Fly the Friendly Classroom – Imation Wireless Video Extender

I’m just barely old enough to recall that sound through the speakers of an airplane: “*Ding* You are now free to move about the cabin.” It was never fun to know that I had to stay in one place, even if there wasn’t really any better place to be; sometimes I just wanted to know I could move around. (Of course, nowadays you’re discouraged from ever getting up unless you have to. Grumble grumble, get off my lawn.)

I feel the same way when I’m projecting my computer screen through a data projector. I want to move around, but the keyboard and mouse tie me down to the computer. Sure, there are some things I can do, like use a presentation remote to advance through PowerPoint slides while I walk around, or getting a remote keyboard that I can carry with me, but sometimes I just need to go back to the computer. That’s true even if I’m projecting from a laptop, which… is just wrong. The whole computer is portable, but because I have to be cabled in to the data projector, I’m stuck up at the front (if the classroom is well designed, at any rate) of the room, tied to the wall.

Doesn’t that just make you angry? Wouldn’t it be great if you could project from your laptop, but be wherever you want in the room? Even though walking around with a netbook or laptop in your hands is cumbersome, wouldn’t it be nice to have the choice?

There are many expensive data projectors that would allow such, but… I’m cheap. I want to find something inexpensive, have my cake and eat it too.

Meet the Imation Wireless Video Extender!Imation Wireless Video ExtenderThis device works on both Windows and Mac computers, and is comprised of two (or three, if you count an AC adapter as a separate piece) components. The USB dongle is plugged into your computer (so you do need to have a powered USB port available), while the curvy base station has a power adapter and the data projector plugged into it. (The base station can connect via VGA or HDMI, and will support sound from the computer, too.) Once the USB dongle is recognized, it loads the drivers onto your computer (from a USB key partition on the dongle itself; no downloading drivers needed). Depending on your operating system your computer may require a restart the first time the drivers are loaded, but after that your computer will recognize the device as being a separate screen on your computer.

On the computers I’ve tested this with, the default behavior is to make the data projector an extended desktop, which is perfect for running PowerPoint in Presenter’s Mode (where the slides show on the projector, but the presenter notes show on the laptop). Alternately you can just tell your computer to mirror the screens, and what you see on your laptop is what will show on the projector. Look Ma, no wires!

I have also tried extending my laptop to my TV using the HDMI connection from the base station, but quickly decided that my own television is not a good enough device to watch computer content on. (The colors were wacky, and the resolution was low enough to look bothersome. There’s a reason the purchase price of a monitor is higher than the purchase price of the same sized TV!) So, this isn’t what I’d want as a solution for watching video on my TV or anything, but so long as you’re piping to a data projector or additional computer monitor it seems to work very well.

And… given that at the time of writing this blog post the device is under $100 from Amazon, the price is fairly right, too. You are now free to move about the classroom. *Ding*

HHMI Holiday Lectures

One of the great educational treats at holiday time is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s holiday lecture series.  This year will mark the 18th annual presentation, titled “Viral Outbreak: The Science of Emerging Disease.”  There will be four lectures, two each delivered by Dr. Joseph L. DeRisi and Dr. Eva Harris:

“Infectious diseases are a serious threat to world health. They are particularly devastating in tropical countries where infectious agents thrive and where healthcare resources are stretched thin. The warming trend in the global climate, coupled with increased international travel, has resulted in infectious outbreaks that spread more rapidly and that now affect regions with more temperate climates, including the United States. Many diseases that had been contained, such as dengue fever, have re-emerged as global health threats. How can scientific research help us detect and fight potential epidemics? Join two leading virus researchers, Joe DeRisi and Eva Harris, as they discuss their strategies for combating today’s epidemics, while preparing for those of tomorrow.”

The lectures will be streamed lived at 10AM ET & PT on December 2 & 3.  They will be available on-demand after December 6, and will be available on DVD (free) in the spring of 2011.  If you are not familiar with the HHMI catalog of free,life science resources,and have an academic or professional interest in the life and medical sciences, you ought to be.  It is truly one of the great gifts the institution provides to us.

The holiday lectures have long been favorites of mine.  Some of the most memorable presentations (personally speaking) have been Sean B. Carroll’s series on evolutionEric Kandel’s series on memory, Evans and Friedman on “The Science of Fat,” and last year’s topic “Exploring Biodiversity: The Search for New Medicines,” by Olivera and Bassler.

It’s easy to suffer cynicism with academic publishers who exploit students with overpriced texts and other resources, and unnecessary “new” editions.  The free, highest possible quality resources, both technically and intellectually, from HHMI are a welcome counter-example.

A Paperless Environment

Paper iconWhile conducting faculty/staff interviews over the last few weeks in anticipation of an updated Technology Master Plan at our college, we asked users the following question:

Would you support a goal of creating a paperless environment at Palomar College, if it meant that you would not have access to printers and would have to rely on electronic versions of all documents?

The answers ranged from an enthusiastic “Absolutely” from those who recognized the value of conservation, green initiatives, and return on tech investments already made, to an equally enthusiastic–one might almost say threatening–“Absolutely NOT.”

Some opponents were simply scared by the notion and could not imagine doing business any other way than by using reams upon reams of paper and barrels of expensive toner.  Others were more thoughtful and pointed out that there are some documents and processes for which we do not have an adequate paperless correlative yet, like large-form plotter output or various legal documents that must, by law, be kept on file in physical locations.  Obviously there are answers for these objections, but at least they are good reasons.  (My favorite response was a guarded ‘Yes’ followed by, ‘As long as I can go on printing to meet my own needs’).

What is surprising about the question is that it found support of the enthusiastic variety (i.e., not counting those who hedged) among about 40% of respondents.  It is still the minority view,but a significant minority.

Faculty members particularly who also hold down full-time jobs noted that many companies have already made the move to the paperless environment.  Where money matters,commercial interests are already acting.  We have the technology in place to make a paperless environment a reality (that is, after we deploy some sort of electronic signature system, which we have so far failed to do) and, from our survey results I would say there is growing support for the idea, so where do we go from here?

I say take a gradualist approach, attacking the problem where it is easiest first.  And where might that be?  In the committee meeting.  Our college–and I suspect all colleges–have far too many committee meetings.  The organizers of the meeting usually distribute the documents to be discussed electronically, but with instructions to print the documents and bring them along.  When you arrive at the meeting, you find that the organizer has also printed a copy for everyone, to assist those who have forgotten to print them.  Usually only small parts of documents receive any significant discussion, and after the meeting, all those copies usually end up being filed (a delay in the journey to the shredder) or directly discarded.  Why not start here implementing a paperless environment.  If the organizational culture embraces paperless, it can start in a key area, like committee meetings, and spread to others.

While the academic arena would seem to be more problematic, with a significant number of students at our level not having access to computers at home, still, I think we could achieve a paperless environment even in the world of classroom instruction with the proper implementations of technologies that are already in place and paid for.

Something to think about for earth day.

Mary Cassoni: A Flip Video Project

Picture of Mary CassoniYesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Cassoni, one of the outstanding faculty members at Palomar College, who discussed her use of Flip video cameras in her Business 150, Advertising, class.  I have included the audio of the interview below, and it will become part of this month’s “roll-up” podcast (due out tomorrow, Feb. 26).

Briefly, Mary checked out 9 of the Flip video cameras from Academic Technology (we have a total of 10 for faculty check out).  She then gave one to each small group in her class and asked them to create their own 30-60 second video ad, including the elements they had discussed in class.  The students had a choice of creating an ad for Roberto’s, a local Mexican restaurant, or Chipotle, a national chain.  Mary then posted the videos to YouTube (none of the students had issues with this,of course) and they later discussed what they had learned in class.

Use of the Flip video cameras is becoming more popular because they are so easy to use.  So easy,in fact, that the cameras themselves contain no words on them (except for the name of the manufacturer).  It is truly point and shoot as far as the photography goes, and plug-and-play as far as uploading the video to computer goes.  Just flip a little USB connector out of the camera (thus the name) and plug it into a USB port on your computer, PC or Mac.  On the initial connection the Flip will load all the software it needs to transfer and manage video files and to create movies (even with background music if you wish) including software to transfer videos to YouTube or other video services.  Its simplicity makes it ideal for student projects.  The only real complaint I have about the camera is that it does not do a good job of capturing audio at a distance, which stands to reason.  The video quality is very good, much better than the video quality built into the new iPods, for example.

Flip video cameraFor Mary’s project the Flip was ideal.  It is so easy to use that the technology gets out of the way and allows the students to be inventive and then, without frills or time consuming edits, allows the instructor (or student) to place the video on YouTube for discussion.  Although Mary chose to make the student videos public–after ascertaining that students agreed to this–they could have easily been made private at YouTube, or, indeed, simply embedded in Mary’s Blackboard class for student consumption.  The advantage of making them public, as Mary says in the interview, is that students could show them off to their friends and families:  They were thinking about their assignment outside of class, something much to be desired.

I have provided links to the student videos below (with Mary’s permission) so that you can see the quality.  They are not highly polished because the goal was to keep it simple and include the elements a local vs. a national ad might have.  The ease-of-use of the technology guaranteed that the subject would be taught, rather than the technology–always the danger when highly polished results are pursued.  In any event, the videos are fun and creative, just another example of the use of new technology in education.

Here is the audio interview with Mary, play time = 14:23.

David Blaine: How I held my breath for 17 min | Video on

TED is one of the premiere web sites with quality video content ideal for stimulating student discussion and inspiration.  Today the producers of TED (Technology-Entertainment-Design) announced a new partnership with TEDMED–the same idea as TED with medical and health-related content.  For a sample, watch this incredible (and touchingly personal) video with magician David Blaine.

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.4511795&w=425&h=350&]

more about “David Blaine: How I held my breath fo…“, posted with vodpod