Archives for July 2012

How to Setup Custom Flipboard Section for BbWorld

If you are looking for an elegant way on your mobile device to follow BbWorld and Bb Collaborate Connection Summit conversations on Twitter, consider creating a custom section on Flipboard for following saved Twitter searches #BbW12 and #BbCollab. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to do so.

I have my Flipboard sections configured and will be following the Twitter conversations at BbWorld via Flipboard on my iPad and iPhone. How about you?

How to Create a Course Podcast with Dropbox in 5 Easy Steps

This will be the first of a series of posts where I will share step-by-step tips for some customized online course development practices that I’ve recently attempted and found to be successful in my own online courses. Many of these tips will specifically deal with building a course in Blackboard, but the principles can certainly be applied to course design within other learning management systems.

For years, I’ve been a big fan of podcasts and have found them to be a fantastic tools for professional development as well as for fostering “presence” in my blended and online courses. As an auditory learner myself, I prefer to learn through audio in conjunction with text and have for years looked for ways to incorporate audio into my teaching. If you are brand new to podcasting, I encourage you to view this 8 minute introduction to podcasting I recorded a number of years ago as well as to read Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know About Podcasting for a background into the educational potential of podcasts.

While podcasts may not be for everyone, there is indeed no shortage of literature on podcast or evidence pointing to the educational benefits of podcasting. Here I’ve bookmarked just a few articles I’ve come across on the merits of podcasting in education.

Podcasts, whether they be audio or video, are viewable either online or a mobile device. A true podcast is far more than just an audio or video file, but also all a user to subscribe to receive new episodes automatically. For those who teach with Blackboard, there was at one time a very slick open source building block by the OSCELOT group (OSCELOT Podcaster) that replicated functionality pioneered by Learning Objects for creating and hosting podcasts directly within the course. This open source building block was broken when an institution upgraded to Blackboard Learn 9.x and at the time of this post, still isn’t yet working.

For that reason, I began several years ago experimenting with alternative approaches to creating a course podcast. My initial efforts involved creating a course podcast using Hipcast, but in search of a cheaper (ie: free) solution, I then tried using the free AudioBoo service for recording, posting, and sharing podcast episodes directly from my mobile device via the free AudioBoo app (version for iOS and Android available).

sample course podcast created with AudioBoo
sample course podcast created using AudioBoo, available at audioboo.fm/ionsn1111

After several other approaches, none of which were much more successful, I finally came across a workflow that has worked quite well for me for creating and hosting course podcasts using Audacity, Dropbox, Feeder, and FeedBurnerwhich I will do my best to share here. The tools and workflow that I am about to share is how I have gone about creating the following course podcasts:

  • Web Design Principles for Online Educators [RSS] [iTunes]
  • Using Technology to Build Learning Communities [RSS] [iTunes]
  • Trends and Future of Tech in Education [RSS] [iTunes]
  • Social Networking in Online Learning [RSS] [iTunes]

For that sake of this tutorial, I will be using my course podcast, EDT 6030 – Using Technology to Build Learning Communities as the sample course podcast I’ll be referring to as I provide additional details.

course podcast in iOS podcasts app
Sample course podcast found by searching in Podcasts app on iOS

Step 1: Record an Audio File (.mp3)

The very first technical task that must be completed is to simply record a file which will be the first episode of your podcast. Personally, before I record a podcast episode, I like to write a script that I read from when I record. In my course, when posting a link to the podcast episode, I include a link to the transcript for those who would prefer to read the transcript. Once I have a script, I then recording using Audacity on my computer. Audacity is a free audio recording software tool for either Mac or Windows that you can download from here. After downloading/installing Audacity, go ahead and record a sound file and export as a mp3 file. This will be your first podcast file. Save this file on your desktop.

Audacity running on Mac

Step 2: Setup Free Dropbox Account

If you don’t already have a free Dropbox account, click here and sign-up for your own account. Then, follow the instructions to install Dropbox on your computer(s) and setup a folder that will serve as your Dropbox. After having done so, you will locate on your computer within your Dropbox folder a “Public” folder.

**NOTE – For new accounts created after July 31, 2012, a Public folder won’t be created. Instead, individual files in any folder can be shared online. If you don’t have a Public folder, you’ll need to enable public access to that particular file.

Step 3: Create a Course Folder in Your Dropbox to Save Podcast Files to

Within your Dropbox Public folder (provided you setup your Dropbox account before July 31, 2012), create a folder for your course. I use a prefix of ~ in front of my course folders so I quickly can see which folders are course folders apart from other folders I may have.

Dropbox folders

Then, save the audio file(s) already recorded for your podcast into this newly-created course folder in your Dropbox.

After doing so, when you login to your Dropbox at dropbox.com, you’ll see this folder you created on your computer automatically uploaded to your Dropbox and any files you added will also be uploaded.

Here’s a quick video tour of my public Dropbox folder where my for my course audio files are located.

Step 3: Create Podcast RSS Feed

In order for students to subscribe to your podcast, you need to have an RSS feed for your podcast that students can subscribe to. I personally use and highly recommend the software Feeder for creating and editing podcast RSS feeds on Mac. A comparable tool that works well on Windows that I’ve also used and do also recommend is FeedForAll.

Using Feeder, give your podcast a title, description, add a thumbnail, etc. Basically, just fill in the fields that Feeder prompts you to create.

setting-up podcast feed

After adding feed details, then add the first episode (ie: “item”) to your podcast. To do so, you will just add a new item to the podcast feed and include the title and a description for the episode. You’ll also need to add the URL for where the episode file is located. Here’s a quick tutorial demonstrating how to create a podcast feed and add a new item.

Feeder creates a file with a .xml extension that I save within my Public folder in Dropbox, in a sub-folder I create for my course. When I save this file in my Dropbox public folder for my course, the public URL for my podcast feed then becomes: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7112775/~edt6030/podcast.xml. Technically, this is the file that students can subscribe. However, I recommend taking the following 2 steps to create a more user-friendly RSS feed that you can also track, as well as to submit your podcast feed to iTunes if you’d like easy access to your podcast.

Step 4: Create User-Friendly and Trackable Version of Your Podcast RSS Feed Using FeedBurner

While your students can technically subscribe to the RSS feed (.xml file) at the URL for that file located in your Dropbox folder, it is preferable to instead provide students with a FeedBurner version of your feed, for the following reasons:

  1. A FeedBurner version of the feed is a much more user-friendly version. Compare the following two versions of the same course podcast feed:

    Podcast native XML file
    Podcast feed XML file in native format displayed within browser

    FeedBurner version of podcast displayed within browser
    Same podcast feed, FeedBurner version displayed within the browser

  2. If you ever decide to move your podcast .xml file to another location, if students are subscribed to the FeedBurner version, they won’t ever have to re-subscribe.
  3. The FeedBurner version tracks number of subscribers and downloads. So, only providing students the FeedBurner version of your podcast feed, you’ll know how many are download and how many times each episode is downloaded.

Creating a FeedBurner of your podcast feed is quick and simple! Here’s a quick tutorial demonstrating the easy steps to create a user-friendly and trackable podcast feed using FeedBurner.

Step 5: Submit Your Podcast to iTunes for Easy Access for Your Students

This is technically an optional step, but one that I go through in order to make it easy for my students to find my podcasts from within iTunes or any of the many podcasting apps on mobile devices in order to subscribe.

To submit your feed to the iTunes Store:

  • Open iTunes.
  • Click the green iTunes Store icon on the left side of the iTunes window.
  • From the top navigation bar in the iTunes Store, click Podcasts.
  • From the Podcast Quick Links section on the right, click “Submit a Podcast.”
  • Follow the instructions on the Submit a Podcast page.
  • Note that you will need a valid iTunes account, and you will need to be logged into iTunes. If you are not logged in, iTunes will prompt you to enter your Apple ID and password before accepting your submission. Logging in increases the likelihood of valid contact information for each submission. You will not be charged for submitting a podcast.

    If you have created an RSS feed with all of the recommended iTunes tags, you will see a summary page immediately after you submit your feed URL. If you have not included , , and tags in your feed, you will see a second screen prompting you for this information. Please note that you can change this information at a later date by including the tags in your feed. Your RSS feed is considered the current and authoritative source for information about your podcast.

    Next Steps…

    At this point, you’ve completed your initial setup of your course podcast…congrats! From this point forward, you simply now maintain your podcast feed, recording new episodes and adding them as new items to your podcast feed. As you do so, your students will automatically receive your new episodes in whatever podcatcher they may prefer to use.

    More Samples

    Here are a few more samples of podcast-related resources and samples from my experience podcasting in my courses:

    Leave a comment and let me know if you found this tutorial helpful and/of if you have other questions about creating your own course podcast using these steps provided. I’d also love to take a peek at your own course podcast if you don’t mind sharing.

    UPDATE 5/8/14 – I recently learned of a new tool, JustCast, that removes the previous technical hurdles and makes podcasting using Dropbox super simple! See more details here.

Twitter and Informal Learning

Thanks to the post from Graham Attwell and successive mention by Nancy Rubin I came across the dissertation by Clint Lalond titled, The Twitter experience: The role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks that at first glance (see the abstract below), is another article in support appears to provide insights into the support of Twitter in professional development.

Abstract

This qualitative phenomenological study involving in-depth interviews with seven educators in K-12 and higher education examines the role that the microblogging service Twitter plays in the formation and development of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) among educators. A double hermeneutic data analysis shows that Twitter plays a role in the formation and development of PLNs by allowing educators to; engage in consistent and sustained dialogue with their PLN, access the collective knowledge of their PLN, amplify and promote more complex thoughts and ideas to a large audience, and expand their PLN using features unique to Twitter. This research also examines the nature of a PLN and shows that participants believe their PLN extends beyond their Twitter network to encompass both face-to-face and other ICT mediated relationships. Secondary research questions examine how Twitter differs from other social networking tools in mediating relationships within a PLN, what motivates an educator to develop a PLN, how trust is established in a PLN, what the expectations of reciprocity are within a PLN, and what is the nature of informal learning within a PLN.

Downcast – best podcatcher app for iOS

I have been a connoisseur of podcasts for years and up to this point, still subscribe to podcasts via iTunes on my computer and then sync my mobile device to my computer to get the content onto my computer. While this workflow has continued to suit me just fine, I have increasingly been wanting to “cut the cord” and not have to daily plug my iPhone or iPad into my computer to sync new podcasts.

When Apple announced the development of a stand-alone podcatcher app for iOS 6, I had high hopes for using this app in place of my iTunes downloading/syncing workflow. However, after trying the first iteration of this app, I was really disappointed with the unrefined and clunky UI, sluggish performance and numerous errors when attempting to download new episodes, along with many missing features that I had hoped for.

I had heard many positive reviews of Downcast and decided with an upcoming trip to BbWorld where I won’t have my laptop with me, it was time for me to spend the $1.99 and give Downcast a try. I am SOOOO glad I did! Downcast is a universal app (purchase once, download for both iPhone and iPad) and does an AMAZING job at allowing me to easily subscribe to, listen to, and organize my podcast subscriptions. Also included is iCloud syncing, so all the settings and content from one device are automatically synced to the other…stop listening to an episode on one device and pick up where you left off on another! It handles both audio and video episodes, and allows for speeding up playback up to 3X. Most importantly…it just works! I unfortunately can’t say the same for Apple’s podcasts app.

download Downcast

After just 1 day, I HIGHLY recommend Downcast and if you are an iOS user podcast junkie like me, you definitely won’t be disappointed. Here’s a quick tour of Downcast that I recorded on iPad giving a few more of my first impressions.

This screencast was recorded using Display Recorder on iPad, then shared to Dropbox and finally uploaded to YouTube. While Display Recorder does have built in direct upload to YouTube, I wasn’t able to get it to work.

Have you used Downcast? What is your favorite feature? Leave me a comment and share any tips you may have for other newbie Downcast users like me.

Reflections from my Students on the Value of Twitter Chats

TwitterIn my summer course that I just finished teaching, EDT 6060 – Trends and Future of Technology in Education, I tried for the very first time incorporating a required Twitter chat exercise into the weekly activities. My goal in doing so was to expand the discussion beyond the scope of the typical Blackboard discussion space and to encourage my students to begin engaging in conversations with others within the field. Since we were looking at current events within the field of educational technology, this was the perfect course to incorporate such an activity on Twitter given the plethora of resources and fantastic ongoing conversations that take place on Twitter.

At the conclusion of the course, my students reflected on their learning experiences in the course. Here are a few quotes from my students concerning the Twitter chats that I wanted to share here in support of these sort of social networking activities within the online learning environment:

Even if a teacher/colleague has not yet embraced technology, they should still try to read journal articles either in print or online to stay breadth of the current technologies being offered. Perhaps one of those articles will spark an interest – as it is that spark that will move us into action. I think that people are scared by Twitter or have not experienced it enough to know that it is a way to view up to date information on topics of interest. I would bet that many teacher view Twitter like they view Facebook, as I was one of those in the past. All it takes is one person to force the teachers to use Twitter and they will start to see the benefits. And, I would like to say thank you Dr. J. for forcing me to Twitter, as I love it!

I never thought Twitter could be used in such a professional way for my job! I am so thankful to add this skill to my ways to keep up with new and changing educational advances!

I feel really proud of the progress that I’ve made (using Twitter in this course), but there’s a whole world on Twitter to explore and learn more about edtech. The articles are fascinating!

Twitter is awesome! I will definitely be checking it often and am going to let staff know of its benefits next year.

For anyone interested, below are the instructions for the Twitter chat assignments that I included in my course syllabus. You’re welcome to make use of these instructions or revise for your specific needs. If you find this idea helpful and/or if you plan to try in your own teaching, leave me a comment and let me know!

Twitter Resource Sharing Chat Instructions

In addition to engaging in discussion with classmates via the discussion board in Blackboard, you will share resources and engage with the broader educational community regarding current trends and future of technology in education on Twitter. In doing so, you will continue to expand your perspective beyond the "walls of our course" on the issues we’ll be exploring together.personal learning network and expand your If you haven’t already setup a free Twitter account in a previous class, please do so and be prepared to “tweet” using it throughout the course. For more information on getting started with Twitter, see https://sites.google.com/site/twitterinedu

Each week, you are expected to post a minimum of 5 tweets per week using both hashtags #edt6060 and #edtechtrends (only tweets that include both hashtags will be considered as intended for this class chat via Twitter).

  • At least one tweet must have a link to an online resource regarding current technology trends of future of educational technology that hasn’t already been shared by your instructor or classmates thus far in the course
  • At least one tweet must have a link to an online resource related to the topic(s) from the required reading(s) for the week that hasn’t already been shared by your instructor of classmates thus far in the course.
  • At least one tweet must be a public reply to a fellow classmate (beginning your tweet @username of the Twitter user you are responding to).
  • At least one tweet must be a public reply or mention to someone else not a member of the class (including somewhere in your tweet @username of the Twitter user you are responding to or mentioning).
  • One tweet may be a retweet (RT) of someone else

Using your preferred Twitter client, save searches of hashtags #edt6060 and #edtechtrends and follow the streams for each hashtag throughout the course.

Also, make an effort to follow at least one new educator on Twitter each week. For a directory of educators on Twitter, you may want to search Twitter directories such as wefollow.com, twellow.com, or tweetfind.com