Author Archive

June 25, 2011

Using Connect to connect with a real audience

For the last few years, our Grade 2 classes have been doing a project called “Great Inventions” which looks at the history of various common items, such as toys, bicycles, toilets and Christmas lights, to name a few. Each child picks a topic, then puts together a slideshow about it. These kids are only in Grade 2 (about 7 years old) so there are quite a good collection of research, technology and presentation skills involved in this project.

Last year, I helped the Grade 2 teachers rethink this task a little, making three main changes.

Firstly, we scaffolded the task a little more than it had been, getting the students to have only three slides (plus a title slide) – one that informed about the past history of the invention, one that informed about the present state of the invention, and the third which tried to make a prediction about the possible future of the invention. This allowed for a nice balance of factual research with some imaginative dreaming.

Secondly, we created a wiki that had a sort of “sanitised” collection of the relevant information that we wanted to students to focus on. Being only 7 years old, we felt it would be better if we pre-selected the information that they would find most useful. This meant we could then ensure the language was at an appropriate level, and it gave the kids a bit more focus on the information we knew they’d be needing.

Thirdly, I suggested to the teachers that the whole point of creating a PowerPoint instead of a poster or a printed document was that they should be presenting the final product to a real audience. In the past, the PowerPoint file was the end result on its own, but I really felt that if you go to the trouble of making a set of PowerPoint slides then you ought to be standing in front of an audience and actually presenting them.

To this end, I pushed for the idea of live streaming the student presentations out onto the open web so that parents, friends, grandparents, etc, could log on and watch their child present to the rest of the class. After carefully addressing the obvious concerns, letters went home to parents and the student presentations were live streamed using the free UStream service.  Feedback from parents was very positive.

A full explanation of the project from last year can be found here http://chrisbetcher.com/2010/07/redesigning-learning-tasks-part-2/

Following on from the success of last year, the teachers were very keen to do it again this year. When they approached me about setting up the live stream again I started to set up the same UStream channel, but I was dismayed to realise just how much advertising is now being inflicted on UStream users. Ads were being injected into the streams, and the UStream website has so much advertising on it that it’s basically unusable for schools.  I looked at other alternatives, such as Livestream, but without much success.

Then it dawned on me… why not use Adobe Connect? I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner, but Connect is a perfect tool for this kind of thing. Not only is it clean of advertising, it’s as private as you want to make it. We decided to still make the room completely open to guest access for anyone who knew the URL, but it’s good to know that higher levels of access security are possible.

We arranged a layout using the modules we wanted, with a backchannel chat, a live video window and also the shared screen of the student PowerPoint. This meant we were able to not only watch the student actually present their work, but we also got to broadcast a high quality version of their PowerPoint output screen as well. Because we had the Connect-enabled computer connected to the classroom Interactive Whiteboard, the student could simply stand at the board and present as usual, but the video and shared screen would both be broadcast synchronously with each other. We also used an external Logitech High Def eyeball-style webcam with a built in microphone, so the quality of the audio and video was quite good. It all worked really well.

As intended, the chat room soon became populated with parents and grandparents logging in to watch their little darlings. The positive comments from the chat room, and the fact that it was an authentic audience they were presenting to, were hugely motivating factors for the students. Every child that got up to present their work knew that it was not just their classmates and the teacher watching them, but a whole audience “out there” on the Internet. That sort of authenticity makes a big difference.

Adobe Connect was exactly the right tool for this sort of thing. As well as the fact that it was relatively protected and ad-free, it also allowed us much better control over the virtual presentation space, the layout, the participants, the backchannel, etc. The presentations were all recorded and archived so that parents – and teachers – could revise the presentations and watch them again if necessary.

The parent feedback was extremely positive. Within the hour after the first set of presentations, the Grade 2 teachers had received several emails from parents who were over the moon about being able to watch their child from their home or office, such as this one…

Thank-you for the opportunity to watch the presentations this morning through a live stream.
I was very happy as I managed to log on just as Ashley was about to begin! It was so impressive to be able to watch the wonderful presentations and comment at the same time. I did have to turn the volume up high on my speakers but it was good to see Ashley get up and she was looking forward to doing her presentation.
I think it’s a wonderful tool for the students.

And this one…

I just wanted to share with you & the girls that both my husband & I really enjoyed the webcast of the Invention Presentations this morning very much!
It was really wonderful to see the great work & preparation that the girls have put into researching their topics, & their Powerpoint skills are just fabulous! They could teach some of my team here at work a couple of things about clip art & animations!
We would love another opportunity to dial into the classroom one day.

For all the hoo-ha about students accessing the Internet and the supposed dangers of students being online, I think the results of this session with Adobe Connect, and the positive feedback from the parents, speak for themselves.

9:56 PM Permalink
December 11, 2009

The more I know, the more I realise I don’t know.

learning.jpgI remember the first time I saw Photoshop. I think it must have been about 1993 or so, when I got a free copy that came with a scanner purchased by my school. It must have been a “lite” version of Photoshop because I seem to recall that it didn’t support layers. Even so, I really enjoyed playing with it, and I ended up installing it on all the computers in the school computer lab (license? what license?) and I started teaching the kids how to create stuff with it. They just blew me away with what they could do with it, even without layers!
It was around the same time that I stumbled across an unused copy of Aldus Pagemaker in an out-of-the-way cupboard, and I convinced the school principal that we should use it to do the school yearbook; his agreement to my suggestion saw me suddenly escalated to head of the yearbook committee, a job that rolled on for many years and many issues beyond that. Of course, once you start working in Pagemaker (and now InDesign) there is a fairly fundamental expectation that Photoshop is a key part of that workflow.
From these accidental beginnings, I developed a long standing relationship with Photoshop. In the late 90s I was working with students to build collaborative websites, and of course all the graphics were done with Photoshop. We discovered all sorts of interesting features like batch processing, we learned to do decent colour corrections, to crop and manipulate images so that they fitted our needs. We discovered, often the hard way, about important concepts like pixel depth, image resolution, colour gamut, and of course the one that catches every self-taught Photoshop user out at some stage, RGB vs CMYK. We made images for the web and for print, we built graphics from scratch and we did weird things to existing photos. I’m just a teacher, not a graphic designer, but I’ve lost track of the hours and hours and hours I’ve spent inside Photoshop over the last 15+ years.
And here’s the thing about Photoshop. Heck, here’s the thing about pretty much all of Adobe’s products… the more I know, the more I realise I don’t know. Every time I learn some new technique or skill, the self-satisfied smug feeling of cleverness lasts about five seconds before I realise that there is just so much more I could know about it, that I could do with it. Whenever I taught kids a unit of work on Photoshop I used to conclude it with an in-class practical test, where I’d give them some images and a problem to solve – it might be to produce some CD cover artwork or a magazine cover, usually with a few constraints or requirements to make them have to think about it a little – and they’d just astound me at what they’d come up with. “Creative Suite” is a good name for these products, because they really do force you into creativity mode. Most of the time after one of these class tests, I’d spend the next few lessons getting the kids to deconstruct what they’d done, to teach me how they got certain effects. In my Photoshop classes I may have been the teacher, but we were all learners.
When I was offered a place in the Adobe Education Leaders program, I was thrilled to be part of it, and felt relatively well qualified to be part of it given that I’d spent over 15 years teaching Photoshop, Indesign, Dreamweaver and Flash to students. Of course, mixing with other AELs and seeing the fantastic things they do is a great way to reinforce just how little I do actually know, but it’s still been an incredibly valuable association for me.
I got thinking about this lately because I’ve been checking out the tutorials on the newly redesigned Adobe TV. It’s an awesome resource, with every application now having a Learn series, a set of basic tutorials that teach the essential skills required to get up to speed quickly… I wish this had been around when i started playing with Photoshop! As well as the Learn tutorials, there are a bunch of more advanced tutorials that delve into some of the trickier and more esoteric concepts.
And Adobe TV is not the only resource I turn to when I want to know more. There seems to be plenty of other places to learn the how-to stuff for Adobe’s products. Some of my favourites are the Layers TV podcast with Corey Barker and RC, the Creative Suite Podcast with Terry White, Creative Sweet TV with Mike McHugh, Instant Indesign with Gabriel Powell, The Russell Brown Show… the list goes on. I subscribe to all of these through iTunes and they just drop onto my iPhone for later watching. It’s a great way to learn. I’m sure there are many other fantastic resources for learning this stuff… perhaps you could leave a note in the comments about some of the resources you have found useful for learning.
Finally, I just wanted to mention a book I bought recently about Photoshop that is quite simply one of the most amazing Photoshop guides I’ve ever seen. It’s simply called Creative Photoshop CS4 by Derek Lea, and I’m just stunned at how incredible this guy is when it comes to Photoshop. I’ve been working my way through some of his exercises and have been discovering something new on almost every page. When you can use a product for over 15 years, and still constantly discover new things, it says a lot about the depth of the product and the open-ended nature of what it lets you do with it.
I realise more than ever that there is so much I don’t know about Photoshop (and most of the other Adobe products!) But I love that feeling of learning, of discovering, of digging deeper and just discovering that there really is no “bottom” to hit.
Image Attribution: ’04.28.09 [#118] Feet Week – On the+Backs+of+Others’

04.28.09 [#118] Feet Week - On the Backs of Others

5:56 PM Permalink
September 1, 2009

Some reflections on the 2009 Summer Institute

3752774162_f8c5d80f92.jpgI’m finally back home from a fantastic week in San Jose at the Adobe Summer Institute. The Summer Institute is a 5 day conference/workshop event run by Adobe’s Education division for members of their global Adobe Education Leaders program. I was inducted into the AEL program last year but was unable to attend the 2008 event in San Francisco. This year I was determined to attend the San Jose event and I’m really glad I went.
When you do in fact know a fair bit about technology and how to use it, it becomes harder to find professional development experiences that challenge and extend you. One of the reasons I was so keen to attend the Summer Institute was that I felt it would push me to learn more and build on some of the knowledge I already have. Having been a Photoshop user for many years, and spending many hours inside programs like InDesign (and PageMaker before that) and having taught Flash and Dreamweaver to students, I’ve always been quite immersed in Adobe’s Creative Suite, but the nature of these tools always seems to be such that the more you know about them, the more you realise you don’t know.
The other AELs came mainly from all over the US, with quite a few from the UK and a handful from other places like New Zealand, Hong Kong and Belgium. I was the only Aussie. We started the week on Monday evening with a Welcome Party at our hotel where we got to meet the other AELS and some of the folk from Adobe. It was good to meet new people and make new connections.
Tuesday started early for me with a Photoshop exam. This was taken as part of the Adobe Certified Associate, a recognised certification for Photoshop users. Happily, I passed the exam without too much trouble. The rest of Tuesday was filled with meeting with the Adobe product teams, where we got to hear about future product roadmaps, learn about upcoming features and directions for the Creative Suite, and to offer suggestions for how we thought the products could be improved. Parts of the day were done under NDA so I can’t really go into details, but suffice to say there will be plenty of exciting new stuff coming from Adobe in the next year or two. Dinner that night was held at Saratoga Springs, a lovely camping ground in the hills surrounding Silicon Valley, and we had fun and games with some hilarious variations on team volleyball played with water-filled balloons.
Wednesday was filled with AEL to AEL sessions – workshops where we presented to each other many of the things we were doing in our own schools and districts. Watching these sessions, it really struck me what an intensely creative and passionate group of educators this was. Although not everything was directly relevant to my own teaching situation, I still got tons of great ideas from the sharing that took place. Collaborative projects, experimental ideas based on art, design and creativity, ideas for streamlining school administration, examples of how teachers do things in other parts of the world… we got all sorts of cool ideas from these AEL sessions. After a full day of learning from each other, we regrouped in the Adobe Cafeteria for a delicious dinner and drinks, where more sharing and conversation took place in a relaxed casual atmosphere. I was quite amazed as we watched the planes fly over the Adobe building, which was directly in the landing path of San Jose airport, seeming to clear the top of the building with only a few hundred feet to spare. A few of us kicked on to a bar in downtown San Jose where the conversations continued into the night, only louder.
Thursday was another full day of learning, with a intense session run by Adobe’s John Schuman. We learned many of the very cool features in the software tools, and in particular how to make them work together smoothly. Our project required us to integrate our work across Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, InDesign and Bridge as we roundtripped files between the various tools. In each of the applications we discovered lots of useful workflows and there were quite a few new concepts that I hadn’t come across before. The last part of the day took us into a project using Flash Catalyst, a relatively new product still in beta, that makes it much easier for designers to create interactive content. I’m still getting my head around Catalyst, but it looks like a great tool for rapidly designing interactive media without the need to know heavy-duty coding stuff.
Thursday night was good fun, with a night out to a local San Jose pool hall. By this stage we had gotten to know each other a little better, so it was cool to hang out, shoot some pool and have still more conversations about learning and life. The night finished while it was still young, as the pool tables were reclaimed at the stroke of 9:00pm. A few of us wandered across the road to another party that looked like it would be fun. I turned out to be an Open Source party, sponsored by Source Forge. With free drinks (free as in “beer” – I thought that was hilarious at an Open Source event), tatoos getting done in the basement (no, I didn’t get one), as well as Twitter stations, free T-shirt giveaways from the good folk at ThinkGeek, guys playing with Star Wars light sabres, people wearing infra-red night vision goggles, etc, it was a truly geeky event… I loved it!
Friday morning was the last day of the conference and I’d arranged to do another certification exam, this time in Dreamweaver. Although I’ve used Dreamweaver a lot in the past, I hadn’t used it much lately so wasn’t feeling too confident in my ability to pass this exam. However, I did pass, and since I had a bit of time to spare at the end I decided to have a crack at the remaining exam for Flash. This one I really wasn’t too confident about, since I haven’t used Flash much in the last 12 months and there are some big changes to the CS4 version. Even so, I surprised myself by passing the Flash exam too, so I was feeling pretty pleased that I managed to get my certification in Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Flash all in the same week.
The rest of Friday morning was a general wrap up of the event, with feedback and a debriefing session between the AELs and the Adobe folk. It was kind of sad to have it all come to an end, but we eventually said our goodbyes and all went our separate ways. The sessions were all recorded with Adobe Connect, as well as a ton of Twitter, Flickr and Delicious resources all tagged with ael09, so at least there is a decent electronic record of the sessions.
I didn’t have to be at the airport until quite late so myself and Saiqa, another AEL from London, decided to rent a car and do some Silicon Valley sightseeing. We dropped in on the headquarters of Apple and Google, then headed in to San Francisco for some last minute sightseeing around Fisherman’s Wharf before getting back to SFO airport for our late flights.
Overall, a great week and one I’d be keen to do again. Thanks Adobe for running and hosting the event, especially to Megan Stewart and her team who did a great job of making sure the program went off perfectly. Great conference, can’t wait to get back next year!

5:43 PM Permalink