Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nintendo DS Lite, Pictochat, Handheld Learning 2008

My current favourite m-toy is the Nintendo DS Lite. I received mine after signing up early for the 2008 Handheld Learning conference (what will they give away next year? PSP?), proceeded to buy a few games for it to get to know its functionality. Games like My Word Coach include opportunities for you to write the letters to fill in blanks, which is a great bit of interactivity. I also have My Chinese Word Coach so I can practice my Chinese handwriting and word recognition. It's great!


Apart from the touch screen, My Chinese Word Coach includes opportunities to listen to pronunciations and to record them and compare your recording with the original. This gets my thumbs up for a well-thought out programme.


The Pictochat function is another great feature of the DS. It's like having a chat room in your hands. So long as there is another DS or DS Lite nearby, you can go into a chat room and draw or type to your heart's content. Not only can you send your message to the other person, you can pull down a previous message, add to it or erase part of it and then send it back! See video below:

video


This has some potential for simple gap-fill using words or formulae. We used Pictochat to great effect at the Handheld Learning conference: the friendly banter meandered from what the speakers were saying to trying to find ways to communicate where we were in the big hall. I met some new people through this and it's certainly a great way to reduce isolation in a big conference such as HHL2008. (pix of Chat Room B)



At another session, storytelling came to the fore when I drew a hand coming out from one side of the screen. Someone else drew another hand coming out from the other side of the screen. I then drew a croissant being thrown by the new hand towards mine. A third person (mention no names http://tinyurl.com/markvanhooft - scroll down to see his entry about my presentation at the HHL2008) drew his hand coming up and stealing my croissant! The story continued but I won't bore you with the details. This was not only a great ice breaker but allowed us to be creative, inventive and to show our personalities with drawings as well as handwriting and text.


During my presentation at the HHL2008, I also mentioned the R4 card to people. This is a Flash cart with a micro-DS memory card preloaded with Moonshell (it's like an alternative operating system for the DS that will run from the memory card). Another similar card is the M3 but I haven't got that one.


I put jpegs, .txt files, mp3 files and ogg videos on to the micro-SD card. I put that into the R4 card and insert that into the DS. The DS turns on with Moonshell and I can then look at the photos, view the videos, read the txt files as an ebook. I can even play .nds games! I converted a video using the Moonshell tools (http://forums.maxconsole.net/showthread.php?t=18663) which saved it as a .dpg file for the DS.


The R4 card retails for about £20 and comes with a 1Gb micro-SD card and preloaded with Moonshell, so all you need to do is to drop in your media files. Photos do have to be 256x192 pixels. Video screen size didn't seem to matter too much.


If you want to go on the Internet with your DS, or design your web site to be DS friendly, read this interesting review: http://tinyurl.com/4bhga6. Note that "Sites designed for greater accessibility will also tend to work better. " So maybe we can use the DS as a web accessibility diagnostic tool ;-)

So if you have Nintendo DS's in your institutions, why not stretch its use a little further. I look forward to hearing stories of how people have used Pictochat in classrooms, and how they have used the DS as a media player!

My slides from the HHL2008 can be downloaded from here: http://xlearn.co.uk/handheld/ls_ppt_hhl2008.ppt

Others can be found by going to http://handheldlearning.co.uk/

And congratulations to Chris Tansey of Wyke College for winning one of the awards at the HHL!


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Weird technology fixes

Ok, this must be the weirdest technology fix I have come across to date that works. It's almost like asking someone to sneeze three times and the thing that wasn't working, will work again!
Basically, my HTC Touch on Windows Mobile 6 was refusing to let me install anything on it, either by download or via Activesync. I was getting very frustrated and had this problem for months.
I finally came across this article that solved the problem:


Anyone have any weird fixes like that to share? If any of the MoLeNET colleges are using the HTC phones and have this issue, this fix may be useful to you so TAG IT at once!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

QR codes

Having heard about QR codes from James Clay, Carl Smith of London Met etc, I thought I'd have a go at it myself.
I couldn't Bluetooth the software to my phone, no matter how I tried (the .jar file went across but not the .jad file), but with my Sony Ericsson, I managed to transfer the .jad and the .jar file on to the memory card via a card reader and install the software on the phone that way. I used the kaywa reader (http://reader.kaywa.com/) and made my own codes using their online facility (http://qrcode.kaywa.com/)

I think QR codes are going to be great on open day - if you provide the students with the phones/kit to read them, and then have a booth to help students get them on their own phones (which in the long run means you can use QR codes around the college more) - will try this out in Sept 08.

Agree with James re reducing the need to type out URLs etc on a phone to access a website, but I think simply using it for location-based information is useful, and if you provide students with the means to make their own for an exercise, it will get them more excited about preparing and then reading information then a simple label on an item/location.

Ideas: anatomy (qr codes on a mannequin/anatomical figure), parts of an engine, a nature trail - identifying plants, identifying health and safety signs around the college (provide a sheet of paper with the signs and the qr codes, they have to spot them around the college and fill in location) etc.

qrcode

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cutting and pasting with the Wii

Two blog posts in one day! Blimey!

I decided to try out my idea of using cut and paste on the Wii (instead of doing some proper work) and here's the video of my result.

Some of the features I really like about this is the way you can zoom out to see all the photos on your SD card. You will see me choosing the Road Signs picture on the Wii, then cutting the text from the right and pasting it under the correct picture on the left.

Because it's more like a 'copy' than a 'cut', you could do one to many labelling exercises (around input and output devices, for example).

I love the fact that you can make the 'pasted' image bigger or smaller by moving the Wiimote closer to the screen or further away from the screen, so you are using 3-dimensional movement to control the final 'stamp'. What a blast!

Enjoy! (by the way, images are Crown copyright, taken from direct.gov.uk)

Using the Wii for educational purposes

Here are some reasons for using the Wii for educational purposes that I have witnessed in various colleges:

1. The games encourage hand-eye coordination

2. The learners enjoy the interactivity and for under £200 compared to a £3000 Smartboard, it buys a lot of engagement.

3. The games can allow people with disabilities to join in an activity that would not be easy to do in real life: bowling, playing tennis, fishing etc.

4. Learners enjoy creating their own Miis, characters that represent them, and creating Miis for their tutors. A discussion around physical attributes could happen here - face shape etc

5. Take pictures and videos with your SD-card camera, pop them into the Wii and you can draw on top of the photos (pointing out Health and Safety hazards for example), run slide shows, create jigsaws from your own photos. Thanks to Josephy Priestley College for these ideas. One more from me: copy areas and paste them (cut out words from the bottom of a picture and paste them in the right areas to label parts, for instance?)

6. Get on the Internet with the Wii (see my other blog posts about using the Wii) and never have to buy another game! Try the word games, puzzle games, shape or colour matching games, painting programme etc. This is my current favourite logic game that will get your learners' goat (as it were): http://wiiplayable.com/playgame.php?gameid=246

7. Browse web sites using Opera (you have to buy this for the Wii) for a whole new experience.

8. I know Hull College have bought a racing game and a 'steering wheel' for their Foundation Tracks motor vehicle students and it helps them to understand manual versus automatic transmission a lot better as they can witness the difference for themselves.

Got any more good examples or ideas? Send them to me and I'll collate them and put in a post to ILT Champs one of these days, or maybe add to Dave Foord's wiki on ILT...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

USB headphones and mic

I have a Samsung Q1 Ultra which is a nice ultra-portable PC. However, it does not have mic input and relies on the built-in mic, which records too much surrounding noise to be effective. 

Having used Dave Foord's USB headphones and mic at the RSC YH summer conference (and suffering the Princess Leia effect), I thought I'd buy some for myself. A little bit of research later, I bought these from Kenable.co.uk:


So they're only cheap (£4.99 incl VAT), but they are space saving, and the brilliant thing about it for colleges is that you can attach your own headphones to it!

So, if your PCs still have the audio and mic inputs at the back of the PC, or you just don't fancy sharing ear wax with other people, why not get some of these and get your students doing more voice recordings/podcasting?

I would highly recommend asking students to use Voicethread.com as a great alternative to PowerPoint presentations. Good for group work, encourages recording of voice or webcam comments on slides or videos and can be easily reviewed by the rest of the class immediately after the lesson.

I'm hoping to use it with my online teaching from September! 


Friday, June 27, 2008

Channels on Jaiku

Set up a channel for the first time in Jaiku yesterday. Did this for Techdis, so if you use Jaiku and want to follow the news from Techdis, join the channel by starting a post with #techdis.

To start your own channel, you click on the channels tab at the top of the Jaiku page.

Some ideas for using channels:
Say you're a tutor and you have 3 classes that you want to use Jaiku with. Rather than having all the students as your contacts, and no way to differentiate between them, start 3 channels, say #classA, #classB, #classC. Tell your learners to get a Jaiku account and post to #classA for instance, to join that class.

On your own page, starting a post with #classA means that only the members in #classA will get notified of that post. (All your contacts will as well) A post starting #classB will only notify those who are members in #classB etc.

Maybe someone can try this feature out and let us know how they get on with it from September?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wii on the internet - wifi and network solutions

Colleges may have a problem getting the Wii on the Internet because it only accepts WPA or WEP security.
Try http://tinyurl.com/58amla for a network connection via the LAN.

I've managed to get my Wii on the Internet using a USB wifi connector (http://tinyurl.com/5q7hvm) on my Q1 Ultra. I wanted to be able to take the Wii around to demonstrate it's capability once connected to the Internet, but wasn't able to do this easily until I bought the wifi connector.
Now my Wii will try to connect to the Internet by looking for the USB wifi connector on my Q1 Ultra! Marvellous! I'm off to play Plumber on the Wii...(http://wiiplayable.com/game.php?gameid=256)


Monday, June 9, 2008

Connecting the wii on a college network

In the last few days, I've tried to connect the Wii at Selby College and tried to connect it at Bradford University. After hours of trying and searching on the web, I've realised that for colleges to connect the Wii to the internet, they will need to purchase the Nintendo Wifi usb connector:
http://wii.nintendo.co.uk/424.html

I'm going to try it out and will report back if it works! Fingers crossed!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Veotag about Rotherham College's MoLeNET project

I filmed Bill Jones, Asst Principal of Rotherham College talking about his MoLeNET project on 3rd April 2008 when I went for my visit as a Mentor. As you can see, he's a very enthusiastic person and very supportive of using technology in the classroom and beyond. Link to video.

This video needed an airing but didn't feel varied enough as I didn't have the chance to film other people or to film cutaways. Using Veotag, however, has made the film more interesting because you can read the summary of points covered and even jump directly to a point in the film!

Of course, if we could then Voicethread it so people can leave (nice) comments, that would be even better! Someone needs to make a Veothread!

I'm not sure why my camcorder (Samsung HMX10) has given the video such a blue cast but will explore further, and remember to bring a tripod next time. Have also realised (too late) that I cannot set it to 4:3 aspect ratio, so this will have to be done post-production or left as it is, in the hope that people start viewing their web pages on their nice widescreen teles!

By the way, a lot of teles have gone widescreen. How soon before the pc screen follows?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Capturing video for blogs/podcasts

video

I find that the video function of my stills camera (Fujifilm Finepix F30) is sufficient for capturing small videos (like above) for blogs or podcasting. No need to buy another cheap video camera if you already have a digital camera that will do the job! My Finepix records in AVI which makes it easy to edit in Windows Movie Maker. Many cheap little video cameras record mp4 files that are easier to edit on the Macs in iMovie.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Getting your Wii on the net

I thought I'd collate some useful links on how to get your Wii on the net for any colleagues in colleges who have just purchased them to use with learners. (This is applicable for some Learning for Living and Work projects in the Yorkshire and Humber region. May not apply to the MoLeNET projects but maybe another project in future? )

(For those who are just unpacking their recently purchased Wiis, don't throw away any bits of card! There should be a postcard size white card with a code on it and if you set up an account on nintendo.com and register your products, you get points that can go towards the purchase of any downloads for your Wii.)

1. http://wii.nintendo.co.uk/54.html
Connecting your wii to your wireless network. The wii already has wireless built in so you shouldn't have to attach anything else to it. Not sure how it would work in a super tight network environment but this just proves the point that we may need to relax the rules a little or risk strangling progress.

2. http://wiiportal.nintendo.co.uk/26126.html
On your PC, create an account on nintendo.com and register your products for some stars.

3. http://wiipointscard.nintendo-europe.com/faq/uk_faq.html
On your Wii, link your account to your Wii shop channel. In theory, this should allow you to convert your stars into points to purchase Opera with, but if this step doesn't work, then use a Mastercard ;-)

4. http://wii.nintendo.co.uk/340.html
On your Wii, buy some points, then click on Wii software and buy the Internet Channel. This will download Opera browser on to your Wii and away you go.

I wish I'd written this while I was in the process of doing it, but hopefully the links will help you through the steps.

Here's a video of the Wii on the internet, in wmv format.

Learning on the Wii

I've finally got round to buying some points and downloading Opera on my Wii. I'm excited by quite a few possibilities in its use for education, especially since some colleges I know have bought them to support learners in their Entry Level courses for the Learning for Living and Work projects.
First off, I had to work out how to scroll as there was no scroll bar down the right side of the screen. You simply press the direction buttons on the handset or press the B button (that's like the trigger button on the handset) and drag it to whever you want. Simple!
Entering information and web addresses were a little time consuming with the onscreen keyboard. Learners who are good at texting on their phones may find the alpha-numeric keypad more familiar and quicker than the qwerty keyboard. Luckily, you can save favourites to save you time.
I was able to read my web pages that were based on RSS feeds, but was not able to playback music or watch any videos. :-(
However, there's a brilliant website http://www.wiiplayable.com/ where you can play more Wii games online. There are word games, puzzle games, sports games as well as the usual shooters etc. There's Deal or No Deal, Paint blocks, a simple Paint programme and lots of others to explore. I've also been on http://www.Lego.com and tried out the drag and drop puzzles and other games on there. Good for engaging construction students perhaps?
Moodle looks ok on the Wii, plus you can zoom in and out of the web site using the plus and minus buttons on the handset. You can't open any Microsoft documents or pdfs, but you can read the forums and view any web links.
Anyway, I've already missed lunch from being too much of a geek with the Wii. I'm sure the electrician in the house thinks I'm just playing. He doesn't realise that this is all hard work! Now I'm off to play that Plumber game I spotted on wiiplayable...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jaiku as an RSS aggregator

This is a really neat idea. When I was in Hitchin with Jill and Beth, we were looking at ways for learners to access feeds easily within college. I suggested that Jaiku could be used in this way. So Jill added a couple of feeds, one from the BBC (an Asian soap) and one from her Gabcast and voila! The learners have a one-stop shop for accessing the latest episodes of podcasts. Love it. James Clay, Dave Sugden, Lisa Valentine and all in our Jaiku online village use this method for pulling in photos, blogs etc but to see it being used so purposefully in a curriculum setting makes me want to weep with joy.

Monday, March 3, 2008

My foray into podcasting on the PC

It's not been easy. I've explored it before, but now I've come back to try to show colleagues how easy it is, and it's not.

Let me explain: every free site that I've been to has been plagued with issues.
  1. Mypodcast.com won't display my site, although it has a nice little free application that you can download on your PC to record mp3 files. (http://www.mypodcast.com/) REMEMBER TO PRESS SAVE AFTER RECORDING. I lost an interview because I clicked the little x on the top right too quickly instead of clicking SAVE first.
  2. podomatic.com seems to be as complicated as Facebook in terms of knowing where to go and what to do. If I can't work it out in one minute, then it's no good for converting reticent tutors into using it.
  3. Never mind, I thought I'd just post my mp3 on my blog to illustrate how easy that was to do. Another error uploading the file. Blogger refuses to play ball. I finally got it to work (see link below). However, Blogger doesn't host audio files so tutors would need to upload them to a public web space first.

I suspect your average tutor doesn't have web spaces, wouldn't normally use ftp and may not already have a blog site to start with.

Gabcast.com, introduced by Di Dawson on the m-champions MoLeNET Moodle, by contrast, was so easy you could blink and miss it. Fantastic and easy. Only problem is with the sound quality. Not sure if learners would enjoy listening to what sounds like a phone conversation week after week.

What really excites me about Gabcast, though, is that unlike the other podcasting solutions, it is truly mobile and allows learners to join in the creation of episodes quite easily. You simply let them have the phone number to dial, the channel number and password, and your class can be recording podcasts just like that!

I'm big on solutions that allow two-way communication, and Gabcast ticks all the right boxes for me so far. I know James is going to run a session on podcasting without Macs. By the end of the night, I may have something useful to add to his repertoire, or I may not! Let's see!

Here's the file I managed to link to this blog:

2008/gabcast.mp3

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Overcome mp3 filters

Quick blog: I tried sending an mp3 file to some colleagues in colleges recently and in some instances, the email was blocked due to mp3s being filtered.
So I put the file into Movie Maker, stuck on a picture and saved it as a wmv.
This was received without a hitch. Hmmm...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Success with software on Asus eeepc

Hurray! Managed to get a few things going on the Asus eeepc:

1. I can use my t-mobile usb modem with my eee:
Plugged it in, clicked on Network connections, created a new account and it pretty much detected everything itself.

2. Install WINE on eee:
"Wine is an implementation of the Windows API designed to run in Linux."
Read my wiki to find out more on this: http://tinyurl.com/2trwyw

3. Record directly to mp3 file:
Also in the same blog post above.

4. Run Audacity (although the buttons don't look right)

5. Worked out how to screen capture in Full desktop mode (Ctrl - Fn - Prt Sc)

Here's a 'podcast' that I captured using Mypodcast recorder on the eee!
Enjoy.
20feb_asus_wine.mp3

You can subscribe to my podcasts with http://xlearn.podOmatic.com/rss2.xml
I like to keep them short ;-)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Two-way texting - beware certain long numbers

There are lots of things to watch out for if you are going to implement 2-way texting and I'll try to write a full post another time, but very quickly, if learners are to text back to the college:

1. How much does it cost the college to implement 2-way texting? Janet (PageOne) charges extra for incoming accounts. Does anyone know what the charges are and can let me know?
2. Check that you do not get charged to receive incoming texts.
3. Check that learners don't end up paying extra to text you: some SMS providers give you a radiopaging number based in the Isle of Man, for instance, to keep their costs down. On T-mobile, this is classed as an international number and it costs 17p per text. Mobile numbers that start with 0762 should be checked, among others. Check this Excel sheet (http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/numbering/index.htm#pers) against your incoming number and query your supplier if the number given to you is a radio paging number, or a number based in Guernsey etc. Also check with your learners if they are being charged extra to use the number. Ideally, the number you are allocated allows learners to text in using their existing contract allocation for text messages, or on pay as you go, it should cost 10p or less.
4. Can you set up your own text codes to give out to students? This should allow you to receive your own incoming texts to your email or a web page that only you access. You don't want to sort through thousands of texts from learners.
5. If using a short code (like 80010), ensure it's zero-rated so learners don't get charged more than the standard charge for texting to that number.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Asus eeepc 701

I love the little Asus. I've taken it with me everywhere in the house - it's become like a pet. The reason why the Q1ultra never achieved this status is partly to do with the following:
  • It's awkward to hold when you are sitting on your sofa (you can't just have it on your lap - you need to prop it up somehow)
  • It got heavy quickly when used as a handheld (with the 6 hour battery attached)
  • It couldn't detect my wireless network successfully if I was more than 5 metres away from the router
  • The lack of easy input (for msn, typing is essential)
  • It took ages to start up. I used to walk away and do other stuff rather than wait.

Even though the keyboard is cramped on the Asus, let's face it: it's not as cramped as the tiny keyboards on a Tytn or a mobile phone, and the learners manage with THAT.

And it powers up and is ready to go in about 30 seconds!!! Incredible! One reason not to put XP on...

The Asus comes with everything a learner might need to get started:

  • OpenOffice (handles all Office documents, allows creation of stuff. The home version of a PC normally doesn't come with a spreadsheet application or a PowerPoint type application, and only a basic version of Word)
  • PDF reader
  • Firefox (web browser)
  • MSN and Skype (er, that's just what the learners will use it for a lot of the time...)
  • Educational material /software (Science, Language, Math and Paint), typing programme
  • Media players, sound recorder (wav format) and some games
  • If you feel like it, you can use Voice Command to open programmes

The 7" screen can feel a bit cramped when browsing web sites but if people try not to put anything important on the Moodle blocks on the right hand side, they actually fit nicely.

It comes with an adapted version of the Xandros version of Linux (here's where I start to get my terminology all wrong...;-)) which isn't as popular as Ubuntu, based on what I've seen on the Web. Nothing to stop you installing Ubuntu or XP on it; in fact, because it ships with Xandros, that makes it easier to install XP on it and the manual comes with instructions for how to do this. I don't need another XP machine, so I'm not going to go down that route. I'd be interested to find out how much longer it takes to load up after XP has been put on it.

You call up the terminal window with Ctrl Alt T and then, get yourself a good linux book! For a start, you can type in sudo synaptic and this brings up the Synaptic Package Manager that's supposed to help you install and remove additional software on your Linux. That's how I managed to get Full Desktop on my machine. See my wiki for the links for this (http://eeepc.pbwiki.com/). I'll be adding more stuff as I experiment with the Asus to my wiki rather than the blog because I'd rather keep it all in one place. It's a bit thin on the ground at the moment, but I'm sure we'll all be learning fast when everyone else gets their machines! Woo hoo!

One downside: battery doesn't last very long. You'll find yourself charging it twice a day, so what are we to do with the learners' machines? Have lots of extension cables in the classrooms so they can keep them powered?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sony DCR-SR52E and Macs

At last, some success with stuff off HDD onto Macs! The Sony DCR-SR52E was detected by the Macbook although Quicktime will not recognise the mpeg2 file unless you have MPEG2-Playback installed ($20 from Apple) and then use Streamclip to convert files to an editable format (http://www.squidoo.com/VideoOnMac).
Still, at least the original files will be of a better quality than mpeg4s, and can be transferred directly to dvds without conversion for storage etc.

Windows Media Player to sync media

I used Windows Media Player WMP) to sync media to my pda phone for the first time yesterday. Don't know why I've not done that before. I'm so used to just moving the files across, but the playlist function on WMP is similar to iTunes, so is very useful for organising media on the PC. I've used iTunes for ages with my ipod but it's the first time I've tried the same functionality with my pda phone!
So, after converting .vob of Peppa Pig (if you have a 3 year old, you'll know what I mean) using Avex DVD and Video converter (I could NOT get Super to do it for me), I had a wmv which I synced to my pda phone. Did the same with a few mp3s as well. Next time you see me, ask to see Peppa Pig....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The latest on video formats

The latest stuff I've been reading seems to indicate that so long as you have an Intel-based Mac and iLife'08, you CAN edit mpeg2 videos in iMovie. (See http://tinyurl.com/2llgad)
So hopefully some contacts with an Intel-based Mac and iLife'08 will take their laptop down to a Sony Centre and try out some HDD camcorders for me! This list of compatible camcorders seems useful, until you realise that many of the models are american and I can't tell what the equivalent UK model is. (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1014).
I've totally veered away from mpeg4 camcorders like Sanyo Xactis now, although up to this morning, I thought it would be the ideal choice. The quality, especially in low light (and some education settings can be classed as 'low light'...) is poor and having looked at some sample footage, I've decided that we should try to collect videos at the highest possible quality (subject to budget). You never know how you are going to use the footage and it's best to keep your options open.
I still think DV tape is going to give us the best quality, but for the sake of looking current, HDD camcorders are the best compromise between style, size, quality and budget. And if it's possible to edit them now (and I'm sure it will get easier to edit them in future without jumping through a few hoops), then so much the better.
AVCHD is the next big thing on the market, and again, iLife'08 appears to have support for that, but not sure that we need to record in high definition in our industry - we tend to make videos for streaming over the web, playing in PowerPoints, playing on ipods or pdas...and as yet, most of our PC screens are still in 4:3 format, so recording in 16:9 seems unnecessary. I'm sure it will all change, but by then, we'll all be working on new projects with different focuses and budgets and we'll be able to do it all again. ;-)
AVCHD camcorders are also that little bit more expensive at the moment, being the in-thing.

So currently, I'm plumping for the following:
  • Sony DCR-SR52 (available for under £350 if you shop around),
  • Bluetooth microphone (http://tinyurl.com/yp7dfm) Sony ECMHW1, about £107 from Amazon to record interviews with wireless mic
  • Wide angle lens (in case of classroom situation, filming in small spaces) VCL 0630 X, about £69

This is provided the camcorder is detected by the Mac in the first place, so hopefully I'll be able to update this blog soon with my experiments.

Speaking of which, I went to a Curry's today to try out the camcorders they had. We tried a Samsung SD camera (cost about £160) which seemed to have a lot of features including detecting various lighting settings etc. The Macbook couldn't detect the Samsung camera, but as I was driving away, I wondered if it would have been ok if we'd put the sd card into a usb reader on the Mac. Might ring Curry's up tomorrow and ask the guy to try it! It should then read the mp4 file in iMovie.

Tried a Panasonic HDD camera and this time, the Macbook did detect it and imported the footage. However, Quicktime couldn't play it back and I suspect it just needed the mpeg2 playback software from Apple (http://www.squidoo.com/VideoOnMac).

If you want to quickly video something to put out to students, mpeg4 camcorders may seem like the ideal thing, but hey, why fork out for something like that when your own digital camera's video function will give you similar quality? That's something to think about....

Sunday, January 20, 2008

which camcorder?

Di Dawson and I had a discussion about providing people with advice on which bits of kit could be used to record videos for what mobile devices.I'm sure she'll be posting her findings soon, and I've done some research and have the following views to offer. For readers' info, I have a degree in audio-visual production and I've worked as a multimedia producer. I have worked with lots of kit from analogue to digital. I can happily produce professional quality video if working with the right kit. What we're doing here, though, is working out what is quick and easy to do in an education setting.
For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume that we want to film indoors in a typical classroom, with the camera aimed at the tutor to record what they are doing and what they are saying. So what we need is

  • A camera
  • Extra batteries or the camera charger (you'd be surprised how many people forget to plug in the camera until it runs out of battery)
  • A wide angle lens (if trying to capture more of the class. Make sure you buy a camcorder that allows attachments that you want!)
  • Zoom microphone (if camera allows such attachment or better still, wireless lavalier mic)
  • Extra media (dv tapes, dvds etc if using such cameras)
  • An extension lead
  • A tripod
  • An mp3 recorder (always useful to have backup for podcast and also, an mp3 recorder can be placed on the person talking for clarity)

If we were going to do an interview, I would throw in

  • Lights
  • Reflectors

If viewing on Windows-based pda-type devices is important:
It would be best to start with something that captures avi that you can simply import into Windows Movie Maker. So you could use a good quality stills camera like a Canon, use the movie function to record (at 640 x 480 max) the video, maybe use an mp3 recorder as well, placed near the person who is talking.
Where possible, use clip-on microphones so check that the mp3 recorder has an audio input jack.Extra lighting is recommended if filming indoors. Because a lot of stills cameras will record video in .avi format, you can simply transfer the video files to the pc (by connecting the camera to the pc with a lead. The pc should see the camera as an extra drive), then simply import into
Windows Movie Maker to add titles, add the mp3 if required (mute the original clip if the audio is terrible), then Save to my computer, choosing the Video for Pocket PC setting for the right size and resolution.

If inserting into PowerPoint is important:
Follow the same advice above, but you can save the video with high quality (unless it makes the PowerPoint file way too big for students to download!). You can choose from Movie Maker's long list of settings.

If viewing on ipods is important:
Start with an mpeg4 camcorder like the Sanyo Xacti or Aiptek camcorders. Cheap and cheerful but that's what mpeg4 is anyway! You could push the handle out and buy the HD versions. Some of these cameras actually have an audio input jack, but not all are reliable so make sure you visit some AV forums for comments about your camera audio before purchase.The Sanyo Xacti cameras also have the option of adding wide angle lenses and a battery charger, which I think will be useful as these cameras do not have a long battery life. Large SD cards will come in useful, but check that the model of the camera will work with a large SD card before buying the SD card! Not all cameras will work with an 8Gb SD card, for instance. Some can only take 1Gb SD cards and that's it.
It's also possible to use Kodak cameras that capture video as well (like the Kodak C603). These record video as .mov files that can be imported easily into a Mac.All these cameras may work better with extra lighting if filming indoors.
Same advice as above on recording backup audio using an mp3 recorder with a clip-on mic.
iMovie on the Macs will import the video clips easily enough and you can use the native functions to export to ipod or psp.

Another quirky bit of kit that would allow you to use any camera with AV output (so all the kit you may already have for video recording in college) is the Pinnacle Video Transfer USB 2.0 device (PVT) (http://www.simplydv.co.uk/simplyBB/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=20158). You don't need a PC to copy video to your ipod, PSP or USB device. Attach the camcorder to the PVT and your ipod or psp and voila! Only £99.99, but bear in mind that this is assuming you don't need to edit your videos.

If high quality is important:
If you need to film and edit high quality video in order to project it on a screen, or to add to that marketing video, then there's no getting away from a proper camcorder. You might think that HDD (hard disk drive) is the way to go (partly because they don't make new dv cameras anymore) but unless you have a lot of stuff to go with it, editing is going to be a nightmare. Let me explain...HDD camcorders record video in mpeg2 format. Neither Windows Movie Maker nor iMovie will be able to import this without a bit of converting. By converting the mpeg2 footage, you are losing quality. And this is before you even edit the video. The conversion process also adds time to the whole process. You could, of course, use any provided software to try to edit the footage, but they may be limited in functionality and still not provide output in the format that you require (eg wmv or avi to work with PowerPoint or mp4 to work with ipods). Check this carefully before investing in a HDD camera. Of course new software is coming out all the time and the Macs may actually decide to give better support to HDD cameras in future (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1014) but right now, it's fiddly.
Another disadvantage is that mpeg2 files require a lot of computing power if you are going to edit them, so your regular desktop may not be up to the task.
HDD cameras are useful for recording video that doesn't need much editing, with a dvd as the final output in mind. Read this friendly article for more a nice comparison chart between video formats.(http://pcworld.about.com/od/digitalcamcorders/Convenient-Camcorders.htm)

So currently, the best route for good quality video is dv tape!! The average PC or laptop would require a video input card or external device to import dv (http://www.smartdv.co.uk/section.php/8/0) but Macs can easily do this with the Firewire cable. You leave it to import the footage, then edit to your heart's content. Of course, if you require windows-friendly footage, you would have to turn to a software converter (again). This is not an easy question to answer!

And mpeg4 camcorders seem to be getting better at producing quality video (http://www.simplydv.co.uk/Reviews/panasonic_sdr-s100.html) so maybe this is the way to go?

This is a bit like the war between Betamax and VHS: Windows or Mac?
If your project is based on the premise of using ipods, then go the Mac route.
If your project is based on pdas, then go the Windows route.
And be prepared to purchase a souped-up pc with high-end graphics card to handle conversions between formats as required!

Lights:
A budget guide to lighting with some nice background info thrown in: http://www.exposure.co.uk/eejit/light/
If you have an AV department, they may have lights you can borrow. On-board camera lights may not 'reach' far enough in a classroom situation, although they would be sufficient for an interview situation. If planning to use these, make sure you've purchased a camera with an Active Hot Shoe. This allows you to attach the light to the top of the camera, and will 'talk' to the camera, allow control of the light from the camera. It will also get its power from the camera.
Cold shoes allow you to attach stuff on top, but these attachments will have to be powered by batteries, making the camera that much heavier or bulkier to handle if not on a tripod. You will also need to have a lot of spare batteries!

Audio:
If you buy a wireless lavalier mic, you can easily record someone talking on your laptop (with audio in) or pc in the classroom, especially if you have software like Audacity already installed. You clip the tie mic on to their clothes and they hook the sender on to their belt clip. Then you attach the receiver to your pc audio in jack, do a test on your mp3 recording software and away you go. (If a student asks a question in class, always ask the tutor to repeat the question so it's heard on the recording!)I recently bought one off ebay for £7 so watch this space for quality tests. ;-) If you want to record straight to a portable device, how about the lavalier mic, an ipod and an ipod mic adapter (http://tinyurl.com/24xuzt)? The ipod recorder attachment is ok if you are holding the mp3 recorder to your face, but if you want to slip it in your pocket and have a discreet mic clipped on to your top, then this is probably a good setup.

This is a mega-long post. Sorry! If I've got any of it wrong, I'm sure I'll find out in the
next few days!

mippin.com - internet aggregator for mobiles

I've had a pda phone for about 2 years now. Used to have the MDA and now have the HTC Touch.

So far on my pda phone, I've installed Newsbreak, a rss reader so I can keep up with the likes of Andy Black and Dave Sugden on the go. I paid a little bit of money for this.
Just come across mippin.com, which seems like a nice free 'aggregator' for the mobile phone, bringing together news sites and blogs in one site. Kind of like igoogle for your phone. It seems to work better than Newsbreak because it shows me the full blog, whereas Newsbreak shows me the headlines and a short version of the blog. To read more, it then launches Internet Explorer and takes me to the site. Mippin will let me keep my preferred sites as favourites and formats them nicely for the pda screen. Seems like a nice function to me.

And it has a mipplet that adds my Twitter stream so it appears on my mippin page! Nice...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Learning for Living and Work

Many parallels between the MoLeNET projects and the LLW projects. Here are some thoughts on kit for the LLW projects:

Top of my list has been:

psp with camera attachment: The camera is about £30 and you can download free editing software on to psp for it. Learners can view video clips and record video clips of themselves, or rotate the camera (180 degrees) to record what they see. (Bear in mind a bit of file conversion to get videos on to psp but no different from converting to put on any other media player eg ipod). Thanks to Di Dawson for inspiration!

bulletcam: To attach to moving objects for point of view, or to someone's head, again for point of view. Learner can show that they can perform a skill, or refresh their memory of how to perform a task. Great for tight spaces where not possible to film or situations where you need both hands free (eg under a car, in a tractor etc). Also available from Amazon and Woolworths. You can google bulletcam to see the original (which will be higher quality but more expensive) or Digital Blue do a version that is lower quality and cheaper....

Nintendo Wii: Brain training on the Wii is very relevant for numeracy skills, there are also word games. Plus if you get on the internet with the Wii, there are various educational games you can play. Found a nice basic drawing application you control with the wii remote. Would work nicely on a smartboard as well. Lots of other wiigames on wiiplayable.com. Dave Sugden can probably provide the link for making your own Wii interactive whiteboad?

Mimios and ebeam: Taking advice from the Techdis site on how these can support learners in the classroom. They are also far more transportable than fixed interactive whiteboards.

Netsupport: Where colleges are planning to supply learners with tablets or pcs, or even pdas, this software will allow projection of the teacher's pc on to learners' devices, and control can be passed to the learner, so works like interactive whiteboard without getting off your chair (especially if you can't).

Red Halo: This application can run on umpcs, pdas, psps and soon Asus eeepcs. Allows tutor to push files to learner devices and collect them as well. Allows teacher and learner to connect files together as an activity (web page link, image, notes, audio, video, inspiration file etc). Provides a copy of Inspiration on pda or tablet, which is fantastic! Has 5Gb of server storage space per learner so video files and audio files storage not a problem. Can sign up for free account (1 Gb storage).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

An idea for use of Twitter/Jaiku...

I've been getting excited by the idea of giving students virtual work placements through Twitter and Jaiku: You ask a tradesperson or professional to keep a Twitter or jaiku throughout a day (or a few days). Students view these via the web or subscribe to it via their mobiles and can ask further questions (by commenting or replying). They can then add their own mini-reflections using the micro-blog or a full blog. This is supplemented by keeping up the Twitter or Jaiku when they go on work placement. Would love to see this happening and get case studies for this!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

File transfer between multiple devices - Red Halo

At Handheld Learning last year, I came across a company called Red Halo. I've seen them around before but it never twigged how useful their offering was until MoLeNET came along.

Basically, you set up an account on their server, then download the Red Halo application to your device (I have it running on my HTC Touch and Q1 Ultra. They will soon have one for the Asus eee). Press the sync button on your Red Halo Application and voila, files go up to the server, and files come down to your device.

The idea is that a teacher can set up student accounts, put files in them (could be learning content, audio files, video files etc) and these would then be pushed onto the learners' devices when they sync. I haven't tested large video and audio files so will have to find out more about this. Also, I envisage that it would work best in a wireless environment, or if the learners have a flat rate data plan so they are not charged per Mb of data transfer.

At the same time, student files are sent from the device up to their student area: so photos, videos and audio they have created, notes and drawings etc are all uploaded and the teacher can view them and add a comment to them.

The Pro version also comes with some software to add functionality - The Windows Mobile bundle for PDAs and smartphones includes RedActivity, Inspiration, PhatPad, Pocket Painter, Photo Explorer, Opera, Red Media Composer, RedFlipper and Calligrapher. Sounds worth it for the software alone, never mind the 5Gb storage space you're given online!

You can contact them to sign up for free accounts at the moment. Anyone who has a lot of devices to sync should try it. Nothing to lose! www.redhalo.com

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Q1 Ultra growing on me, plus HTC Touch for video

I think my Q1 Ultra is growing on me, but the main reason for this has got to be because of that little keyboard.
I set it up on the m-champions training day on the 11th and it hardly takes up any desk space (I was perched next to two participants at their table). I used it to make notes as others were presenting. It accessed the wireless network at the LSN effortlessly, so I was able to participate in updating the Moodle, downloading some apps that someone recommended (My Mobiler, http://www.mtux.com/ allows you to view your pda screen on your pc, similar to Cerdisp), twittering etc.
The problem came when I tried to connect it to the overhead projector. It's been a while since I've used tablet software for this, and they've updated it since but never fear, I though, John Whalley is here. As it turns out, it had been a while since he'd had to do it, so in the end, the Mac won out and we kept it connected instead! I'll have to master the tablet display options or start lugging my 17" Macbook around like Mick Mullane does!
On the journey home, I thought I'd catch up with some video entertainment - plugged in my earphones to watch a Chinese dvd film I'd ripped and converted into wmv. However, without subtitles, my viewing pleasure was thwarted as the audio was way too quiet for a noisy train environment. Is there a way of changing audio levels when converting a video? I'll have to check this out, or else start using my Q1 ultra for this as well. I'm assuming the audio volume will be better on this.
I'm beginning to think I might give my Q1 a pet name - getting attached to it!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Getting used to Q1 Ultra


Took the Q1 Ultra with me to a couple of meetings to take notes. Happy so long as I'm using the Keysonic keyboard with it (£15 from Amazon) so for me, the main thing is text input using these devices.
I'm still waiting to find out if there is a better driver for the built-in cameras since they are not very good at capturing video.
Someone passed my a mobile phone while I had the stylus from the Q1 in my hand and I was tapping away on the screen of the mobile phone wondering why it wasn't reacting. Duuuhh!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

wireless problems at home

Had hell all morning trying to resolve a problem connecting to the internet. Everything was fine last night. Went to bed. Woke up this morning. Nada.
So I've been round the houses, ringing up the ISP, checking for winsock errors (didn't really know what I was doing), finally decided to upgrade the firmware on the router. Still no luck.
However, I had my USB modem so I plugged that in and used that to poke around a bit more. Somehow, it all came back and the router's working fine again. What happened?
The DNS server suddenly appeared again on the router display, so for some reason, that got taken off or lost somewhere, somehow.
All I can say is that I'm now flooded with a sense of relief. Not having internet access on your main work machine these days is like working with your arm cut off.
Now I guess I'd better get down to some proper work...