Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Being Smarter w/ YouTube: Trimming, Extracting, & Combining

This post is the second in a series about being smarter with YouTube.  YouTube can be a powerful teaching & learning tool, but with great power comes great responsibility . . .

In addition to getting rid of YouTube page clutter, another useful thing to consider is getting to the crux of what you want kids to see.  Keep copyright in mind, though, and remember Fair Use Guidelines when using existing content in any medium.  If you need a good information source, check out the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.   

Using YouTube to change the start point:  If you want to skip a beginning portion of a YouTube video, YouTube provides a way to direct viewers to a certain starting point. If you move the progress bar to a certain point of a video, right-clicking will give you the option to "copy video URL at current time."  

Or, you can use the "Share" option and check the box next to the URL that says "Start at."  You'll notice, though, that those options vanish if you get the embed code for a video.

TubeChop:  YouTube lets you determine a starting point, but what if you need to grab a portion from the middle of a clip?  TubeChop lets you extract a section that you can then either link to or embed in a webpage or blog.  This works well if you have a long video but you want so show only a certain portion that illustrates an idea or provides a starting point for discussion.

Embed Plus:  This is a pretty impressive tool.  For Chrome users, Embed Plus has an extension that you can install that gives you all kinds of tools when viewing YouTube content (zooming, commenting, trimming, slow-mo, cropping, etc.).  If you don't want to use the Chrome extension, you can just go to their website, enter the URL of a YouTube clip you want to work with, and you'll get different options (start & end times, chapter markers & annotations) .  

DragOnTape:  This free tool lets you create a "mix" tape of clips from different videos, but it does require you to create a user account so you can store your "mixes."  This behaves like other video editors.  You "drag" video clips from YouTube into your mixer and then trim down to the sections you want from each clip, arranging in the order you want them to appear.  DragOnTape then puts the various clips into a single video for sharing.  You can then provide a link to the mix or get the embed code for your website or blog.  (DragOnTape is also available as a free iOS app, but it's rated 12+ as there are "mixes" from other users that are viewable.)

If YouTube is blocked in your district, these tools won't necessarily make YouTube clips accessible on a district network (and they rely upon access to YouTube to get the clips).  However, it might be a good option for at home viewing or for whole class viewing (teacher directed).

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Being Smarter w/ YouTube: Cleaning Up the View

This post is the first in a series about being smarter with YouTube.  YouTube can be a powerful teaching & learning tool, but with great power comes great responsibility . . .

We (like many districts) have a lot of folks leveraging YouTube for class content.  While YouTube is currently blocked for students in our district, teachers often link to videos on sites or class web pages or blogs for viewing outside of class.  Or, they will project the video for class viewing.  That can pose a bit of problem when YouTube's side content, or clutter, is visible.

Getting Rid of YouTube Clutter (class viewing or linking)
One of the downsides to YouTube is the extra stuff you get on the YouTube page.  Many tools exist for "safe" viewing of YouTube content, but here are a few I've tried & liked:

Safeshare.tv:  Find a YouTube video you like, paste the URL into SafeShare.TV's website, and it will generate a link to a page with only the video on it (no ads, other suggested clips, etc.).  One nice feature is that you can "customize" the start & end times, letting you trim out extra stuff at the beginning or end.  You can then use that link on a class website or blog to make sure that kids only go to a page with the video on it.  They also have a app for iOS (requires the YouTube link).

ViewPure:  Like SafeShare, ViewPure gives you a clean window for YouTube videos when you paste in a link.  A nice feature about ViewPure is the ability to add a button ("Purify") to your browser's bookmark toolbar to have a clean view on fly.  If you find something on YouTube but don't want to have to go to a website to paste in the URL, just use the button in your toolbar and it will get rid of all side content, showing only the video.

A Cleaner Internet:  Unlike the tools that ask for a link, A Cleaner Internet offers iOS apps and/or browser extensions for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.  If you're using a computer to project video, install the extension into your browser and you can clean up YouTube video content on the fly.  Their free iOS app allows you to search, access your playlists, access your favorites, and view recent news & movie trailers. I couldn't figure out how to make it viewable in full screen, but hopefully that will be added in future updates.  (You can always use the YouTube app and just go full screen, but typically you still get side content that appears when the clip concludes.)

For those who have class websites, blogs, or online courses, embedding video is another option for keeping the clutter to a minimum.  If you will be embedding video into a webpage, 
be sure to uncheck the box below the embed code that says "show suggested videos when the video finishes" if you have the option -- sometimes those suggestions aren't class appropriate.

Have another tool that you've found for cleaning up YouTube clutter?  Feel free to comment & share!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Amazon's WhisperCast - Worth Shouting About

Amazon introduced its WhisperCast service about a month ago, which is a free service that allows schools to deliver Amazon content to school-owned devices or school-related accounts.  Sounds kind of ho-hum, right?  Maybe, unless you've ever tried to manage a class set of Kindles or eBook content!

Why is this worth shouting about?  Here's a quick list (in no particular order):

  1. Purchasing happens from a web-based centralized account that isn't tied to a "regular" Amazon account.  This means that you could potentially use a PO (if your district has entered into a purchasing agreement with Amazon) or a gift card to buy class sets of books.  Unfortunately, a credit card is required (that is due to verification of residency -- WhisperCast is only available for US customers right now, and the credit card verifies location).
  2. You don't have to use a Kindle to access content.  This service also works for Kindle Apps and Amazon's cloud reader.  So, you could purchase eBooks and send them to students, even if students don't own a dedicated eReader.  That. Is. Awesome.
  3. You can set up unlimited groups of accounts or devices for sending different (of differentiated) content.  Need to buy books for first grade but don't want them to show up for fourth graders?  Just set up different groups and send the content ONLY to a certain group.
  4. You can create policies for certain settings.  Turn off social networking, block web access, and/or create a wireless network policy.  The settings are sent wirelessly to the Kindles so that changes occur on the fly.  And those policies can also be differentiated by group (browser could be blocked for first grade devices but available for fifth grade devices).
  5. Manage your Kindles from anywhere.  Having lived in the Apple Configurator world (yuck), being able to log into a website from any internet-connected machine is a time-saver.  Control Kindles from your laptop, iPad, or another web-enabled Kindle from anywhere.
  6. Create "pseudo-accounts."  If you have Kindles that will be shared in a classroom, you can create accounts with emails that don't actually exist.  The emails are never used unless you need to log into a Cloud Reader, which makes them perfect for sharing with primary grades.
  7. Bulk create accounts.  If you will be sending content to large groups of students or staff, you can upload an entire list and group them. This makes sharing content with an entire school or grade really easy, especially if they are using Cloud Reader or Kindle apps on a mobile device.
  8. Send documents to student accounts.  You can wirelessly send Word docs & PDFs to devices or user groups.  Could be really handy if you had students create a "book" to share but you didn't want to publicly publish it for the world. Also could work well for guiding questions related to books for class.
  9. Supports BYOD.  Soon, you'll be able to send wireless configurations to student-owned devices.  That could be really powerful if your network isn't open but you want students to be able to access Kindle content on their personal eReader.
  10. Inventory management.  If you have purchased school Kindles with the WhisperCast account, you can download a spreadsheet of the serial numbers for inventory purposes.  Already have Kindles in your inventory?  You can email the serial numbers to Amazon and they will add them into your WhisperCast account for you.
  11. FREE.  Did I mention this is FREE???

Monday, October 22, 2012

There may be no "I" in "team," but there is a "me"

I've been thinking about team dynamics as of late. At this moment, it's playoff season for Major League Baseball, and there is all kinds of focus on teamwork.  This week also marks the end of our first quarter, and I'm reflecting on what that whole team thing means in education.

cc photo courtesy of Keith Allison
Teaching is a lonely gig, and no matter how often we "team" with each other, most of us just end up doing our own thing.  It comes down to "me" in the end.  We may contribute pieces and parts to our PLC (cooperative approach), but that doesn't always equate to learning together (collaborative approach).  That isn't bad per se, but I don't know if it prepares us to truly model and lead students in collaboration.  And it definitely makes the concept of teaming together foreign.  Here's something to think about:  the Common Core, 21st Century Skills as defined by P21, and the CDE's effectiveness rubrics for both teachers and principals stress collaboration, not cooperation.

So, what's the difference?

Is it "me" working with others or is it "we" learning together?  It's admittedly muddy, and the two are often used interchangeably, but one (cooperative) focuses on individual contributions to a group project or guiding question while the other one (collaborative) focuses on learning & constructing together, regardless of role.  With cooperative learning, there is a definite "me" in the team.  In collaborative learning, there is only the "we."

Cooperative learning is much easier to quantify, so that may lend itself to our comfort level as teachers (easier to assess, give feedback, establish accountability, etc.).  So why does "collaborate" appear instead of "cooperate" in state, national, and international standards for teaching & learning?  Could it be that collaborating yields a deeper understanding  than cooperating?  Does the social nature of learning mean that learning alongside some else is more powerful than simply contributing your part or role?  Perhaps it means that the challenges we will likely face on a global scale will require learning together more than it will require individual contributions to a "team" effort.

As leaders and educators,  we need to think about how we work with each other as we, in turn, work with students.  The two approaches have their place, but are we cognizant of how they are different?  Are we focused on the "me" or embracing the "we"?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

First Impressions

Our first district-wide meetings (with both technology coordinators K-12 and building technicians) last week got me thinking about first impressions.  For some folks who were new to the meeting or group, I wonder what they thought as they left?  What were their first impressions?  And, since I am new to the position, I also started thinking about my first impressions from that different leadership role.  Here are a few or (shocker) 11:

  1. People seemed really eager or even hungry to make connections with others in a face-to-face environment. While I hope we can continue to connect online (and asynchronously), I don't think we should underestimate the need for meaningful contact in a face-to-face manner.
  2. People went out of their way to express appreciation for having a meeting.  This spoke volumes to me.  When is the last time I thanked an organizer for a meeting? I have plenty of meetings that I find to be rather wasteful in terms of time, and it was heartening to hear genuine thanks from attendees.
  3. Having a way to share announcements that don't require a meeting helped us focus on "real" conversations.  It struck me that because we were able to move quite a bit of housekeeping items to the Announcements area on our website, we could leverage the time we had for discussion.
  4. Music had an impact.  We used music for one meeting but not for the other.  Granted, we had a different group of people in the 2nd meeting, but I think it had a relaxing and positive effect when used between topics and during breaks.
  5. Having guest speakers was helpful.  We were fortunate to have "experts" drop in to share some things and ask questions, which took some stress away from me personally.  I'd much rather have different voices in the room.
  6. Having guest speakers who weren't organized wasn't helpful.  Not sure what to do about this one, but we have to remember that not all experts are good at conveying their message in a concise manner.  Perhaps we should think about creating a template for people who will be on the agenda?
  7. You can please some of the people some of the time.  Sure, I naively hoped that everyone would just be pleased as punch to learn about things that are happening in our district, but there will always be negative voices in the room.  And I have to remember that they were negative before I got here and will likely be negative after I've left (or they do).
  8. Having a spot on the agenda for people to share something they have tried or discovered needs to be permanent. We didn't make everyone share (and we wouldn't have had time anyway), but I think that portion of the agenda helped with feelings of community, connectivity, and value.  The "slam" idea of having it limited to 30 seconds or 1 minute helped focus the sharing as well.
  9. Not all of the conversations going on during group work time was focused on the task, but that doesn't mean they weren't valuable.  Going back to #1, I think some people were just so appreciative to meet with others that they used that time to connect on topics that were relevant to them.
  10. Being cognizant of circadian rhythms when planning the agenda was a good thing.  The morning meeting we had likely didn't need as many breaks/ moving time as the afternoon meeting due to timing.  Not that we should include breaks for movement in morning meetings, but the attention levels were definitely different.
  11. Being flexible with the agenda is vitally important.  I tend to want to stick to agendas and plans, which isn't always a bad thing, but being able to shift due to the needs in the room has to be a consideration. And I have to be better about considering it.
I'm sure more things will strike as I ponder what to take away for the next meeting, but for now, this list goes to 11.

Friday, September 14, 2012

VoiceThread for Speaking & Listening

With the addition of specific speaking and listening standards, I think it's time to revisit and re-publicize some great tools like VoiceThread for the classroom.  Looking back at some of my previous tutorials, I found this one on my VT page.  How could you use VoiceThread in the classroom?

Using a device that doesn't do Flash or Shockwave?  Try this link:  https://voicethread.com/share/297081/

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What do we REALLY want them to know?

I've been thinking (as I usually do around this time) about the beginning of the school year, and that means starting PLC work across the district and at our various buildings. We are still supposed to be focusing on DuFour's essential questions (what is it we want all student to know, etc.), which are now being revamped due to the Common Core. I've heard DuFour's questions many, MANY times since I started in my current district in 2004, but revisiting an older post from Bud the Teacher on "Learning vs. Teaching" really got me thinking again. It pushed my thinking when originally published, but it has become even more thought-provoking to me recently as I've moved into a position at the district level.  And we're still asking, what is it we want all kids to know?

The answer Bud's post originally led me to hasn't changed, and if I were to answer this question right now, my answer would still be: all students should know how they learn.

If we are preparing students not only for jobs that don't exist but also a world that doesn't yet exist (as has been commonly stated), what is it that all students should learn?  In our district, we are (of course) having conversations about the Common Core, but I think if we can teach students about how they learn, it won't matter in what career they eventually land or on which career path(s) they eventually follow.  Will Richardson (@willrich45) recently tweeted something that echoed my thoughts:  "Just thinking: Don't teach my kids (your subject here). Teach them how to learn (your subject here.)"

So, what kinds of things should kids (and adults) know about in terms of how to learn?  Here are some early morning thoughts . . .
  1. Given that brain research is revealing  more and more about how the brain stores & retains information, we should equip our students with as much as we know about the brain and learning (primacy-recency effect, dual coding theory, importance of sleep, rehearsal & practice, etc.).  Because this is such a dynamic area of research, we also will need to keep ourselves up to speed, and we should be transparent and model both our own learning processes and how we find the latest information about the brain.
  2. Speaking of finding the latest information, I can't imagine a more critical "how" than information literacy.  All the talk about digital natives sometimes causes people to confuse competence with comfort, but just because students are comfortable with a search engine doesn't mean they are competent with one.  Finding information (via RSS and other means) is a skill that is critical for knowing how to learn, but I'm afraid that it gets pushed to the back of line instead of being ushered to the front when it comes to learning.
  3. We live in a time when we can collaborate and connect globally with amazing people who can help us learn. Helping kids know about the social element of learning and helping them create their own personal learning networks & environments can only strengthen their ability to create them after they leave the K-12 environment.  Again, just because students are comfortable with social networks doesn't mean that they know how to leverage them for learning.
Answering DuFour's first question (what do we want kids to know?) is tough if we are preparing our students for a world where we don't know what they need to know.  We should be helping kids understand about how their brains work, how to best find information, and how to build a community of learning. If we can do that, we will do a far better service to our students than focusing solely on (your subject here).