Just in time tech . . .

Google spreadsheets now lets you share editing by sending out a custom form. This is a huge deal. No, really. Huge.

It solves so many problems I see happening all the time in schools. This is such a great way to get large amounts of information from all sorts of people of varying technical skill levels so you have it one place to manipulate. No need for the hassle of Adobe PDF and the complications of those forms or the need to create custom web forms of various types. It’s free and dead simple.

I’m going to use it to collect testing information on programs for our upcoming Vista move. Previously, I was going to use cforms ii (awesome WordPress plug in by the way- especially if you need to fully customize the CSS- see an example I did for the NSDC here- it is real so don’t fill out fake info please). But there’s no real easy way to share that information. You could give people the password to the blog but that’s no always a good thing and the information that’s there is really just for looking at or exporting. I wanted something more dynamic. I think you could write some custom php pages and pull the info out but that’s a hassle and it takes time.

I was going to download the data, upload it into a Google spreadsheet and possibly push it out to an Exhibit front end (yes, I’m still in love with them). Major hassle for me in terms of keeping things updated as I’d have to add to the spreadsheet with each new entry to keep things up to date. Blah. I considered trying to write an Applescript to do it for me based on folder update changes but that’s more time and, if you’ve ever messed with Applescript, it’s likely to be a hassle.

Instead, I set up the spreadsheet to feed my data into Exhibit and send out a form. As you can see below it’s got the option to change the field names in the form, add help text etc. I never have to update. Anyone can use it. So very nice. I’ll post my example when I get it finished.


The bridge between these two platforms has never seemed more interesting to me.

  1. Easy to use, free and friendly data entry.
  2. An easy to set up “database” backend – yes I know it’s not relational blah blah but it’ll do for 99% of things normal human need (and I wonder if you linked a series of spreadsheets in the right ways . . . )
  3. A visual and friendly web front end for user interaction with the data using Exhibit.
  4. You need to know NO programming to do any of this. Some html, css will help but no php, mySQL, no real languages. That’s amazing.

Now start thinking of the cool things you can do with students, how you could save your school and district hours of useless work.

Asterpix – Part Deux – The Review

Through the magic of the Internet I got a comment from Nat Kausik who works for Asterpix. It still amazes me when this happens (and ups my faith that they’ll stick around because they are listening and responding to the user).

Nat requested a little more detail regarding what I’d like to see improved in Asterpix. I’m not really sure why he needs more information. I think “it’s not quite as slick as I’d like” is a pretty detailed and useful feedback. :)

Here is what I’d really like to be able to do with Asterpix in my dream world. Please note- I find Asterpix to be very useful right now and I intend to use it. I encourage others to use it. I really feel they’re providing something that no one else is and I’m very grateful for that. That being said, here’s what they could do that would result in my getting a “I Heart Asterpix” tattoo.

  1. I’d like much more control over my notes. I want to be able to control their shape, fill opacity/color, line thickness/color/opacity. In a really perfect world I’d be able to use a tool something like the polygon creator in Google Maps to plot points to make irregular objects.
  2. I’d like to know what html elements are supported in the notes. It may be on the site but I couldn’t find it.
  3. Not to get too crazy too soon but wouldn’t it be awesome if I could add images w/ png transparencies to the videos as notes. So when I came to a portion of the video talking about pineapples vs pears I could have an image of both pop up and become links to a web site or just contain information in note form based on user selection.
  4. Does a mouse over on a note have to pause the video? I can think of times when I’d like things to continue flowing and the text to remain up as long as the user keeps the mouse over the note. Could this be an option?
  5. I’d also like to be able to manually control the note’s time on screen if I choose to. Maybe I’d like to have a multiple choice option at a certain portion of a video but there’s no visible elements that work for a selection. Right now I’m stuck. My notes will only show up for a fraction of a second. Naturally, I could think of that when making the video and include the necessary visible elements but there are issues with that if the video is already made or is made by someone else (both of which will be likely be the case for most users). This might be done by expanding the rectangle on the time line or just typing in X seconds in the note box.
  6. If I make a note invisible, I don’t want it to show in the time line either. That’s more an educational and possible ARG type of need. If I’m making the note invisible I probably want people to have to search for it by carefully paying attention to information/clues. It’d be nice to be able to have no visible clue it’s there even on mouse over (if that option is selected).
  7. The way notes expand is semi-intuitive but my first instinct is to click on the note rather than on the expand square (maybe b/c I’m a Mac guy). It makes more sense to me to make clicking on the note expand it because if a link is included it’s designated in the text and you could click out that way. I understand that doing the opposite probably gets more people to Google (revenue?) but in the end I think a better user experience will result in more users over a longer period of time.
  8. That brings up the fact that if I don’t put in a URL link one is auto generated for me by Asterpix. I’m fine with that but I’d like it to be more clearly denoted. Right now, I can’t tell any difference in the normal view between links I’ve added and those created by Asterpix. I want it clear that while this link to Google may be useful it is not made by me. That’s key for a variety of reasons, user trust being the most important.

So that’s what I’d really like from Asterpix. I figure it should only keep a cadre of programmers busy for the next several years. And since it’s all free right now they’ll have no trouble paying them to indulge my desires. On the plus side, I really see some strong educational uses for this option. My wants might make things a little too sophisticated but maybe having two views is an option.

Can any of y’all think of anything you’d like to add/change/improve?

Asterpix- have I made any monumental blunders? It’s quite possible and I will gladly retract/modify/apologize. Let me know.

Free Screencast From Your Browser!


Amazing and free! This ought to make a lot of people happy and I like the social aspect of free hosting/sharing of screencast. The whole deal is a pretty neat trick using Java.

Screencast-O-Matic is the free and easy way to create a video recording of your screen (aka screencast) and upload it for free hosting all from your browser with no install!

The length is limited to 15 minutes but really that’s a good thing. I’d keep it way under 15 if at all possible.

Link via Kevin J. Amboe

“My Maps” from Google (an actual example)

My Google Maps Example

I figured after being so gushy about the My Maps option from Google I ought to make a good example.

So here is a good start on a territorial acquisition map of the United States of America. I did it free hand based on a number of different maps I found on wikipedia and a few other places- so it’s not perfect and it still needs some work but I think it shows what you can do with little effort. Yes, I promise the writing will improve :).

The map took about 45 minutes or so to make. Most of that time was spent looking at various maps. I also increased my speed after I figured out I could move points in polygons after I finished rather than having to start all over.

I also made a quick screencast covering the basics of the My Maps tools.

Hey!Watch Is A Seriously Cool Online Video Converter


Tom posted on a great webapp VIXY that captures flash-based video. I have used this app a dozen times since he showed it to me. I found a variation the theme with Hey!Watch. Hey!Watch lets users upload video and encode it for devices that range from iPods and Zunes to NintendoDS and PocketPCs. It also has a list of formats that will accommodate most of your needs.

You are free to transfer video from flash-based sites like YouTube, as well. They provide additional options if you subscribe, but the free service seems worth exploring. If I am reading the site info correctly, they will even let you automatically transfer video from an established podcast. The interface is simple enough that your average tech-minded teacher could upload raw video and have it converted to a format for display/distribution with ease.
via techcrunch

VIXY- Convert YouTube Videos to Many Formats

Jim and myself have often found great clips on YouTube or other online video sites but that site is blocked by our school filter. It was a pain to capture these videos and covert them but no longer. . .
Vixy will allow you to freely convert the flash video into a number of other formats including video iPod compatible. Just throw in the URL and presto chango.
Another neat option is the ability to choose an audio only version as an export. I have done this in the past the hard way with TED talks (highly recommended if you don’t checked them out) since I am too poor to afford a new video iPod.

Via Net@Night

-Edit 12-19

Another option to get YouTube videos

Like most teachers, I have to contend with the filtering of You Tube at work. The solution is fairly simple, just follow the download link at the top of the You Tube page to get the video, and rename the downloaded file with a .flv extension. Next, get the free FLV Player from here and be grateful to Martijn de Visser for this great little application (which you obviously need to install secretly in school!)

from Digital Geography

Calc5 and iJot: Online Utilities with Classroom Potential


I remember the expectation in my high school pre-calculus class was a graphing calculator–which cost more than I was willing (or able) to spend. Enter calc5: a free and online graphing calculator. Simply punch in your equation and hit “OK”. calc5 delivers a graphic representation of that equation. Have your students take a screen shot of it as part of a set of notes, or encourage them to tape it to their lockers (Hey, I’m a geek and proud of it). Honestly, I can’t remember what I would use this for, but I do remember feeling second class for not having a “state of the art” calculator in class. This is yet another example of using technology to level the playing field. Gives me warm fuzzies!

via Lifehacker


iJot lets you enter notes and then organize them into an outline. These notes can then be saved and/or shared with others. Might be a useful tool for the organization-challenged student, or could be used in a groupwork/collaborative setting.

via Lifehacker