Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Look Before Leaping - iPad Deployment

Terice Schneider wishes she had trained students to use email appropriately BEFORE deploying iPads to 735 middle school students. Some of the comments argue that you shouldn't have to train students to use email, but rather, that students will learn to use email appropriately while using it.

In response to the blog entry by Terice Schneider, high school student Aida writes the following...what are your thoughts?

I think you are covering this, but just in case, you might find it helpful to give them a basic three part subject line, for example, whether it is personal or professional, which class it pertains to and what assignment or situation (if it is professional or personal, depending, and this may mean for personal, the name of a fellow student or professional, the name of the assignment) 

We do this with our Creative Writers at my school when they submit for a variety of things, and it aids separating everything up. We also utilize gmail (every incoming student must create a gmail account that has their name in it, not something odd and overly personal, similar to the emails of teachers), and utilize the labeling system in there. Also, the Google Docs is helpful, because then we are able to put documents into collections and go almost entirely paperless. Just a thought, though y’all seem to have a system that works!
And lastly, try to clarify any assignment boundaries. In my school, students can often get away with a deadline if they don’t have it in class, by submitting the assignment through email by midnight that night and still receive full credit. Some teachers clarify at the start of the year that if the assignment is not in class, the assignment is late, while others are comfortable with receiving the assignment whenever on that day. Also, DO the teachers want a hard copy or a digital copy? Some students love typing and will send in their assignments entirely on the computer, which some teachers are fine with except for certain assignments. For example, my World History teacher banned the turning in of reviews for her tests because a student from a previous year typed the whole review on his computer, sent it to his friends, and it was soon passed around to almost the entire class, and the review was printed out by each student so they could receive credit, but none of the students actually bothered to study the review (needless to say, many of the students failed the test). In cases like that, a teacher may prefer hard, hand-written copies. Admittedly, this is middle school, but making this distinction would set a good preface for high school, so make that clear to them. 
Can the students turn in their assignments EARLY via email? If they can, let them know, this may actually decrease late assignments because often, students complete the assignment on time, but fail to have it in class for a variety of reasons and if they could turn in the assignment as soon as they complete it, there may be an increase in on time assignments.
This is an awesome thing you are doing, and don’t be discouraged, systems take a little while to work all the kinks out!

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

TxDLA - Presentation on Instructure Canvas LMS

St. Phillip's College has been transitioning from Blackboard/WebCT to Instructure Canvas. A small group reviewed Instructure, made a presentation to the Board, and the Board approved purchase in October. They hope to have a training in Spring, and by Spring 2013, they will be fully converted to the new LMS.

Estelita Young (Instructure, Director of Sales) started in February, 2011 with Instructure. She's worked for WebCT, Wimba and has been teaching online. Instructure Canvas came on the horizon and she shares how she struggled with "the friction of what has to happen when you want to deliver content online." Instructure Canvas has been awarded a contract with UT Austin.
Estelita Young
6415 South 3000 East
Suite 100
Salt Lake City, UT 84121
Two graduate students were given an assignment by their professor...they were to look for whatever wasn't working. After 7 months of feedback, making changes, adjustments, they sat down to write it...they used Ruby on Rails.

Canvas ( has a dashboard and features the following:
  1. OpenAPI
  2. Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) Integration
  3. Email notifications to multiple accounts
  4. Pictures in Class Roster - not yet available but will be in 2012.
  5. Provides interactions and sends notification through GoogleDocs, Skype, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Delicious, Diigo. Students just get a notification. Get notifications via multiple venues.
  6. Students want to be notified in a variety of ways...all of it is tracked inside of Canvas.
  7. Students can export ePortfolio as HTML or the school can keep it running.
  8. Nice full screen calendar...features drag-n-drop events in the calendar. Neat thing is that it updates the syllabus, sends out student notifications and assignment due dates automatically. It also has a calendar feed that can be put into Outlook or other stuff.
  9. Does the faculty have a dashboard of all recent activity? Yes.
  10. Instructure can import course content from other LMS (Moodle Course Import tool is under development).
    1. Blackboard/Vista
    2. Angel Learning
    3. Supports Common Course Cartridges
    4. Cengage
    5. D2L Export
    6. McGraw Hill
    7. QIT
  11. Easy adjustment of events and due dates for imported course--automatically adapts course dates during import.
  12. Allows you to access the syllabus
  13. Course elements are automatically hyperlinked when inserted into Syllabus, such as:
    1. Wiki
    2. Word documents
    3. Images
    4. Links
    5. YouTube video embedding
    6. Flickr Creative Common Image search
    7. Equation editor (LaTeX support)
    8. Record/Upload Media from the content editor
    9. Scribd is used to share
    10. Kaltura video support
    11. BigBlueButton for audio conferences
  14. Can it support control-release? Only if it's been released.
  15. Can documents like Academic Honesty policy, or other items that need to be preloaded. Response: Think of Canvas courses as can set those up ahead of time for faculty to work from.
  16. Support for SpeedGrader - available on iPad as an app as well as other places. Click the link to see more info and videos via YouTube.
    1. Provides speech recognition when using Google Chrome browser
  17. Making sure Canvas makes sure students are turning in their work:
    1. TurnItIn
    2. Respondus
    3. Axium
    4. (mentioned but not sure if it is supported or not)
  18. Authentication Measures:
    1. You can see time on task (course level)
  19. NavBar:
    1. Customizable
    2. Elements can be controlled via Navigation
    3. Elements
      1. Announcements
      2. Syllabus
      3. Discussions
      4. Modules
      5. Assignments
      6. Conferences
        1. Wimba
        2. BigBlueButton
      7. Chat
      8. Outcomes
      9. Quizzes
      10. People
      11. Files
      12. Pages
      13. Grades
      14. Wikis
  20. Supports Mobiles devices
    1. Native App for IoS devices (e.g. iPhone,iPod,Ipad)
    2. Android
    3. Access it via mobile web browser
  21. No Java at all
  22. File Manager
  23. All ASP model ("in the cloud")

  • Slick system

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Monday, November 28, 2011

The Learning Chronicles

This past week (Thanksgiving in the U.S.), I found myself enjoying time in front of the couch, exercising on the elliptical (my treadmill broke, but a friend graciously gave me an elliptical), catching up on movies I'd missed, and wondering, shouldn't I be blogging or something

I'm sure I had a few insights that were worth sharing. Although I spent a lot of time just goofing around, I did take time to clip a few things to, as well as bookmark stuff. Why didn't I take time to share it? 

Richard Byrne (Free Technology for Teachers) makes a point that many of us who have been blogging for quite awhile find true (I know I've said this myself before, too):
One of the reasons I sometimes hear people give for not blogging, Tweeting, or otherwise participating in sharing their ideas online is, "I don't have anything to say." To that I often reply, "yes, you do." The great thing about sharing online is that you never know who is going to discover what you share. Something that you think has been said one hundred times over might be brand new to someone else. We all have something to share.
Some of my insights were personal. For example, while reflecting on The Thornbirds' signature story (shown below), I did a bit of self-reflection. First, the poem:
There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in it's life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then singing among the savage branches, it rises above it's own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in the heaven smiles. For the best is only brought at the cost of great pain.......Or so says the legend.  
The thorn bird with the thorn in it's breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven but it knows not what to impale itself and die singing. At the very instant the thorn enters there is no awareness in it of the dying to come; it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note. But we, when we put the thorns in our breasts, we know. We understand. And still we do it. Still we do it... 
My wife and I loved both the book by Colleen McCullough and the mini-series with Richard Chamberlain. The main reflection I have is that I'm not willing to pay for blogging fame at great cost because it's a fun effort. I worried at that idea a bit, though. If I wasn't willing to pour my heart and soul into an effort, commit major time, did that make me a lesser person? If you don't want to blog about your experience, does that make you less than a person who does..say someone who updates their Facebook (a microblog some say), but not a blog?

Second, my reflections:
One of the questions whenever I take some time off from blogging is, Should I continue blogging? The answer is invariably YES. I'm reminded that the blog is more a notebook, a place to share what I'm learning while I'm learning and a way to reflect on that process. I never quite seem to do enough reflection, though.

Another point that occurred to me is that I'm noticing an inclination to be less forthcoming or open/transparent about what I AM learning or experiencing. This bothers me since openness and transparency are at the heart of blogging...some blogs are focused on sharing information or tools, or selling a brand. For me, blogging is about chronicling the experience of learning. 

I dipped into the RSS feed and found something that seemed peculiar. Essentially, the blogs I tended to read weren't about just sharing information but a person sharing their perspective, their insights. I want to do more of that about the work I'm about and I realize that I've let that slip.

So, as we approach the holiday season, the time when new and great resolutions are made, I'm going to keep mine simple. I'm going to try to focus again, not only only what I'm learning, but be more transparent in my attempts to be a leader, a teacher, and, most importantly, a learner. 

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Video Editing on Netbooks

Encountered this problem? I have...what a pain.
Image Source:

At the risk of pushing people out of their comfort zone, especially those in schools who expect to use a low-cost machine with high-end video-editing software, I'd like to make a radical suggestion.

The suggestion comes as a result of this forum post:
I’d like your thoughts on notebooks or netbooks for classroom use.  These would primarily be used for typing documents, internet research, developing presentations using online sites and MS Moviemaker. Nothing would be saved to the notebook as students would save to the network or straight to the online site.  There would be playback of video but not any large files. 

As I reflected on the various responses to this--how to deal with an lousy Moviemaker that crashes periodically and can barely work on netbooks running Windows--it occurred to me that GNU/Linux users had access to a nice video editor (FINALLY!) known as Openshot Video Editor.

To help things along, I sent the following response to the person after trying it out on a Dell 2100 (not the latest and greatest, you may notice) netbook and it worked GREAT:

In lieu of Moviemaker and Windows, has anyone tried OpenShot Video Editor? It's a free, open source video editor for UbuntuLinux. 

For fun, I downloaded the AVLinux ISO file (which can be made into a CD)--which has OpenShot Video Editor installed--and put it on a USB flash drive using UNETBOOTIN (free as well). This makes it possible to run the AVLinux ISO file off a USB flash drive instead of a compact disc (CD). 
Moving along...I plugged the USB flash drive with AVLinux and OpenShot Video editor into a Dell 2100 netbook, then booted off the flash drive (Press F12 for that option). 
Surprisingly, OpenShot worked beautifully to edit a 20meg video file (I also added an image as a cover). If you added a second flash drive for data storage, you could save your data onto it. 
You can see screenshots of what OpenShot looks like online:

You might also try

If that's not your cup of tea, here's a list of web-based video editors courtesy of David Kapuler via Dr. Howie DiBlasi (on this list, right?) via an emailed newsletter that arrived in my inbox today:

Top 9 Sites for Video Editing*

  Here are my favorite sites for editing videos -- a valuable skill for technology literacy.
  1. Stroome- A great collaborative site that allows users to upload video and edit by adding, transitions, effects, audio, etc.
  2. Drag On Tape- A innovative site that is very easy to use. All a user has to do is search for a video and then drag-and-drop it into the timeline editor. Once a video is dropped into edit mode, a user can add text, crop, etc.
  3. Pixorial- Is a wonderful site for uploading (or sending in the mail) video that can be stored online and then edited. A user can add an intro, crop, and add audio (stock audio too) to edit their video and then order a DVD or share/embed into a site.
  4. My Brainshark- Is a very interesting site that offers a lot of features to their users. A user can upload any number of items such as a slideshow, document, or video and then add audio to their project.
  5. Viewbix- Is a simple site to use for adding an interactive linkable button in a YouTube or Facebook video.
  6. Overstream- A great site for adding comments and subtitles to a video. Once a video is created it can then be shared online for others to view and rate.
  7. Tube Chop- Is an easy way to crop and edit YouTube videos and then share with others.
  8. Splicd- Similar to Tube Chop for cropping a video by adjusting the start/stop times and sharing with others.
  9. SnipSnip.It- A site similar to Tube Chop and Splicd for cropping a YouTube video to highlight the important parts.
David Kapuler is an educational consultant with more than 10 years of experience working in the K-12 environment. For more information about his work, contact him at and read his blog at

*Note that I removed Jaycut from David's list since it's no longer available.

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DRM'd ePub ebooks on Ubuntu Linux netbooks


In response to this blog entry, Dorothy from Australia asks the following:
Kia ora 
I am hoping you might be able to help us. We are using an Ubuntu OS on our ASUS eeePC netbooks at our school in Auckland, New Zealand. We really need an eBook reader for our netbooks - especially one that handles DRM for books loaned from our school library system.
Do you have any suggestions of software we should try? I wasn't sure whether to contact you via your blog or the GCT forum, so apologise if there was a better way to ask. I did think that if anyone would have a good suggestion it would be you :)
I'm guessing Dorothy is asking about what to do with Overdrive books available via libraries, which was in a bit of controversy back in March, 2011. Overdrive uses Adobe Digital Editions as their primary tool to handle DRM'd ePub books:
Adobe® Digital Editions is a free application used to read EPUB eBooks. Additionally, Adobe Digital Editions support eBooks in the PDF format, but results have been known to vary occasionally based on a number of factors including the complexity of the book (novels tend to render beautifully while complex text books with graphs and charts may render oddly) and the quality of construction of the actual PDF file. (Source: Overdrive)
As you might guess, as a result of the focus on DRM, there's NO client available that I know of for Linux that reads digital restrictions management (DRM, ok ok, it's officially "digital rights management") ePub ebooks. So what to do?

I started writing the response in a comment--offering two solutions--and then realized I was going quite long! So, here's the extended response:

Dorothy, unfortunately, I don't know of any program on Linux that will read a DRM'd ePub book. 

The only way would be for you to remove the DRM (don't do it!), then use FBReader for Linux (sudo apt-get install fbreader) or Sigil ebook viewer to read the ePub book. Obviously, this is an illegal proposition that could land you somewhere undesirable. Before moving on though, this might be a teachable moment depending on the age of your students on DRM and the problems, a perspective encapsulated in this series of comments:
DRM is used by publishers to restrict what you can do with your ebooks. DRM controls which devices you can use to read your ebook, and stops you converting your ebooks from one format to another. DRM makes buying and using ebooks harder. When you first start using ebooks, you might not notice the restrictions very much. But the restrictions are there. 
There are several different DRM schemes. Ebooks with one DRM scheme can’t be read on a device that uses a different DRM scheme. Some DRM schemes limit ebooks to one device only, so if you want to read that ebook on a different device, it’s necessary to download the ebook again. Others require new devices to be authorised by a central server on the Internet. 
When you want to use a different ebook reader, or if the supplier stops supporting the ebooks you’ve bought, you may lose access to your DRMed ebooks.
So to be able to read your ebooks on all the devices you have now, and to be sure that you will still be able to read your ebooks in the future, you will want to remove the DRM.
As you can see, removing DRM from ePubs gotten from a library would raise more ethical and legal questions than you would want to deal with in the context of getting ebooks onto your students' Ubuntu netbooks! In other words, it would be more trouble than it's worth!!

I do remind you that there are many free book sources online (which can easily be read with the aforementioned FBReader), and the tools for creating non-DRM'd ePubs is increasing, enabling your students to create content for each other. You can even use LibreOffice on your Ubuntu netbook to create ePubs! (another resource)

Still, in case you do want to pursue accessing DRM'd ePub books via Overdrive, here are two possible options you can try:


1) Run Adobe Digital Editions via WINE on your Ubuntu netbook. This will allow you to authorize 5 computers, as I recall.
a) Download it here -
b) sudo apt-get install wine on your Ubuntu netbooks
c) open the Adobe setup.exe file with WINE. At the command line, this would look like this:
wine setup.exe
d) Here's what the installation will look like:

Notice that everything seems to be working quite well on the install...this is Adobe Digital Editions running on Lubuntu 11.10.  I just went through this process as I was installing it, and it went quite smoothly. Unfortunately, I haven't purchased a book through Adobe Digital Editions (ok, I'm only buying DRM'd Nook ebooks) but I expect it will are some resources that show it works:
Source: In Spanish- Adobe Digital Editions via Windows in Virtualbox environment

2) Use to setup a Windows virtual environment.
a) Install Virtualbox on each of your Ubuntu netbooks. You can get the appropriate installer here:
b) Setup a Windows virtual box--where you install Windows.
c) Install and authorize Adobe Digital Editions for Windows in the virtual box you just created.
d) Copy the Virtualbox files to an external USB drive then put it on multiple netbooks. This assumes you have multiple Windows licenses (to stay legal). I'm not sure how this would affect the authorized Adobe Digital Editions (whether Adobe would "catch on" that it had been duplicated across multiple machines or not).
I hope this is helpful to you, Dorothy. Approach #1 seems the best for your scenario given what little I know of Overdrive, Adobe Digital Editions!

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

MyNotes - Story of libraries looks grim


Despite $10M allocation, story of HISD libraries looks grim 
Updated 09:49 p.m., Sunday, November 20, 2011

  • Houston ISD libraries have slipped into further disrepair, despite a $10 million investment over the last three years. 
  • More than 80 percent of HISD libraries fail to meet state guidelines for staffing and book collections, and an additional 20 percent of the district's 289 schools don't even have functioning libraries, according to Houston Independent School District data.
  • "It's incredibly disheartening when the largest district in Texas has librarians at less than half of its campuses," said Gloria Meraz, Texas Library Association spokeswoman.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Rabbits with Cleavers - Awesome game @wolfire

It's been forever since I took a look at Overgrowth, the successor to one of the greatest games I've ever played--Lugaru. My son and I pre-ordered Overgrowth June 2, feels like an eternity waiting for it. You can read about Lugaru (which is worth buying, too) here:

That wait aside, wow, what an amazing thing it is to see the game in action. Check out these videos via YouTube from the Wolfire Games Blog. I encourage you to check out the game and order your copy of OverGrowth, as well as Lugaru, the original! It's fantastic! You can also follow progress via the Wolfire Games Blog.

Even if you're not a gamer, you have to admit that these videos portray incredible game play and staggering vistas:


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eHow References Around the Corner

It's kinda neat to be referenced online, such as eHow. The article--whose title appears above as How to Convert iCal to CSV--references a blog entry I wrote some time ago. Here's the lead from that blog entry:
"Is there a good way to export all events in an iCal to a list or spreadsheet?" Chris Webb tweeted earlier tonight, clarifying with this follow up tweet, "I'd like to export an iCal as another format such as .csv, in order to be able to create a list of the events."
Remembering I'd done this once before when juggling a whole slew of dates for our Room Scheduler Calendar (from BrownBear Software), I set out to remember how.
Read my original blog entry and/or the eHow version.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cloud Napped - Dark Skies in the iCloud @sugarsync @dropbox

It's curious to see how social media is used to influence opinion. For me, it all started with an exasperated email from a friend who'd had her documents "cloud-napped" by Apple's new iCloud. We've also seen GoogleMusic, Amazon and others offer their cloud storage solutions, putting solutions like, and SugarSync on the defensive.

A colleague who is an avid iPad/iPhone user sent me an email, and then whined plaintively via a Skype call:
iCloud has swallowed up all my documents. How do I get them back?
Of course, if this is what my colleague had wanted of Apple's iCloud, that would be one thing. But that it happened one day when her device was connected to iTunes, automatically, is another. I immediately sent my colleague some helpful information that I scrounged:
Now, it's been curious to see different responses to the iCloud issues (and how quickly they get resolved). SugarSync's blog--Read My SugarSync Series--had an interesting approach to GoogleMusic's entry into the field and I really enjoyed reading it (no, Sugarsync isn't paying me for this blog entry in any way). What was particularly fun is that they are a vendor blogging, something bloggers often encourage folks to do:
As we’ve seen with so many other services, Google Music is just the latest example of another walled garden approach to Cloud services, where some people get access, and some people don’t. Let’s review:
  • Apple iCloud – Works on Mac and PC, but only works on iOS mobile devices
  • Amazon Cloud Drive – Works on Mac and PC, but only works on Android mobile devices
  • Google Music – Works on Mac and PC, but only works on Android mobile devices
As you can see, the large players that are offering Cloud services to consumers are only supporting the mobile platforms that they have a vested interest in.  There are several problems with this approach:
  • It’s a multi-platform world – Even if you’re an Apple fan (or an Android fan), depending on where you work, your company might require you to work on a PC and carry a BlackBerry or Android device (or vice versa). So it is often the case that people have their preference of device/platform at home, but have to use something else at work. In those cases, people need a Cloud service that works across all platforms and devices.
  • Sharing/collaborating – Even if you personally use Apple iOS devices or Android, what if your friends, family or co-workers do not? In order to use one Cloud service for sharing and collaboration with everyone – regardless of their devices – you need to have a service that does not exclude certain devices.
What an excellent summary of the situation! Insightful! Of course, the main thrust of this blog entry from SugarSync is to get you to consider their cloud storage product, but you have to expect that. In the meantime, I can hear people reading this and saying, "Yes, that's true!"
The large players are using the Cloud to lock people in to the mobile platforms that they have a vested interest in. Here atSugarSync, we believe the Cloud should set you free.
Of course, the and (which recently offered 50gigs for free if you logged in via an iPad or iPhone) would argue that THEIR respective products set you free in a much more empowering way than SugarSync does...but that is their prerogative!

SugarSync has a wonderful solution that works cross-platform and works on mobile devices, although their upload speed is significantly slower than other competitors (making it difficult to upload large quantities of documents/files in a timely manner, whatever that means). In fact, I've often noticed this myself, making SugarSync free unusable except for small stuff (same goes for
I always know when sugarsync is uploading files, as my web surfing slows to a stand still unitl I shutdown SS--even with the sync set at the slowest speed.  As I write this, I'm using iDrive to do a backup of larger set of files than I have sugar sync backing up and there is no noticible slow down of web browsing.  Never had a speed issue with Dropbox, either, but I prefer not having to stick files in one folder to sync. (Comment in SugarSync Forums)
One nice feature of SugarSync on mobile devices--like Android--is their uploading of pictures/images. I like it better than Picasa or Google+.

What do you think of this approach to social media/blogging to gain entrance to the hearts and minds of consumers?

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