Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Richard Byrne has done it again!

100_2050Image by beth69358 via FlickrRichard Byrne is one of the giants od Educational teachnology blogging. His blog Free Technology for Teachers has the best name for what he really does. Not only does he find the best stuff, he also knows how it can be used in the classroom. Added to that he has written up some of the best guides to using different technology in the classroom. And he still finds time to actually teach.

He has just released a collaboration of some of my favourite bloggers including Kelly Tenkely & Larry Ferlazzo who are both on my blogroll. This online book is full of not just resources but the knowledge and experience of these educators.

For access to the free book - click here

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Free Teaching videos from the UK

I just came across this from one of my linked in groups and I'd thought I would show you. It brings up a bit of nostalga for me, as this is a an all British production, and it looks like a lot of the classrooms I used to teach in.


O2 is a communtication company (Mobile phone, internet) and have set up a moderated "teachertube" like space for teacher to put up video lessons. The difference is the students rate the leesons and there is a 2000 pound prize at the end of November for the best lesson. Interesting proposition.

The videos are moderated and then put into learning areas, where students can browse the list looking for revision topics.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

eBeam Edge V's eBeam Classic

We just got our demo kit of Luidia eBeam Edge systems here at our office. You can probably guess were were a little excited to get our hands on this piece of technology.

So what's the difference between the new edge and the original eBeam? There are two answers - not much and quite a lot.

Not much: The software is the same for the ebeam classic - it has recently had an upgrade with more gallery content and a wide range of templates to use.
The essentials are still the same - the eBeam edge converts your standard whiteboard into an interactive whiteboard, it is even magnetic so it is a breeze to install onto a whiteboard already in your classroom.

Quite a lot.

As the above photos show there is a definite height difference and the pen is smaller for the edge (not interchangeable). This means that it "seems" more accurate (they are both rated at the same 1.1mm for accuracy).

The edge also has a cool "calibrate" button on the unit for quick calibration without heading back to the computer.

The edge also lives on the edge so therefore takes up less space on the board even though length wise they are pretty much the same. Because of its' height off the board the edge can comfortably sit under the hinge of a swing board - meaning it won't get crushed (unless you are using piano hinges).

Recommendation: At around $150 more than the classic eBeam (which will still be sold) the Edge is not that much more, but when you put into volume terms, by choosing the classic version for 10 classrooms you are saving a large chunk of change.

But I really like the new pen and the small form factor of the Edge and I would probably choose it over the classic on a 1:1 match up.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Epson DC11 review

We just got our demonstration Epson DC11 document camera at the office. I must say I wasn't sure about this one and I was definitely worried about the size of the beast.

First off its not as large as I thought - it's about twice the size of a dc06, about about 3 times as heavy. The box it comes in though is about 6 times the size of the DC06 simply because the unit does not fold up like its predecessor.

I'll get through some of the downsides of this unit. First it is not as portable, being heavier and bigger is one thing but it also requires a power brick to run it (unlike the DC06). So this is not something you can move easily from classroom to classroom. But keep in mind it is not a fixed camera and can be moved around a school - it's certainly not a installed piece of equipment.

The only other downside is the extra piece of software and driver you have to load onto your machine, but it's not too bad and is only an issue if you are working with locked down machines in a school or if you are moving it between computers.

The benefits of the dc11 far outweigh the lack of portability. The DC11 is a lot more connectible than the DC06, with USB, VGA and composite outputs so you can hook it up to just about any display device and/or computer. This means that you can bypass your computer and go straight to a TV or projector or even a VCR/DVD recorder. You can also do a pass through with your computer - this allows for a funky split screen or switch between your computer and the live camera. Epson also do a range of projectors that will take the usb input from the camera directly.

The DC11 also has 1 gigabyte of on board memory as well as a memory card slot to store images and video without hooking up to your computer. When you do hook it up via the USB interface and run the included Arcsoft software you have great control over your image output.

The thing that really caught my eye about this unit though is something that a couple of my customers have been waiting for out of an inexpensive visualiser - a microscope adapter. this allows you to project and capture what you would see through the microscope. This is so much better than the cheap usb microscope that really only enlarge pixels. Unfortunately if you have a microscope where the eyepeice moves rather than the stage you will have to focus the scope first and then attatch the camera. This is not easy or quick.

The new Arcsoft software that comes with the DC11 is fantastic and a great upgrade if you had the previous version that came with the DC06. Arcsoft have added two very cool features - Time lapse recording and annotation over live video. Both of these feature are great in the classroom, especially science classrooms. The times lapse can be adjusted and saved as a video or series of stills. The drawing over live video require a bit of oomph from your computer and graphics card but it does is quite well on my 3 year old machine. This works great on an interactive whiteboard.

The pricing on the DC11 is the same as what the DC06 was a couple of months ago ($599 ex), the DC06 has taken a huge price hit and dropped it's price by $200 (yeah that much).

So out of the two visualisers which one is right for you?
If you move from classroom to classroom, you work mainly with documents and books rather than objects and use your computer in almost every class then the DC06 is your best bet.

If you stay in the one classroom most of the time, you use a variety of display technologies or your are a science teacher then the DC11 would be your visualiser.

I hope this helps, feel free to leave comments or questions.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Free image enlarger resampler

Ever wanted to take a small digital image and enlarge it - you know what will happen though - it will go all pixely and look bad...

I know there are a couple of plugins for photoshop that resample and clean up the result but they are usually expensive.

I've just come across an elegant solution - SmillaEnlarger - A stand alone image enlarger that does a great job of enlarging low resolution pictures without the JPG and Pixel artifacts. It's open source so it's free to use and pass on to your students. The results are simply amazing - real CSI style "Can you enlarge and enhance that picture?" that you scoff at normally.

This kind of program is really useful for interactive whiteboards when you want to work with sub optimal pictures from a phone or cropped or from the web, as your projector will really accentuate the the "jaggy" low resolution pictures.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

ECAWA, games and explicit ICT teaching

Well it has been a busy week even though it was (and still is for another week) school holidays.

I was at the ECAWA (Educational Computing Association of Western Australia) conference this week. I've been involved with ECAWA for, on and off, over 10years now - going to conferences as either a delegate, speaker or sponsor.

The Keynote speaker was fantastic - Sasha Barab from Indianna University has taken a Position at Edith Cowan University here in Perth and was a great advocate for the use of games for eduction. Sasha was instrumental in the Quest Atlantis project where he designed numerous curricular designs to support transformational play in which players take on the role of scientists, reporters, accountants and others, who use academic content to resolve problematic fictional story lines that unfold in virtual worlds.

It reminded me of the work done in by the FAS and their immune attack game - I looked them up when I had a Chance and a they have links to some of their other games and other organisations making games for education.

He really got me thinking about game design and it's implication on my own projects.

I was also asked to run a workshop (we I offered and they accepted) - it seemed to go well with some good feedback from the participants. The conference was also a great time to network and catch up with some friends I only really converse with on echalk.

As with all of the last conferences it was a small affair and only had less than 100 delegates at the event. This is in sharp contrast to the ones in the late 90's that had over 300 delgates and big sponsors such as HP, Cisco and Citrix.

Some of us "oldies" were lamenting the fact that computing had come to this - where we have so much hardware in school but no one is really interested in it as either a subject or an enabler of good pedagogy. Some of the discussion centred around the fact that most teachers do not have a grounding in some of the most basic uses of computers and therefore do not see some of the potential to use computers across the curriculum.

While I was teaching in the UK in 2002/2003, the school I worked in made it a requirement that all teachers had to do their ICDL qualification within 2 years. They put on free classes (which I ran) and paid for their ICDL fees. The use of computers an technology by students and teachers increased markedly and the quality of assigned work noticeably improved.

I'm not sure that making every teacher do the ICDL will work, but considering there is such a small component of ICT in the teacher training courses then I think we are perpetuating the problem by not helping teachers with decent ICT competence training so they feel confident using technology in the classroom.

Well to help that along here are a couple of links to some free training resources - I can't make it compulsory for all teachers but at least I can gather some free resources.

I came across this one recently - nice neat and simple
In pictures - Simple step by step visual tutorials for MSoffice, Open Office and some web coding.

Teacher Click - Tutorials for teachers in Flash, office

Baycon Tutorials - More Office tutorials going up the fairly advanced topics.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sign Language and SRS

I have just stumbled on to the work of Rick Morris, in particular his use of the one handed American sign language in his regular classroom.

To paraphrase, Rick gets his students to use the signs for "I" (for I have a question), "A" (For I have an answer), and "C" (for I have a comment), when they their hands. In a small group this lets him prioritise his dialogue with his students and helps with the flow of his lesson. He has added more sign language in his classroom to help with other management issues.

This has to be one of the most useful and practical teaching techniques I have seen in a long time and I'm keen to try it out next time I'm training a group.

How dose this relate to clickers?

One thing that many people forget is the "?" button on many Student/Audience Response Systems. On TurningPoint it silently but visually cues up people who would like to ask a question or make a comment - the teacher/trainer/lecturer at any time can pull up the list and see who is next to ask their question or to comment.
If you use Responseware, those questions can also be written by the participant so that in large groups they don't have to stand up and be heard (embarrassing for some and logistically difficult with AV and large rooms).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Computer Tutorials

From - so very true.

So often someone will give me a mobile phone and say - "You're a techie/computer person can you fix this for me?"

I wish I had this in my pocket to give them.

Sometimes though some people do really want to learn, but you just don't have the time to help them every step of the way.

I learn best through a combination of tutorials, pictorials and project based or problem solving. So if you have someone who wants to learn "computers" try pointing them in these directions.

There are some good JAVA and .net tutorials as well. - I like this one becase it has step by step pictures.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

free online room planner

One of my "stumbleupons" came up with this: roomfulexpress

It's an online room / space planner.

This would be a great way to map out your classroom or school office and it works nicely with IWB's. Gives your students the overhead perspective on things.

It also has some nice outdoor objects, prints without logging in doesn't save unless you set up an account. Also all measurements are in feet and inches - so a maths activity to convert to metric would be in order.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The IWB upgraded

We have seen this coming but I didn't think it would be quite this soon...

Samsung has released a 64" touch panel that when you look at TCO and intallation costs would give most interactive whiteboards a run for the money...

From their website...

The exciting new 650TS touch screen for education is a must have for any classroom. Combining the simplicity of a whiteboard and the power of a computer, the Samsung 650TS eBoard will enhance almost any learning environment. The exciting new 650TS touch screen will increase student participation, provide better visual presentation and therefore create a better learning environment. The 650TS eBoard occupies less space than other interactive boards. It has low power consumption and can even deliver high-quality images under the brightest lighting condition. The lifespan of the 650TS LCD panel is approximately 50,000 hours (or about 30 years when used 6 hours a day).

Not exactly portable as an eBeam and projector set up. But certainly for a fixed installation this is the next step in providing display and interactive technology in the classroom.

For more information -

The cool thing is that we now sell them from our office. Can't wait to get my hands on a demo unit.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Making your own iwb content

Seems I've taken a holiday from my blog...

Unfortunately I wasn't on holiday... I've been working harder than ever before at my current job as well as a few home projects which I'll show later when I get them a bit further along.

I had an author contact me recently - she was looking for a way to create here own interactive whiteboard resource to go with some picture books that she has written.

Now back in the day I used to use Authorware, Director and Flash to generate interactive multimedia, but that is now over 10 years ago and I have not kept up my skills.

So I went on the hunt for easy to use cheap/free tools to create stand alone multimedia packages that included basic computer based training stuff like quiz es, cloze, matching and drag and drop type activities.

So here is what I found

CourseLab - This is the system we are going to use. Nice interface, no coding if you don't want to and easy to use. Best of all it's free.LAMS Authoring EnvironmentImage via Wikipedia

LAMS - more server based but again easy to use and set up - Free too

Xerte - More coding than what I would like - but would be really good once you get your head around.

eXe - Easy to use but not enough "fun" stuff for our purposes (storybook), but for secondary and tertiary courses this is very quick and easy. Again free.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ebeam demonstration Video

I find this a little funny but is seems that SmartBoard is getting to be a generic term...

This comes from

It's good once again to see customer using our products and being able to get going so quickly.

I like his closing comment.

Monday, July 12, 2010

ARS/SRS in Higher Education

Queensland University of Technology has released a "Take5" video on the use of keepads in their Business studies courses. It's nice to see one of our clients working with the technology to get better outcomes for their students.

A lot of what she says can be used within a primary and seconday based environment as well.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Graphing mathematics - Free CAS

There was a discussion on echalk today regarding a school's migration to Apple Macs and how their maths teachers were resisting the change so they could still use FX Draw on their PC's so that they could create graphical functions for printing and class use.

I was immediatly interested why they would still use a paid for program when there were quite a few free and open source alternatives.

So here is the list I came up with that were free and cross platform.

Going from simple to complex....

the open source Mac / PC - Maths Trax from NASA

the open source cross platform geogebra (my favourite)

or the open source cross platform C.A.R Metal

or if you really want to freak them out - the free open source cross platform Maxima and Sage

Monday, June 14, 2010

Make your own games! Serious Games

A lot has been said for "Serious Gaming", where there is an educational purpose for playing the game. These have been used for a wide range of educational contexts, and even TurningPoint ARS can be used as a game platform.

I was having a scan through Sourceforge and came across this little beauty - e-adventure

Cross platform for both the development and games means that games can be written once, played by users on different platforms. Because it is written in JAVA there is also the possibility to push them to iPhones and android based devices.

There are a range of pre-made games to check out as well as comprehensive help files.

I you ever wanted to make a point and click adventure story or get you students to demonstrate what they have learned this might be the tool to have a look at. Take a look at the video to get an idea of what it is all about.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Things you find on old computers2

Part 2 - computer 2 - 2004 - 2006

So the old computer started up with a wheeze and a rattle but got there eventually. After getting all mu domuments that I wanted I went through all my programs and found the ones I could still find on the net.

Many of the desciptions are taken off the sites - I'm in a bit of a rush and they say it better than me.

- Compendium is a software tool providing a flexible visual interface for managing the connections between information and ideas.

- CDBurnerXP is a free application to burn CDs and DVDs, including Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs. It also includes the feature to burn and create ISOs, as well as a multilanguage interface. Everyone, even companies, can use it for free.

BPM Studio Pro is a tool designed for lovers of music mixing and for digital audio professionals.

If we want to achieve new sounds like those that come from professional audio consoles, we can utilise this powerful multifaceted audio file reproducer.


PhotoMesa is a zoomable image browser. It allows the user to view multiple directories of images at once, and uses simple navigation commands to smoothly zoom in and out.

PhotoMesa requires only images on disk, and does not require any annotation, importing to a database, or other organization.

- KidPad is a collaborative story authoring tool for children. It provides basic drawing functionality on a zooming canvas enabled by Jazz. The narrative structure of a story is defined by creating spatial hyperlinks between objects on the canvas. Instead of using a standard WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) user interface, KidPad uses local tools that can be picked up, used and dropped anywhere on the drawing surface. The local tools interface and MID, a Java library developed at the University of Maryland, allows KidPad to support shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration. If multiple USB mice are connected to the computer each mouse will control a tool in KidPad, making it possible to let several children simultaneously create a story together!

- The Tablet Mylar Slides Classroom Presentation System is intended as an electronic replacement for traditional mylar slides. There are two different types of physical mylar slides; the slide deck where each is slide is around the size of a sheet of paper, and the slide roll where you have a single, "infinitely long" side whose width is around the width of a sheet of paper. The TMS system combines these two qualities to provide a deck of "infinitely long" slides.

Font Viewer - This program is an easy to use but powerful font manager, which allows getting a quick overview of both installed and non installed fonts. It can install and uninstall fonts, and organize them in categories. Some of its features are:

bridge building games by Chronic Logic. There are currently five (!) of them: Bridge Builder (the original game from 2000), the new Bridge Building Game (very similar to Bridge Builder but enhanced, from 2006), Pontifex and Bridge Construction Set (formerly: Pontifex II)

- GeoSetter is a freeware tool for Windows (XP or higher) for showing and changing geo data and other metadata (IPTC/XMP/Exif) of image files (e.g. images taken by digital cameras).

- GenChemLab is an OpenGL-based application intended to simulate several common general chemistry exercises. It is meant to be used to help students prepare for actual lab experience. It could also be used in cases where laboratory facilites are not accessible, for instance in K-12 schools or home schooling.

- Gravit is a gravity simulator which runs under Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. It's released under the GNU General Public License which makes it free. It uses Newtonian physics using the Barnes-Hut N-body algorithm. Although the main goal of Gravit is to be as accurate as possible, it also creates beautiful looking gravity patterns. It records the history of each particle so it can animate and display a path of its travels. At any stage you can rotate your view in 3D and zoom in and out. Gravit uses OpenGL with Lua, SDL, SDL_ttf and SDL_image.

- The IHMC CmapTools program empowers users to construct, navigate, share and criticize knowledge models represented as concept maps. It allows users to, among many other features, construct their Cmaps in their personal computer, share them on servers (CmapServers) anywhere on the Internet, link their Cmaps to other Cmaps on servers, automatically create web pages of their concept maps on servers, edit their maps synchronously (at the same time) with other users on the Internet, and search the web for information relevant to a concept map.

A free game in the truest sense of the word, TrackMania Nations Forever lets you drive at mind-blowing speeds on fun and spectacular tracks in solo and multiplayer modes.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Network Visualisation Tools

When I was teaching computing to middle school and high school students we didn't do much on networking. Partly because there was no real curriculum on it and partly that they had already set up LAN parties and they now knew almost as much as I did.

Times have changed and "the network" is the most important thing in a school, college, university or workplace (watch what happens when it goes does down for a day). So teaching the network is now an important part of the syllabus for computer studies.

So here are a few network Visualisation tools.

Warriors of the Net - a cool animation / visualisation tool of what a Packet switch network looks like from a packet point of view.

CNET - From my home town of Perth - cnet enables development of and experimentation with a variety of data-link layer, network layer, and transport layer networking protocols in networks consisting of any combination of wide-area-networking (WAN), local-area-networking (LAN), or wireless-local-area-networking (WLAN) links.Available for linux and Apple OS only.

INET framework -

GINI - GINI (GINI is not Internet) is a toolkit for creating virtual micro Internets for teaching and learning computer networks.

CLACK - Clack is a virtual network environment for visualizing network behavior and router internals.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Things you find on your old PC's

Since working at Keepad Interactive I haven't had to buy a new computer for the last 3 years. My work laptop is fine. Before that I bought the toshiba laptop that I'm writing on now for my year in Japan. But unlike a lot of people I've kept my old PC's. They have been gathering dust in my spare room...but girlfriend wants them out - they are taking up too much space.

So I'm firing each one up to rescue any documents I might like to keep, and see what programs I used to have on them and then wipe them. I haven't got to the last part yet.

I'm finding it hard to wipe these machines and take them to the eWaste recycling centre for a number of reasons.

1> they are like a snapshot of the time when these were my main computer, my access to the internet, the games I used to play and the types of programs I was interested in.
2> they are all differenct opperating systems, from 3.11 to XP (some of them boot faster than my current machine)
3> some of the programs on there that were free are now commercial or defunct so once it's wiped it's gone forever. Some of the programs were special offers on magazines so again you can't get them again (magazines and discs are long gone).

So as I grapple with this problem here are a few of the programs I found on my 300mhz machine from used from 1998 to 2002 that are still available in some form.

Notrium - Still free, this top down role playing arcade game is great for more than a few hours of game play.
Kaboodle - This is also still free (GPL). I used this to keep an eye on a large network of 40+ computers. It tracks in real time what devices are on your network in a friendly graphical way.
FreeCommander - Back in the days of DOS there was Xtree Gold. If you want a powerful file manager that does FTP, bulk file renaming and hanker for the old double pane views - then this is the beast you are looking for.
Fresh Diagnose - Do you want to know more about your computer? Just bought a second hand one? Run this up and see what it's made of.
Magix - Not free anymore - music creation software that used to do automatic music videos as well - not a bad price though.
Starbits - Only does one thing, but does it so well. Creates star fields and galaxys to order on your PC. Still free - still awesome. This one is being downloaded tonight.
Terragen - Terragen is a scenery generator, created with the goal of generating photorealistic landscape images and animations. It is available for Windows and the Mac OS. Terragen is free for personal, noncommercial use, with only a few limitations. I used this with a class of students to do a CD-ROM (back in the day) of the nine planets and generate the landscape of each planet.
Amorphium - An easy to use, "soft" 3D modeling program. I got this as a special offer off a magazine disc. Good value for $79
Swish - When buying flash is just too expensive - there is Swish. Again I got this off a magazine disk. Currently the minimax Swish is $69. again something in the back of my mind if I ever go back to multimedia production.
Anvil - Anvil Studio is a free Windows Windows 7 / Vista / XP / 2000 / 98 program designed for people who want to; record music with MIDI and Audio equipment; compose music for MIDI and Audio equipment; sequence music with MIDI equipment, or play with music using a computer and sound card. Add ons you might like you have to pay for but the basic program is still free.
AlamDV - Oh I wish this was still free and available... Morphed into FXHome it is now paid for software. reasonably priced for what it allows you to do... But this is one of the main reasons I don't want to wipe my old machine - this program made it easy to do light sabre and laser effects in video.
Amabilis - Free 3D software - you can upgrade to professional versions if you want more features. Easier to get your head around than Blender or Maya.
C-Evo - got a few weeks to yourself -don't know what to do with all that time. Download this and they won't see you for weeks. A free civilisation clone. C-evo is a freeware empire building game for Windows. With a time scope of several thousand years, it covers aspects of exploration and expansion, industry and agriculture, warfare and diplomacy, science and administration.
WAV to MIDI - If you thought voice recognition was hard - this is harder. a free program to convert analogue sound files (wav) to digital (MIDI). It works best with single instruments like the piano or the guitar.

So that's one computer - another one from the 2004-2006 era between Europe trip and Japan trip to come next. I wonder what I'll find....

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lowering the costs of your IWB investment.

Luidia eBeam softwareImage by AV-1 via Flickr

As part of my job, I not only present at workshops and conferences but produce white papers and material that outlines our products to educate our customers and persuade them to consider our services. It is not an easy job. I write more now than I ever did in school.

I'm lucky that I support product that I believe in and use on a daily basis, but it is still hard not to come across as a "used car salesman".

So for your edification and review I present my latest offering currently in draft. I've cut out the marketing bit at the end, case studies and the call to action, as I know large percentage of the people who read this are from outside Australia. I still think this is a good explanation about the current IWB market and the choices that can be made.

Any comments and suggestions are gratefully accepted and encouraged.

How to Put an Interactive Whiteboard Solution in Your Classrooms for Half the Cost.

You know that an interactive whiteboard in the right hands can engage, enthuse and inspire classrooms of kids. Research shows that using this type of technology in the classroom effectively reduces behaviour problems and increases interest and engagement of students.


They are expensive to buy and install, you have other things to spend your meagre budget on and you know that without the right support they could easily become an expensive white elephant in your school.

This education white paper examines how schools across Western Australia have halved the cost of their IWB investment and now have more engaged students and teachers who are confident daily users of the technology. Schools in the southern corridor from Safety Bay to Dawesville, both public and private, have reduced their costs while still providing their teachers with world class equipment and training.

The Three Elements of any Interactive White Board (IWB)

With any IWB installation there are three key pieces of equipment that make the magic happen, the good news is that you probably already have one.

1. The computer – Either a school desktop or a teacher laptop. Make sure if you are using a desktop that it has two VGA outputs, one to the projector and one to a screen.

2. The projector – Don’t skimp on this, get the best projector for the job as it will be what determines what the students see (or not see) and whether the system will get used or not. Do your research about ANSI Lumens, contrast ratios and the merits of regular, short throw and ultra short throw. Don’t forget about lamp lifetimes and replacement costs. Try and get the longest warranty you can.

3. The IWB system – This is what turns pen or finger movements into essential mouse movements and clicks. The interesting thing is that there are four different types of systems to choose from in Australia.

• Resistive — Resistive touchscreens are composed of two flexible membranes coated with a resistive material and separated by a thin gap. When contact is made to the surface of the screen, the two sheets are connected together, registering the precise location of the touch. This technology allows one to use a finger or a stylus on the board.

• Electromagnetic — These interactive whiteboards feature an array of wires embedded behind the board surface interacts with the stylus tip to determine the (X,Y) coordinate of the stylus. Styli are either active (requiring a battery) or passive (no batteries or other power source). In other words, the sensors in the board react and send a signal to the computer when there is contact with a magnetic pen.

• Capacitive — similar to the electromagnetic boards, the capacitive type works with an grid of wires embedded into the board. In this case the wires interact with fingers or a stylus touching the screen. The interaction between the different wires and the tip of the finger or stylus is measured and calculated to a coordinate.

• Ultrasonic and Infrared — When pressed to the whiteboard surface, the marker or stylus sends out both an ultrasonic sound and an infrared light. Two ultrasonic microphones receive the sound and measure the difference in the sound's arrival time, and triangulate the location of the marker or stylus. This technology allows whiteboards to be made of any material, but requires a suitably adapted active dry-erase marker or stylus. These systems can be retrofitted to existing whiteboards.

Installation is one of the ‘Hidden costs’ of interactive whiteboards, something that is only thought about after the decision has been made. Sometimes this can mean the price you were expecting and what ends up coming out of the budget can be two very different things.
There are two things to pay for when installing an IWB system.
- The electrician / installer, sometimes you will need two because of the physical size of the board (essentially doubles the cost)
- The cables and hardware required to make all the connections between all three elements.
- Don’t forget shipping. Sometimes delicate boards need specialised delivery arrangements.

Just ask any principal from any school. If you don’t provide the right support when rolling out new technology that has the potential to change pedagogy then you might as well be burning your money. Staff training is crucial to making the most out of your investment, and again there are two types of training you should invest in.

- Technical training – this need to be done as soon as possible- even before the installation. This helps teachers feel confident that they can use the system to do basic tasks, and to experiment.

- Pedagogy training – Once you have the technical training done you can move on to the real reason you went out and bought the things. Changing the way teachers teach. Best done in workshops with moderated peer teaching with some key motivating ideas that can form part of some action research for your teachers to reflect on how they can use the technology to improve the outcomes for their students.

Once all this is done
You are finished; you have fund raised, procured, installed and trained. How much has that cost you per classroom? For most schools this figure hovers around the $10 000 mark; a big investment especially if you are in a big school and want to set up lots of rooms. Obviously some people are going to miss out. Some will be happy about that, as they only have a couple of years until they retire, but others will be very disappointed. How do you choose who gets this in their classroom and who does not?

Reducing the cost
So how do you bring the cost down to something more manageable? Let’s look at the three components.
Computer? – You already have that
Projector? – As discussed this is something you don’t want to skimp on. Make sure it is a 3LCD.
IWB system? – This is where you can make your savings, and your choices here you can also reduce your installation costs.

A regular fixed Interactive whiteboard (Resistive, Electromagnetic, or Capacitive) by its nature be contained within a specially made board. This means they are limited to the size that they are manufactured to and are expensive to produce, ship and install. Minimum price off the government contact for a small interactive board is $1720.

The Ultrasonic and Infrared system is different, and is the system used by Luidia’s eBeam product to uses the existing whiteboard as the surface and be accurate to 1.1mm on a board up to 3 meters across. The unit is about as big as an adult hand and attaches to the whiteboard surface through magnets, suction cups or permanently attached via bolts or screws. This means that the production, shipping and installation costs are drastically reduced. Permanently attaching the unit to a board with the required cables and end points usually costs $120, and the price of each unit is less than $900 ex GST. This device can give you a working area of up to 90" diagonally, more than most fixed boards.

A Note about installation
Some schools have further reduced or eliminated their costs for installation by using either expert parent or staff help. Capel Primary School has put in a large amount of eBeam installations through a couple of weekend busy bees coordinated and led by their principal. We can supply full instructions and specifications if you feel you have the expertise within your school community.

As noted above training is the follow through that needs to happen if a successful roll out of new technology is going to happen. Unfortunately many of the fixed board salesmen are from an audio visual technology background – not an education background. So their technical training could be great, but the application of that training into an educational environment can be lacking.

Make sure that the vendor you get your solution from, has staff onboard who have experience at the chalkface. People who can successfully meld good teaching practise with good technology. This is where you will get the greatest effect from your investment in interactive whiteboard technology.

Training also needs to be available in a variety of formats to suit the needs of your staff. A quick one hour workshop or even half day is not going to be for everyone. Just like your students your staff have different needs and learning requirements, so will require different delivery.

Face to face – This is usually what you get as part of your purchase a 1 – 3 hour presentation where staff don’t get much time with the board and it is all just a bit of show and tell.

Off site workshops – The opportunity of sending your staff to neutral ground helps them to see the bigger picture and have extended time to discuss test and play with the technology and how they can use it. These are great time to network with other teachers and see how they are using the technology in their classrooms.

Online – Online recorded video delivery is not to be discounted. Here the learner has total control, they can stop and pause, jump to relevant points or get training at point of need at their our place and pace. One of You Tubes’ fastest growing genres is the tutorial, instructional videos that are accessed by thousands of people.

Guides and Manuals – believe it or not some people do actually read these. Make sure your vendor can make them available to all your staff.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The kids are escaping!!! You'd better run with them!!!

high school computer labImage by vanberto via Flickr

Recently there has been a big debate on echalk about the role of technology in schools and that very soon there will be a major paradigm shift in the way that our students access technology and information... and therefore how and what we teach. And the thing that frightens teachers and administrators is that there is not much they can do about it.

It was mentioned that schools should provide access to resources that are not normally available to kids at home. industrial kitchens, workshops with lathes and welding gear, theatres with lighting and sound systems - but when they come to our "computer" classes we give them something less powerful than the machine they have at home (including some consoles) and more locked down that at home. No wonder they are leaving computer science classes in high school and acting up in primary computer lessons.

The shift may look something like this...

3G and 4G wireless broadband will become cheaper, have more coverage and better bandwidth.
Internet enabled devices such as netbooks, iPads, PADD's and Phones will become cheaper than textbooks. And how are you going to know if they have a 3G or 4G card installed?

Therefore students will be able to access information unfettered by the school network from devices that are not owned by the school. That means all control is lost by the school and the administration - but does that mean they lose responsibility?

So what would be the point of providing school infrastructure such as computers or laptops as well as the network that runs them... apart from some specialised equipment for graphics video production or music.

What this does mean is that the Internet will be unfiltered for these students... Very scary for administrators - or an easy hand off - a perfect NMP (Not My Problem)?

So we are going to have to start teaching how to use the real Internet - not some sanitised version. It's similar to road safety - we are going to have to teach the students how to cross the road, ride a bike and eventually drive - something that has the possibility it may harm them or kill them.

School is real life, it is not a dress rehearsal or training for real life. When our students walk out the door of our classroom we cannot be the loco en parenti for everywhere they go. So we have to give them the skills to live in the jungle. One by one kids are escaping into the jungle... have you taught them the survival skills they are going to need?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Free 3D IWB

NASA World Wind, an open source virtual globe ...Image via Wikipedia

I recently (re)posted an article that ended up in a national educational guide. I got commented by "Knaus" to say that most of my ideas could easily be done without an IWB and just the projector.

I've looked at the post and Knaus is right... my intention with the article though was to break teachers out of the whiteboard software that comes with the board and to explore other ways that you can use all or parts of the technology that are in your classroom when you do get an IWB thrust upon you.

Knaus also expressed that an IWB is expensive - and as a good Keepad Interactive employee I have to point out that the eBeam from Luidia that we sell can sometimes be a better solution both cost and portability wise.

So here are some IWB 3D applications.

Google Sketchup - This works really well with an IWB, not only is it quick an easy to create three dimensional objects, you can use your IWB to interactively walk around your newly created 3D scene. Add the annotation function of most IWB software and you can take snapshots and annotate your virtual world. I use Sketchup all the time for my IWB demonstrations, and people are constantly amazed at how easy it is to use, and how effective it is. Design and technology teachers love it for making quick sketches, as do Maths teachers who see the value in 3D shapes.

Digital Library of Mathematical Functions - This is one for the high school maths teachers. This site host one of the most important mathematical guidebooks. Interspersed is 3D VRML and x3d files that show complex mathematical functions in 3D helping students to visualise Surface functions.

Edusim - Designed specifically for use with IWB systems, EduSim is a 3D environment where students walk through, exploring 3 objects and finding interfaces with images, and live webpages. But most importantly it is a multi user environment so you can have more than one student in the virtual world. They can communicate and collaborate in a worlds that can easily be controlled by the school. One of the great things is the ability to create something in Google Sketch up and then import it into EduSim.

Google Earth - Again you can take your models built in sketchup and post them into Google Earth. Google earth games are something you might like to try on your IWB

WorldWind - Similar to Google Earth, but with different layers and no streetview. This is more of a scientific program. By downloading the anyglyph plugin you can use those old fashioned 3D red/blue glasses to make your globe float out from the board. - Real 3D in your classroom. This is one of the program I use regularly to show off how to integrate an IWB into teaching without using the software that comes with the board.

Blender - Now we are getting into the heavy stuff. Blender is a fantastic Open Source 3D editing environment, used to make games, movies and 3D models from scratch. A steep learning curve, but I've taught kids how to use some of the basics in after school classes (demonstrating on an IWB) and they have gone on to make some amazing things in 3D.

DAZ - Bryce - If you want to create realistic and hyper realistic natural looking 3D environments, then this free download is what you need. Way ahead of it's time when released the is a great way to produce ray traced scenes easily. I bought (yes I sometimes buy software) Bryce2 back in 2001, left to go to the UK and other places. I downloaded it recently and got right back into the swing of it within half an hour. Really easy to use 3D software that works through the use of Boolean shapes and visual logic. This works great on an IWB, as you work with a range on onscreen tools rather than key presses like Blender.

DAVID - I've only come across this recently but I can see a great use for it in education already. David is free software that lets you create a 3D scanner out of 2 pieces of cardboard, a laser line level and an ordinary web cam. The results in the galleries are extraordinary, imagine being able to scan student's sculptures and projects straight into the computer - then manipulating them on your IWB.

Build AR ARive - Both of these programs help you to create 3D augmented reality items. Great for augmented popup books. I still haven't figured out how to do the video pop up but I will get there one day.

Rep-Rap / Cupcake CNC - Cheap to make and easy to build (apparently) these are homebrew 3D printers. I don't think it will be long before you will see 3D printers at your local Staples/Officeworks store. If you can't wait for one in your classroom though, they have all the blueprints and parts you need. Although not something to do on your IWB specifically it could be a great way to brainstorm and run a build project with your class if you are that way inclined. Could you imagine the conversation at home -

"So what did you do at school today?"
"Well we are starting to build a 3D printer that can print out any 3D object we have a file of or design."

If you have any more free 3D programs you you with your IWB, please leave me a comment I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Computer Games

I've just come across this so I haven't tried them out yet.

Cisco have a whole slew of computer games both flash and downloads that actually teach people about the internet, networks, routers, and network security. Obviously there is Cisco branding but these games look like a lot of fun and mare more arcade style than a simple flashcard memory game.

Cisco games arcade

So if you are teaching higher level networking or you want a fun way to teach primary school students about the internet - Peter Packet is a good one. This would be a fun engaging way to get students into the subject without all the dry explanations and topology diagrams.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Ten Disruptive Uses of Your IWB

<span class=eBeam Projection Meeting" style="border: medium none ; display: block;">Image by eBeam via Flickr

I was asked to write an article last year for teachers who were just starting to use their IWB's and needed a bit of inspiration - The article has just been published in "The Ultimate Guide to Interactive Whiteboards 2010" which is distributed nationally to all schools. I'm just a little bit stoked by this as I thought it was only going to go in a trade magazine / catalogue.

Free subscriptions for the magazine are available here.

a PDF of the article is here

One of the conditions that I agreed to the article was that I could then publish it on my blog when it got published and distributed.

So here it is minus all the nice graphics that were put in by their talented graphics team.

Ten things to do with your interactive whiteboard

Disruptive uses of the IWB

Many teachers get stuck on using their IWB as a direct replacement for their regular whiteboard or blackboard – a way of writing up notes, key words and diagrams. Sometimes they might bring in a piece of clip art as a magnet. Don’t get me wrong the use of an IWB is great as a digital replacement for the whiteboard and the overhead projector. My handwriting lessons are that much better because of an IWB (and I’m left handed)

Teachers need to be able to go beyond that analogy of an “interactive whiteboard” and see the technology for what it really is – an interface for your computer that allows direct interaction with programs, images and video – visual data. The following is some ways to extend your use of your new interface.

Use it as your TV via a USB tuner or internet TV

For less than $100 you can get a digital tuner for your laptop. Depending on where you are, the portable aerial is sometimes all you need to pull down current terrestrial digital TV (if not see if there in an aerial port in your classroom – you might be surprised) . The best thing is that these tuners usually come with software which lets you time shift - perfect for pausing a broadcast to comment or deal with an interruption.

This is a great tool for dealing with a current issue as you can compare and contrast different news outlets and their response to current events. There is also something to be said for a time table – a deadline to be ready for – in this case a particular broadcast.

Once you have worked with and analysed the media it would be a natural extension to make your own TV news or show. There are a number of ways that you can do this from the low tech basic webcam and a sheet, to the set up of a mini TV studio in you classroom.

“Newsmaker” software is great for organising and creating a news report in an easy to use way. With a simple autocue and basic effects your students can create a professional looking broadcast with a very small learning curve.

Of course there are an enormous number of video on demand sites out there. , its UK counterpart, for inspirational speakers and of course youtube. Make use of these resources, especially when they are free.

Be a commentator

You have probably seen it most in sports broadcasts - the use of the pause and annotate effect. In Australia it is often used for cricket matches to visually highlight areas of interest or direction of travel. You can use the same feature with your interactive whiteboard.

Imagine a movie or a recording of a play put on by your students. By pausing and annotating you can highlight areas of interest to you students. More importantly students can participate, drawing in their ideas and designs to make the next live performance better.

Hook it up to a Wii, xBox or PS3

Seriously the computing power behind these game consoles is phenomenal and it is all about the “experience” – harness that power. Kids love to show what they know – be able to demonstrate this to their class and with you asking important – how and why questions lets them explore their problem solving skills. With a range of educational games, bringing in the game console is not as revolutionary as you think. For starters you might want to try Big Brain Academy Wii Degree

Simulate Real world objects

I remember (a long time ago) as a practice teacher trying to get my hands on a range of MAB blocks to teach a class about decimals. Getting my hands on enough equipment took most of my lunch break and when I didn’t have enough even for a demonstration then my whole lesson took a turn for the worse.

Virtual manipulatives are therefore a stress less way of demonstrating real world objects without worrying about quantities. An example of easy to use, readymade collection for mathematics is the Mult-e-Maths toolbox. With things like clocks, scales, and aforementioned MAB blocks, teachers have access to the tools they need to demonstrate and explain key concepts without having to worry about whether another teacher has the required resources.

The internet also has a wide range of virtual manipulatives. One of my favourites for science is the popular Phet website from the University of Colorado, that can also be downloaded entirely via a zip file found on their site. With open ended tasks you can demonstrate a range of concepts and ask “what if” questions with the ability to answer them.

Use it as a microscope

For around $200 you can get good quality USB digital microscopes that hook up to your computer, and can get to X200 magnification. Brilliant for showing the whole class what you are talking about in real time with real stuff.

Another way of making the really small really big is to download the free Virtual Lab from NASA. With prepared slides from both optical and electron scanning microscopes it give you the ability to show your class things that you usually can’t get your hands on such as moon dust and heat shield tiles from the space shuttle.

Go for a ride

Did you know Google Earth has a flight mode? You can virtually fly over the world via your computer. When you team that up with the 3D layer available via the interface, you can fly through cities and landscapes. Imagine being able to take your students the Swiss Alps or fly past the New York skyline.

There are also a range of web based mash ups that take information from Google maps, street view, and earth; and let you create a drive through from one place to another. Drive through the streets of San Francisco , or follow route 66. It may even give your class the motivation to put more local buildings into the database using Google Sketchup.

Drive Smart is free software for Victorian students developed by Monash University, designed to help new drivers with scanning and hazard perception. Use this software with your older students to make them more aware on the roads as pedestrians, cyclists and future drivers. Again you can use annotations to visually mark the image to explain key points.

Video Call

As a Star Trek fan, I am constantly amazed at how large amounts of the technology envisioned in that 60’s TV have come to pass. A video screen the size of Captain Kirk’s view screen is now in your classroom. So now you too can use video / audio communication across vast distances.

Skype and MSN have the ability to do video calls with free software and simple inexpensive webcams. Think about linking up your classroom with a counterpart in another state or country. Australia is in a great position as we share a time zone range with a diverse range of languages as you head north. Linking up an Australian Japanese class, with a Japanese English class would bring benefits that could only be achieved with an expensive field trip.

Student Response Systems

The IWB’s can have a detrimental effect in the classroom. You may find that the “sage on the stage” is back and your lessons start to get centred on you and the technology rather than the students and their learning.

SRS (Student Response Systems), used in the right way with an interactive whiteboard can have really positive effects in your classroom and make the classroom environment more participatory. Rockingham Senior High School have successfully done this in their science program, through the use of both eBeam portable IWB system and TurningPoint SRS

By integrating an SRS into your IWB use you can enable a continuous dialogue between you and your students. You can adapt your teaching and ensure understanding and cover learning styles. This combination makes for a truly interactive classroom, with the added ability to account for and monitor student interaction.

Use a document camera

Prices for document cameras have come down significantly. For around $600 you can get a good quality camera to bring documents and small realia and manipulatives to the big screen. It’s like having your old overhead projector back but updated to a digital form. The Epson DC06 even has a freeze button to hold the image while you move something else into place – useful for surprising your students.

They are not just for documents either, those pesky MAB blocks can be manipulated and used to great effect with every student being able to see. Take that idea further with science lessons as the camera can record and project your “on bench” experiment.

Let go!

As I said before, there is a great temptation to be the didactic teacher when you have this type of technology. While it is fun to play with the toys, you will be surprised when you give your students the opportunity to try their hand at working on the board – and not just to write one word or to circle the mistake in a maths problem. Give groups of students control of the board for extended lengths of time, use your IWB as a station in a learning journey. Even just to brainstorm what they have learnt at the end of the day.

Don’t be afraid of what is possible, experiment and play.
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