Archive for April, 2010

April 25, 2010

Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro – Presenter Only Area

A handy tool within the Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional meeting environment is using the “Presenter Only Area.” The red arrow points to the button that turns the “Presenter Only Area” on. Once the “Presenter Only Area” is initiated, a large gray area will frame out the main presentation area. The gray area is found at the bottom and right hand side of the screen and is out of view of the participants. The picture included in this blog shows several meeting elements: clock, simple poll, presenter chat, and timer. The “Meeting Host” can drag each one of these meeting elements over into the main viewing area when needed. The participants will experience these elements appearing out of thin air, like a bit of magic. I like to create a “Presenter Chat” when I am co-presenting with someone. We can have a side-bar conversation without participants knowing, helping keep proper flow and pacing during a presentation. We can alert each other to make the next point, slow down or speed up without talking over each other. Also, I like to stage my presentation material in the “Presenter Only Area” and then drag it over when needed, making an efficient way to use space and time when making important points. I would encourage everyone to turn on the “Presenter Only Area,” and perform a little Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional magic with everyone in the room.

7:53 PM Permalink
April 21, 2010

Adobe AIR for Android!

AIR for AndroidFinally! Enough iPhone stuff! Time to talk about AIR for Android!
I have two applications I’m working on right now, one is a screen sketching application and the other is an educational application that allows art history students to casually study images with metadata through a mobile interface.
My examples are a bit different from those you’ve probably seen around the web lately, as they are not games but creative tools and educational study aids. I didn’t have anything built for iPhone as most prerelease testers had, so this is all pretty much from scratch over the past few days and VERY primitive, yet I believe this speaks to the effectiveness of the platform that I was able to produce two viable tools in my spare time in a matter of days. Nice.

SketchNSave []
SketchNSave provides a canvas to perform simple sketches on your Android device using a variety of colors and nib sizes. I’ve added an interesting effect where as different strokes are applied, older ones will fade and blur into the canvas and newer strokes remain distinct and crisp. A user can clear the canvas at will, and even save the image to the device camera roll.

StudyShuffler []
StudyShuffler provides a casual interface for Art History students to access study materials on the go. Students simply plug in their DU ID, select a gallery of images to pull from, and then proceed to study each image one at a time. To view image metadata, simply touch the card to flip it. To proceed to the next image, just give the mobile device a quick shake!

AIR for Android: OMG This is Cool!
So I’m writing this post a number of days before I’ll have NDA clearance to publish anything regarding Android for AIR. Just want to record my first impressions here!

Go, AIR for Android! Go, Flash!

7:00 AM Permalink
April 19, 2010

About Those iPads…

Apple vs. Everyone

“It’s a dumbed-down, sealed-shut device designed to make its owners into passive consumers.”
Cory Doctorow

So I was recently asked something to the effect of
I am trying to decide if I need an iPad and have been reading mixed reviews with regards to the ability to use them at various Universities. I’m personally pretty Mac-resistant, but I don’t have a terribly good reason for it. Other than that they’re expensive and want to kill Flash and have some of the most irritating marketing EVER!
I believe that I gave a fair and reasoned response to the question and present it here for anyone else that may be in need of an opinion around this subject.

So while on the surface, a lot of people are thinking that students will be able to have all their textbooks on the device, you need buy-in from all the assorted publishers and I do not see that happening.
The largest downer though, as you implied, is that there is no support for Flash or even AIR… rendering educational tools like VoiceThread (and our own CourseMedia system) useless on the device. A lot of educational tools are built in whole or in part upon the Flash Platform and Apple is blocking them as well as anything authored in Java, Lua, Mono, Unity, et cetera…
On the other hand, we see a slew of Windows 7 and Android tablets being readied for launch with the additional promise of Chrome OS tablets. Microsoft is being a lot more open lately, and Google/Android is a no brainer in that regard. In fact, Google recently announced that Flash will be integrated into their Chrome browser and (one would assume) all Chromium projects, while Google, Mozilla, and Adobe are working together on a new plugin architecture that will elevate content such as Flash to the level of HTML and JavaScript in the browser.
On one hand we see a bunch of great tech minds working together to open up platforms and make the computing experience better for everyone (and this will translate onto the upcoming tablets based on Android, Chrome, and the like) – on the other hand we have closed off, expensive, limiting Apple products.
Part of the university experience should be about exploring and studying the world around us- being open to different technologies in such an environment should be no different.

I’m sure there are plenty that would disagree with several of my points in this opinion piece. I’m open to that.

5:20 PM Permalink
April 16, 2010

Digital Learning Event, Washington, D.C.

A feeling of anticipation was in the air on the morning of April 14, 2010 in Northern Virginia as participants at the HP/Intel Digital Learning Environments conference ate their breakfast and sipped their coffee. They listened to how HP and Intel have invested millions of dollars into education all over the world, as have their partnered-sponsors including Adobe, Microsoft and Vernier. Participants were just a keynote address away from seeing how these investments could affect them, their schools and, most importantly, their students.
The keynote was given by Dr. Elizabeth Hoover, the Executive Director of Technology Services for the Alexandria Schools System. Ms. Hoover has had classroom (K12 and higher ed) and technology-administration experience, a desirable combination! She focused her presentation, entitled Journey to 1:1, on the story of how the Alexandria Cite Public Schools developed and implemented a 1 computer to 1 student initiative. The initiative had its challenges but has since grown into a successful program, which can serve as a model for others.
There are 12,000 students in the high-needs Alexandria school system. Due to the large number of international families in the D.C. area, there is a large percentage of English Language Learners (22%). Many students (54%) are on a free or reduced lunch program and they have their fair share (15%) of special needs students. Despite these challenges, they, over a 7-year period, have had experienced a lot of success. The schools have secured a filtered student network, new infrastructure, online testing, student help desks at EVERY school…etc.
These successes, however, did not come without trials and tribulations. Of course there were financial difficulties – building a new school that was “smart” was costly. Financial burdens were to be expected, but other issues were overlooked in the beginning. Early on in the initiative, in 2003, students frequently brought their laptops to lunch in order to download music (Napster, anyone?). Students would use laptops in class, but rather than taking notes or staying on task, they would covertly be playing games. Students often forget their laptops, and of course, battery life was an issue. A lack of projectors was a sore spot for teachers, as was the lack of in-class, laptop management. Moreover, community neighbors would “borrow” the unsecured wireless network, thereby significantly diminishing the available bandwidth.
Changes were needed, and eventually made, but simply instituting new rules would not be the answer. A change in culture would be critical for success. Otherwise, existing problems would continue and, eventually, the novelty of having the technology would wear off.
To ensure the laptops and other hardware was not simply acting as a dust collector, instructional technologists were brought in to help the teachers use the technology in effective ways. Later, they developed a high school technology integration project, and subsequent to that, they bolstered their strategic plan for ACPS. In my opinion, this is a point that should be stressed. They did not rest on their piles of technology laurels; instead, they strived to continue to look forward, develop and implement new ideas via input from teacher-based and student-based focus groups. Perhaps most importantly was the decision to provide ample opportunities for professional development.
The professional development for teachers sounded like it ought to – it was job-embedded, needs-driven, differentiated, was comprised of year-long-strands, it was instructionally focused, and was rooted in literacy and technology. Professional development, in their eyes, was critical; if the teachers were unable to model the technology, student impact would fall short.
One of the most exciting things, in my opinion, is that, due to a continuous lack of communication between the Information Technology and Instructional Technology divisions, ACPS decided to merge the two. Are you envious yet? This merging has resulted in a much smoother operation and teachers appreciate it, as you can most certainly imagine.
Success stories that have arisen from the program are plentiful: 84% pass rate on the state reading test; 77% for Algebra 1 and 2, & Geometry tests; and 84% of ACPS’ 2009 graduates went to college. Their success has been somewhat attributed to the technology, but it’s truly the planning and dedication of the teachers and administration. They kept their collective eye on the prize; they fought through the mishaps and hardships, resisted contentment, continuously sought improvement, and provided opportunities for teachers and students to be successful!
Adobe Training Sessions
It’s difficult to label the 4 50-minute sessions I gave as “training” considering I presented both Photoshop Elements AND Premiere Elements in that short time period. I find that I can barely teach Photoshop Elements, alone, in a 3-hour session!
Therefore, given the time constraints, I was only able to give an overview of each program, showing the some 120 participants several low-threshold, high-impact ways in which each program could be used in the classroom. The majority of participants, comprised mainly of teachers and technology specialists, were excited to see how easily effective products could be created.
A few noteworthy things I noticed during my sessions were:

  1. The participants were happy to receive the Digital School Collection trials
  2. The participants’ interest in the various cloud computing tools that Adobe offers, especially Lots of note-taking during this part in the session.
  3. The genuine excitement about the Guided Edit component within PS Elements.
  4. Many of the participants had used either Movie Maker or iMovie and they all nodded in agreement when I said “if you know either of those programs, you can surely transfer your knowledge if you move to Premiere Elements and, what’s more, gain much more power in doing so.”

All in all, a great event! I look forward to my next DLE event in Minneapolis!

10:10 AM Permalink
April 6, 2010

First Flex 4 Tool Built for CourseMedia™

At the University of Denver, we’ve been using the Flex 4 framework for a number of smaller projects (over the course of the development of the new framework) and now that Flex 4 is final, we’ve also begun working it into our CourseMedia™ application.
The first tool to benefit from Flex 4 is our CourseMedia™ Arrangement Tool:
The old arrangement tool is actually a leftover from DUVAGA which was updated to work with DUVAGA2/CourseMedia™ when we made the transition to video and such a few years back. For the more technically curious; the old arranger was written in originally written in ActionScript 1.0 (!) and really requires an update for many, many reasons.
The new Arrangement Tool is built on the open source Flex 4 framework and users will immediately notice it to be much faster at processing information, making database calls, and soforth. We are actually rendering bitmap data from video feeds and text slides as well, while preserving the thumbnails created within CourseMedia. This will allow for much simpler item reuse in this tool and hopefully others down the road.
While grabbing the input frame for a video clip may seem to be the best idea, in our testing we noticed that many clips at the beginning of a film began with a series of black frames. This is obviously no good for thumbnail generation. What we decided was to determine the frame precisely between but the start and end frames for any given video clip and render that frame to be used as the video thumbnail as illustrated below.
Frame Calculator
Here is a functional overview video of the Gallery Arrangement Tool used in the University of Denver CourseMedia™ Course Media Management System:

6:38 AM Permalink