Tuesday, November 3, 2009

new blog

Since my job now involves blogging about technology, I'll be posting here less often.

In case you hadn't noticed already.

Anyway, if you want to check out my other blog, it's at eipstech.blogspot.com.

Friday, October 23, 2009

podcast presentation

So you want your students to podcast

What’s a podcast?

Episodic downloadable audio (or video) content.

Does not require an iPod.

Usually has an associated RSS feed.

Recommended Podcasts

Technology: This Week in Tech

Science: Quirks and Quarks, Science Update

Social Studies: Stuff You Missed in History Class

Math: Math Grad

English Language Arts: CSTW Writers Talk

Arts: CBC Arts Podcasts

Medicine: White Coat, Black Art

How to create

Hardware (microphones, pop filters, etc)

How to create



Audacity Portable


How to publish/share

hosting and syndication





Music/Sound Effects





Legal Issues

Copyright or Creative Commons

Now let’s podcast…

Friday, October 16, 2009

recommended podcasts

A few podcasts that teachers may be interested in listening to:

Technology: This Week in Tech
Math: Math Grad
English Language Arts: CSTW Writers Talk

This is just a preliminary list to get you started, there are certainly others. Feel free to comment if there are others that you listen to.

Friday, September 25, 2009

picasa recognizes people

I'm a big fan of Picasa photo organizing software. They just recently introduced face recognition/tagging, which is very cool. It even seems to do fairly well at distinguishing the photos of our toddlers from their cousins, even though they look fairly similar.

We have a lot of photos (over 80 GB and counting), so it takes a while for it to scan through all of those to recognize faces, but it's doing fairly well so far.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

new features in Google Docs

Just a quick post to mention two new(ish) features of Google Docs.

The word count now includes some readability information.

It is now possible to insert an equation using an equation editor (LaTeX syntax, just like Wikipedia).

Friday, September 11, 2009

levels of writing

In the literature world there are levels of writing and levels of reputability; for example a magazine article is different from an essay or a short story. I've been thinking about how there is a similar hierarchy online. Maybe blog posts tend to be more reputable than Facebook updates, which are higher quality than Twitter tweets.

And I'm not just saying this because my father blogs and mother-in-law uses Facebook, a researcher recently found, in a pilot study, that Facebook increases your IQ while Twitter probably weakens your working memory.

Perhaps all reading is not good reading.

Monday, August 31, 2009

new to Microsoft Office 2007?

Our school district has recently upgraded all computers to Microsoft Office 2007. For users unfamiliar with the "ribbon interface", Microsoft has a great resource:

Guides to the Ribbon: Use Office 2003 menus to learn the Office 2007 user interface

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Canadian copyright law consultation

If you are a Canadian, now is the time to make your voice heard on the topic of copyright law. The government has set up a site for public consultation at copyright.econsultation.ca.

The site is a little awkward to use, but I think it's worth it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

free office suites

An office suite is a set of programs for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and usually some other things.

You're familiar with Microsoft Office, the office suite that all others are compared against and basically sets the standard.

You may have heard of OpenOffice, a great free (and open source) office suite.

You may not have heard of Lotus Symphony, a good looking free office suite from IBM.

I've also talked about Google Apps here, so I'll just mention it again.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

we use iPods differently

I had a conversation with a colleague this morning about student iPod use, and it came up that we (adults) tend to use iPods and other mp3 players differently than students do.

For students, iPods in class tend to be distractions and an escape. This is likely the source of teachers' objection to these devices, that they detract from student learning.

For teachers themselves, or at least for me, an mp3 player is more of a professional development device. I'm usually listening to podcasts, lectures, and audiobooks, and many of these are education, or at least technology, related.

And I don't listen to my iPod in class.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

flash drives die

It bears repeating that your USB flash drive (or thumb drive, or however you refer to it) will stop working entirely at some point. Soon. So make sure you have only duplicate files on it. When it dies, the files will likely be unrecoverable.

The same goes for hard drives and iPods for that matter, but they don't seem to die as frequently.

Be safe out there.

Posted with LifeCast

Thursday, June 4, 2009

iPods and mobile phones in class

There has been a lot of debate as of late regarding student use of electronic devices in classes.

Many schools have policies prohibiting the use of mobile phones in class, some don't even allow them in the school at all. Besides issues with students having cameras (or video cameras) with them at all times, there are legitimate concerns about test validity and security as well as time spent off-task in class.

Time off-task in class is also affected by iPod (and other mp3 player) use. In particular, the games and applications that are available on the iPod touch (and presumably the upcoming Zune HD) can be very distracting for students.

On the other hand, there are a number of potential uses for these little computer-like devices, especially if you don't have a computer for each student in your classroom. It will be interesting to see how this all develops.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Facebook fan pages

If you are, like some schools, using social networking with your students, Facebook fan pages may be a better way to go than "friending" your students. Having students as fans rather than friends means you have more control over the interactions and you can't see their status updates, or in fact any of their private information.

Of course a Ning or even a Moodle would probably be a better idea for online social network-style interactions with students, but that would mean another login for them and for you. These are also less likely to be blocked by your school district's network policies. This is still relatively uncharted territory, though, so it is recommended that you proceed with caution.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

education technology consultant

I've realized that this is the one place I haven't announced my new job. Starting in August I'll be an Education Technology Consultant for my school district. At this point it's just a one year secondment, but I'll be working with two other technology consultants, and I'm excited about the possibilities.

Wolfram Alpha

As someone interested in both Science and Technology, I need to mention Wolfram|Alpha. It looks sort of like a search engine, but it's more like a calculator. Their stated goal is "to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone." Basically they want to collect data and algorithms in order to have a system that answers questions.

It's obviously a work in progress, but what they have accomplished already is pretty cool. They have some example queries that you can try in order to get a feel for how it works. I think that Educators in particular should be very excited about the possibilities.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

thoughts on student laptop use

Last year I was able to briefly (for one unit of study) have a laptop for every student in my Science 14 class, and I had scribbled down some thoughts about a computer for every student in a non-academic class. I didn't do anything groundbreaking with them, the students basically used them for note taking, worksheets, and viewing the textbook's CD-based animations.

Using them every day is different from "computer lab" time.
Assignments are much neater and easier to mark.
There is a broad range of typing skills and technology comfort levels.
Motivation is increased, probably because it's something new and it shows that the teacher cares to do something different.
Perhaps a system could be used for "chat style" feedback during lectures.
Access to the Internet can be a distraction.
Power issues come up (extension cords and batteries).
They like mice rather than touchpads or eraserheads.
Desk space is an issue, textbooks ended up in their laps.
There are some digital textbooks available as PDFs or applications.
They sometimes get confused when you call them notebooks instead of laptops.
Many of them like to customize the colours, fonts, etc. of the OS and their documents.
Worksheets are all in their document folders ahead of time, this means less printing and I don't have to make sure I have each day's assignment ready to hand out.
I don't usually give them a copy of the PowerPoint notes, perhaps that's something to try.
Some students work on the worksheets while taking notes, and/or copy and paste from their notes into their worksheets.

Those were my thoughts, it will be interesting to see how this changes with things like 1:1 projects and allowing student laptops on the school wifi.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

photo mosaics

If you're looking for a different way to present photos, especially on posters, AndreaMosaic is a free photographic mosaic creation program. It's great for sports teams, international field trips, or even for the school yearbook.

Basically you give it the image that you want to create, then a lot of other images to use as tiles. There are a few settings to tweak if you'd like, and the images it creates are very cool.

On the Mac, there's a similar program called MacOSaiX.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

mesh wifi

A school network technician mentioned open-mesh routers a while ago, and I was impressed with the claims (and the price) of the technology.  I recently bought three of these mini-routers, and I'm very impressed.  They're small, pretty cheap, and do very cool things.

Like any other wireless router, they connect via ethernet to your modem and act as a wifi access point for wireless network access, but they have some extra cool features.  As the website name implies, they can operate in a mesh configuration, which is something I first heard about with the OLCP XO laptop.  So you can plug one router into your modem, and as long as the others are close enough they connect to it wirelessly and repeat the signal both wirelessly and over their ethernet port.  Very cool.

Other features that I appreciate in these routers are that they support two SSIDs (so that you can have one public and one private if you'd like), the antenna is replacable (e.g. with a higher gain antenna), and I like they way that they've implemented the online dashboard for changing settings across all routers in the mesh.

All in all, I like these gadgets.  Great wireless routers, especially for getting wireless Internet access across a fairly large area.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

asynchronous interactions and personal Internet use

One of my favourite things about using "user generated content" or "web 2.0" tools for education is that it allows for asynchronous interactions with (and between) students. They can ask questions or even just interact with the course content any time they have an Internet connection. Not that these sorts of tasks can't be accomplished using email and basic web pages, but allowing the students more power and responsibility for things like editing a wiki can perhaps encourage motivation.

A related issue, though, is how many of these tools are blocked by school networks. My district has been very good about allowing YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter, and others, but I imagine that is not the case everywhere. It would be interesting to have a study done on the educational impact of allowing different types of sites in a school situation, similar to a study that found employess who use the Internet for personal reasons are 9% more productive.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

audiobooks and podcasts

Our school library is starting an audiobook collection, as the start of a digital collection, and we were thinking to start with some creative commons and public domain titles.

I've mentioned before about some sources we use for free content, but I wanted to be a little more specific about some of the resources we're looking at for starting the digital collection.

Librivox - volunteer-read public domain works
Spoken Alexandria Project - creating audio books of creative commons works
Podiobooks - free serialized audio books
Lit2Go - a free online collection of audio stories and poems
Project Gutenberg - human read public domain audio books
X Minus One - a series of science fiction radio plays, not technically audio books
Cory Doctorow - an author who creative commons licenses his works, a number of them have been recorded as audio books by him or by fans

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

everyone's a geek

I've been thinking again lately that the bar for being a geek is continually being raised. It used to be that having an email address was enough to qualify you as a geek, back when we spelled it e-mail. But now everyone has an email address (although it seems that some are using IM, txt, Facebook, Twitter, et al more than email). We've seen a transition from encyclopedias on paper to CDs, then to the Internet. Almost everybody gets information, news, and videos from the Internet. Libraries have audio books, ebooks, and such in their digital collections. Regular people carry around digital music players, digital cameras, smart phones, and laptops.

So what does it take to be a geek these days?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

SMART table

I recently heard about a new SMART product called the SMART Table. It's basically a multi-touch screen mounted horizontally at a height suitable for Division 1 (up to grade 3) students. It is, of course, similar to the Microsoft Surface or a DIY Interactive Multitouch Display.

Being a High School teacher, I see it more as an opportunity to use as a video game device; it reminds me somewhat of those old arcade Pacman tables. If I had one of these SMART Tables, I'd probably use it for playing chess or perhaps board games like Settlers of Catan. I'd be interested to see, however, how it would be used in an Elementary classroom.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

creative commons and free

For a media class that I teach occasionally we are often looking for media that students can use to create videos and such. To model digital citizenship, we endeavour to use media that is at least free (gratis), but preferably public domain or creative commons. There are, of course, some creative commons licences that allow sharing but don't allow derivatives, which means that they are not useful for us.

There are a few caveats about using creative commons or public domain works, though. Since students don't tend to be as familiar with the works/artists it often takes them longer to complete their projects than if you just let them bring in their own (usually quasi-legal) media. As well, the onus is usually on you to point the students in the right direction.

To help with this, a few sources of media that I've come across are:

Archive.org (also has other types of files)


Stock Exchange
100 (Legal) Sources for Free Stock Images
and, of course, Flickr

Vector Graphics:
Free Vector Graphics
Quality Vector Graphics

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I've noticed a recent trend of crowdsourcing amoung regular people (by which I mean non-geeks) on sites like Facebook as well as on blogs.  My wife's friends will post something like, "what's a good movie for us to watch tonight" or "I have to make supper with ground beef, what to you recommend" and they'll get a douzen responses pretty quickly.

I've been thinking about how to incorporate this into a classroom context.  Of course during regular classroom lectures I'll solicit responses from the students, but we're talking about more asynchronous interactions.  I've experimented with vocabulary wikis and forums, but students don't seem to be motivated unless there are marks associated with it.  As I see it, the motivations for responding to crowdsourcing requests are likely the desire to help, and to have your voice/opinions heard, so the challenge for us is to tap into that to get students engaged in the content.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Testing iPod Touch Posting

I'm just testing to see how well it works to post from my iPod using LifeCast.

Posted with LifeCast

a new presentation tool

I was recently introduced to an online presentation tool called Prezi. Since I spend a fair amount of time lecturing with PowerPoint (and Keynote occasionally), I'm always interested in cool ways of presenting things. Even though it's a beta product, I've starting using it for some of my lectures.

Writing about it doesn't do it justice, though, check it out at http://prezi.com/prezi/27/try/.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

filtered Internet access with OpenDNS

Whatever your views on censorship of the Internet, I think it can be argued that preventing phishing at least is a good reason for some filters. Our school district uses FortiGuard which is administered at the Central Office, but for the network in my classroom as well as at home, I use OpenDNS.

OpenDNS can be set up on each computer, or in the router that they all use to connect to the Internet. You can choose categories of sites to block, or even blacklist or whitelist individual sites. It's quick and easy to set up and make changes, and it's free.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

email reminders with Google calendar

Whether you have recurring events, or just events that you don't want to miss, it's possible to set up reminders for yourself using your Google calendar. These reminders can email, pop-ups on your computer (if you have your calendar open), or even text messages (SMS) to your mobile phone.

If you have your calendar open, perhaps from calendar.google.com, click Settings at the top right, then the Calendars tab near the top middle. You'll see a link for Notifications for each of your calendars. This allows you to change the default notifications, I'd recommend setting it to Email 3 hours before each event, but you can also change the notification types for individual events.

You'll also see options for setting up your mobile phone, calendar sharing/publishing, and many other things. Have fun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

buying cables online

I've mentioned monoprice.com before as an online supplier of cheap cables (for classroom projector/computer as well as home theater), but since they are based in the US there is the exchange rate and longer shipping times to deal with.

I've recently had two similar Canadian online suppliers recommended to me. While I haven't yet bought cables from either of them, apparently they are both very good: InfiniteCables.com and CableSalesCanada.com, both of which are based in Toronto.

Let me know in the comments if you've bought from either one and your experiences with it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

moodle introduction

Our district is just starting to introduce Moodle. In looking at some of its features, I came across a presentation that explains what Moodle is using Lego.

Friday, February 6, 2009

free tax software

I've been meaning to mention this, even though it isn't related to education technology unless you are a business education teacher. StudioTax is a free NETFILE certified tax preparation program. I haven't used it yet, but I've been NETFILEing for a number of years with paid programs, but this year I intend to use StudioTax.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

some software recommendations

Some free (and/or open source) software that I recommend:

Paint.NET image and photo editing
GIMP image and photo editing
IrfanView image viewer
Picasa photo organization and editing
CutePDF pdf writer
Foxit pdf reader
ZoomIt for drawing on the screen

Firefox web browser
Thunderbird email client
Pidgin for IM (MSN, AIM, etc)
Skype internet phone

VLC video/music player
for music libraries and podcasts
YamiPod an iTunes alternatve for iPod management.
Miro for video podcasts and RSS, etc.
MovieMaker 2 video editing
PhotoStory for making slideshows easily
Audacity audio recording/editing

CD BurnerXP for burning CDs and DVDs
InfraRecorder for burning CDs and DVDs
Avast antivirus
Spybot S&D AntiSpyware
Ad-Aware AntiSpyware
uTorrent for downloading torrents
TightVNC remote admin
XP PowerToys
7-zip file archiving/unarchiving

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

PD Session - Technology Gadgets

The PowerPoint file from the January 30th, 2009 PD session on Technology Gadgets can be found here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

making a password protected website with Google sites

If you find that you need to have information available on the Internet to a limited number of people, perhaps your students, you can create a website using Google Sites. Google Sites can be used with a regular Google (Gmail) account, or with a Google Apps account (as I've discussed before.

When creating your site, you can specify if you want it viewable by the whole world, anyone from your domain, or specific users. You can also invite users to be collaborators, meaning that they can edit the pages on the site.

One thing to be careful of, however, is that it seems the option "Anyone at may this site." is not the default option. If you don't want your students to edit your site, you'll want to change that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Importance of backups

I was reminded today, again, that it is a good idea to have copies of any important digital documents in at least two locations. Those little USB flash drives occasionally stop working or get misplaced, so I wouldn’t recommend keeping your only copy of a file on there.

Likely your school-provided network storage location is backed up automatically, so that’s the best place to store things. I’ve also written previously about online (Internet) storage options for your files.

That reminds me, I need to backup my photos at home.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I'm often asked about antivirus for home PCs, and I always recommend Avast Home Edition.  It is a free program with free updates, but it requires (free) registration.

It works as well or better than other paid products, which is why I recommend it.

I also only recommend free software.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

digital marking

There are a few different ways I have students hand in digital assignments. For larger projects (video and audio files mostly) the students can just save them in their profile folders or on our school media server. However if you don't have this set up, or if you want to be able to do marking at home, there are a few other ways.

USB flash drives: either student or school provided, students can save their work to individual flash drives, or have multiple students save their files on a single flash drive.

Email: I usually have students email their completed assignments to me, since we have gmail accounts set up for students and teachers with about 7 GB of storage space each. I can then mark the assignments on any computer with Internet access.

TurnItIn.com: our district subscribes to this website which provides originality checking and online marking, as well as opportunities for peer review.

Learning Management Systems: online systems can be set up for assignment submission as well as peer interaction et ceteras using something like Moodle or Ning.

I'm sure there are other ways that teachers are marking digital assignments, but these are just a few I've experimented with. Feel free to comment on some of the systems you've used or seen in use.