and eventually decided to become a member myself, is itself an example of the new social networking in action. Being exposed to some of the things Hans Feldmeier is doing on his webpages and with his students and then trying something out myself is another example. Classroom 2.0 is a social networking site of educators working to integrate technology, and in particular Web 2.0 tools, into their teaching.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Second Life in Education

On some of the discussion lists I read, there has been talk about the role of the virtual world Second Life in education. There's a wide range of viewpoints about whether it (or the version of Second Life meant for teenagers only) has a role as an educational tool or not. I just came across a blog (thanks to a mention on Classroom 2.0) by an educator (Kevin Jarrett) exploring with second life http://www.storyofmysecondlife.com/ that can certainly be of benefit to those wondering about whether or not to experiment with Second Life. Make sure you check out the video about the educational uses of Second Life that he links to on the page. (It's a youTube video so it will probably be blocked if you're accessing this from a school).

There's also a link to a video made by kids in Second Life that is quite amazing. The video the kids made is at http://youtube.com/watch?v=nK54WRu0jW4 It's also a youTube video so it will probably be blocked but it's worth watching from another location. The subject matter is horrific and moving (one child soldier's experience from abduction to rescue) but even disregarding the topic, it's a positive example of how virtual worlds can be used in education.

I'm not convinced yet that the positives of using Second Life as an educational tool so outweigh the negatives that I'm ready to invest the time and effort needed to implement doing so with my students, but this video certainly adds weight to the positive side of the equation.