To take students through the text of a historical document, I downloaded a sample UK voice called Peter from Infovox (free for 30 days, then $20 for the one voice). It works through my Mac’s Universal Access system. It’s quite awkward to have it read just text, since even at high-threshold settings it wants to read aloud all the computer commands and window changes. By putting the Magna Carta into a TextEdit document and recording with Snapz Pro, I did this:
I also tried a UK male voice at Cepstral but I couldn’t get it to behave properly.
This approach might be more effective with bouncing ball or highlighting, but I’m not sure.
What if I could give a bit of history lecture “on location”?
Continuing with looking at animation, I downloaded Tellagami (which I first read about on Greg Kulowiec’s blog) to my iPod Touch and was able to do this:
It saves as mp4 to the Tellegami website, and their Share button gives embed code. Or I suppose one could download it using one of those sneaky browser extensions.
The limitations were that I had to upload photos to the iPod, and that the audio was a little dicey – I had to make sure the Touch was a couple of feet away from me to not get static. Oh, and it’s limited to 30 seconds!
I don’t have an iPad so it hadn’t occurred to me to look at apps, but now I will.
And next I hope to borrow an iPad to try Explain Everything, the other app from Greg’s post.
I spent almost two hours the other day trying to embed a Skype status button into Moodle.
So then I finally get the button added, and it looks like this:
I log into Skype. It looks like that. I log out of Skype. It still looks like that. Why isn’t it indicating my status? I go to Skype’s website again (it made me log in every time I opened a tab and went to the page).
Apparently the “new” button does not indicate your status. I can’t imagine the usefulness of putting a Skype button on your webpage that doesn’t indicate whether you are available or not. But search the support forums and follow the trail and there it is:
It only works if you have the OLD button? So I start thinking – how do I get the code for the old button? I keep searching around the forums, and found someone had posted some old code that they couldn’t get to work, with a “mystatus.skype.com” URL so I used that as a search in the forums, but no joy. I even tried to reconstruct his sample with my parameters.
Then I remembered – I keep a file with code snippets. I’ve got bits like how to write <object> and <embed> html, and the code for making a YouTube video play at a certain spot, and how to zip a folder in ZipIt, and all the other stuff I was afraid I’d forget.
There it was:
Skype ‘My status’ button
<img src=”http://mystatus.skype.com/smallclassic/lisalanesoffice” style=”border: none;” width=”114″ height=”20″ alt=”My status” /></a>
Plugged it into Moodle, and it worked like a charm.
So don’t throw that old code away – recycle!
I have no idea whether this was worth doing, but what the heck.
The software is Plotagon, which is free and in beta. It was shared with me by Tom Hodgers, a member of the POT Cert class, because I was looking for a replacement for the now defunct Xtranormal. I ran it on Mac OS 10.6 even though it requires 10.7. Then I uploaded to Vimeo, until I realized they (still) don’t have captions. So I uploaded to YouTube, put in the script for the new transcribing service, and then used a special embed code (cc_load_policy=1) to force the captions to show.
OK, so pedagogy. Students have trouble understanding the old poems and epics, unless translated in a way that makes them distinctly unpoetic. For one of my major topics in early Western Civilzation, heroic narratives, they need to encounter Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and Beowulf (so they can work on – like last week’s class, epics like Star Wars, Shrek, and Forrest Gump – yes, that’s what they chose).
Short of spending weeks in Second Life, I don’t have an easy way to create characters in settings that would portray the text, and I’m not sure I want that. There’s something more pure about a reading rather than a performance for these epics, which were, after all, in the oral tradition. In this program I can create a “reading” instead of a show, like one might see at the reading of a play. No costumes, sets or production values. This imitates that, and I confess I came at all this backward after playing with the program, which I could not at first find a use for. So now all the people who will say, “That’s not pedagogy first! That’s technology first!” will feel vindicated. And I should probably double-post to ds106.
Yes, it’s supposed to be to share pinboards, like a edu-Pinterest. But that’s not what I need. I need a presentation tool.
Trouble is, I’m not very linear anymore when it comes to lecturing. I used to be. I used to have outlines, both on the overhead projector (my specialty is medieval technology) and on my notes (notes? what are notes?).
But over the years I’ve become less linear. But I’ve also become more visual. Powerpoints don’t do the trick – they’re linear too. I don’t like going back five slides, or keeping to multi-slide view open so I can see where to go next.
I tried CoolIris for this a year or two back. It was kind of OK, but clunky. Had to be installed on my classroom computer, which has the RAM of a small treadle sewing machine. I tried installing it on my own server. But then I had to download and upload folders and, well, those little tiles were kinda hard to see unless you moved the mouse just right to see down the…line.
So, pinboards! This is great, I thought, when I first saw Pinterest. So I tried it, but it compressed the images, and when you clicked on them it didn’t make them that big, not in good enough resolution for that big screen at the front of the classroom.
Along comes Educlipper, and that’s working better. I can add not only images from wherever on the web, but pdf files (the homework and documents) and video clips (don’t want to miss that cool Darmok episode where Picard does Gilgamesh).
It happened all of a sudden. The feed from one POT Cert Class participant just wasn’t coming into the Pedagogy First aggregated blog. I spent hours trying to figure out why not – the feed finder screen would just go blank on only her feed. I Googled, I pounded, I went through what there is of FeedWordpress documentation. Mostly I wished I were Alan Levine or Tim Owens.
I have mentioned before that technologies known for doing some really cool things are becoming unreasonably complicated. This particular technological problem rests on a self-hosted installation of the software WordPress (built and maintained by a wonderful community) and the FeedWordpress plugin (built and maintained by a wonderful coding person). When one gets updated, it often doesn’t play nice with the other. And I can’t fix it. I say again unto you, I am not a coder. I find code, I steal code, I envy code, but I do not code.
I finally asked that a new blog be created for this participant, and it seems to be feeding. For now. Of course, the other one had fed too, all of the first semester. Given my own significant limitations, we will not be able to do this again this way next year.
The recipe at the moment is this. Start with recent adventures with self-hosted Moodle, add this new self-hosted WordPress crisis, mix with a dash of cloud failure (Google abandoning Reader, Posterous closing shop, and SeesmicWeb being bought and killed by the inferior HootSuite ). Stir and cook with a big dollop of my recent participation in reviewing a publisher-created program for grading student essays, and you have the kind of disillusionment you get by realizing you have already been devoured by the whale but didn’t know it.
The monsters (big proprietary systems, cloud-based sites, self-hosting) appeared to be separate, but were actually all parts of the same beast.
Self-hosting, a domain of ones own, the path of ds106 and the noble D’Arcy Norman – this has been the antidote to the bullying tactics of the LMS and publisher-created content. I have held it up as the way to avoid both big proprietary monsters and the vagaries of the disappearing web apps and fly-by-night cloud offerings. I have scoffed (quietly) at those who said they could not run their own blog, it was too hard. While I have not been guilty of encouraging anyone to run their own Moodle installation, I have persisted in doing it myself as a bulwark against Moodlling ignorance and exterally-run systems.
All this begins to seem like folly, a folly based on desire. An example: I want nested discussion forums where students can post multimedia, so I have Moodle. I find out today that (cloud-based) Schoology has nested forums! Yay! No! Wait! They are touted around the web as a “start up” of four years or so who use proprietary code (cue John Williams’ Empire Strikes Back music). I will have a free class, but never be able to access it otherwise, years down the line.
Fact is, none of these options are perfect, or even sufficient. The big LMS systems (including Moodle) upgrade and you can’t restore old courses and actually view student work – they say you can, but in fact it doesn’t work. I have all my courses backed up as Moodle .zip files, but now they’ve changed to .mbz. Out in the cloud, I can export my Posterous as they close down, but when I import it into WordPress a bunch of stuff is wrong or missing or ugly. These things weren’t built to be transferrable, or to cater to the archiving tendencies of the mere customer. Whether proprietary and exorbitantly priced, or open source and impossible to run without an IT degreee, none of the options have a sense of history, only a blindered vision of a future fulfilled by profits, market share, or geeky street cred.
Perhaps I am dissembling now to be running a class encouraging faculty to plunge into explorations of web tools and new technologies. I cannot in good conscience suggest anyone build a course around any of them. My colleague Todd Conaway says that it’s better to learn from creating, to meet the challenge of the occasional failure, to engage the technologies and learn from them even if they’re transient. I know that is true. But if you spend too much time in the belly of the beast (whether self-hosted, cloud-based, or LMSed) , things start to smell fishy.