Thursday, November 15, 2012

Class Yammer Use

I met with a professor who was looking for a platform he could use with students who are working professionals getting one credit for a class through UWEC. He's thinking they'd meet one Saturday then collaborate online during winterim in more of a community of practice situation. I suggested an external network in Yammer when I heard community of practice. Yammer is a nice option because it is possible to share files and work collaboratively on "Notes" (like a wiki, or less sophisticated version of Google Docs). People can comment directly below a file, and reply to others specifically. If he needs to provide individualized feedback, that can be done via a private message. There is no grading capability in Yammer, but he said it's pretty much a "did you complete or not?" type of situation.

I prefer Yammer to Facebook for a few reasons: 1) no ads, 2) no data mining, 3) separation of professional and personal life, and 4) it doesn't change every 5 minutes.

I believe it's better than D2L for this situation because it is a more informal/less instructor led group that doesn't have strict grading criteria. He doesn't need the dropbox, quizzes, grade book, etc. It can also continue indefinitely (unless something odd happens with Yammer) and has the possibility of growing to add more members if needed. Since the students are working teachers, Yammer is a neat tool for them to learn about and possibly use on their own in the future. Yammer is also very easy to use, especially if people are used to Facebook.

He also looked into Google Plus, but I think Yammer is better because it's less of a learning curve, and you don't have to coordinate Google usernames. It's funny that I thought Google Plus was going to be the next big thing last summer, and recently I completely deleted my Google Plus account. No one uses it. Google is also pretty ad driven and data mines everything.

I'm excited to hear how it goes! Although I wouldn't recommend Yammer as an D2L replacement in a traditional class, I think this will be a great use.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Microsoft Surface Tablet

The Surface tablet is Microsoft's contender in the tablet market. It runs Windows 8. Right now the RT version is out, which means it still uses apps and is not a full computer, although it has a desktop view that looks like a regular computer. It does have Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The Pro version that is an actual computer and can run computer software is in the works, but there is no release date yet. It will be a little bigger and more expensive.

Last weekend I was able to use the tester Surface tablet and spent probably five hours playing with it throughout the weekend. I don't watch commercials ever, so I really knew very little about it. I took the same approach I do with movies: I don't read reviews until after I've seen it because I don't want to be swayed. So here is my unbiased viewpoint, for what it's worth!

The Good (Great, Actually):

I found that when you are browsing the Internet, it automatically goes into a very visually appealing full screen mode, and you swipe up from the bottom to get the address bar and then swipe down from the top to see your windows. Normally, you just see the content on the page without things like the address bar cluttering your space. To go back, you just swipe instead of clicking a back button (like on a Mac trackpad). I liked these gestures a lot - so much that when I went to use other touch devices later, I tried to do the same things! Swiping from the right brings up what they call "charms" which are functions "they" think people will want to use a lot like searching. I kept forgetting about them but I assume that with longer use they'd become valuable.

The most important thing about the Surface to me is the fact that you can use a track pad or mouse to control a cursor. I have shoulder problems, so reducing movement is important. Using a keyboard with an iPad but still having to touch the screen has always seemed awkward to me.

Hulu! I am always frustrated with the lack of Flash on the iPad, so I was happy that I could watch things like Hulu. However, Vimeo didn't work - it just showed an image rather than the video. I did some Googling and found that Flash only works from "trusted sites." Hmmm.

The first thing that struck me about the Surface is that it is so much wider than the iPad. For watching videos in 16:9, it is excellent because it takes up the whole area - no black bars.

Word! PowerPoint! I have just been wanting to use Office on the iPad for years now. Although this RT version cannot run legacy software, just being able to use Word, PowerPoint, and Excel will meet many peoples' needs.

I like how it is possible to customize the tiles and Start area. Live tiles are just cool. I'm excited for Windows 8. XBox music was great - you can stream Microsoft's music library for free. They had my current favorite songs.

Areas Needing Improvement:

I occasionally found the touch screen to be unresponsive or slow. Every now and then I'd have to tap again, or tap differently to do something. For instance, getting out of Facebook photos was particularly difficult. For some reason, I got stuck in Photo apps and couldn't get out. I tried all sorts of weird ways of tapping and even had someone else try, but we could not get out. So we made it restart and then it was fine. I also kept clicking the X to close a window instead of clicking on it to go there. I'd probably get used to that though.

I had an issue with, which is how UWEC staff can access our drives in a browser. When I just tapped on a document, nothing happened and when I double tapped it zoomed in. I eventually figured out that you have to touch and hold to get the options to open the file. It behaved better when I used the track pad. I don't see these touch issues as being major, but they just weren't as flawless as the iPad.

As I mentioned, the super wide screen is excellent for videos, but for reading and normal internet browsing, I found it strange. I mostly used it in the orientation of the pink one above, but occasionally felt I should try it the other way, then changed it back. I often felt like I was wasting space. I'm sure I'd eventually get used to it but it takes longer than the time I spent.

The aspect I think I'd struggle with is reading e-books on the Surface. On the left is how I set up my Kindle iPad app - with two columns. For some reason, it is not possible to use columns on the Windows Kindle app. Maybe that's coming? I also added a typical book in the photo as a comparison; maybe I like the two columns because it is a smaller version of paper book, which is what I'm used to? I also found the Kindle Surface app didn't swipe like I wanted it to. It just didn't feel right.

The one I tried had the touch cover keyboard, which is kind of like the iPad smart cover, except it has a keyboard and mouse track pad in it. I found it difficult to type on and ended up making the ends of my fingers hurt because I felt like I had to push hard. It was like typing on cardboard. My typing was pretty inaccurate; I could not use it to type a password or I'd never get in. I found it to only be slightly more effective than the on-screen keyboard. Since it is wider than an iPad, I was able to type with both hands more easily on the on-screen keyboard. I heard that the touch covers do not hold up and I'm not surprised. They do have a slightly more expensive type cover keyboard with depressible keys that I would definitely get instead but the reviews I read (after I developed my own opinions!) indicated this wasn't great either. 

Because I had not seen any commercials, I didn't realize it had a kickstand for a while! I do like that it has a built in kickstand, but I wish it had more options. It's kind of an awkward angle.

I had no idea what level the battery was at until it just died. No warning. Isn't that weird? The time and battery are viewed by swiping in from the right side (with the charms), which I didn't figure out for a while. Also, the power connector was slightly difficult to get into place; I had to futz with it for a while.

Just Internet Explorer and Bing??? Honestly it wasn't that bad, but I typically do not use either. When I notice people's default is Bing I ask them if it is intentional and it never is, so I show them how to change it.

Of course, apps are lacking. There was a Kindle app, but no Evernote. Do I need apps though? Or am I just used to them? I made a shortcut on the start area to Evernote, but it just didn't feel right.


I'm kind of sad to see that my "needing improvement" area is so much longer than the good area, because overall I was pretty excited about it and I think it has a ton of potential. At one point, I said "look, my Surface fits in here" and the response was "YOUR surface?!" (Note: It fits in both the front pouch area of a hooded sweatshirt [barely] as well as my purse!).

On Sunday morning when I went to drink some coffee and mess around on the internet, I thought about which device I actually wanted to use out of all the options I had (iPad, Surface, Droid Razr Maxx, MacBook) and the answer was my MacBook. It has a 15 inch screen, normal keyboard, the best track pad ever now that I finally have Lion, and no limitations on where I can go and what I can do. It just works. I forced myself to continue using the Surface anyway, but I thought that was an interesting thing to note. I also found I was still using my phone a lot, just because it was small and I had it with me all the time.

For work travel, I would love the Surface because it is more of a mini computer than the iPad. One time I only took my iPad and phone on a work trip (no laptop) and I regretted it. The thing is, I don't really travel a lot. I am the type of person who will continue to use a laptop as my main stationary productivity device because it does everything, but I really like a tablet for browsing on the couch, reading e-books, playing games, and anything that requires ultra portability. There is a place in my life for a laptop, tablet, and smartphone, but if I could live without anything, it would definitely be the tablet.

So for me this is not the perfect device (yet!), but I can see how people who want to bridge the gap between a tablet and computer would like it, especially if portability is a main concern. I'm curious to see how the Pro version stacks up.

Image from

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

WOW Vision

Yesterday a rep from WOW Vision came in to demo the product Mini Veos for us. Here's how it works.

Let's assume our active learning classroom is set up like this image on the left. We have 10 "pods," I will call them, in which students can work collaboratively, each with a computer and LCD monitor on the wall. There is also a main projector on each end of the room that is controlled by the instructor.

With Veos, the instructor could show anything displayed on one of the LCD displays on the main projector screen to discuss it with the class. Or, they could show up to 4 different displays in the 4 quadrants of the main projector. The instructor can preview the screen before displaying it.

Why? Instead of calling on the groups and asking them to explain what they've been working on, the instructor can show it and discuss it with the class for a richer experience. Some things, such as HTML coding, can't be explained well verbally and the instructor would have had to walk around and talk to the group individually. With a product such as this, the whole class can see what is going on and learn from the other groups.

So what are the students doing at each pod? There are options. Using an additional product called Team Veos, they could each be working on their own laptop or mobile device (not Android or Windows 8 yet) and controlling the LCD computer together. We tried this during the demo and found we were all fighting for control of the mouse when editing a Word document. I expected to see it on my laptop monitor at the same time but it only shows on the LCD. I argued that Google Docs could do the same thing but better and others countered that Team Veos would make it possible to collaborate on any type of software which is a good point. In this case, each student would need a device of some sort to participate equally, or they would have to be provided.

Alternatively, the students could all share one wireless mouse and keyboard per pod that could be passed around. This option would not need Team Veos and would be quite a bit less expensive. If the mouse can be controlled by only one person at a time, I don't see it as a huge issue to share a wireless mouse and keyboard. Am I missing something?

What if we don't have a "pod" set up or LCD? Another option is for the students to all bring a device and participate individually or in pairs. There is no limit to how many devices can be involved; the instructor can still share what is being displayed on an individual's laptop if it is running the software.

A main computer/projector is necessary. My colleague hoped that the instructor would be able to take over all of the LCDs and choose what to display on them, however, that would be a software modification which is quite expensive. Without the software modification, it is necessary to have a main screen controlled by the instructor. The initial goal was to get away from the centralized teaching station and projector screen, but that is not the way Veos is set up to work.

To reduce the price, additional features are ala carte. These include screen sharing among participants, recording, audience response, room combination, and classroom management (allowing the instructor to look at an individual's screen). There are more features, but I won't get into all of them here. Personally, I didn't find them to be incredibly important since there are other ways to do most of them. Sharing files is an example; they could be put on D2L.

I feel the need to add my opinion, but I don't really have one because I feel like this should just be how things work in an active learning classroom. It's like when you just expect something to be a certain way, but you don't realize it's actually a big deal to make it happen, so you're not that impressed when you learn about it but people who understand are impressed. I guess I was not particularly WOW'd but I may not be the best judge. Next week we're seeing ClickShare so I look forward to learning how it compares.

Update 1/13/2014: We have WOW vision in four rooms of our new education building. It has difficult to wrap my head around it because I had gotten used to the other active learning rooms we have on campus. First it's different because the students basically each need laptops to take advantage of it and it revolves around the main projection screens rather than the individual monitors. Here's what our current configuration does:

- The instructor can share any student's laptop screen to the projectors with or without the student's permission (they have to expect that when logged in, their screen could be shared at any time). Students have to request and be given permission to share; they couldn't just take over.
- The instructor cannot push the teaching station to either the pod's monitors or the individual laptops (that costs extra but we are getting the extra "modules" to test). Therefore, the students have to attend to the main screens like a typical lecture if the instructor is demonstrating something. It would be nice if they could see it closer because the room we were in was huge and I found it hard to see well. 
- At the pods, the group members can all collaborate with the pod computer/monitor. This is weird: what they're doing is controlling the pod computer with their computer. This could be handy when collaborating and using software that the university has but the students do not. Like I mention above, you have to fight to take control of the mouse. I guess my favorite part about it is that I could use the trackpad of my Mac, which is the best trackpad ever, and everyone keeps their germs to themselves (vs sharing a wireless mouse & keyboard).
-File sharing is possible too but, honestly, during the demo my mind became boggled with potential document version issues and I longingly thought of google docs or even the document collaboration in SharePoint. It could be nice for he instructor to share documents with the students though. The one modified collaboratively by the students saves currently on the C drive but it will be changed to save to the H drive of the person logged in. 
- There was a whole thing about sharing video but I don't understand why that would be necessary more than once in a blue moon. 

Now, our current rooms (Crestron) are pod-centered and do not require or benefit from individuals having laptops. The teaching station can share with all the pods (some rooms do not have projectors at all) and the instructor can share one pod with all the other pods. One advantage of WOW was the speed when switching in comparison to this system. 

I see two potential barriers with the WOW rooms:
1. Whether students consistently have devices to use. One student could use the pod computer but the others need their own devices and it is not very mobile friendly. The iPad app is probably more helpful to the instructor because Safari can be shown through it, and maybe PowerPoint slides (?). So it could help instructors get away from the teaching station. I guess the Android app is really iffy. Full Windows 8 works but RT does not. 
2. Whether installing the software and entering in the right numbers will be problematic. I wasn't able to follow the steps because my Mac had an issue with the software, maybe because I have the new operating system Mavericks, so there is a good possibility it's easier than it seemed. If students are borrowing a computer from the library it will need this software on it. Out of the three is us who walked over together, zero were able to participate with the devices we brought - an iPad, my Mac, and Laura's borrowed computer on which she was not an administrator and could not install software. 

I don't mean to end on a negative note! I think it is pretty cool but I struggled to comprehend it today - maybe because the room was about 100 degrees. It makes sense now that I've written it down. I'll try to remember to report back! 

Image from 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Livescribe Sky: Meh

Livescribe came out with a new smartpen called the Sky that transmits content wirelessly to Evernote. With previous pens such as the Echo, it was necessary to connect the pen to the computer via a cord and use the Livescribe Desktop app to download content.

I eagerly tried it out my new Sky pen yesterday. It looks just like a normal Livescribe pen - same awkwardly thick size.

Set up

Getting it ready to use was a little cumbersome. I only had my iPad with me (no computer) and wasn't able to get it set up because it is necessary to download the "Livescribe Helper" app to update the firmware on the pen before it can be used. The website says that eventually the app will not be needed because the firmware updates will occur over the air. The app is also a back up to download content via the cord when wifi is not available.

Eventually when I had my computer, I finished the set up which involves creating/logging in to both a Livescribe and Evernote account. I had both, so it was not a problem. I use Evernote all the time to sync notes across all my devices.

Then I had to set the language, hand orientation, and date/time, but I didn't have the quick set up guide to do so. When I finally found that (I actually used one from an old Echo pen), I was really ready to get started.

Use & Syncing

The paper replay function works just like a regular Livescribe pen. It is the transmission of content afterwards that is different. The new notebooks to go with the Sky have a keyboard and additional "buttons" printed on them to use with the additional functionality of the Sky. To use the keyboard, you tap the printed buttons with the Livescribe pen.

If you don't have wifi on all the time (which is good to save battery life), the first step when you're ready to sync is to scan for wifi networks, then you can scroll through them to choose one and select it. The keyboard is there in case you need to enter a password. I read in another review that it isn't possible to use them with wifi at hotels that requires login through a webpage. That's one reason they still give you a cord.

I synced the pen by tapping the "sync now" button on the paper and then went to Evernote and clicked sync. The content was available right away after both had synced.

There are additional wifi share buttons to email and send to Google Drive, Facebook, and Dropbox but they don't work yet; I read that will be available in early 2013.

Drawbacks/Unsolved Problems

  • It's not possible to save the pencast as pdf with audio as you can with the Echo. I think that is a really nice option, because it allows you to avoid being reliant on Livescribe's servers and you have an offline back up. Right now, the cloud/online is the only option. 
  • It seems the only privacy settings are public or private just to the creator via Evernote. With Livescribe Desktop, you could invite specific people to view a pencast.
  • I do not see a way to get embed code. I like to embed videos in D2L to reduce issues with pop-up blockers.
  • Speaking of pop-up blockers, when I put a link to a pencast in D2L, it was blocked in both Safari and Firefox even though I chose "open in new window" - it seemed to work better when I chose "same frame." I'll keep testing in other browsers. 
  • On my iPad, I could view a pen cast via the Evernote app, but I couldn't open them when linked to on the D2L Content page in Safari or Chrome. They just didn't work. They are HTML5, so they should...
  • I still don't see a way to caption the pencasts for disability accessibility or edit them. I'd like to see a "share to YouTube" option to take advantage of their functionality in both regards. 
  • I read in other reviews that leaving the wifi on greatly reduces battery life. If you are being conscientious of battery life and syncing specifically after the recording, is it worthwhile to have the wireless syncing? 
  • One thing I just realized but I haven't tried yet, is sharing pencasts that are multiple pages. Apparently Evernote breaks them up into multiple pencasts, which I think could be confusing. 
I was really excited to learn that Livescribe was updating to wireless content transmission, but I am disappointed that they reduced some functionality to make it happen, for an extra $50. That's why I'm giving it a "meh." I'm sure it will get better though, so I'll pay attention. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Can You Count on Prezi?

I have "liked" Prezi on Facebook, so I get their updates and noticed that throughout the weekend there were sporadic issues with the site and it was down for most of yesterday. I clicked on the comments and many were along the lines of "I have to give a presentation in 2 hours - hurry and fix it!" and there were more than a few "I will never forgive you for this, Prezi!" comments too. Not even those who pay for Prezi could access their content. Being down for most of a weekday in the middle of a semester is a pretty big deal. I don't expect any site to be 100% reliable, but Prezi is a site that many people count on to house content that they may need for time sensitive presentations. I think it needs to be pretty close to 100% reliable.

So, I encourage anyone who is using Prezi for important, time sensitive content to download it frequently so you have a back up copy available off line. You may want to download it each time you exit Prezi so that you at least have the last version to make into a PowerPoint if necessary, since you cannot edit a Prezi that has been downloaded. At least being able to look at the old version will help in rebuilding. You may want to save all of your images in one folder so you can easily access them again if you have to rebuild in PowerPoint.

I've been questioning whether Prezi is "worth it" and have actually removed it from the agenda of the digital content group this semester and put more focus on how to design effective PowerPoints. Prezi is cool, but many faculty who I talk to about it end up not using it, or they use it in a way that doesn't take advantage of the strengths and uniqueness of it and they could have used PowerPoint without the learning curve.

This situation is on top of a recent Prezi issue I experienced: last week I learned 10 minutes before a Prezi training that the site completely changed. I mean completely, with no warning. Two days later I finally got an email saying Prezi changed - a little late! I could have gone back to the old interface, but none of the people I was training (who had just created new accounts) could, so it didn't matter. I've had issues in the past with me and my trainees being in different versions too and when I submitted a question about that to the Prezi community help site, the response was that eventually everyone will be on the same version (not helpful!). I admit that the redesign is good, but my training was awkward because I didn't have time to explore properly. I guess I should give myself an hour before every Prezi training to prep, in case it's different. Should it have to be that way?

What do you think about these issues with Prezi? Has your perspective changed? Am I overreacting? Is this just the way of the cloud?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Live Streaming/Broadcasting for Online Office Hours

Recently a tech savvy professor made me aware of Ustream and Livestream which are live streaming/broadcasting sites.  He was looking for a way to have office hours online, with a desktop sharing function so he could create diagrams that the students could view.

I tested the free versions of both Ustream and Livestream with him. Ustream's ads basically were a deal breaker for us. I just watched something I recorded there, and I was first subjected to an obnoxious 15 second political ad, then I got two small banner ads along the bottom of my video as it played. [Side note: the nice thing about YouTube is that you have to allow ads on your videos; YouTube can't just put them on without your permission. Then you get paid for allowing ads!] 

We observed that during Hurricane Sandy, Livestream had some outages and is still experiencing periodic issues, but Ustream worked (as far as we could tell), so it seems that Ustream is more reliable. 

The only other advantage I see to Ustream is that viewers do not have to create an account or login to view a broadcast. If they want to chat, they need an account though. To even view a broadcast, viewers need a Livestream account, unless the broadcaster pays to use Livestream. 

In regard to user-friendliness on the presenter side, I'm partial to Ustream, because you can broadcast a webcam video (no desktop sharing) through your browser without downloading anything, so you can monitor the chat. You can download the presenter program for more functionality. Livestream requires a download of Livestream presenter, which kind of threw me off, because the preview window is very small. Once I wrapped my head around the fact that I broadcasted just through the program I downloaded and didn't even have to open the site, I was fine but it was a weird concept to me. 

A difficulty with Livestream is that the chat function does not really work as a way to communicate with the presenter. Instead, this professor is having the students email him questions to answer. Otherwise, Livestream seems to be the winner out of the two options mostly because of the absence of ads - especially around election time. 

Why not a web conferencing tool, such as Blackboard Collaborate (online rooms in D2L) or Skype? Skype is only 1-1 with video (for free) and he wanted many students to be able to view the broadcast. Also, having to add all the students as contacts would be a hassle. He said he tried Collaborate, but found it cumbersome. I agree that getting into a Collaborate room seems to take forever. Unfortunately, Collaborate is experiencing problems to the point that it is not recommended right now anyway. There are free web conferencing options, but many require a download, account, have ads, or have a participant limit. No great options have jumped out at me (but please let me know if you have one). 

Maybe I should back up a little: what is the difference between web conferencing and live streaming? To me, it is the ability to communicate with the viewers (or not). Live streaming is meant mostly for pushing information, whereas web conferencing is meant more for two way communication and collaboration. I can see either being used for office hours; the choice depends on the instructor's style and the goal. This professor wanted open office hours for multiple students to attend, in which case personal questions such as grading would have to be addressed separately. 

April, what would you do for online office hours? 

Well, since you asked... I'd try having students post their questions on the D2L discussion board, then I'd respond in whichever modality was required: text if it's brief, audio if required (I'm not sure why it would be unless you're in foreign languages or music though), or video that is posted online if they need to see something and hear audio with it. I'd give them a certain time period that I'll be online responding and do so as quickly as I can within that time frame. If a student needed to communicate with me 1-1 about a personal situation, such as grading or an absence, I'd be available to communicate via Skype, phone, or email; whichever they wanted. 

Here's my rationale: 

1. I've had soooo many problems with web conferencing programs such as Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate, that I avoid them if possible. Although I am a technologist, the idea of synchronous communication like this makes me nervous. I can do it, but I don't like the idea of a bunch of people waiting for me to figure out what is wrong in the moment or trying to figure out why they are having problems. I also don't feel comfortable recommending it to faculty unless they are particularly technology savvy, because it's a lot of responsibility that really rests with them since we don't have a lot of support for this.  

2. I'm an introvert and my personality is reflective. I prefer to have some time to think about my reply if I can. The idea of broadcasting myself is not something I'm particularly comfortable with, especially when online can be asynchronous. 

3. The students don't have to create another account, login, or download anything if I use D2L and they view videos online. 

4. There is a record of the questions and answers located in D2L for other students to scan through fairly quickly anytime. You can record an entire broadcast but do the students want to watch the whole thing to figure out what was asked? 

My idea is a little boring; I admit that. Live broadcasting is cool and fun, and nice for people who are able to just talk and tell stories which may be more of the personality of a typical professor. It's more of a transition from face-to-face teaching that allows for spontaneousness and adding some personality. I think my students would get the information they needed, but this professor's students may like him better than they'd like me because they'd have the option to get to know him differently. The great thing about technology and online teaching is that there are many options to fit people's individual needs and preferences.