Sep
15
2010

A Few Helpful Photo Tools

With digital cameras so reasonably priced and a digital camera in nearly every cell phone, it’s becoming more reasonable to include student-generated images into your teaching/learning plans.  Capturing, editing, producing, and mashing up images can be a great way to engage students – and, depending on the way you set it up, an intriguing performance of understanding.

With that in mind, here are a few free, online photo tools that you could add into the mix:

Flickr:  Of course.  The mother of online photo sharing sites.  But what you might not know is that Flickr as a pretty amaizng tools collection – make sets, groups, put photos on a map.  Also, there’s a cheerful number of third-party flickr tools to investigate that extend Flickr’s usefulness.

SlideFlickr: Create and embed slideshows of Flickr images.

Five-Card Flickr: Nice creativity tool – create a story out of five flickr images that you pick.

Cooliris:  A very slick photo storage, browsing, and sharing application.  Displays as a 3D wall in your browser. It’s free, but does require a download.

fotoflexer:  Browser-based image editor, with 2GB storage.

PhotoFunia:  Online photo editing tool allows you to upload an image and apply effects.

Bubblesnaps or Photo Balloon Engine:  Add speech bubbles to photographs.

Cloudcanvas:  With paint, brushes, textures, primitive shapes, layers, filters, and page layout options, anyone can create online digital paintings.

Blabberize:  Add lips and a moving mouth to any photo, record some speech, and your photos can talk.

Create a Magazine Cover:  With this tool, you can custom-create a magazine cover, using your own, uploaded image.

Fliptrack:  Create online slide shows and invite people to view, add to it, edit photos or effects  -while the original stays in tact.  Nice opportunity for online collaboration using images.

GICKR:  Create an animated GIF from an uploaded photo.

Animoto:  One of my all-time favs.  Upload your photos, pick a song from their library (or upload your own), press a button and you have an special effects “short” made of your images.

Skitch:  Make and modify screen shots.  Very handy for creating student instructions for getting into an online tutorial or web site.

Spell with Flickr:  you can write text in letters based off Flickr images with this.

Picsearch:  Powerful photo search engine that allows you to specify interesting particulars.

Histografica:  Find historical pictures of places around the world.

Geotag Your Photos:  Here’s an article explaining how to geotag your images with Google Maps.

PicResize:  Crop and resize any uploaded image.

Have fun – and share what you figured out!

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools | Tags: ,
Oct
13
2009

Screenshots: How to Make Them and Use Them

Do you know how to take a picture of whatever is happening on your computer screen (known as a “screenshot”) and then play around with it and fancy it up?  If you do, you can find another post on this bio blog to read.  If you don’t — read on!

A screenshot (of this screen!).

A screenshot (of this screen!).

Taking a screenshot (and then adding to it) can be a very, very useful thing to know how to do. For instance, you might want to highlight a few key elements of the shot, draw an arrow to point out a particular event happening, write an explanatory call-out in your own words, or layer an additional image on top of the screen shot.

I use screen shots primarily to give people directions. For example, I use them to provide step-by-step instructions on how to edit a wiki or how to use an online bookmarking site.  Using screenshots to illustrate directions for students can be very helpful, but it’s even better if you can annotate and draw on them.  You can also use screenshots as a way to determine whether or not a student has completed an online assignment.  For example, if you ask your students to complete an online activity for homework, ask them to email you a screenshot of the finished activity.  There’s only one way they can get that.

So, just to review how to take a screenshot on your computer.  If you’re on a PC, you just press the “Printscreen” (typically labeled “PrtScn”) button. That will save the image on your computer’s clipboard so that you can then paste it into any editing software.  If you’re on a Mac, you have your choice – if you just want a shot of the whole screen, it’s “apple/shift/3″ if you want to decide which segment of the screen to take a picture of, it’s “apple/shift/4″.  That last keyboard combination on a mac turns your cursor into a cross-hair and you can click and drag to the exact dimension of your preferred shot.  In either case, the image gets saved to your desktop. If you add space bar to that last keyboard combo, your mouse becomes a camera and you can move it to whatever application you want to take a picture of.  Add “control” to either of the two keyboard combo and you save the image to your clipboard, instead of saving the image as a file to your desktop. (gotta love it)

Now, here a few free tools to help you with the fancy-ing-it-up part:

1.  Jing. This handy little free app works with both PC and Mac and it can not only snap a picture of your screen but you can record short videos of on-screen action as well.  You just download it and the icon sits on your desktop, to be used whenever.  You can save your images/videos to your computer or you can take advantage of Jing’s ability to host your shots on their server and spawn links to your created items.

2.  Evernote.  This one is really a powerful tool and can be used for much more than just screen shots.  It’s really an uber note-taking device – a way to clip, store and organize all your various notes, lists, and ideas in one, handy online place.  So you can type yourself text notes, clip a web page, snap a photo, or grab a screenshot. Definitely worth checking out.

3.  Irfanview.  This is a PC-only, free tool that’s quite powerful.  You can certainly do screenshots with it but it also has an image editor so you can resize, add call-outs, arrows, whatever.

4.  ScreenDash.  With this one you can capture images from your screen, a webcam or an iphone.  You can draw on the captured images, enhance them, add clip-art, change sizes.  LIke Jing, ScreenDash will save your images on their server and spawn a link for you as well.  Free and very easy to use.

5. FireShot.  This is an add-on for use with the Firefox browser so youll only be interested in this one if you regularly use Firefox AND if you have a PC (since this little baby is not available for MacOSX).  This little plugin provides a sert of editing and annotations tools that can be saved to your hard drive or uploaded to a public server.

6.  Grab.  If you’re on a Mac, you already have this one (in the Utilities folder).  Very spiffy.  You just tell it what kind of a capture you want to do (selection, window, screen, timed screen).  With this one you can include a cursor or a pull-down menu in your shot.

So, now that you know how to take and augment screenshots – what are some of your ideas for using them?

Sep
18
2009

Using Bookmarking Tools to Start a Conversation with Students

A set of Darwin bookmarks on my Diigo page.

A set of Darwin bookmarks on my Diigo page.

I’m becoming increasingly fond of electronic bookmarking services like Delicious and Diigo. Diigo, in particular, has become my bookmarking tool of choice, because of their collaboration tools.  You can highlight, add sticky notes, search, make lists, and create groups. Here’s a 4-minute video showing how the Diigo collaboration tools work.

But the best way to get a feel for what you can do, is to take a look at an annotated article. Here’s an example, from Will Richardson.  What he’s done is to bookmark an article (from the Wall Street Journal) in Diigo and then highlighted key passages and made comments on them.  When others use his Diigo-created link to navigate to the article, they see his highlights and comments (roll over the highlighted comments and his sticky notes appear).  In addition to reading the bookmarker’s comments, the reader can comment right back – agreeing or disagreeing with him, asking further questions, seeking clarification.  With time, you can imagine a whole conversation started (and recorded) around an online article.

What an interesting idea to try with biology students.  You could start by bookmarking an appropriate (pick a fairly straightforward one) scientific journal article and highlight it to point out the key elements.  You can add your own comments (with the sticky notes) to make points that support what you’ve been talkingg about in class or lab.  For instance, “here’s the researcher’s hypothesis” or “notice the basic structural elements of the paper”  - or ask them a question “which is the control group?”.  When students access the url you provide, they will see your annotations and can add their own.

Let me know if you try it – would love to see a collection of Diigo-marked articles with teacher-to-student conversations.

Sep
08
2009

Clever Use of VoiceThread

Exam analysis using VoiceThread.

Exam analysis using VoiceThread.

My friend, Tod Duncan (UC Denver) just sent this VoiceThread link to me.  It will take you to a Voicethread that he created to review the results of a recent exam given in his introductory biology course.  There’s a lot to love about this.

First off, I appreciate the tone of he takes in the recording.  A friendly, casual, companionable, let’s-you-and-I-just-talk-this-through sort of tone.  That’s bound to put the students at ease. I really like the way he subtley reinforces good test-taking strategies, like thinking through the way to eliminate impossible or unlikely choices in a multiple choice exam.

It also strikes me that reviewing an exam this way would be extremely efficient.  Rather than go over the test individually with students during office hours, one by one by one, students can link to this VoiceThread and listen to it.  And they can listen as many times as they need to.  He could also use this with future students, as a test preparation tool.  It’s unlikely Tod will use the same exam questions next time around, but hearing their instructor’s analysis of past assessment items will help them prepare for new ones.  Tod just posted this so, right now, there are no student comments embedded, but using the comment feature in VoiceThread, students could post further questions or requests for clarification to Tod or to their fellow students and get a conversation started.  Very nice.

Aug
25
2009

NOVA ScienceNOW Web site

Screen capture from Marathon Mouse activity.

Screen capture from Marathon Mouse activity.

Picking up on Kirk’s very goo dsuggestion, I spent some time this weekend, exploring the NOVA Science Now web site. If you haven’t yet visited it, it’s worth a look.  Here’s the link to the main page.

I particularly liked this page, which includes a little activity called Marathon Mouse, where students learn about new drugs that seem to have the benefits of exercise.  The activity features some scientists from the Salk Institute and the work they do with genes and metabolism.  The activities themselves are nicely done – simple and a little whimsical (a silly, hand-drawn mouse that you experiment with).  And if you want to show students a news article, to illustrate the way this research was covered by the press, here’s a BBC article on the same research.  Also off this page are also a few nice videos, an “ask the expert” page, teacher’s guides, and other resources.

In addition to the metabolism material, I found the Science News feed (which many of you may already subscribe to) as well as a series of interesting-sounding podcasts.

There’s also a handy archive page of all the past NOVA programs (organized by topic area) that you’re already familiar with, but might want to send students to (Typhoid Mary, Mirror Neurons, Stem Calls, Secrets of the Mind, Sleep, etc.).

Anyway, some good stuff here. I’d be interested to hear what you all think of this.

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools | Tags:
Jul
17
2009

To the Moon

Apollo 11 liftoff from launch tower camera

Apollo 11 liftoff from launch tower camera

Where were you on July 20, 1969?  I put that question to my friends and family last week and I got a wonderful collection of answers. A common element in all their stories was a small, scratchy (typically borrowed) black & white TV set, with a large group of people, crowded around to watch the flickering images of the first walk on the moon. Breathlessly.

I was 11 years old and a camper in the Feather River Canyon in California, attending a two-week summer camp. Apollo 11 landed at 4:18 pm EDT, so that would have been 1:18, California time, just after lunch.  I remember crowding into a room behind the camp’s dining hall with a hoard of other people, straining to see the small black and white TV screen.  The only broadcast they could receive in that remote location happened to be in Italian (go figure) and so, between the scratchy image and the fact that no one present understood Italian, we had to piece together and narrate what we were seeing.  I can remember the distinct feeling that this was history in the making.  This was something special. And this was something that I would always remember.  

At 10:56 EDT, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and the world watched.  Buzz Aldrin, emerged soon after. Over 2 ½ hours, the two astronauts collected 47 pounds (!) of lunar surface material and re-entered the lunar module.

We Choose the Moon site.

We Choose the Moon site.

Just as the folks at the John F. Kennedy library hoped, their re-creation web site, We Choose The Moon, is tuning Americans into their memories of the historic mission. This is a wonderful site, well worth the visit.  It’s a real-time mission reenactment, tracking the actual mission events (with historic images and footage), just as they happened 40 years ago. You can follow newsroom feeds, monitor the flight path, get updates from mission control (via twitter or from the Mission tracker widget on your web page or social media site).  It’s a very good example of the kind of teaching that can be done with new technology.  My only gripe about it is that they missed the opportunity to make it a 2.0 site by failing to invite people to share their memories and embellish the site with their perspective.  Too bad.

Aldrin's boot.

Aldrin's boot.

After you’ve taken a look at that site, take a look at some of the other, amazing online teaching resources in NASA’s vaults and others – it’s just incredible, what’s available online. NASA has just released newly restored Apollo 11 footage – excerpts really – from the take off, to the landing, and the lift-off back to earth.  You can find it in this New York Times article, along with a hilarious “hoax” video (scroll down to find that one) – and, yes, apparently some people still think that the whole thing was a hoax.  And, in case you wanted to compare, here’s the actual landing footage (pre-restoration).

 

Here’s a QT movie of the mission, put together by NASA.  And the official NASA site on the history of the mission. NASA has also posted the private taped conversations between Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, recorded aboard the command module, Columbia, and the lunar module, Eagle, along with an audio database of other recordings. You can find all kinds of downloadable images, videos and pdfs (from NASA) and here is the Apollo 11 image gallery (some great stuff to be found!). To get a better sense of the lunar landscape, here’s a QTVR image scape of the moon taken by Apollo 17 and first published on anniversary #35 of Apollo 11.  Use your mouse have a look around and around and around. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s Apollo 11 site has lots of information on the mission, the crew, the spacecraft, the landing site and some amazing images. Discovery Channel has an impressive archive of videos of the various NASA missions – lots of fun to explore there.  Just for fun, you can pick up a Lunar Module service manual or a space suit replica (for $9,500) on eBay. 

Unfortunately, as we learned from NPR this week, NASA isn’t the best steward of history. Check out this 7.16.09 story explaining how the original tapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk probably destroyed during a period when NASA was re-using old magnetic tapes to reuse them for satellite data.   The newly restored video that I mentioned earlier was actually pieced together from a variety of sources, the best of the various broadcast clips.

Earthrise.

Earthrise.

The Apollo 11 mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s inspirational goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960’s.  But it did so much more for all of us.  It gave us the first images of the Earth, taken from the moon. Images that undeniably changed our perspective on our fragile planet and the need for stewardship. The mission showed us men, closely encased in technology, operating dials, levers and computers to sustain their lives in an inhospitable environment. The mission gave us courage to strive for things that might seem unattainable.  It made us explorers again.

Jul
16
2009

Jaguar Conservation and Google Earth

Südamerika - Peru - Manu Nationalpark - Jaguar by Meseontour (creative commons)

Südamerika - Peru - Manu Nationalpark - Jaguar by Meseontour (creative commons)

I just returned from a participatory media workshop that I organized for a group of high school biology teachers at Washington University in St. Louis.  They were there for the summer institute portion of a very special masters degree program called the Life Science for a Global Community, funded by the NSF.  These 30 teachers will work together, over the next two years, to expand their science knowledge and improve the quality of their teaching in a program that combines face-to-face summer courses (at Wash U) with online courses, taken throughout the academic year.  They are a wonderful group – very curious, quick to learn, and high energy.

The program’s director of professional development, Phyllis Balcerzak, invited me to organize a workshop for this year’s cohort on new media tools, as applied to teaching biology.  I had two sessions with the teachers – the first was a hands-on afternoon to experiment with wikis, podcasts, photos, and video.  The second was an optional hands-on workshop with the virtual world of Second Life, conducted with my colleague, Liz Dorland.  As usual, when I do these workshops, I ended up learning more from the teachers than they learned from me.

I was so struck by their observations – what was easy, what was hard.  Better ways to do things.  Creativity in the face of student (and parent) objections.  Clever ways to use the new tools (one of the teachers works with deaf children and makes video – to show signing – content units).  They took to the tools well but kept a healthy dose of skepticism in making decisions about what would work with their students and what was worth their time.

Google Earth screen showing the place-markers of the JCUs.

Google Earth screen showing the place-markers of the JCUs.

In order to get into this LSGC program, candidates have to submit a project that speaks to their creativity and teaching horse sense. One of the “students”, Brant Reif, a high school teacher from Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa showed me his projects and I just had to share it here. The project, The State of the Jaguar, is a lab investigation that examines the status of the jaguar in Central and South America, with the hope of preventing it from becoming an endangered species.  He taped into existing data from the Wildlife Conservation Society to create a KMZ file (KMZ – or compressed keyhole mark-up language – is a file format used for displaying geographic data as an additional layer in an Earth browser, like Good Earth) for Google Earth and then wrote up a lab activity where students assess the distribution and status of the jaguar in several sites, current threats to the jaguar, identify priority areas for conversation, and then compare their recommendations for conservation areas with those of research scientists.  Whoa.  Call me impressed.

He walked me through the Google Earth layer (KMZ file) he created, zooming in to show key topographical features and to click on related photos. He created about 20 markers (from which the student could choose), that linked the actual data with images and cleverly crafted journal entries that made sense (from the data and the surrounding terrain/features) to give the students a sense of presence.  For instance, you might click on a geographical site and read entries like, “Saw scat today…” or “Spotted a single jaguar near a farm…”.

In each Jaguar Conservation Unit (JCU), students are asked to estimate the percentage of the area threatened by a set of factors (habitat loss, hunting, human activity, insufficient prey, etc).  To get a better estimate of the threats to each JCU, the students pool their data with data from two other students. When they’ve completed all the data tables, they use them to estimate the priority that each JCU should be granted. Assigning a “3″ if they feel it is low in need of conservation efforts, a “2″ for one in need of some conservation, and a “1″ if it is high need.

I asked Brant how the lab worked with his students and he explained that they loved it, but it took longer than he’d thought.  The students didn’t read the directions and so wasted a lot of time figuring things out or failing to see important information (sound familiar?).  Brant already had a plan for how he was going to address this next time (demo one JCU site in class and have the students just pick three to investigate, find new ways to make sure they read the directions).

There’s so much to love about this activity, it’s hard to know where to begin.  First off, the clever and very specific use of a powerful tool. Google Earth has so much potential but it takes a carefully crafted investigation like this one (on a topic important enough to the course to be worth the effort) to harness it and make it relevant to the study of biology.  By zooming around from location to location on the virtual Earth, Brant’s students got a sense for the enormous distances, the inaccessibility of the region, the topography, the land’s relationship to water, the proximity to major cities, and the conservation issues.  The fact that he connected the investigation to real data gave his students a feeling for how we know what we know and the way scientists work.  The students had to make important judgments and decisions – but they weren’t left hanging at the end – they had a real-life index with which to compare their decision making (at the conclusion, he asks them to explain any differences between the conservation ratings they’ve given and the actual ratings).  I also liked the way that Brant mixed media types – in addition to Google Earth, he used photos, snippets of a National Geographic video, excel for the data tables, and text to create the master document.  And there was a storyteller’s flare to the whole thing (which Brant modestly assigns to the National Geographic article he references).  The student lab introduction reads like this….”At dusk one evening, deep in a Costa Rican forest, a young male jaguar rises from his sleep, stretches, and silently but determinedly leaves forever the place where he was born.”

A wonderful, shining example of new media tools used to improve teaching and learning.  In the true spirit of the networking, Brant says he’ll be happy to share the lab and the KMZ file with biology teachers – you can contact me if you’d like them emailed to you.

May
18
2009

Teaching and Learning with Wikipedia

picture-11

Every once and awhile we hear a chorus of educational outrage over the idea of students using Wikipedia as a resource for their essays or projects in school.  Each time the kerfuffle flares up, I’m amazed all over again.  If I understand the parent and teacher concerns correctly, they are 1) that Wikipedia is not a primary source, 2) that it is not a reliable source (the information there is somehow suspect), and 3) that students will begin and end their research right there.

OK.  Let’s take those one at a time.  The first point is absolutely true.  Yup, Wikipedia is not a primary source.  But that’s alright, isn’t it?  Students have to start somewhere and it seems perfectly reasonable to start your quest with a secondary source that will give you the big picture in clear, easy to read prose.  Students can go from there to more specialized and (hopefully) primary sources (depending on the assignment).  In fact, most of Wikipedia’s 2,847,000 entries (in English, that is) have an impressive list of references and external links at the end.

The second concern, that Wikipedia is not a reliable source, is where I really have problems.  When you talk with people who get incensed about this, it usually becomes apparent that they haven’t spent much time on Wikipedia themselves.  The whole point and power of Wikipedia is that it’s self correcting – amazingly self correcting.  Every Wikipedia entry has a history tab (up at the top).  Try clicking that tab on a particularly meaty or controversial entry (like “Stem Cells” or  “Barack Obama”) and what you’ll find is a chronology of  corrections, insertions, deletions,  explanations, fixes, and debates. Experts, librarians, and amateurs are weighing in, discussing, challenging each other in order to get to the truth.  Some articles (stem cells, for instance) also have a discussion tab up at the top. This is an additional space set aside to document the ongoing collaboration to improve the article’s veracity. Seems to me that  these history and discussion pages could be a good classroom tool. Isn’t that what we’re trying to get our students to do?  To think critically about information, to question, to dig deep?  Wikipedia could be an object lesson in precisely the kind of thinking we want our students to be doing.

Consider an article that appeared in about 100 different newspapers, radio broadcasts, and on ABC news this last week:  Irish Student Hoaxes World’s Media with Fake Quote.  What happened is that Shane Fitzgerald, a University of Dublin student, inserted a made-up quote into the Maurice Jarre entry on Wikipedia, a few hours after the composer’s death on March 28th.  The made-up quote ended up in dozes of blogs, newspaper sites, and newspapers all over the world.  And here’s the interesting part.  The self-correcting Wikipedia community caught the quote’s lack of attribution and removed it promptly.  But the news media?  Not so much.  Finally Fitzgerald contacted several media outlets in an email and a slow process of corrections and retractions began.

The third objection – that students will begin and end their research with just Wikipedia – seems ground we’ve covered before. That’s a familiar teaching and learning challenge – not a weakness of Wikipedia.  That sort of reasoning is often applied to technology (you can think of it as making up a good-sounding reason to dismiss).  That is, people blame technology for a problem that is really a much larger, human problem. We ban cell phones from school because students will misuse them and get distracted in class.  We blame Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites for bullying attacks on vulnerable teens.  We blame Craig’s list for the violence perpetrated by Phillip Markoff.  We blame the internet for pornography. If teachers are worried about their students not citing sufficient sources in their research, shouldn’t we be addressing that problem? Teaching students the proper use of a secondary source, like Wikipedia, will help them to put it in the proper context and show them how to use it (and we know they are already using it anyway) more effectively.