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Thinking about learning.

Over the past few months I have spent a great deal of time thinking about learning. Clearly, having applied for and been accepted into a PhD program, I’ve been thinking about my own learning. But part of that process was thinking about how others learn.

I knew I didn’t want to take a very scientific route and figure out what happens in the brain that allows learning to happen. Although that sounds very interesting, it wasn’t really at the heart of my question. My question? Hmmm. I have a question? Well, yes, I guess I must. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I know that I will eventually have to settle on one and write about it or else I’ll never write a dissertation.

Perhaps a good place to start is to look at how, why, if, and when technology has an impact on the learning process.” There is a lot wrapped up in that though, so perhaps that needs to be four discrete questions:
• How technology has an impact on the learning process.
• Why technology has an impact on the learning process.
• If technology has an impact on the learning process.
• When technology has an impact on the learning process.

At first glance those last two questions appear as if they need to be combined. If technology does NOT have an impact on the learning process then the when is irrelevant. But if technology DOES have an impact on the learning process, then “when” becomes a very important follow up question.

Theme

My previous Word Press theme was Hemingway.  I really like it – it was different, it was clean.  Unfortnatly, it was also kind of boring.  There were no widget available and it listed only the last 10 entries and there was no way to go further back than that.

So I poked around at the existing listed themes at wordpress.com and found this new one.  This does not mean I’m stuck forever on this new one.  Where do you get your WP themes?  What do you like and dislike when looking at a blog page?  What widgets do you like to see and which do you definitely like to NOT see.

SnapSession: Zamzar

Have you ever gotten a file in PDF and wanted it to be a word document? How about a file in a format your computer can’t open? Ever wanted to read a great article but didn’t have the time, even though you have plenty of time during your commute (too bad you have to watch the road to drive).

Well, Zamzar.com may be the answer to your addressing your needs.

A while back someone sent me a pptx file and I don’t have the latest version of PowerPoint, so I did a search and found Zamzar – which promptly converted the file from pptx to ppt for me and I was a happy camper.

Not that much later, a good industry colleague, Lisa Thumann, noted in her Twitter stream (@lthumann) that Zamzar could convert to an mp3 file also. WOW!! I’d been searching around for a product to do just that very thing. I’d found a couple of Web 2.0 product that did this same thing, but neither really met my needs. Zamzar is a free service.

You visit their web page at http://www.zamzar.com and to convert any document you use the browse button to locate your document. You then tell Zamzar what format you want the document converted into. Next, you provide your email address and then click the convert button. The file formats you can convert to will depend on what the file format is of the document you are trying to convert, but Zamzar is smart enough to know what can be converted to what.

The full list of files it can convert to are: Image (bmp, dwg, dxf, gif, ico, jpg, pcx, png, tga, tiff, wbmp, wmf), Doc (csv, doc, docx, html, odp, ods, odt, pcx, pdf, ppt, pptx, ps, pub, rtf, txt, wpp, wps, xls, xlsx, xml), Music (aac, ac3, flac, m4a, mmf, mp3, ogg, ra, ram, wav, wma), Video (3gp, 3gz, avi, flv, gvi, iphone, ipod, m4v, mov, mp4, mpg, ogg, rm, rmvb, vob, wmv), and Other (7z, tar.bz2, cab, lzh, rar, tar, tar.gz, yz1, zip). I submitted a 3MB file (more or less) called ELI Authentic Learning for the 21st Century.pdf to be converted to an mp3 file (to eventually be uploaded to my iphone to listen to in the car or on the train).

The file took roughly 20 minutes to be uploaded, converted, and sent to me by email. This was quick. I’ve had files take MUCH longer than that. Zamzar does have a paid for service. The free services only lets you convert up to a 100MB file each time, does not give you online storage, and queues your request at the bottom of the chain (behind those who have paid accounts). The more you pay, the larger the file you can covert and the quicker you get your file converted (that seems fair to me). 100MB might seem like a lot, and if you are only doing documents, it fine – but once you start converting music or video files, the 100MB might not be enough.

My first pass at trying to convert a pdf to mp3 was not so successful. I’ve done so from .doc to mp3 no problems. The file I got back from Zamzar was a 1kb file (so I knew there was a problem right there) and it played nothing. I tried converting it again. I knew this would take me outside of the 15 minutes usually put aside for a SnapSession, but I felt this topic was worth the extra time.

While I was waiting for the conversion I decided to try converting the pdf to a doc and then to an mp3, just to see if there was a difference. Even though I converted the mp3 file first, the doc file came back first – which only makes sense (it’s smaller). This time it took close to 30 minutes. The mp3 file came back about 5 minutes later.

The mp3 file once again came back as a 1kb file. The word document came back not as a word document but as a picture document in word. Which means it cannot be edited. I’m going to write to tech support to find out why this is happening and I’ll do another blog posting once I know why. One of the things about a free account is that they have a 1 week window to respond to support requests. Let’s see how long it really takes.

Help Comparing Netbook Models

(the following was also posted to the SLED list.  I will [hopefully] add any helpful info posted there into comments here)

Sorry to repost a similar message, and thanks to the folks who responded to me off list, but things have gotten a bit more complicated.

I’m a Mac user, so my exposure to the PC side of things is quite limited.  So I’m inquiring with my colleagues for assistance.

I’m looking for a small “netbook” type computer to drag back and forth into the City with me for classes and also to take to conferences, etc..  I don’t expect it will be my primary machine (given I’m a Mac user) but I do need something reliable.  The prices are such now that it almost doesn’t make sense NOT to buy one.  I”ll need it for email, documents (word, excel, etc..), probably also some simple web work, spss, things like that.  The one big exception to the “simple” stuff, is that I need it to run SL.

I originally started looking at the Acer, since a friend has one and its not bad (although I fat finger things all the time).  Now, some kind folks have added a few models to the mix and I wanted to know what others who might have had experience with some of this might think.

Just as an FYI – I want the unit to be small and portable – not looking for a 14+” replacement [snicker - no comments], I”m also looking to keep it under $500, preferably closer to the $350-400 I’ve seen for each of the models below.

The four models are (alphabetically):
Acer Aspire One 10.1
Asus EEE 1000HE
Dell Mini 9
Lenovo S10

Anything you can add to my information base on these would be greatly appreciated.

p.s. – rumor has it that Mac is coming out with a netbook over the summer, anyone else hear that or know more?

.swf to .mov

I have a problem and I’m hoping someone out there in the ether can help. I have these files, machinima, I filmed using Jing and saved up on Screencast. I download the files and the format is .swf. What I want/need is something I can bring into iMovie to be edited and end up looking something like this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6C3M_2ugio

I did find a free tool but as you can see it overlays its logo intermittently across the screen.

We do have Adobe Flash on the computer I am using, and one would think it would be easy enough to open a flash file (swf) and do a save ad, but the save options (other than save all) are grayed out. I searched the help within Adobe Flash, which yielded nothing. I’ve also searched via Google and, even though I specify Mac, I get a ton of tools that are Windows only.

There has GOT to be a way to do this – without having a logo float across the screen. The application was $100 to get a version that does not float the logo and its just not worth it for such a short time limited use (plus our budget is busted anyway).

Anyone else have any other ideas?

Mish Mash

Today’s post will probably be a mish-mosh of thoughts and ideas because I don’t have an app right in front of my that I’m dying to try out.  If you have a web 2.0 app you really like, drop me a note in comments below or by email.

I’ve been on this crusade to try and find a product that will take a word or pdf document and convert it into something I can load up onto my iPhone so I can listen to these things in the car and on the train.  As I begin the journey down the gilded doctoral road, time is a real issue for me.  Working full-time and going to school is going to be a great challenge.  I had no issues with the work load (I say that now), and by that I mean, I’m not adverse to working hard, but at this moment – time is my enemy.

I need to figure out ways to make the best use of all the time in my day and converting documents, pdfs and even emails to an audio file to listen to during my commute would be one great way to do that.

I’d originally been looking into iSpeech and ReadTheWords, and perhaps I will get back to them as some point, but both have caused me some frustration in trying to figure them out and that is not a really good sign.  I started with ReadTheWords (RTW) and actually got a document converted.  The free service has a limit on how many words it will convert and so I dropped this short article into the system and, eventually, out popped this link to an audio file.  Cool, so far.  Turns out that only the abstract of this 5 page paper was converted.  I hate to think how long it would have taken for all five pages to convert!

So, I was ok with this so far – it was just a test, and the free product, so I tried to save the file down to my hard drive so I could move it into iTunes and upload it to my iPhone.  [nasty 'wrong' game show buzzer sound]  No such luck.  Not only couldn’t I figure it out, but the directions I got (minimal) didn’t work either.  So I gave up.

On a customer service front, I did write to them to ask if I signed up for one of their plans could I upgrade without a problem, and I did get a nice response back – so they get good marks on that.  I imagine, when I decided to start looking into this again, I’ll probably give RTW another look.

iSpeech is a different story altogether.  In order to use their “free” service, they make you enter your credit card.  See, the service is free for the first 15 days and then they give you a 30 day money back guarantee – but you have to give them your credit card info up front.  I was not real happy about this, but I said – well, why not – if I want to kick the tires on the service, I guess I have to.  So I used a credit card I never charge onto and I know would back me up if there were any problems. [nasty game show buzzer sound again] I got an error page telling me my first name was invalid.

AJ

AJ

Thanks my first name.  Thats the name on the card.

AJ

Ya know what – you’re out – only two strikes, but you’ve been too hard to deal with BEFORE the sale.  If something is tough like this before the sale, how are they going to be once they have your money.

So my trek for the document to voice conversion goes on.  I’m open for any other suggestions.  In the meantime, I wrote to Hunch, since I never got my invitation – and within a few minutes – there is was.  Good customer services.  Maybe that’s what I’ll check out for a SnapSession next week.

More to come….

SnapSession: Go2Web20.Net

Some folks have asked where I get ideas for web 2.0 application to try out so today I decided to talk briefly about that process.

Most of the time I will check out applications that friends and colleagues have recommended.  To that end, if you have a web 2.0 app you really like, send it along and perhaps I’ll do a SnapSession on it.  I will also, often, get recommendations from some of the listserves I’m on.

When the well has run a bit dry I check out http://go2web20.net.  Be prepared however, they list 47 applications on each page and currently have 48 pages (that’s over 2,256 apps!)  The good news is that if you are looking for something in particular, I’ve found their search narrows the field pretty well.  First, a real world use of my own from a few weeks ago and then a bit about what I did just now to prepare for this blog posting.

As I begin to prepare for starting my PhD program, I am trying to find a way to maximize my time in the car and, eventually, by train getting from NY into NYC.  I’d love to be able to convert from a text (word, pdf, etc…) to a podcast so I can listen to some of the many things I’ll need to be reading.  After a search on http://go2web20.net I found a list of 12 application, but only less than a handful were applicable.  When you hover over an icon you get a short description.  If you want to know more you link to an intermediary page with more detail before actually linking to the application web site.

I narrowed my list down to 2 likely and 2 unlikely options.  I started asking around on the four apps I found but only one or two people responded.  The two best candidates were iSpeech and ReadThe Words.com.  Thanks to an online friend, Margaret, who did some great legwork (since she was interested anyway), I got more info on how these two work and I hope to be blogging about them soon.  These won’t be SnapSessions because they have (and will) take more then the requisite 15 minutes to look into.  The other two apps were Odiigo and Vozme, but neither were appropriate for what I was looking for.

Just to give you an idea of how productive just poking around at go2web20 can be, I started on the first page and hovered over each icon.  I did this for two pages and found three things of interest.  Check that, I found a lot of things of interest, but many were duplicates of products I am already using or don’t need at the moment.

I did check into Hunch, and even went to their page and requested an invite.  Hunch claims to be able to help with decision making in 10 questions and I’m interested in seeing how this one works.  You can bet I’ll be writing on this one more.  The other two were Twerbose and Twitizen.  Twerbose allows you to Tweet using more than 140 characters and Tweetizen allows you to make Twitter groups.  Both were of interested, the groups more than anything, but I decided that I’m not sure I want to see Tweets over 140 characters and I didn’t want to give Tweetizen my Twitter U/N and PW.

More to come….

SnapSession: TextTheMob

Sarah Robbins recently told me about a presentation she did using a Web 2.0 tool called TextTheMob.  The tool is designed to get the audience involved in the presentation, lecture, class, event, etc….  I decided to check this tool out to see how well it passes the 15 minute SnapSession test.

Set up was pretty easy, trying to figure out how to use it was a bit harder.  For instance, I was looking for a URL to give to people in order to see the poll and how to do that was not intuitive.  When I launched my survey I eventually found it – so again, not so complicated, but it would have been nice to have that information on the info pages leading up to the “launch”.  All in all, a little poking around and this could be a useful tool when used properly.

The big assumption here is that people in your audience have a cell phone or computer they can use and that they are willing to use it.  I would think, most people have cell phones, so it wouldn’t be a problem to get them engaged using them.  I guess this would actually depend on the age of the audience (I hate to say that) and the text messaging plan of the individual.

Clearly younger people are much more facile using text messages.  I’ve watched my 15 year old niece use her non-QWERTY keyboard cell phone and text at a mile a minute.  I am not nearly that fast and I have a full keyboard (iPhone) and my mom, who does text back and forth to my niece, can do it but is much slower.  I don’t think this has anything to do with ability as much as it is just being accustomed to doing it.

So, I decided to make my first attempt using TextTheMob a test to see if people would use this tool as an audience member.

I provided the first answer.  The question is:  When attending a presentation, lecture, or class, would you ever use an SMS (text msg) or Mobile Web based tool to participate? and the answer options are Definitely Yes, Yes, Probably, Probably Not, No, and Definitely Not.  First, I noticed that TTM only allowed for 5 answers at first, you need to “ask” for more if you want.  I’m partial to even number answers, since I believe most people will take the “middle” option if the case of a “draw” or “not sure”.  Even options force the respondent to pick one side or the other.  So, in my sample above, you have to be for or against, even with the probably option available.

The web page that comes up clearly does not like the 6th option since it is not even on the screen.  The web page one can go to in order to “vote” via the web – the initial display is fairly simple but the results display in unattractive and will be unclear to many.

The instructions one is given on the web page are

To vote, text
RETURN   ID675   option
to 41411

For example send “RETURN
ID675   1

to vote for the first option.

or go to
http://m.textthe
mob.com/id675

[Standard messaging fees apply]

So – the question is open to you.  Please text your answers (per the texting instructions about) or visit the web page and reply there.  Once you’ve done so, I’m interested in hear more about what you think of the tool and the results.  Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Old posts never die, they come to WordPress

I’m tired of trying to maintain more than one blog.  I didn’t do this on purpose.  Over time, I’ve started one blog, then another, then another.  As mentioned recently, I’ve finally decided I like WordPress the best (at least for now).  So what I’ve just started doing is to bring old blog posts from other blogs to this blog.  Since WordPress allows one to date (or pre-date, in this case) a post, I can keep the time line continuity.

So, if you follow this blog, you will begin to see posts pop up that are predating today’s date.  Now you know why.  Feel free to comment on these older posts if you wish, it might spawn a new post – who knows!  :-)