Archive for June, 2008

June 30, 2008

Illinois’ World Wide Web of Spiders on the Collaboratory

By Roxana Hadad
Roxana Hadad is a Project and Instructional Designer at Northwestern University’s Collaboratory Project in Evanston, iIlinois.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) Division of Education has traditionally conducted on site workshops throughout Illinois in order to enhance teacher awareness of biodiversity in the state. IDNR’s goal has been to share information about specific species of plants and animals to supplement existing curriculum. Ultimately though, it proved difficult to reach teachers in many sections of Illinois due to the distribution of the state’s population and the teachers’ crowded schedules. IDNR approached the Collaboratory Project with the objective of conducting its workshops online, thus connecting with teachers and students who were previously unable to access all of IDNR’s Illinois-specific resources.
The Collaboratory Project is a Northwestern University Information Technology initiative that provides project consulting, training, technical advice, and internet- based resources and services to educational and cultural nonprofit organizations who plan to utilize internet technologies. The Collaboratory’s internet-based collaborative environment enables teachers to develop curricular projects in an engaged learning framework that is activity-based, linked to Illinois Learning Standards and Goals, and provides for assessment. See:
Valerie Keener from IDNR approached the Collaboratory about providing teachers with a chance to earn Continuing Professional Development Units through online versions of the workshops they only offered in person. However, IDNR wanted to do more. They wanted to transform the workshops to do what the Collaboratory was best at doing: offering students the opportunity to create and share their work in engaging real-world projects.
The Collaboratory wanted to design a program that would instruct students to collect data, reflect on it, and then report it to scientists. The first workshop we were given to transform was a creepy one: spiders. Spiders are not very well studied in Illinois (or anywhere else) because of the lack of full-time arachnologists. We approached Dr. Petra Sierwald of the Field Museum of Natural History and Dr. Michael Draney of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay with an offer to provide them with a large statewide team of motivated and low-cost future arachnologists (4th-6th graders) willing to collect data. Our idea appealed to the scientists. We found six species that would be relatively easy for the students to monitor and collect data on.

Putting the Project Together

Next came the hard part, how to put the project together, promote it, and have participants within just a couple of months all without a lot of staff. We definitely needed the help of Adobe’s Illustrator, Flash Paper, Contribute, and Connect to get the project done effectively and on time.
The students needed to learn quite a bit about spiders before being asked to monitor them. So we needed to create a set of “SpiderDocs” that would make identifying the seven spider species easy. We did not have a lot of time to create these documents; also, we needed illustrations that would clearly demonstrate the difference between the spiders. Because of Adobe Illustrator, we were able to create a wireframe of an average spider and adjust it in shape and color for each species in a short amount of time. The illustrations were placed alongside information about the spiders’ anatomy and habitats and then exported as Flash Paper, allowing us to create printable documents without requiring students to download them onto school or library computers. For an example see:
We then linked these documents from a Cybrary, which is the Collaboratory’s social bookmarking tool for students and teachers. For an example see:
The students were able to study the species remotely that they would later find and monitor. After locating the target spiders, they used the Collaboratory’s Survey Studio to record data on the spiders and their habitats. See:
At the end of each month, students looked at the results and created reports in the Collaboratory’s Nexus. The Nexus is a document-based collaboration space for students to share writing, graphics, audio and text and exchange comments and peer review. In their reports, students reflected on what the data meant and compared it to other classrooms across the state engaged in the same data collection program. The scientists looked at their reports, commented on them and answered questions For an example see:
Because the Collaboratory is a secure community for students and the educational community, we needed to promote the project to the public on a web site that was outside of our Collaboratory community. We wanted newcomers to understand the activities and resources that made up the project. This task also needed to be done quickly and in a way that everyone working on the project could easily edit. Contribute allowed us to create a promotional site that looked good and was informative in a short amount of time. With an Illustrator-created logo, we had the site up and running in little more than a day. See:
Ms. Van Hoveln’s class in Milford Grade School did an excellent job of collecting data, creating reports, and interacting with Dr. Draney. So Dr. Draney offered to visit the class on a trip to the Chicago area while doing research at the Field Museum. It was a generous offer because Milford is a two-hour drive from Chicago, so the trip would have taken up a lot of Dr. Draney’s research time. Instead we took a laptop to the Field Museum and set up a Connect conference between the students, Dr. Draney, and Dr. Sierwald. The students had access to the Field’s spider lab and were able to ask questions and speak to actual spider scientists. By using Adobe Connect, we avoided four hours of travel time, and the session was recorded for future participating classrooms. See:
The IDNR Illinois Biodiversity Study is being expanded to include a project offering students the opportunity to collect data on frogs and toads and another project on squirrels. We hope to continue adding species, allowing students to gain a better understanding of the scientific process and to interact with the natural world around them. The added benefit students receive from communicating with professional scientists in the field has greatly expanded the original scope and rewards of the initial IDNR workshops, while Illinois students have gained the satisfaction of knowing that the work they have done could contribute to our understanding of the biodiversity in our communities. Thankfully, we have Adobe products like Illustrator, FlashPaper, Contribute, and Connect to help create engaging, real-world projects that help students learn science by doing science.

7:13 AM Permalink
June 23, 2008

Create ePortfolios with the Amazing Acrobat 9

by Steve Adler
Steve Adler is Learning Systems Integrator for Northern Valley Regional High School District in Demarest, New Jersey. You can get more resources and contact him at his website
When we think of a traditional portfolio used in education, we may think of a collection of related papers, photos, pamphlets, or brochures organized in a folder or binder. Perhaps it’s a collection of materials that we compile over time to reflect progress and achievement. Now imagine if we add an electronic spin to the traditional definition and focus on the idea of a PDF portfolio; one that you could use to easily weave content together in a portable file format to use, share, and print whatever you need when you need it. That is the essence of the Acrobat portfolio.
Electronic portfolios have gained popularity in education as a means of presenting collections of documents and resources. Electronic portfolios can assist in recording and archiving an individual’s projects, interests, and accomplishments over a period of time. They can also be used to compliment professional development and career advancement.
Electronic portfolios also demonstrate one’s competency in technology integration and effective communication by illustrating the author’s ability to create a customized experience for readers. In traditional electronic portfolios an author is usually restricted to a one-size-fits all approach. This may be an HTML, PowerPoint, or MS Word style portfolio, each with its own features and limitations.
The New Acrobat 9 ePortfolio
Think of the PDF portfolio as an electronic wrapper that can house all types of files. Acrobat 8 introduced this concept with PDF Packages. Now with the introduction of powerful rich media support and Flash, Adobe has renamed these packages portfolios to reflect their unique capabilities. Files can be organized into logical collections and linked together in a way that makes it easy to navigate, find, and interact with the contents in a variety of useful and creative ways. What’s even better is that all of this can be shared with anyone using the free Adobe Reader 9. Anyone on any platform can interact, participate, and save changes. (I would clarify what “participate” means here.)
How do I get started developing my ePortfolios?
To begin this process, you need a plan. You will gather and organize your portfolio materials (assets). These assets probably fall into one or more of categories: digital, paper, web, or rich media. You want to prepare and organize them prior to assembly.
Collect as many source files as you can. You can combine and customize your course materials later. You will use these files in your portfolio either in their original format or by converting them into the convenient PDF format. You may want to include legacy documents for your portfolio—(add in a dash instead)paper documents that do not exist in any other form. You will scan these documents and convert them to a PDF right within Acrobat.
Collect and bookmark useful web pages in your browser ahead of time so you can use Acrobat to link to them live or capture them and convert them into a PDF for viewing offline. Each page will be complete with links, graphics, and Flash animations.
Pictures, sounds and videos speak volumes and really enhance your written materials. Collect your movie and audio files and place them in a separate folder for use in your PDF portfolio. You can integrate these media files into your lesson in a number of useful ways. For best interoperability with your rich media files, save them as an FLV (Flash Video) or H264 Video. There are many ways to do this.
Acrobat 9 Pro Extended includes encoders that will allow you to convert your files into these formats. Acrobat 9 Pro allows you to add these directly. For playback of your rich media portfolio, all Acrobat 9 applications, including the Adobe Reader include a Flash Runtime Player, which means a smoother media experience for everyone without the need for additional software.
How do I create my Acrobat ePortfolio?
Choose a portfolio layout and develop a welcome page
How do you want to present your portfolio? Do you want a basic layout or one that is more artistic? Acrobat 9 offers some cool new Flash-based portfolio templates. Choose from a variety of portfolio layouts or create your own using Flash’s Action Script, giving you even more control over your viewer’s experience.
You will want to decide on a welcome page layout that introduces your portfolio and its contents in a way that makes sense to your audience while reflecting your own style. You may want to add pictures, video, sounds, as well as a header with detailed information to your welcome page. Acrobat 9 gives you the flexibility to decide.
What can I do with my content in a PDF ePortfolio?
Lets look at some of the new and improved features that Acrobat 9 brings to the education community and how these enhance, elearning, and communication:
Add, trim, and control rich media
Easily add video, audio, and Flash media (including SWF content from Captivate and Presenter), creating powerful eLearning instruments for instruction and assessment. Imagine being able to include and control your media so that it’s just right for your audience.
Capture web pages and snippets
Websites are increasing in complexity and content. Acrobat 9’s web capture engine has been upgraded to capture modern web layouts more accurately. Entire pages as well as individual portions can be linked or converted directly into a PDF complete with links and media. Web page PDFs save time and reduce the requirements needed to provide web content in the classroom.
Scan and OCR paper documents
Acrobat 9’s Portfolios incorporate scanned source materials that are searchable and crisp using advanced OCR scanning techniques. These scans can easily be re-purposed for use in other projects and are perfect for including primary source examples or artifacts for assessment, archival, and the tracking of performance outcomes used in a variety of educational settings.
Trim and add comments to your videos
With Acrobat 9 Professional, you can add video to existing PDF documents or convert them into separate PDF files right within Acrobat. Assign comments to a specific frame in your video, allowing participants to jump to specific points for efficient discussion, analysis, and collaboration.
Include interactive worksheets and forms and collaborate online
If your portfolios contain eLearning units or administrative meeting packets, then integrating interactive worksheets and forms add real functionality. Acrobat 9 has powerful form recognition and workflow tools that make creating, distributing, and collecting data simple. You can use the free service to host your forms and data or you can choose to manage your data in-house using shared folders or FTP. You can collaborate in real time or asynchronously. Either way, all participants and users can interact with your portfolios in the way you design. The possibilities are enormous. Here are a few ideas:

  • New teacher orientation and welcome portfolios
  • Board of Education meeting portfolios
  • Professional development portfolios
  • Teacher lesson unit portfolios
  • Student eLearning portfolios
  • Student end-of–year archival portfolios
  • Club activity portfolios
  • Instructional portfolios
  • Lesson plan portfolios
  • Best practices archive portfolios
  • Evaluative portfolios for staff
  • Reflective professional portfolios
  • CV and resume portfolios
  • Student growth portfolios
  • Presentation portfolios
  • Assessment portfolios

In this article I have only scratched the surface describing the potential of Acrobat 9 in education and eLearning for schools, colleges, and professionals. From pre-service preparation at schools of education to development of effective communications skills for learners of all ages, Acrobat 9 delivers a unmatched set of versatile tools.

8:20 AM Permalink
June 17, 2008

Virtual Travelers

By Johanna Riddle
Johanna Riddle is Media Specialist at Samsula Elementary School in Smyrna Beach, Florida

I was thrilled when I received a Fulbright Scholarship enabling me to travel to China. Once the reality of the award set in I began to reflect on the most meaningful ways to include my learning community in this upcoming adventure.
Students in our school were accustomed to working with technology. They began learning in kindergarten by matching digital photographs with text from a particular work of literature. Their familiarity and comfort levels grew steadily through their years in elementary school. They learned the use of filters, created digital stories, and responded to literature in textual and visual formats.
I established a structure for problem-based learning. With a work of literature at the center of the process, students read, researched, and wrote; photographed, and digitally manipulated visual information in the context of problem based learning. Adobe Photoshop Elements, with its capacity to digitally manipulate visual information, enabled students to develop and synthesize layers of textual, visual, and iconic information. It was the software centerpiece of our particular brand of dimensional learning.
State curriculum mandated studies of Asia in the social studies standards, so the tie in benchmarks was obvious. A Single Shard by author Linda Sue Parks was the foundation of our spring semester study of Asian geography, culture, and history. Since third graders had learned the rudiments of Internet research, they applied their fledgling skills to the subject of Chinese dynasties, posted their findings and reader reviews of A Single Shard to our newly established weblog.
Outfitted with a newly acquired lightweight laptop computer and a digital camera, I left for several days of orientation and training in Menlo Park, California. While in California, I created and posted a few entries. I was successful! I received some student responses. We were connected, and cooking.
Once in China, I took advantage of a few user-friendly tools to keep my readers informed and engaged. made it easy to embed links, enabling my students to learn independently. I used a few web tools, such as Picture Trail to build slide displays of experiences and locations. Google Maps provided link friendly maps that allowed me to track my journey through ten cities and upwards of 21,000 miles, to add place markers, comments, and a travel log, and to refine my students map skills as they followed my journey.
The following school year, we drew from the information posted on the weblog and continued our shared journey of learning. We revisited the blog as a class, about fifty percent of the students had visited the site over the summer.
Further study and student interest catapulted a research and technology project that we christened “Time Tunnel”. Using the weblog as a springboard for further research, students chose a particular place or site to investigate from information on the weblog Google Map. I asked my pupils to consider their location from two perspectives—the past and the present.
Each student developed a first person narrative reflecting the changes of that location over time. Creative play, multiple literacies, and digital photography skills integrated as they used the artifacts and souvenirs I collected in China to take photos of each other in (none too authentic) Chinese garb.
Adobe Photoshop Elements provided the tools for the next piece of our project. Students selected photos from digital albums of my travels and developed layered photos. Photos from their research site formed the first layer of the image. Student portraits comprised the second layer. The third layer paired the photos on a background, and a fourth added their original texts as well as a graphic timeline.
Some students captured additional images from educational sites and added them to their timeline. The resulting pieces served as a demonstration of mastery in the areas of research, writing, and technology. Students used weblog technologies as they uploaded their finished projects and written summaries to the site.
Our weblog continues to play a role as a learning and communicative tool for our current third graders as they begin their studies of ancient China. Photos, entries, and links allow students to learn independently, while student projects serve as models for peer teaching. Children in our community, and in others, may log on at any time to relive the journey, cultivating reading, writing, research, and technology skills as they embark on their own virtual travels through the fascinating land of China.
Check it out for yourself! Log onto

9:16 AM Permalink
June 12, 2008

Visual Communicator Training Opportunities and Resources is pleased to present a unique school TV workshop opportunity this summer with Adobe’s Visual Communicator software.
Learn how to produce school TV news shows and class video projects
at Amherst Middle School’s state-of-the-art “Green Screen” TV studio near Buffalo, NY.
July 14-15
July 24-25
August 4-5
Join Amherst Middle Technology teacher and Adobe K-12 Education Leader Mr. Rob Zdrojewski for an inside look at how Amherst Middle School produces live school news shows and classroom video projects using Adobe Visual Communicator 3. Participants will learn how to begin or improve school TV news programs on any size budget and create video productions that have the professional look of network TV.
More details at our site for Visual Communicator users:
<a href="http://“>
Learn more about Amherst Middle School’s award winning Tech TV program at:

10:06 AM Permalink
June 11, 2008

School News Shows Made Easy with Adobe Visual Communicator

By Sara Martin
Sara Martin is technology coordinator for the Hart-Ransom School District in Modesto, California
A few years ago I attended a session at a conference on school news shows. The presenters did a great job explaining the benefits of these programs. They stepped us through how they started their show and the processes they used to produce it.
The idea of a news show was intriguing, but I was intimidated by a number of factors. How could I raise the money to invest in cameras, closed circuitry and all that stuff? And that “stuff” was equipment I didn’t even know I needed, let alone know how to use. I reminded myself that even though I was our school’s computer literacy teach and the district technology coordinator, I still had to think carefully when I connected the cables to my DVD player. It sounded good, but how could I find the time to learn, raise school awareness and funds, plus implement the project? Not only that, but when could I schedule the actual time to write and tape the show? It was a good idea, and I really understood the value of providing this type of experience to my students, but at the time I had to dismiss the idea.
All this changed when I was introduced to Adobe’s video production software, Visual Communicator. I took one look at the interface and I was hooked. I knew immediately that I could use this with my middle school students. Everything I needed to produce a professional looking news show was included in this easy-to-use, affordable and amazing product. There were several factors that jumped out at me right away.
First of all, the software integrates a teleprompter that runs on your monitor, so you sit in front of your computer screen and read your copy with a camera mounted right above it. You can use a green screen and the program automatically replaces that green with a background that you select from the animated and still backgrounds available from the program’s libraries. Or you can use a still picture to place behind you. Visual Communicator makes it look like you are in a professional video. When you read from the teleprompter the camera is very close to your eye level so it looks like you are looking directly into the camera, even though you are reading from the teleprompter. The result looks like a professional TV show!
The program allows you to alternate between the camera view, which records what the camera captures, and other media that you place in the timeline that corresponds to the teleprompter. For example, if you are talking in your video about a visitor to your campus, you can cut to a still picture of that person. Or better yet, you can drop in a video clip of that person’s visit and then cut back to you in the camera view. You can even create graphics in programs such as PowerPoint and Photoshop. When you cut from camera view to other media you can even chose from several transitions, like page peels and picture in a picture or over-the-shoulder views, just like professional TV shows. It’s all very slick and best of all, it’s easy to do!
I knew immediately I could do this! This program would enable me to produce a news show without investing lots of time learning all the technical details of producing a traditional news show or the expense of the electronic gadgets needed to produce and transmit closed circuit TV.
Purchasing the Equipment
To get started I enlisted the help of one of my fellow Adobe Education Leaders, and Visual Communicator expert extraordinaire, Rob Zdrojewski. Rob provided me with a list of exactly what I needed to get started. He even provided me with a few sources where I could purchase what I needed. I put together a budget and an implementation plan and took the idea to our superintendent. He has always been a supporter of technology, so I was not surprised that he loved the idea and arranged for the initial funding. I was able to get what I needed to start for under $2000.00.
This is what I purchased to get started for the news show:

  • Panasonic PV-GS500 3CCD min DV camcorder (about $700). You need an external mic port, firewire capabilities and a camera that uses tape media. Webcams are not recommended because the resulting video is choppy.
  • Mic adapter by Beachtek DXA-2S (about $180). So two mics can be used during the news show. You only need this if you are going to use two news anchors.
  • 2 external mics and cables (about $150). The wireless ones are good but a little too pricey.
  • Tripod I suggest investing in a good tripod.
  • Green screen and stand. You don’t have to have a green screen. You can paint a wall green or use green paper stapled to the wall.
  • Lighting, We got a kit with two lights and umbrellas and one spotlight. All three have adjustable stands. You don’t have to have a lightkit, you can use inexpensive lights from the hardware store, but you should have some lighting.

All the above ran about $1700.00 and was purchased through B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio. I called the 800 number and the sales staff were extremely helpful in steering me to the right products for our specific needs. Of course you will also need the software, Adobe Visual Communicator 3.0, which runs approximately $175 for educators and $400 for non-educators.
Producing the News Show
With equipment in place, we were ready to start our news show. We started in the fall of 2007, with one newscast each week. I introduced the concept to my seventh and eighth grade students and invited them to apply for the news team. One obstacle we faced was that the show had to be produced before school, and almost all our students ride the bus to school. Students applying for the news team had to be able to get to school by 7:30 am on Thursdays and Fridays. For most of them that meant they needed to be able to get a ride to school from their parents.
Interested students completed an application, got parental permission, and three teacher recommendations. Only eight students applied (six boys and two girls). They all were qualified, and I was able to accept them all. I suspect that many more students will apply for the news team next year, now that they know just how much fun working on the team is.
The Hart-Ransom newsroom team
Since the first of November our team has been meeting before school every Thursday and Friday and in a flurry of activity we write the news copy for the show, edit any video we have taken during the week for our special features, create any additional title slides or graphics to add to the program, set up the equipment, rehearse, film the show and save it. Our last step is to output, or publish the show to a format that meets the viewing needs of our audience.
Visual Communicator gives you several options, including exporting via closed circuit TV. Since our school does not have closed circuits, we publish our shows in the Windows Media format and then upload them to the Internet. We link them to our school website and also to a great free web resource called Students and parents view the show at their leisure since it is always available online. We were surprised and delighted when our school news show was recognized right away and we were the featured school in the February edition of the website school-video-news! See:
Looking Ahead
Now that our news show is rolling right along, I am ready to use Visual Communicator to create videos that are not in news show format. I’m planning other projects that integrate the curriculum in exciting ways. For example, 5th grade students could virtually “broadcast” from their own state capital for state reports, with pictures from their state behind them as if there were really there.
Other video ideas using Visual Communicator include: public service announcements and other informational videos wrapped around virtually any curricular subject, teachers providing video lectures and video broadcasts for distance learning and other needs, and training videos, The possibilities are endless!
It’s now been about four months since we aired our first show. The nine students on our news team have learned so much and so have I! With Visual Communicator we feel like professional broadcasters because our show is so professional looking. Of course none of our shows are perfect, but we are improving all the time. The effort has definitely been worth it, for both the students and for me!
You can check out some of our broadcasts on // And check out “Ask Mr. Z.” hosted by Rob Zdrojewski on for answers to questions you can post yourself as well as instructional videos.
In the past, producing a school news show was a huge undertaking, requiring closed circuit television capabilities and thousands of dollars of video and electrical equipment, plus video expertise beyond the reach of most educators. Today, video equipment is better and more reasonable all the time, and with the advantage of being able to upload your projects to the internet to sites such as SchoolTube for free, more schools than ever can provide this opportunity for students to produce and view their own school news show. For these reasons and more, now is the time to start your school news show!

4:17 PM Permalink