Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Google Books!

Web Address:

We've talked about Google Books here before, but there have been some new developments that make Google Books even more appealing.  Along with yesterday's tech tip, I wanted to mention some great ways to get some books.  With the new agreement between the publishing industry, authors, and Google. Even more books will be available through Google's Book search and now there will be options for purchasing books even those that are out of print otherwise.  You can read more about the new agreement here:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Read a book, anywhere you want!

Something happened last year.  It was a tipping point.  For years there have been eBooks.  All kinds and varieties of eBooks.  An eBook is a digital version of a regular paper and ink book.  An eBook is the literary equivalent of an MP3 Audio file.  There have been two troubles with eBooks in the past.  First of all multiple players have been involved in creating different formats.  Microsoft, Adobe, and independent groups have all created text formats for reading.  It would seem simple to convert text to text, but it hasn't been the text that is a problem, but rather how do you navigate through the text in a way that feels as intuitive and simple as reading a book.  This vast variety of formats and software to read the formats has created the second problem. The second problem has been distribution.  Because there are a variety of formats there have also been a variety of stores.  Different online stores have sold or distributed these eBooks.

The tipping point?  Amazon's Kindle.  By creating not only a format that was useful but also a distribution mechanism that was simple and easy and importantly: vast, eBooks became viable. I have been an eBook reader for years, but I am probably the exception and I have used several different formats and softwares for reading eBooks.  But now, that there is a distribution portal for the books eBooks became truly mainstream. But of course as soon as somebody starts making some serious money, somebody else is going to compete.  There are now several different eBook reader devices but importantly there are several distribution sources.  Barnes and Noble launched their Nook reader just in time for Christmas, Borders bookstore has formed a relationship with Sony and markets books for Sony's Reader.

But the best of all of this in my mind, I don't have to buy their readers at all.  When Barnes and Noble launched their Nook, they also made Reader Software available for the iPod Touch/iPhone, for the Mac, for Windows, and for the Blackberry.  Amazon, not to be outdone also has an application for the iPod Touch/iPhone, for Windows, and are working on versions for the Mac and Blackberry.  The Sony Reader uses a format that also has software available for other devices.

An important element of all these new distribution outlets is that they usually offer free books for older books that are in the public domain.

So what are you waiting for?  Read a book!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Pre-school Pioneer

Web Address:

Pioneer, Utah's online Library has been around for more than a decade.  It has been the source for relaiable results and research for students from kindergarten through Doctoral work.  The Utah Education Network has helped develop and manage this resource for the state.  Pioneer provides Database searches, instructional media and access to subscription services like CultureGrams for the whole state.  This has ensured that every student and every School District has access to the same high quality materials.

Now, Pioneer has a baby brother  (or sister or sibling if you like) Pre-School Pioneer brings together some of the best resources around for pre-school age children.  These resources are available to pre-school teachers, and parents to help encourage early learning.  One of the prime indicators of success is positive early experience with learning and reading.  Pre-school Pioneer is there to help Utah's youngest learners get that positive push from learning.

Check out the variuous tools available including: Pre=media, PBS Kids Island, and fun activity calendars for timely learning.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Share video the eMedia way - Tip #3

Using video in class is a fantastic way to teach difficult and abstract ideas.  If a picture is worth a thousand words a video must be worth 10,000.  Learning to effectively consume and learn from video resources seems as useful today as reading was in generations past.  In order to help students use video effectively to learn we should use it to teach.  Specifically, we can use video outside of class instead of or in addition to textbooks and reading assignments.

The third eMedia tip is to assign some video as homework.  Spending a few minutes to teach students how to access the resources in emedia and how to view them will make it possible to assign enrichment assignments outside of the classroom.  One, caution, be conscious o the digital divide and that not all students will have video ready internet at home, or internet at all.  However, having said that, if we give students a week or two to view a video or two, then they have time to visit a public library, the school media center, or even the computer lab before or after school.  As a teacher, we can assign a video or one of a series to students and ask them to report on it.  It becomes really about the same as a reading assignment.  Then instead of using two class periods to watch and discuss a video, we can focus on using the time face to face for those activities that can only be done face to face.  Discussion, skill acquisition, feedback and the direct interventions that students need.

This is the end of this mini-series of eMedia tips about video, but feel free to post some comments about how you use video or suggest using video.  Also, as new tools, resources and techniques become available for eMedia we will revisit it with new suggestions.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Social Guardians, Social Innovators, or Social Reformers

What is our job as teachers?

I get really frustrated with this. There seems to be at least three roles we have to fulfill as educators.

Social Guardians:
As teachers, we have a responsibility to be guardians of the society and culture that hires us. We may not want this, but the reality is we (at least in public schools in the United States) are hired as public servants. We belong to 'the man'. As such, I have an obligation to fulfill the role asked of me by the public. The District I belong to, the State that issues my license, the parents in the commnity I teach in all have a reasonable expectation that I teach the children in my care the morals, values, knowledge and skills that they want me to. In this way, we are guardians who maintain the society we are part of. This is the role the teacher, shaman, wise-man, priest or matriarch took when they initiated rites that kept the societies values in the center of the communities view. Teachers to some extent do the same. We do our best to entrench the societies dogma into the students.

Social Innovators:
We are also, expected to some extent or other to be agents for social and societal change. We are expected to inspire the young generations to new heights, to encourage them to right the wrongs in our society, we are expected to help them achieve their dreams, This doesn't jive to well with the first role. They are at odds with each other.

Social Reformers:
We are also often supposed to be actively fixing what's wrong with society. All the ills of the world can be cured if we can just teach the kids right. Teachers bear the burden of trying to fix what's wrong with families, the media, society, the government, and even education itself, because we are the ones who teach the younger generation to leave aside the old ineffective ways and adopt bold new ways of thinking?

And people wonder why teachers have a hard time.

Computer learning as culture learning.

I have been helping my wife study for her finals. She is in a college course : Methods of Teaching a foreign language. She was asked to read an interesting article about the role of culture learning in a language course. There were several major obstacles to effective culture learning:
  • Social Distance
  • Ethnocentrism and Identity
  • Negative Attitudes
  • Sliding Attitudes
As I read through this I was struck with the resonance this has with helping folks adopt Educational Technology.

Social Distance when learning a language is the concept that the greater distance the learner percieves between himself and the target culture the greater difficulty the learner will have relating to and adapting to the target culture and language. When teaching teachers about technology they often express the distance they feel from what students are doing. The archetypal question is: "Why would anyone want to ______" You fill in the blank: Twitter, blog, facebook, MMORPG or any other online activity. The article also pointed out that the closer the similarities between the target culture and the native culture. This may speak to the reason teachers easily adopt technologies that fit in with the paradigm they are used to. Presenting with PowerPoint is similar to presenting with Overhead Projectors. Using an Interactive Whiteboard is similar enough to using a whiteboard that teachers can adapt to it. But video editing is not similar to other things they are used to doing.

Ethnocentrism and Identity: There is a tendency amongst teachers to want to hold on to things the way they are. We are often trying to instill cultural values, traditions and information to our students. As we see culture that is different than ours we judge it as bad. We look at the changes to our traditions or the way things were and are anxious about where it is going. In educational technology this manifests as resistance to these new technologies. We don't adopt cell phones as a learning tool, because we see it as rude to interrupt class. We worry about cheating on tests instead of designing cheat proof performance assessements

Citation nod:
Mantle-Bromley, Corinne "Preparing Students for Meaningful Culture Learning." Foreign Language Annals 25.2 (1992): 117-27. ERIC. EBSCO. Web. 13 Dec. 2009.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week:

Web Address:

Screen shot 2009-12-07 at 6.52.18 AM

If you are one of our readers chances are you've taken one or more of our UEN Professional Development courses. If you have you may want to know where UEN's trainers learn all that great stuff.  One of the places is  On this site you can find resources based on the Product: PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Access, or OneNote.  The help and how to has text based tutorials with  audio enhancements.  These tutorials are quick and very well writtten, and being text-based they don't require as much bandwidth (or as fast a connection) to use.  You can download great templates, with dozens and dozens if not hundreds specifically designed for educators.  If you are a registered Microsoft 2007 user you can also join the community and share your own templates, designs and resources.  The Clip art gallery expands your library to an almost limitless size with images, line-drawings, animated picturess and audio.

So try your hand at something new.  Learn a trick for Excel, or download a new holiday image.

For Apple Mac users: is the place to go for tutorials, help, hints and tips on the Mac version of office.  Downloading clip art is still available on but is best accessed with Safari. Errors occur when using Firefox and the downloaded clips don't open properly.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Kindle won't kill the textbook!

I was talking to a friend who fears that the Kindle will be the death of the physical book. I think it may be but I hope it doesn't kill the textbook. I hope something else does.

There has been a lot of talk about Kindle replacing textbooks, but personally, I don't see the sense in trading one static medium for another. A textbook is full of text and pictures. A Kindle book would be the same. Text and pictures. Kindle currently has the big drawback of being not just text and picture only but not even color. Hopefully that will change eventually, because color plays a vital role in navigating informational text, but I digress.

Textbooks are static and Kindle books are static. What I want is instead of only static diagrams and pictures, I want interactives and 3-d images. I'm a Science geek. Don't replace my textbook with static materials. If something kills the textbook I want it to be something better. Something that explains a Composite Volcano and then shows an animation of the different types of eruptions.

I hope Kindle doesn't kill the textbook. I hope something better does.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Google Image Swirl

Web Address:

When you are searching for just the right images, sometimes what you want is the ability to look for more pictures like the one you have found.  Whether it's a specific kind of fault or images of Jim Crow era segregation, Google's image search is a big help.  Well currently in the works is Image Swirl from Google.  Google has a 'labs' section where they preview new ideas they are working on and the image swirl tool works like Visual Thesaraus or like a Concept Map.  You pick one image and related or similar images are show around it.

Give it a try.  See what you get.

Screen shot 2009-12-07 at 7.13.25 AM

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

@windowslive and @MSWindows I hope your listening.

I am proud to be a Microserf. I really enjoy Microsfts products. I'm a PC. Well really, I am bilingual, I use an Apple computer, but I run Windows as well. I have been a Hotmail user for more than 10 years. I have an MSN account that I have enjoyed. I have watched as they have improved and refined and increased what I can do with my hotmail account. One of my favorite things is my SkyDrive. This is Hotmail's little known feature that gives you 25gb of online storage. (Yes 25 gigabytes. It's huge) My online complaint about the Skydrive is the file size limit. But I can live with it.

I have also set up and used a Live Office Space which on my PC allows me to save directly to the web. It allows for checkout of files that a group is collaborating on. It works well as a project management tool.

I praise first because I don't want anyone to mistake what I am about to say as vitriol. Here's what I want Windows Live to do. There are 3 things.

1st and most important. Stop STOP STOP rebranding. When I first started using Hotmail it was not owned by Microsoft. Then Microsoft bought it. It has been re-branded at least 3 times. from Hotmail to MSN to Windows Live and now to Bing. Well Hotmail hasn't been re-branded yet... but. Please stop. Google has been Google since their inception (well almost it was BackRub very early on) Let Windows Live stand. Grow the brand you have.

2nd and nearly as important as ending the rebranding. Here's what I want. Here's how to beat Google docs. Make sure that I can seamlessly integrate all my documents. Something I create on the new Live Web apps should be obviously and immediately available when I get to a computer with Microsoft Office. Documents I create on my computer should be one click to put on my Live Web apps. Integrate the following three tools. Windows Live Mesh, SkyDrive and Live Office Space. I don't want to use three tools but each of these tools is great and would complement each other, just not as separate tools. When you add the WORD features in Live Web apps please give me reviewer tools. Google Docs is great for seeing versions, but terrible for making suggestions. I can change a document but I can't add commentary. Commentary and annotations especially as an educator are more important to me than actually making the corrections. Simple annotations like being able to add comments and show inline changes would be awesome. The features currently in word are fantastic but require that I email documents back and forth. Give me one document that lives online but please give me reviewing tools. Also, don't forget Forms. The Google forms feature will beat you if you don't have it in Windows Live Web Apps. I love being able to collect information from students, parents and participants in conferences and workshops, but oh how much better it would be if I could with one click bring those result into my full featured Microsoft Excel.

Finally, keep up the work on Windows Mobile. I haven't switched away from my Windows Mobile phone for one simple reason. I can edit documents on it. Google Docs don't do it and neither do the Android phones. iPhone don't do it. Windows does. I love it. I personally would love a Windows Live Phone. Meaning one where Windows actually puts their name on the hardware. I don't care if you actually get somebody else to build it. You brand the Xbox. Time to take ownership of some more hardware.

Tech Tip Tuesday: Share video the eMedia way - Tip #2

Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 10.00.08 AMUEN's eMedia library has some great video collections.  Series of videos that are all related.  For example: Disney's Animal World which includes videos about bears, frogs, meerkats, and giraffes.  PBS's Building Big which is series about Heavy Construction projects like: Dams, Tunnels, and Bridges.  There are other series' available, and when there is such a great series it's tempting to show the whole series.  It's like having a trilogy of novels, the whole series helps students learn more than just one can.  However, there simply isn't enough time for showing all of a series in a typical year. So what can you do?

By selecting a series' of videos and previewing one or two as the teacher, it's possible to create a generic activity sheet for students to work on while viewing the video.  Questions that can be answered and discussed regardless of which specific video in the series was chosen.  Then teach students to access the videos on eMedia and in a Computer lab each student can choose their own video to watch.  After some time viewing the video each student can share the specifics about their video either in a whole class discussion or in small groups.  Either way, students are able to create generalizations about the topic from the specifics that each learned.

So, visit UEN's eMedia library and pick a series today!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Super Science Resources

Web Address:

Are you looking for one stop shopping when it comes to Science Resources for the State of Utah.  Well, we may not have it all but we have it all online.  Visiting the Super Science Resources page at UEN will help you find the mos core curriculum correlated curriculum and content there is.  Each Science Content area has links to the specific resources available through UEN.  Check out the Super Resources.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Share video the eMedia way – Tip #1

Using video in class can be really rewarding and engaging.  Most teachers know that.  Utah teachers have a great resource in eMedia.  A library of mostly video resources that you can use to help enhance your classroom.  As I used these in class I came up with 3 ways to effectively use them over the next few weeks of the Tech Tip lets look at ways to effectively use video in the classroom.

Tip #1

Share videos in class using the NTTI Standards

The National Teacher Training Institute has developed several strategies for effectively using video in the classroom.  Most of the strategies develop organically as we use video in the class.  They are just good techniques that good teachers gravitate toward.  Things like previewing video become fairly obvious when we hear stories of unexpected statements, or images even in educational videos.  Images or statements that may be appropriate in a different environment of with a different age group.  Providing a focus for watching the video is also a natural fit for most teachers.  We recognize the value of the video or we wouldn't show it, but we need a focus that helps students learn from it.

Visit the NTTI link for more detaiils about the strategies and video clips demonstrating the various skills.  Visit UEN's own eMedia library for great resources to share in class.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week:

web address:

Are you teaching about our world?  What about money, other countries, cultures, economics, or math?  Many of these subjects can be made much more Screen shot 2009-11-16 at 2.18.08 PMinteresting with a little comparison. is a site that allows click-able currency rate comparisons.  Use the interactive map to choose two countries and get up to date currency information.

Utah Core Connectin: Geography for Life

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Berlin Wall

This morning on my drive to work I heard an interesting broadcast about a recreation of the Berlin Wall done at Utah Valley University. I couldn't find the archive of it, but UVU's Website has a description of the event. It's hard to believe it's been 20 years.

Need a Recharge! Take a walk!

This is one of the most fascinating things I have heard all week! I especially like the concept of actually embedding the technology into a cell phone. Or, what about my netbook?

Tech Tip Tuesday: Build your Own Blog!

Screen shot 2009-11-16 at 2.03.22 PMBlogs have become very much a part of our mainstream media.  Many companies, organizations and news institutions are now including blogs as part of their plan for sharing information.  A blog is a web log of your activity.  Because of the personal and sometimes highly opinionated nature of blogs there has been some hesitation on how best to include them in the educational setting.  Now there is a tool to make your blog much more School Friendly.  My.UEN has launched a blog portlet.  So, if you are already a my.uen registered user log in and check out the improvements.  If you aren't then visit to set up your account now!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NaBloPoMo Day 11: Live Video Web Conferencing in a face to face class?

Ok, so one of my assignments at work has been to develop an online course about a tool we provide for doing live Video Web Conferencing. I have been uncertain as to how exactly your average classroom teacher would use this. Two things have changed my vision on it.

I was with the State Technology Specialist last Friday and he said to me: "You guys (meaning me and my colleagues) shouldn't be teaching Word Processing. You should be on the cutting edge."

I realize that developing a course on collaborating via web conferencing would definitely be more cutting edge than teaching Word Processing.

Secondly, and this came today. One of the folks involved in using the software and a real advocate for the software invited me to watch her train a teacher on the software. The teacher was using some of my friends materials and she conducted a couple of authentic review type questions. She used the software the way I have seen people use a clicker system. She asked questions. Allowed kids to chat about their ideas for an answer and then submit an answer. One of the major things I noticed was that all the kids were engaged and working. But yet again, I don't think technology inherently made it engaging. It was good quality content. But all in all It was terrific! The kids were engaged and we had a great time. I really think I can see where to use this better now.

Web of the Week: National Parks

Web address:

If you had the wonderful opportunity to watch the newsest Ken Burn's Film on National Parks you may be thirsty for more.  The series was great and right here at UEN we have resources set up for teachers, students and the whole public to add their own story about the National Parks.  If this isn't enough to quench your thirst for knowledge the National Parks Official site has even more resources for teaching about the United States great treasures:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NABLOPOMO Day 5: Teachers

Ok, I figured out a norm I need to share with teachers. When I teach from now on. I am going to tell all the teachers they aren't allowed to denigrate themselves or belittle themselves. I have watched teachers who are in all ways completely competent belittle themselves when it comes to their level of expertise on a computer program.

Why do teachers adults behave in ways that they would never allow in students? I would never let a student just choose not to learn something or try or opt out. I wouldn't let them sit back and coast, or if I do allow that kind of behavior when working with adults why don't I allow it with teachers?

There's room for a lot there, but anyway! No more bad mouthing ourselves. We are learning! We are learners! We are competent and capable!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NABLOPOMO Day 4: Teenagers

I have forgotten what teenagers are like a little. Tonight I taught at a local library for the Netsafe Utah grant. It was a little challenging, I had an audience with vastly different ages. 15 year old boys to 11 year old girls. And when it comes to internet safety what those two groups need is different.

Plus, I am not used to the heckling like I once was. When I was in front of teens every day I was used to the banter and could give as good as I got. In this situation I didn't feel like there was enough of a relationship to do that. I had never met these kids and they had never met me. Not a good idea to crack sarcastic jokes in that situation.

It went well and once we got into the swing I think I got through, and I do miss being around teenagers. They are so goofy and there's always something to make you laugh, but I am out of practice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Resistance to the Revolution

Why don't schools change? Why do we keep doing the same things over and over even when research, experience, common sense and personal feelings dictate otherwise? This quote gives me som fodder for the rant cannon:
However, they also believed that the use of cooperative learning would increase student off-task behaviour and take up too much class time. It was found that the concern for off-task behaviour was a bigger predictor of a teacher’s intention to use cooperative learning. Although the authors did not draw this conclusion, it seems that this conception of teachers as needing control over student behaviour is a conservative force that makes many curricular innovations difficult.
I was reading an article with my wife that had the above quote in it. It seems to state that the teachers nne for control is one of the greates obstacles to innovation in the classroom. Well...DUH! When so much about the system discourages teachers from losing control. There are all of the legal and litigious reasons that a teacher needs to keep control of his or her students. When administrators come in and are concerned that kids are in their seats and 'on-task'. When parents wonder 'what are my kids learning' not 'are my kids enjoying learning. Then no, teachers aren't going to try something new. It's frustrating but true that so much of the system reinforces ( literally re-enforces) the teacher as authority and in charge. It takes so much effort to truly switch to a new way of doing things and to create an atmosphere in class that values safety and respect without me as the teacher having to be the one in control. I felt like I had this my last few years of teaching, but I still got the message from folks who came in to see my class that my students were out of control this was because they weren't in their seats all doing the same thing. Each student was engaged in the work they needed to be doing at the time.

That's why there is so much resistance to the revolution!

Citation Nod:

Castro, Paloma, Lies Sercu, and Maria del Carmen Méndez García "Integrating language-and-culture teaching: an investigation of Spanish teachers' perceptions of the objectives of foreign language education." Intercultural Education 15.1 (2004): 91-104. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 Nov. 2009.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


This is my first try at NABLOPOMO. I came to blogging late and I haven't really tried this before. I am going to make posts everyday this month, but I am going to be using my personal blog. So watch out here comes the world!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week:

Web Address: is the website of the George Lucas Education Foundation.  This has been a premier source for Project Based learning and real world examples of good public education.  Their tagline is "What works in Public Education"  I love this because it is an admission and affirmation that there are things that are working in public education.

Edutopia has allowed comments on their articles for several years, and this has been a lively area for teachers to voice their own opinions about what is working in public education.  Just this week a new feature was added to Edutopa: Groups.  Now, when you create a login you can join a group of people having conversations that interest you.  There are several groups already established including:

  • Green Schools

  • Middle School

  • Project Based Learning

  • STEM

  • Professional Development.

So, come join the conversation on

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Watch TV on your PC (Mac or Windows)

A little while back I gave some tips on how to watch your PC on a TV.  Well the opposite can also be possible.  We are slowly but surely coming into the digital convergence when  media will be available all in one place.  We will be able to surf the web, listen to radio, download our favorite Podcasts and watch movies all on the same device.

Here are some tips for getting your PC to work as a DVR and TV.  You can watch live television on your computer and in most cases record the video as well

Tips for Windows:

Tips for Mac:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Fancast

Web address:

Usually, in this web of the week post I focus on great educational sites, well today the focus is more fun.  Fancast is a website like many that are out there that broadcasts Television archives.  You can catch up your favorite TV shows.

It also has features that allow you to login and keep track of shows you like, and allows you to watch full length movies.

So, now for the obligatory educational purpose.  Since you can watch full length movies and some of the movies are educational this could be a source of materials for out of class work.  With so much available in on demand video it seems like a good time to start using it outside of class.  There is simply so much out there that we can't share it all in class, but as homework or enrichment to class Teachers can suggest topics, or videos that would help in class and allow students to report on them in class or turn in synopses or summaries of them for credit.
Disclaimer: The content on this site is commercial and does have some video that could be deemed age inappropriate for younger children.  Please use your own good judgment in determining whether to use this site in your specific situation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Pick your Browser!

An overwhelming majority of internet users browse the web with Internet Explorer.  This was one of the big fears of companies back years ago when Microsoft started marketing and packaging it with their operating system.  Other web browsing software felt they would lose their market if people got Internet Explorer right on their computer.  They were largely right.  Netscape Navigator doesn't exist anymore but it's heritage lives on in the AOL company.

There are other browsers out there besides Internet Explorer.  Here's a little summary of some of the major players:

Mozilla FireFox

This browser is an open source solution from Mozilla, the open source means anybody with the know how can download the code and improve, or update it.  What this means for users is it is exceedingly simple to get plugin and downloads that extend the capacity of FireFox.  Firefox is available for Mac and Windows

Google Chrome

This broswer is another step in Google's journey to being a one stop shopping center for web tools.  If you like Google's simply clean lines the browser will probably suit you.  Some users miss the menus and buttons, but it does make your Google experience complete. Google is available for Windows


Safari is the Apple browser.  It has some of the features that FireFox has and some of the feature the Internet Explorer has.  This is more compatible with the Microsoft Website and a few others on a Mac than FireFox is but what's really unique is that you can get it on a Windows computer.  If you enjoy using iTunes on your Windows PC try out Safari. Safari is available for Mac and Windows.

And if you are stuck using Internet Explorer because of network or policy issues try: This post tells you how do do just what it's title implies.  Turn Internet Explorer into Google Chrome.

For even more about using these different web browsers you can watch the archived episode of the Faculty Lounge where Jared Covili talks about each of the browsers and what the pros and cons of them are.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: WolframAlpha

Web Address:

Have you ever wanted to know the GDP of Liechtenstein?  What about the average weight of a Bottlenose dolphin?  You can always 'google' it but now you can WolframAlpha it too.  This website was developed by a Wolfram Research, a company that produces Math software.  WolframAlpha is different than other search engines because it is driven by data and results are data instead of web pages.  You can type int mathematical equations and get the results or ask it questions like the average weight of 40 yr olds in Italy.

Check this link for a video describing how it can be used then WolframAlpha to your heart's content!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What is the purpose of education?

I got a recent tweet from @AlfieKohn which sent me of on the roads of my discontent. I read the article and it made me think again about What it the purpose of education? Why do we teach? Sometimes I wonder if it's all an exercise in futility. Are we really accomplishing our goals?

An example: I have believed ever since I wrote my college application essay that true learning changes the way I behave. If I don't behave differently then I haven't learned. The same can be true for teaching. If the people I teach don't change then they haven't learned. The problem is "What direction the change?" If someone teaches children that cheating will get them ahead in life and they begin cheating and succeeding, they learned!

So, what do I as a teacher teach? Well, I have always held that what I want to teach is good citizenship, informed decision making and to help kids become bulletproof bullsh*&% detectors.

I guess, when it comes right down to it there are two purposes to education in my mind. To create a more socially conscious citizenship. To help the young people within my influence consider the needs of others and society as they go about the work of life. Also, I want to inspire everyone I can to strive to achieve their greatest human potential, but not potential as defined either by business nor academia. Their potential as defined by them as an individual. I want them to become good and what they want to become good at especially as it fits with the first goal I have for education which is the betterment of society.

This brings up though my great conondrum and my great challenge. What makes a better society? Who decides this. We have quite a bit of strife in our world. Some people define a good society as one where individual differences and choices are valued while others see the wide-open choices as license and licentious.

Also, and the article I read highlighted this there seems to be a divide between the economists and the academics. The economists of the world want value, specifically economic value from our education system. The academics want value from specifically, cultural value from our educational system.

What do we do? Not all people will develop such that they hold in high regard the humanities, the arts, the cultural side to life. But those who do still need someone to clean out the septic tank. It is frustrating to me to see that all work has value and that both arguments have value and I believe they aren't exclusionary. Can a plumber value VanGogh? Can a concert pianist appreciate a well made cabinet?

So, again there are two reasons to educate:
1. to give people the very real skills they need to be a productive contributing member of our economy
2. to give people the very real appreciation of the history, art, literature, science and body of understanding that is our human heritage.

Can we do this?

Tech Tip Tuesday: A new Vista on the Horizon

Not since the millennium have we seen a Windows Operating system received with such  animosity.   Windows Millennium was released in 2000 as an operating system for home users.  Many people complained it was just Windows 98 with new bugs.  Which to some extent it was.  Many People downshifted off of it back to Windows 98.  We have just seen that again.  Windows Vista has not been received well and despite the Mojave Experiment Vista made very little headway.

Well coming up on the horizon is the newest and latest Operating System.  Windows 7!  Follow the link below for a terrific post about this latest version of the Windows Family.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What would @AlfieKohn say?

I have recently rediscovered Alfie Kohn. He is still my hero! I have been reading some of his articles and a thought struck me.

How much longer are we going to continue to do things to students and not with them. (This probably struck me because Mr. Kohn says it a lot)

Case in point: Reading! Evidence absolutely supports the practice of having students read 20 minutes a day. What happens when this becomes a club used to beat the students? Because this 20 minutes a day is so important in many of today's classrooms it becomes the bulk or sometimes the entire measure of the students reading grade. Therefore a student who is struggling to report his or her reading because of organizational difficulties gets beaten down. Not because he or she can't or doesn't read, but because he or she is to busy reading to bother writing it down.

How much of our jobs as educators is to enforce a factory worker model of responsibility? How much of what we do in our day should be to instill in children the need to: be on time, turn in your work, be quiet, don't disrupt? I have written about this before: the fact that our traditional schools instill values that aren't the qualities necessary for leadership.

I wonder too how much of our job as educators is to be the guardians of civilization. The educational system is designed and sturctured to hold fast to the values of a world that is rapidly changing, but I wonder if we do that too often by holding to the practices of a world that has largely disapeared?

When I was in the classroom it took me 10 years to really learn that what mattered most was not instilling in students the values that I held so dear. Not to force them to comply or conform to what I thought was most important, but rather to help them learn to value what mattered most to them . I am not sure I ever quite got it. But, I do know that the longer I taught the more I strove to give kids multiple ways to demonstrate competency. Multiple modes to learn and demonstrate learning. The more I valued the uniqueness and distinctness of each student. We have to teach classes because it seems to just work that way, but it is still each student that learns. We have to value that student. To do that we have to measure more than: "Did little Susie write down that she read 20 minutes last night"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Netsafe Utah

Web Address:

NetsafeUtah.orgIf you haven't visited it before, or if you haven't visited it in a while you should really consider checking out NetSafe Utah's website. This is a site developed in Partnership with the Utah Education Network, Internet Crimes against Children Task force, the Utah Department of Justice and a few others.

This site is full of resources that help teach the risks and dangers of the internet. This year the site will be added to with new videos, updated materials. Utah residents, schools, libraries and groups can also use the contact information on the page to request further information and face to face training.

Safe Surfing!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Transfer Data

With the advent of netbooks, notebooks, and mutliple desktops in the same home we often have two or three computers with our data on them.  Wouldn't it be nice to easily transfer data from one computer to another.  You can use a flash drive to move from on computer to another, but now with a simple cable and USB 2.0 ports on both computers you can tranfer directly.

Check out the details at:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Google Doodles

Web address:

Have you ever noticed the clever logos Google has from time to time. Well, there's a reason behind all that, and a couple of ways to find your favorites. Thie first is the official Google Holiday Logos page (listed above) Google has a basic archive of their holiday logos and some of the fan logos.

But wait there's more: has both the images and an explanation of what prompted them.  So if you were wondering what happened to the 'l' in the crop circles logo a couple of weeks ago.  Check them out.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Watch your PC on a TV

When I need advice for some particlularly tricky tech tip, I often check out The tech tips are really useful and I can subscribe to them as an RSS feed in my email in box or other feed reader.  Recently I came across this post which they give permission on their site to repost as long as you give them credit.  So, Credit duly given.  Kudos as well and check it out.  Watching your PC on a TV

How to Watch Your PC on a TV

By Bryan Lambert - September 6, 2009

Pull Quote 233Many people have purchased large screen flat panel televisions over the last few years and one of the cool by-products of having an HDTV is many will have a plethora of inputs that will allow you to view your desktop computer quickly and easily right on your television. Some of the geeky pleasures of having the ability to output your computer to a TV are showing off videos or photos on the big screen, and using it as a very large work or gaming screen. In this Tech Tip, we are going to look at some quick and easy methods for viewing your computer's output on your television (these tips work great for projectors as well).

What you will need:

The quick, cheap and basic way to get a computer to show up on a TV is to plug it in. If you have a desktop pc, you may be able to use the cable that you have right now going to your monitor. If you have a notebook computer, you’ll need to buy an additional cable(s).

Here’s the common inputs you’ll see:

This is the tried and true connector that we have seen on computers, well almost forever. This is the connector that nearly every HDTV will have. Sure you may not get the resolution you need, and it can’t play back protected content (think Blu-Ray movies), but it is quick and simple to use.

Some computers have it, some don’t – but S-Video is also a quick and easy way to get the computer screen working on the TV. The nice thing about S-Video is that it will many times work on standard resolution TVs if you still have one hanging around (the resolution is not that good, but it's a nice way to show off pictures).

DVI Cable
DVI is a terrific format to use, not only because it can support very high resolutions, but also because it can support full resolution HDCP protected content (High Definition movies such as found with Blu-Ray). Because the signal is digital (VGA isn’t), you also tend to get a much better looking picture than you would than with VGA. The cable can cost more, and it doesn’t carry audio (you’d need a separate audio patch cable for that), however the next cable on our list does.

HDMI Cable
For hooking a computer to an HDTV, this is definitely the way to go for many people because it's one cable that carries both video and audio, it supports HDCP protected content and high resolutions, and is relatively inexpensive. One drawback is that while many laptops have an HDMI connector, many desktops do not – so you’d need to add that port yourself (usually through a video card upgrade).

Some companies, such as IOGear also offer wireless solutions for both video and audio. Wireless tends not to support the higher resolutions, but can be alot of fun to use.


Some common caveats to look out for:

  1. You need to go into your video card “control panel”, use a function key or go into the video card properties to set up the computer for “dual monitor use” if you have a laptop or are leaving your main monitor connected if using a desktop. For TV display, most people just choose to “mirror” the display (same image appears on both monitors).

  2. Unless you are using HDMI, you’ll need to run a separate audio cable for audio through the TV.

  3. The highest resolution you can display is what can be supported by both the TV and the video card (it is just like a big monitor after all).

  4. For Blu-Ray protected content, you’d need to set your output to the HDTV only – it will not usually display on both TV and monitor (you may also need to set the audio out to SPDIF for Blu-Ray movies to get the audio on the TV as well).

  5. Some laptop computers tend to “lose” the audio capabilities of HDMI when using drivers not designed for the unit (even if it is a “recommended” update from your computer automatic updates).

  6. You may need to “play” with the TV’s aspect ratio to make the computers output “fit” properly to the TV screen.

  7. Be sure that you set the source on your TV to match the input you are using on the computer.

  8. Make sure that the cables are plugged in all the way – it’s really easy for a cable to slip out “just a little”.

In Conclusion

roomWhether you want to show off some photos in a slide show or use your Entertainment PC for use as a Blu-Ray player, hooking up your computer to a HDTV is a great way to use your HDTV to its full capability. So fire up the PC, plug it in and let the fun begin!

Tech Tips Article -

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lessons from Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This summer at the final NECC Conference I got the opportunity to hear Malcom Gladwell speak. I had heard of him and heard of his books but mostly parenthetically. It was sort of assumed that if you were intelligent then you had read his books or understood what was meant by tipping point. It's interesting to actually be reading them and see how his ideas are becoming, to use his own words, sticky.

I have really gotten a kick out of his book. I have learned at least a few things.

First, I love reading books by journalists. I have also read Radical Evolution The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human by Joel Garreau Who did a phenomenal job of distilling all the disparate information and creating a sense of it.

Malcolm Gladwell has done the same. He has analyzed and translated the jargonese of the psychology so I can understand it. He puts multiple ideas into a language I can easily and rapidly assimilate. I read the jargonese myself too, but His skill as a journalist is fully realized in this format, a book, explaining what the news of the past has lead us to understand.

Second, language is important. He had a sort of side note about a toddler and her advanced use of language. This description really resonated with me because of the ESL class I teach and because my wife is working on a degree in Spanish Education. Very interesting stuff about how much more complex our abilities can be than we sometimes let on.

Third, and certainly not last, was the idea of Transactive Memory. Gladwell, described something that I understood, but couldn't define. As a husband, I notice that there are things that I do and know that my wife simply doesn't have to. I often ask her where my keys are. Not because I can't look for them myself, but because she probably knows and remembers better than I do. My kids ask me where their shoes are. Why? Because it is much more likely that I moved them back into their room than they are wherever they left them. The idea is this. We share memory with our family members. We don't remember things that we don't have too. The book I referred to before Radical Evolution The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human talked about this issue to but not in relationship to people but computers. Both books refer to this sharing of memory and the loss when that shared memory is gone. People who go through a divorce feel a loss partly at least, because some of their cognitive abilities resided in their spouse. People who have a computer fail and lose all of their data feel a loss and sometimes have to have grief counseling to manage it. Why? Not because they are weak or overly attached to material items, but because they in a very real sense have lost their mind, their soul.

I think this has some unique implications in the education world. First, how much of our memory do we share with others? How do we share memory and even personality with the community. Gladwell discussed this transactive memory as having an influence on the success of small groups. People not only know each other but the know each other. They value each other. This I think has a serious implicatioin for schools. Where interdependence is fostered there is a much higher investment in the success of each individual and the whole group.

Secondly, if we truly do share memory with our devices, we depend on them as we depend on other people, should we deny student their devices at school? We see their cell-phones and iPods, and MP3 players as nuisance items and distractions, but are we in a sense asking students to function with only part of their brain? What would it be like for us to function without the books we depend on? These students depend on their phones not just as a way to flirt but as a connection to their world.

This connection also creates another implication. What about our World Wide Web of memory? In some way as each of us shares, creates, comments and adds to what is available we are creating in a sense a Hive Mind (blatant Star Trek/BORG reference or Ender's Game take your pick) But we are creating a world in which what one knows all can know. Access then to this mind becomes essential to be a part of the same memory as our global culture.

Great book!

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Google Lit Trips

Web address:

Google Earth has influenced how we teach a lot of things.  It allows us to explore far away islands, distant mountains, and view undersea features.  It also allows you to explore books in a whole new way.  Any book that takes place on our world can be mapped as a Google Earth Tour.  Many have already been done.  Check out Googlel Lit Trips to see grade level examples of books that navigate through our world.

This week in the Faculty Lounge, UEN's Professional Development will be showing how to use Google Earth to create your own Literature Trip.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Excel at Analyzing Data

One of the things we love about computers is that they are exceptional about analyzing data.  One of the first practical and marketable uses of computers was for Spreadsheets.  Originally, running the numbers meant writing a large paper worksheet or blackboard full of sales figures and expenses to determine profit margins.  These big worksheets could then be changed and re-calculated to see what would happen to profits if something changed.

You can learn more about Visicalc:

Now, many different companies offer spreadsheets. They can be hugely useful for calculating all kinds of stuff.

The big tips for today!
CSV Files - CSV Files are Comma Separated Values. So why do you care? Many sites will allow you to download data as CSV files which can be opened by most Spreadsheet programs

The other big tip: Check out Microsoft's Help Page regarding 3 calculations you really want to be able to do. Mean, Median and Mode.

Also, if you are interested in seeing what a CSV files looks like, download these files:

  • Scores as a CSV File (Should open in your Spreadsheet program)

  • Scores as a TXT File (to see the Comma Separated Values)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week:

Web address:

Geocaching is a great way to get out and find stuff.  But if hunting under bricks, logs and rocks at the back of the park isn't your thing, you may want to try out  This site was also developed by GroundSpeak, the same folks that brought us  The main difference here is that waymarks unlike geocaches have no physical item you have to locate.  It is based on the idea that information is tied to location.  When you locate a waymark, all you have to do is go back to the website and log your visit.  You are encouraged to upload a photo of yourself at the location, but it usually isn't required.

Tools like Google Earth, and Google Maps will also let you track places you have visited but after yesterday's blog post, I thought this was worth a mention.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More conversations about Extended Adolescence

I found out I am not the only one you know. I was at a meeting of MESA on Saturday. I was there to teach about Podcasting. I got there, did my first session, went to lunch, then went back to the room and got absorbed into a conversation on one of my pet topics.

I was trying to get a network connection to make showing podcasts in iTunes a little easier (read: possible. I've got to get a mifi) Well, as I sat there a couple of ladies, came in and sat down. After 5 or 10 minutes they asked "Why aren't you starting?" "Cause the keynote is going on right now and I start in about 30 minutes" "Oh, oops"

The ladies were obviously from the same district and I continued working while they launched in to a discussion regarding scheduling in a middle school. There had been an attempt made to create groups of kids with a "school within a school" model. I sat and listened for a while, then of course piped up and stuck my nose in where it didn't really belong. I asked, "So, to summarize, you are frustrated because a couple of electives that are only offered once a day are driving your entire schedule" "YES, you get it"

This led into a "why" and then a discussion about what really should drive scheduling at a middl school. One of the problems that was pointed out was an advanced mathematics and a unique approach to CTE I am not one to find fault or criticize, so I don't really find fault with attempts to create solutions that work locally. There unique situation was fine, but one part of the conversation was that it was found that students who had taken Algebra 2 in High School were more likely to be in College, this has prompted a change in requirements in some states to require Algebra 2 in High School. I think someone has cause and effect mixed up. I think a more effective interpretation of that data would be. Students who are going to go on to college are likely going to decide early and prepare by taking advanced mathematics. I mentioned to these ladies that I think we wait too long to let kids take a responsible role. They both mentioned that yeah, we keep kids in school longer and longer. More and more training before we allow them to step into responsible productive work environments. I don't think this is going to stay viable for ever. We can't continue an educating our kids as if everyone on of them will follow a route through a 4 year high school and a 4 year college or university with a General Education program. We are extending adolescence too long.

Tech Tip Tuesday: Learn to Geocache

Information is tied to location.  Thinks we want to learn are related to the place they happened, were discovered, were written.

Geocaching helps you become the Search Engine.  At least that's the motto of  What do you do though, if you aren't sure about this whole thing?  Can't you try it out?  Before you spend $100.00 or more on a GPS device?  Well, yes you can.  You have a couple of options.

First, Take a class.  UEN Professional development offers a course called: The GPS Classroom.  In the class you learn a lot of the basics of using a GPS unit and how to find geocaches.  This course isn't designed for the GPS Navigation units for the car, but rather the devices that hunters, search and rescue, and other outdoorsman use for navigating off road.

Second, Try Geocaching with your phone it does everything else, Why not Geocaching?.  You have four options.

  • Geocaching with an iPhone. offers an iPhone App for $9.99.  This app does it all.

  • Trimble offers a $5.99 per month service and software that works on several Phones and plans.

  • A Windows Mobile fan?  BASICgps is a free download that works fairly well.  It doesn't have convenient features for downloading a cache location directly to the phone( you sync them onto the phone from your computer), but does allow you to log caches from the phone as well as get hints....if you have a data plan.

  • Blackberry features Blackstar.  A Clean and simple solution that again doesn't work well for downloading cache locations, but will let you find and log them all with the phone.  You will have to add the locations from a computer before you head into the wilds.

So there you have it folks, several ways you can try out location based information.  So grab your phone and go outside.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Everything is a nail.

Earlier I wrote about how we as educator's have a hard time with perspective. We tend to see all instructional opportunities from the perspective we are most comfortable or most capable with. I mentioned my tendency toward PowerPoint. I don't think in terms of "What tool should I use for this" I think "How can I do this in PowerPoint"

To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Even our standards and testing are based around this same problem of everything looking like a nail. Contents and Standards are driven by the "how do we measure it" model. We have to prove we taught. We have to prove it mathematically and preferably with a norm-referenced or criterion referenced test.

What about the stuff that can't be measured. My students are kinder because I slowed down and taught etiquette, empathy and politeness in my class. My students regularly read articles and the newspaper to keep up on current events because they reported on them weekly in class. My students took an art class because I mentioned I was reading "Drawing on the Right side of the brain" How do we measure this. How do we give teachers merit pay for being the one person a student remembers 12 years later as believing in them and deciding not to rob that store? How do you measure incremental impacts of dozens and dozens of teachers on a student. Their influence isn't like a seed that will one day bear fruit. It is the fertilizer that kept the soil good so the seed of goodness in that student could sprout and grow. How do you measure that? How do you provide merit pay for that?

Well, one suggestion is offering merit pay for more than the results that students had on a test. (Which by the way caused a decrease in test scores in Portugal) I have mentioned this before, but I believe it bears repeating. Let teachers demonstrate the value added. We ask students to demonstrate multiple modes of competency why not teachers? If a teacher is blogging and getting hits showing that parents are visiting her site? Why not pay her for the value added to the school. If a teacher creates a web site and tracks the hits. Why not pay him for the value added to the school? If a teacher is willing to run a before or after school program. Value Added! Part of this could be test scores, but if instead of paying teacher more to try to get them to do a better job of a bad business why don't we pay them more for doing better business?


I don't know what to call it exactly. I have seen it. It doesn't just happen in teachers. It happens in many people. Maybe in most.

When I was young, I remember going to the doctor's office and seeing the Highlights Magazine. It was a staple of waiting areas everywhere. Still is. Often on the back cover or on an inside page you would find a collection of 4 or 5 pictures. Pictures that were taken at such close range that it was hard impossible to tell exactly what you were looking at. Sometimes it was a fly's leg, the edge of a quarter, or once the bottom end of an apple where there is just a remnant left of the flower it starts out as.

This happens to teachers. It happens to many people. Maybe most.

We become so involved and so close up to what we are doing that we no longer recognize what we are looking at. But this doesn't really tell the whole story. I saw a man who could play the saw. You know one of those old timey cowboy grub places. He was great. He could play that saw in ways that were simply amazing. He had picked an instrument and could make it do things that I would not have ever imagined. But the reality is: He was still playing the saw. We can become amazing at getting our chosen tool to play amazing tunes, but sometimes it is time to change the instrument. For example: I am a PowerPoint power user. I can get PowerPoint to do some amazing things. I use it as a photo editor, I create interactive stand-alone activities and quizzes, I even know how to get a video to play over multiple slides so different questions show up at different points along the video. The reality is though, that just like the old saying goes. To a hammer everything looks like a nail. I am guilty of this. To me the tool that I use has so influenced how I teach that when I sit down to consider what I need to do I always ask myself…What PowerPoints will I need? I think it's perspective....maybe? I am so close to the subject that I fail to recognize one concept.

What if I don't need PowerPoint?

This is a challenge for education. We have a lot of teachers who have become virtuoso's in the chosen method of teaching. Cooperative learning, literature circles, lecture, even worksheets. But the challenge with that is teaching like this would be as dangerous as a doctor who prescribed varying amounts and types of antibiotics for all diseases. It simply wouldn't cure everything.

I worry that many of us as educators and especially as tech educators see tech as the solution. The solution is education. Tech is just a tool.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: FlowingData

Web address:

This site is devoted to making numerical data more visual. It has some very tongue in cheek stuff. It's a blog so it's not always as formal as other sites, but some of the images can be great discussion starters or writing prompts.


BTW it's 09 09 09 9:00

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: RSS What's in a feed?

Something happened a while back. You probably didn't even notice. A revolution occurred. There was a coup. HTML was supplanted by XML. Big deal right? The internet is still on your computer. You don't care. Well, if you want to learn a little bit of the history of XML and why it was a big deal you can always read more on Wikipedia.

But why does this matter to us?  Well for educators there is a constant impetus to stay current.  Staying up on what is going on can be a real challenge. It is often time-consuming and challenging to find the latest and greatest.  What if the latest and greatest came to find you?  That is what an RSS Feed is all about.  RSS stands for Really Sinple Syndication and it allows a website to easily 'push' updates out.  Or in reverse it allows any individual to pull updates from a site to them.  You can find the RSS link an many web pages, but what do you do with it?  Currently many email programs have an option to add RSS Feeds to your inbox.  Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook both have a feed reader built into their mail system.  Feeds are also at the heart of Podcast subscriptions. So what does the XML coup have to do with this.  XML powers RSS feeds.  These feeds allow you to subscribe to a whole shopping cart of things, from blogs, to news headlines. Even search results on some of your favorite sites. This blog and the other UEN Blogs all have their own RSS feeds. You can learn more about RSS feeeds on our UEN page devoted to them as well as links to some feeds to follow.

To learn more about a feed reader check out the CommonCraft video.

Feeds to follow:\x3drss2\x3drss2\x3drss2

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wednesday Web of the Week: Smithsonian Channel

Web Address:

The Smithsonian Museums are one of the gems of the world.  They contain a collection of materials, and knowledge that is probably unrivaled anywhere in the world or history.  Now, it can travel even further.  Available on the web are segmented documentary features that can be used in class or as supplemental work outside of class.  The video also have the html code to embed into another website.  Learn about What Killed the Vampire Princess below and check the site for more videos to enhance learning.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday: Understand Video Formats

Normally, I try to write my own stuff here or just link to or reference to someone else's blog, but since these folks gave permission and have a really great article. Here it is in it's entirety



Video Format Guide

By Scott Nesbitt - Sunday, March 15, 2009

"But like anything in the realm of computer technology, the video we watch is wrapped up in a morass of jargon and of weird extensions."Video may have killed the radio star, but it's become more than just something that we watch on our televisions. Video is definitely an essential part of the desktop and Web experiences of most computer users. And more than just a few mobile phone users, to boot.

But like anything in the realm of computer technology, the video we watch is wrapped up in a morass of jargon and of weird extensions. If you don't know your .avi from your .mov or .flv, then read on.

Formats vs. container formats

When it comes to other kinds of files, we all have a pretty good idea of what a file format is. We know that a Word file is a binary that contains all of the text that we've typed into the word processor, the style information, and graphics too. But the situation is different with video.

When people talk about video formats, they're referring to something called a container format. The container format is a detailed description of what's inside a video file. It describes the structure of the file, as well as the kind of data that the file contains.

The container format also holds information about something called a codec. The codec is information about how the file was encoded, specifically what software (called a codec, not surprisingly) was used to digitally encode the file. This is important, especially for a couple of the formats that are described in this TechTip. Why? Not every media player supports the same codecs. In many cases, you'll need to install a specific codec in order to play a file using your favorite media player.


MPEG is short for Motion Picture Experts Group. It's a standard for both a variety of video and audio formats, and for compressing those formats. In fact, the array of formats that use MPEG compression can be confusing.

There are different versions of the MPEG format (often called levels) which help contribute to this confusion. The three MPEG levels that you're likely to encounter are MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4.

What's the difference between all of them? MPEG-1 is the oldest of these. It was first used in video CDs (the precursor to the DVD), where space was at a premium. MPEG-2 tackled (and still does) the transmission of digital and high definition over digital networks, satellite TV, and (later) the Internet. In fact, MPEG-2 is so efficient that it pretty much killed off MPEG-3 -- it handles high definition video just as well as its descendant. MPEG-4 does pretty much everything MPEG-2 does, but with better quality and compression. MPEG-4 adds another twist to the mix: it supports Digital Rights Management (DRM), which enables content producers to prevent copying of their content.

Note: An upcoming TechTip will look at DRM and its implications.

If you run into any video files with the extension .mpg or .mp4 you have an MPEG file on your hands. It's a popular format because it provides a good tradeoff between file size and quality. Just about every media player supports MPEG, although some players support the format better than others. I've found that it's a rare MPEG file that won't play on the various media players that I use in Linux or on Windows.


If there's a format that doesn't get a whole lot of respect it's AVI (short for Audio Video Interleave). Originally developed for Microsoft Windows, AVI has become ubiquitous across several operating system and on the Web. While it isn't as popular as it once was, it's not rare for you to run into AVI files

AVI files, which have the extension .avi, are often disparaged from a couple of reasons. First, they use little or no compression. That means the file sizes are larger than just about any other format out there. And AVI files often use a variety of codecs to encode them. This causes trouble, because you might not have the proper codec installed for your media player and the file won't play. This is especially true on operating systems other than Windows. It's not uncommon for an AVI to not play on Windows without the proper codec. Windows Media Player can sometimes automatically download that codec, but usually you'll have to search for it yourself.

Since it's an established format with a long history, you'll find that most media players for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux can handle a number of AVI files. The one player that I've found which works best is VLC.


Windows LogoWindows Media Video (WMF) and Advanced System Format File (ASF) were created in part to deal with the shortcomings of AVI.

WMV is a compressed file format (at least, with better compression than AVI) with the extension .wmv. It was developed primarily for streaming video across the Web. Microsoft claims that WMV has better file quality than MPEG. That may or may not be true, but WMV files are generally larger than MPEG files. Often by a factor of two.

ASF, on the other hand, is a container format for WMV. It encapsulates not only the video and audio data for a WMV file but also Windows Media DRM data. All of this is wrapped in a file with the extension .asf.

The biggest criticisms of WMV and ASF are that they're specific to Windows, and that ASF supports very restrictive DRM. As for the first complaint, it is possible to play WMV files on other operating systems. On Mac OS, for example, you can get a player called Flip4Mac WMV which enables you to edit WMV files and convert them to QuickTime. This allows you to play WMV files on not only your Mac but also on your iPod. On Linux, the VLC and xine players can handle WMV files that don't have DRM applied to them. Well, at least most of the time.

And that's the main point of contention with the second complaint. DRM-protected WMV and ASF files generally won't play on other operating systems, or with anything other than Windows Media Player on Windows. An interesting aside is that Microsoft's Zune player doesn't support Microsoft's DRM scheme so you can't play WMVs with DRM applied to them. Ironic, isn't it?

Flash Video

Flash LogoOnce upon a time, Flash was used almost exclusively to create demos, tutorials, and annoying splash pages for Web sites. Now, thanks to the popularity of video sharing sites like YouTube, Flash has become an almost ubiquitous video format.

Most Flash video files have the extension .flv or .swf, although you might see the files with the extension .f4p (protected Flash video). Flash is usually used for streaming video across the Internet, and is able to do this quite efficiently because files can be compressed to make them smaller.

Flash PlayerThe compression can be a bit of a problem, though. The main codec used to encode Flash files is based on bitmap images -- each element and frame in the video is a set of pixels. When pixels are compressed, they become fuzzy and lose varying amounts of color depth. You've probably seen badly compressed Flash videos on YouTube. They're blurry and look washed out.

Flash is more or less a cross-platform format. Adobe Systems, which owns and develops the software that enables people to create and view Flash video, has Flash players for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. On top of that, a number of media players (such as RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, VLC, xine, Gnash, and QuickTime Player) support Flash. Some of these players only support older versions of the Flash format, though.


Quicktime logoWhereas Windows has AVI (and now WMV and ASF), Mac OS has QuickTime. You can tell that you have a QuickTime file if you see the extension .mov or .qt.

QuickTime is a compressed format, using a compression scheme developed (and closely guarded) by Apple. This compression scheme is very efficient, and can noticeably shrink the size of a file but without losing much of the quality. In fact, QuickTime files arguably offer some of the best quality video available.

Quicktime WindoOne interesting characteristic of the QuickTime format is that it contains multiple tracks. Each track contains different types of data. For example, one track will contain audio, the second video, and the third subtitles. This separation of content makes a QuickTime file easy to edit.

QuickTime files are usually best played using Apple's own QuickTime Player, which is only available for Mac OS and Windows. You can also download add-ons for Windows Media Player to enable it to play back QuickTime files. On Linux, the MPlayer and xine media players can handle QuickTime although you might need to install additional codecs.

3GPP Multimedia

People don't just watch videos on their televisions and computers anymore. More and more, they're watching them on their smartphones as well. Whether it's an iPhone, a BlackBerry, or one of the many phones from companies like Nokia you can get and watch high-quality video on a device that literally fits in the palm of your hand.

One format that makes it possible is 3GPP multimedia. 3GPP (which has the extension .3gp) is one of those container formats that I mentioned at the beginning of this TechTip. It was created to move audio and video to mobile phones -- either from phone to phone via email or MMS, or over the Internet.

Most modern smartphones, especially ones with built-in video capture and playback, will play and record 3GPP files. Like other formats, the quality of 3GPP files varies depending on the resolution of the camera used to capture the video and the compression options that were used when saving the file. Obviously, the higher the compression rate, the lower the quality of the video. I've received video taken with a smartphone that was fuzzy, and video that's been as clear as the best MPEG files I've seen.

While just about any smartphone will play 3GPP files, on the desktop only a handful of media players can handle these files. The best-known ones include VLC, RealPlayer, MPlayer, and Apple QuickTime Player.

Tech Tips Article -

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