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Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I just wanted folks to know that I will be at the MACUL conference this Wednesday (March 18th) through Friday (March 20th) at booth 814 in the exhibit hall. I will be working a booth for the University of Michigan-Dearborn, sharing information about our online Educational Technology endorsement program as well as other graduate programs we offer. My colleague Dr. Mesut Duran will be working the booth at times as well so stop by and see us if you happen to be attending the conference.

I should also point out that there will be a Higher Education Reception held at the Detroit Science Center on Thursday, March 19th for all MACUL participants. This reception is a great way to meet with representatives from a variety of colleges and universities from around the state of Michigan in order to learn more about the graduate programs they offer. You will also get a chance to tour the science center, which is a nice bonus. The reception is being held from 7:30-10:00.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Aviary Suite of Tools

I first read about Aviary a while back and was pretty impressed with the suite of photo editing tools they were developing. I haven't written about this amazing resource yet but now that they have purchased the online audio editor Digimix, and they are looking to add an even larger array of tools to their already extensive lineup, I thought it was time to share. Since they have so many web-based (and free) tools available and in development, and I must admit I haven't tested everything out, I will just share the titles and tools briefly here.

Currently Available in Beta

Phoenix is their image editor that has many of the same capabilities of Photo Shop. You can check out the video below to see some of the capabilities of this tool. It certainly seems to have the kinds of features teachers would want to be able to do basic photo editing so they could, for instance, prepare images before adding them to a class homepage. You can upload images or access them directly from a URL. You do need an account in order to save your work but Phoenix, like all the other Aviary tools, is web-based so it doesn't matter what operating system you are using nor does it require anything to be downloaded. Plus, you only need one account in order to be able to save with any of the tools.

Raven is a powerful vector editor that can be used to create logos and other types of artwork. The video below shows another time-lapse example of what you can do with this tool. As you watch, remember that this is completely free to use. This tool is actually in Alpha testing rather than Beta.

Aviary vector icons from mpeutz on Vimeo.

is referred to as a visual laboratory tool and it allows you to play around with images in a variety of ways. You can watch the video below to see a tutorial and get a sense of some of the things that can be done with Peacock.

Toucan is a color palette tool that helps you tweak the colors of your projects in order to find shades that go together. This is particularly useful for someone such as myself who is a bit deficient when it comes to finding colors that match. The video shows another tutorial that will give you a glimpse of Toucan.

Digimix fits nicely with this selection of tools not because it is an image editing tool but because they plan to offer it for free, it is web-based and it promises to be a very powerful tool. There are even more tools that are in development and they extend well beyond image editing to include desktop publishing, 3D modeling, font creation, word processing and much more. You can check out the screenshot below to see the current list of tools in development. This is something that is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Creating an Online Classroom Environment

Considering that more and more states are requiring high schools to provide online learning experiences for students before they graduate I decided to share some of the different virtual classroom tools that are currently available. Let me first start out by getting some terminology out on the table. I am referring to the tools reviewed in this post as virtual classrooms but you may also see them called learning management systems (LMS), online learning environments, electronic learning systems or a variety of other variations on those terms. As with most of these kinds of tools there are free options, fee options and open source options to choose from. You can find the tools reviewed belowon the Virtual Classrooms page of the Ed Tech Wiki that I maintain.

Tools that cost money

Blackboard: This is a great tool with a wide-range of functionality and a help-desk to contact when you have problems. The problem is it isn't free and would require a district-wide subscription making it unrealistic for a single teacher to purchase and use.

Elluminate Live!: This is similar to Blackboard in the range of features and functionality. The one difference is that you do need to download the Elluminate Live! software and host it on a server.

Tools that are free but require a download

Moodle: This is an open source option that many schools and districts are adopting. The benefits of open source is that it is free and can be modified. The downside is that it doesn't come with a built in help-desk or support department. However, there is a great network of support around the Moodle environment that you can access if you are interested in using this tool. This is another open source tool similar to Moodle that requires software to be downloaded and hosted on a server. The best way to learn more about this tool would be to play around with the demo classroom they have or look at their tour.

Tools that are web-based

Chalksite: There is a free version of this tool that is fairly comprehensive. The downside is that only 5 students can subscribe with the free version. For a monthly fee you can upgrade to different options that give you more features and allow more students to use the system. They have a series of screenshots you can view as a tutorial of sorts through the environment.

This is a free tool you can use to create your own virtual classroom. They are affiliated with NBC so you will notice that logo on the site here and there. They have a nice video tour you can watch to learn more about this environment. They provide access to digital content from the History channel, National Geographic, NBC News Archives on Demand, all of which seem to be great additions but they cost money so be aware of that when considering how you might use this content in your site or courses. You can access lesson plans and other content created by the community of users (other teachers such as yourself) for free and use that content in your teaching.

Ecto: This is a free tool that is a cross between a social networking site and a virtual classroom. There is a large emphasis on allowing students to collaborate and on being able to access content generated by other users and instructors. As you can see from the video below, Ecto is being used for both online courses and for supplementing face-to-face classes. The video provides an overview of the features and also some user testimonials for this product.

edu20: This is another free, web-based option that has a huge range of features and tools. You really can't explore any of the features without first creating an account but this would definitely be worth the time to check out considering all you can do with it. The screenshot below shows the list of available features. There is a nice tour you can go through but you need to be logged in to see it, which means you need to sign-up for an account first. Did I mention the account is free?

NICENET: NICENET is run by a nonprofit and when you look at it, especially after seeing HotChalk and edu20, you may think it seems a bit boring or bland. I'm guessing NICENET doesn't have the same kind of financial support that the other tools have and so it has placed it's emphasis on providing a decent set of features in a logical and easy to use environment and not on flashy icons and colorful layouts.

WiZiQ: WiZiQ is a bit different from the other tools that have been reviewed because it is more about actively teaching and presenting information online to students. This tool would be good to use if you wanted to teach or demonstrate something to students in real time but it doesn't have the same range of features as the other tools to support a long term online course where you have assignments, regular discussions and so forth. WiZiQ has an interactive whiteboard you can use with students as well as real-time audio and video chat capabilities. This might be a good tool to use in conjunction with one of the other virtual classroom tools when you want to hold an online meeting with students to go over something. You can check out their tour to learn more about this tool.

Friday, March 6, 2009 is an incredibly easy tool to use that allows you to embed any file or URL directly in your own website or blog. I have included an example below of an embedded website. The website is the Wiki I maintain and you will notice that while you can scroll up and down the page you can't click on any of the links shown on the page.

Here is an example of an embedded file. This is a syllabus from one of my educational technology courses.

As you can see, you are able to zoom in and out, view the file or website in full screen mode and also print either one. All users will also be able to download any file you embed and there is currently no way to make any of your embedded files private or restricted to specific users. is free and you don't even need to create an account. You are asked to log in with a third party account such as Google, AOL, Yahoo or an Open ID account the very first time you use the service. You can retrieve your past "embeds" by clicking on the My Embeds option, which makes it easy to retrieve code from previous sessions. I see this tool being more useful for sharing files than websites. I think it would be a nice way to represent files you want to share visually rather then just providing links to these files and relying on people to download them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I wrote about the bibliography tool Zotero a while back and I'm excited to share another promising option in this category called Mendeley. It's a bit misleading to refer to these tools as just bibliography tools since they really allow you to do so much more. When I was a doctoral student I used EndNote to keep track of all the articles, book chapters, websites and other references I uncovered in my research and this was a great help in creating an accurately formatted bibliography for my dissertation. But the downside of a tool like EndNote is that it costs money (boo) and it is confined to just a single machine.

Mendeley is free (yeah) and it allows you to sync your list of references across multiple machines. However, that is just the beginning of the great features available with this amazing tool. Mendeley automatically extracts metadata such as title, author, publication, you know, all that stuff you normally have to type in yourself, and creates a new reference in your library. You can access and manage this library online and across multiple machines. You are also able to share your library with others and invite them to annotate the references in your library. Mendeley also supports full text searching of your articles and you can even capture citations directly from the browser, which is incredibly handy considering how so much of the research we do these days is online. You can even create bibliographies right within Word or Open Office.

I still have that same copy of EndNote I purchased when I first became a doctoral student but I don't think I'll be upgrading it anytime soon. Not with alternative options like Mendeley out there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Are you looking for a tool you can use to showcase your students' videos in a safe and controlled environment? Do you want your own video sharing tool that you can get unblocked in your district so that students can use it without fear of filtering? Then Fliggo is just the tool for you. Fliggo allows you to create your very own version of YouTube where you control the video content. You are able to control who adds content, who views the videos and who comments on the videos. This level of control is particularly powerful for the k-12 educator. You can create your own site with Fliggo, upload your students' videos, or other videos you want to share with them, and never have to deal with the headaches and questionable content found on those "other" video sharing sites. There is a great video tour you can watch to learn more about the many features of Fliggo. Like the many web-based tools out there, Fliggo doesn't care if you are using a Mac or a PC and it doesn't require any prior knowledge of HTML or programming in order to use it. If you are looking for a way to showcase student videos and facilitate the use of videos with your students than Fliggo is definitely worth checking out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Picnik and Cameroid

Today I'm writing about two more web-based photo tools that are free and fairly easy to use. Picnik is an online editor and Cameroid allows you to take pictures with your webcam and then add a variety of different effects.

Picnik is an incredibly powerful photo editing tool that allows you to pull pictures in from all the major photo sharing sites as well as directly from your computer. It is completely web-based and therefore doesn't require any downloads or specific operating system. In fact, you don't even have to register in order to use it, which makes it even more accessible for classroom use. You can add special effects, backgrounds and text to your pictures as well as do all the basic editing tasks such as color correction, cropping, image resizing and much more. One classroom application of a tool such as Picnik would be to touch-up images before including them on your classroom website.

Cameroid is the equivalent of Photo Booth (Mac only) but web-based so the Windows users of the world can now join in the fun. Cameroid is a photo capturing tool with some editing features built in. One of the common uses of this tool is to take a self-portrait of yourself with your webcam and then add all sorts of fun special effects to create a very customized profile picture.