iTunes U Hits

So it happened the other day … Apple announced the long awaited iTunes U service. I even saw on CNN the other evening a big story about it and how Stanford was letting people in for free. To me it is an outstanding opportunity to share the knowledge of the Academy. To some others it makes them nervous. At the end of the day it looks like an opportunity for schools to easily make content available to their students.I won’t say that it is the perfect solution — only becuase I don’t think any of us know what that is. Just a year ago most members of Higher Education would scratch their heads and say, “pod-what … podcasting … hmm, that’ll never work.” A year later and there are thousands of these “shows” floating around the web and inside the iTunes podcast directory. Adam Curry went big time with Podshow, Odeo got funded to allow people to easily create this stuff, and Apple built a service that lets schools host, index, and serve their content in this format. Now this is one fast tracking technology. There are great things ahead … it is sort of funny to me that we are all talking web 2.0 (for better or for worse), and the hottest thing happening are “radio shows” that are auto delivered via RSS. Sounds amazing, but it is true.

No matter how you look at iTunes U, it is a great opportunity to get your stuff out there quickly. When was the last time someone told you they’d take care of your content for you? I am interested in the thoughts of the community and more interested in what will come next.

iLife in the Classroom … Finally

For the last several years I have been an avid iLife user … starting with the first release several years ago I have used to track all my photos, music, to make movies and DVD. I always wanted to use GarageBand, but the most musical talent I have is related to listening to music. When I started podcasting a year a half ago I didn’t even attempt to use it. I used a mish-mash of tools like Audio Hijack Pro and Audacity to record and edit the resulting podcasts. All of this stuff was used almost exclusively at home … I just didn’t see the value (outside of my students using iMovie) of how it all fit together in the classroom … call me lazy.Well, I’m now using to iLife ’06 and it has become an absolute staple in my classroom. Not really for my students mind you, but for me. GarageBand is now a part of every class period as I record lectures and produce enhanced podcasts. It gives me the ability to walk in with my PowerBook, a wireless microphone, and a Keynote presentation and do a class-based podcast. When class is over, I take about 30 minutes to export my sldies from Keynote into iPhoto, they show up in GarageBand, and I can drag them to the timeline. I mix it down and push it to iTunes … I could be using iWeb to publish them, but I am not ready to jump off the WordPress bandwagon just yet. At the end of the day the students click a single link from my class blog and iTunes auto-launches and a subscription is set.

iLife in the classroom has finally arrived for me. I’d love to hear how everyone else is using it.

The Social Bookmark

I have been teaching IST 110 this semester at Penn State in a completely new way … all new assignments, new tools, and new approaches. I am still asking students to work in teams to solve a large real world problem assignment. The focus though is more on the tools that are powering the concepts of web 2.0 — open collaboration and community. One of the new assignments I have been tinkering with takes advantage of the social bookmarking tool The ability to maintain a set of shared, community created, resources is something I’ve wanted to do for some time. When I finally got my mind wrapped around the social bookmarking approach I knew I had to use it in class.The way it works is that every student signs up for a account on the first day of class. Doing that allows them some time to figure out what the environment is good for. We then decided on a common tag to use when bookmarking things that were somehow related to the class. I simply asked them to start using and I gave them a couple of weeks to get started … it was really cool to see how the shared set of bookmarks started to come alive a couple of weeks in.

I actually created a new “assignment type” for them around the concept — the Social Bookmark Activity. Every couple of weeks students pick two of their bookmarks and post it to the class blog. They are to report why they selected what they did and why they used to tags they used. It seems like it is paying off … I would like to continue using this type of assignment but I would like to find ways to make it more meaningful. I am wondering if any of you have some ideas? At any rate, it has been a great way to get them to look at building a knowledge base in a new way and has expanded their class reading list quite a bit. I’ll be trying to pull some student thoughts and reactions to this and report them here.

RSS for Education

I have been an avid RSS user for quite some time now. I find it the only way to stay current with news, blogs, and the types of sites I enjoy. I think my reading habits have changed as a result of my RSS adoption … I read so much more stuff in such a short amount of time that it just blows my mind. I have tried all sorts of news readers — from web based sites like bloglines (my current tool) to desktop applications like NetNewsWire Pro (that I loved until they made me pay for it). To tell you the truth, the best part about using RSS to get news and information really has little to do with the tools you use, it is about the results.Yesterday I came across this report, “RSS Users Visit Three Times as Many News Web Sites as Non-Users” via Nielsen//NetRatings. It is a very simple look at how RSS effects people’s reading habits. If you look at it you’ll notice that they really looked at this in a very simple way. As simple as it is, it hits home the point — this technology has the potential to change the amount of content we are willing to browse. If I had to visit 10 news sites a day and slog through all the front page messes just to find the new content, I doubt I would take the time. Now jump up to the 130 feeds I have in my bloglines account … no way! In the RSS world, you subscribe and wait for the updates to be pushed to you. Simple. Effective. Quick.

This semester I am teaching and I have my students posting in a multi-user blog, the Blogs@110. Each student has their own blog and with it their own RSS feed. I can use the enhanced category/tag browser to create customized feeds that I can subscribe to. For example, I can see all items that are new that are “Assignments, Blog Entries, Podcasts” in a feed. That is such a time saver for me. In the past, I would have used a learning management system, some drop boxes, and a bunch of message boards to have stuents discuss and turn in work. To get to it, I would have to log in, navigate the system, and then get to the work. Fifteen minutes later I would usually find out that there isn’t any new content in the space. With the blog and RSS it just shows up in my bloglines account along with all my other feeds. Makes life so much easier.

What else is RSS good for? I’d love to know how it is getting used in your classrooms or in your lives in general. Drop a comment and let me know.

Let’s Get it Started …

So the ADCE is finally going “live” … it has been an interesting journey getting to this point. Selecting technologies, discussing policies, and all the details of creating a community like this one. We had a soft launch earlier in the year and by all indications it appears as though this could become a very valuable resource for us all to utilize. For it all to really work, there needs to be a feeling by the community that they are in control of what goes on here … it is critical to allow us to play nice with each other. It sort of reminds me of what Adam Curry used to say about the Daily Source Code Podcast — it’s the place users and developers party together. What does that mean? Well, to me it means it is a place where people like all of us — educators, administrators, lurkers, thinkers, and others get a chance to hang out with the people who are actually doing this stuff, building our tools, and envisioning new opportunities. Apple has decided to help us all find a place to sit down, share some ideas, and chill … you know a place to start our conversations. That is important.Will this space be perfect the first day the doors open — no. Will it be perfect in a month, a year, or longer from now? Probably not. But at the end of the day, we have the ability to create what we want, what we need, and what we feel is the appropriate place to hold our virtual conversations. I’ll do my best to throw some things out there for you all to react to and I’d love to hear back from you. Drop comments on me … make me work. Let’s get together and talk about some things … the first step towards changing what goes on in and outside our learning spaces starts with discussion. I am hopeful that we will be able to come together and make that happen. It could be an amazing opportunity … seems to me like it is up to us.

Changes are Coming … Slowly

So I have been spending almost all of my time over at my other blogs — mostly at the blogs@pgsit. Now that the Governor’s School has ended, it is time to get back to this site. I have to admit I was getting set to post this over at my Learning & Innovation site, but my hosting company’s servers are down (yet again) … tangent here, but I was just getting ready to set my wife up with an account there for her new WordPress blog … she is on at the moment, but has just recently been invited to join a larger blog network and is ready for the features something like WP can offer. Sorry about those details. On to my thoughts …I am starting to notice some nice traction in the use of blogs and podcasting in education. I have written before what I think about the use of blogs as communication and community tools (I’ll give you a hint … I like them), so I will just point you to those comments. In today’s New York Times, there is a piece in the Technology section titled, New Tools: Blogs, Podcasts and Virtual Classrooms. The piece, written by Ethan Todras-Whitehill, talks about the growth of podcasting and blogging in the classroom. It is amazing to see the pictures of the kids producing the Room 208 podcast. It really shows you how powerful all this stuff is. I saw something the other day from some website about how tired they were hearing about podcasting … this isn’t a direct quote, but it was something like, “podcasting is stupid because it is just a fancy name for audio on the web.” Even if I do share a little bit of the same issue about the whole “audio on the web” thing, I feel as though the podcasting revolution has allowed teachers to get really creative with what they ask of their students. Even though blogs have been around far longer than podcasts, the whole podcasting thing has really highlighted the importance of having a publishing system that can carry your voice (literally and figuratively) out on the RSS feed. If you can’t figure it out, that is what is so amazing about this stuff — its reach.

I had my students do a ton of podcasting this past five weeks at PGSIT — with varying levels of quality and interest. What was very apparent however was that when the things they were podcasting about made sense to them, they really got into it. When I read the Times article, this one quote jumps out at my and rings true …

“I want to give these kids the tools to say, ‘Hey, my voice is important in this world,’ ” Mr. Arquillos said after the yearlong experiment. “This blog helps me do that.”

To me that is good stuff. There was also a quote in there that just drives me crazy — political ramblings aside –

“Still, some educators are not completely sold on the value of interactivity. “If interactivity becomes the fundamental basis of the educational process, how do we judge merit?” asked Robbie McClintock, a learning technologies expert at Teachers College of Columbia University.”

If I were at my personal space, I’d have more to say. At any rate, if you read the story, you’ll see why it drives me crazy in the next little paragraph.

Moving on … speaking of changes, you see that mouse Apple released? I can’t believe they invented a four button mouse! Who woulda ever thought of that? Sorry … of course I’ll buy one … but I won’t like the name — ever. Well, its good to be back and its good to have some time to focus on this space.

Podcasts are Everywhere

While I was at NECC, Apple had a group of Apple Distinguished Educators there doing podcasts with people who are into/shaping/impacting teaching and learning with technology … not saying I am one of those people, but they did take me out to breakfast to talk about all sorts of things that get me excited. We decided not to do our little talk back at the hotel and walked down the street to a little coffee place to have some lunch and talk. I imagine it was a funny sight to see us sitting in the corner with the audio guys hanging boom mics at us … I love the background noises — the coffee grinders, people talking, and the music make it so much more authentic.At any rate, here is the link to the podcast … It was a lot of fun talking with Barnaby Wasson about all sorts of stuff that we both seemed to enjoy. It is sort of funny as I had attended his podcasting session the night before and I did a quick iPod podcast with him. For some reason, it just seemed like the right thing to do — podcast from a podcasting session. If you are interested, take a listen.

With the new iTunes 4.9, this whole podcasting stuff finally seems as though it is being demystified. The new iTunes makes getting podcasts so much easier … and the new QuickTime makes making them easier … now all we need is a good way to serve them up. I bet it isn’t too far off! Hey, it was also kind of cool seeing my name in the new podcast directory in iTunes!

MultiUser Blogging for PGSIT

I’m not sure, but I think I’ve posted about the Blogs@SI project we have going on at Penn State in the Solutions Institute (I have too many blogs). It’s been a successful pilot test of something we think will have big impact on the teaching and learning landscape in the next year or so. We are planning an aggressive rollout starting in the fall of a production environment that will give many faculty, staff, and students access to create their own spaces. The technology we are using is Drupal — a great multi user blog toolset, but an even better web content management environment.With all that said, what really has me excited is the implementation of the Blogs@PGSIT on the same (yet slightly updated) foundation. Let’s back up … PGSIT is really the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Information Technology. It’s a PA Department of Education funded program that runs every summer on our campus under my supervision (and by supervision I mean I am the PI … the program director and her staff really run the thing) for five weeks. We bring the Commonwealth of PA’s best and brightest high school rising juniors to campus and put them through the paces in every way possible — solving big time problems, impacting the community, visiting great locations, and learning about all things IT.

This is the last year for the program at PSU … state funding and other factors have limited what we can do going forward. It doesn’t really matter though — this will be our best program ever … and that is saying a lot! With that in mind, we wanted to create something that would expose the amazing things going on in the program to the larger world … in the past, its been us seeing the greatness and having trouble explaining why the entire Institute gives up five weeks of summer, without pay, to lead this group of kids. This is how the Blogs@PGSIT came about — we wanted to share what was going on inside with you all on the outside. This is an invitation to this community to peek in, take a look around, and let us know what you think. The space is built around collaboration and we invite comments and feedback.

I’ve spent the better part of the last three weeks planning my course — a strange and twisted version of our introductory IST course. I am calling it Web 2.0: The Read/Write Evolution and I’m planning it all online in the light of day. I just sort of feel like a course that is about the next generation of tools to create community should invite the community’s perspective. So, do us all a favor and drop by during the next five weeks. There will podcasts, blog posts, reflection, and so much more going on. Hey, here’s to grand experiments! As my old hero, Bob Ross always used to say, “The worst thing that can happen is wonderful.” Amen.