Thursday, July 14, 2011

QR Code Scavenger Hunt

Student scanning a QR Code
This time of year one of my favorite activities occurs, New Student Orientation (NSO).  Our incoming Freshman are so excited to be here; they are excited and eager - all in all the best audience you could ask for. Every summer I do a little introduction to technology at the college along with others on a panel, but this year I wanted to do something different. You see, we pride ourselves on being "Not your Momma's college of education," but how can we say that if we lecture to them for an hour or me? So went back and thought about what the goals from the session were, and really it came down to three things:
  1. Introduce them to people in the college
  2. Introduce them to the facilities available to them in the college
  3. Introduce them to the ideals and mission of the college
We started to brainstorm about the ways students could get that information, and we had an epiphany. What about a QR Code Scavenger Hunt!  I've used QR codes for about a year, and based on my last post you can probably tell that I am a fan, but how can we put these QR codes to work in a scavenger hunt context?  We came up with a list of stops in the building and what type of information we wanted/needed at each stop. We decided on having QR Codes link to videos (have to use youtube to play on iOS). Each stop had a video (30 sec or less - well we tried for 30 sec or less) by a diffirent staff/faculty member related to the topic. This way students got to see and "meet" various staff people, with the addded benefit of actually seeing the facilties, or departments they were talking about.

So where does the "scavenger hunt" part come in? Well we gave a clue at the end of each video about what their task would be.  Since they all would be using iPod Touch devices from the Media Center, we knew they would have the ability to take reqular pictures as well. So each task included them taking a picture of a particular obvject. The first group to get back to the main auditorium, with all the correct pictures would win our scavenger hunt.

I was amazed at how well it went over. Students were running around the building, getting to know their group members and seeing parts of our building (like the media center) that they may never have discovered. Now I know that some students cheated and fast forwarded to the end of the video, and were only in it to win. But I feel that we would have lost them in a long lecture anyways.

In the end it was a resounding success, and really only possible with technology. I am so thankful that the NSO group was open to try something like this and I think we might keep the QR Codes up so that our students can find out more information about the college!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Square Pegs - an outsiders conference journey

I've always been a Square Peg (see the TV show Square Pegs if you have no idea what I'm talking about, it was along time ago - so long that Sarah Jessica Parker had brown hair), and am OK with that. I don't exactly fit in a category, which I actually enjoy about myself, but can be a difficult thing when trying to go to conferences.  See I remember when I first came to college and I felt like I was surrounded by people that actually understood me. They had passions and quirks and I loved them all. I felt like this the first time I ever attended an ISTE conference (then NECC). I've been very lucky this year and have attended and presented at four conferences. But I haven't felt that "first-conference" moment in awhile. Sure it could be because the "newness" has rubbed off, or that the conferences haven't changed with the times, or it could be I'm going to wrong conferences.

You see, I don't teach in a K-12 school, and I'm not a professor in higher education, I'm an Instructional Technologist for a College of Education, there is no conference for me. I tried going to Educause in October and that was much more technical than I ever want to be. There were very few sessions on teaching with technology, but I did enjoy the ones I went to. It was relaxing to be in an environment that discussed my issues in higher education, but it didn't really fit my needs in teaching pre-service teachers. It felt more like a vendor showcase than a conference. Plus it was the most expensive conference I have ever been to.

Then I went to SITE, this I had high hopes for, and almost lived up to my expectations. SITE is for teacher educators that teach with technology - should be the perfect conference for me. But SITE focuses more on the research side of the house than the practical side of the house. Plus, since I'm not a faculty member, nor a researcher, but a staff member - I didn't meet anyone that did what I did. And maybe that is the crux at my issue - I haven't met someone that does what I do at at college of education. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel like I'm unique or special, I just haven't found a way to really connect with others in my field.

The next two conferences I attended were NCTIES and ISTE, both of them have a K-12 technology education focus and are great conferences. I am continually impressed by how NCTIES continues to grow and showcase such incredible sessions. And while NCTIES is my 10k, ISTE is my marathon of learning, where I just try to keep up with it all. I've been reading some critiques of the ISTE conference lately, from issues with the Keynote (not techie enough) and Spotlight Speakers (not fresh enough) to those that had issues with the cliques at the Blogger's Cafe to those that want to dispel the in-crowd myth of the Blogger's Cafe. To be honest I understand both sides of the coin. I don't really fit in at ISTE, and in the past I've been OK with that. I've (in the famous words of Tim Gunn) "made it work," and done my best to fit ISTE into what I do. I've made some great friends at ISTE, but I'm still an outsider to most in that world. I count on my PLN a good deal, I feel that I contribute, but I can only contribute so much from my perspective.

So next year I will have the big decision of what conferences do I go to, and what do I get out of that experience? In the end I need to balance my budget with my needs, and maybe I'll find another square-peg just like me.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Scratch Poster at ISTE 2011

It has been a long time since I have given a poster presentation, and I have never given one at ISTE before. I wasn't really sure what to expect, especially first thing  - 8 AM - on the first full day of the conference. What I really didn't expect was to be ambushed at 7:45 and not get a chance to even eat breakfast until it was over! I really enjoyed this format. I was able to give a quick 10 minute spiel, and then answer questions or discuss how they could use Scratch in their classrooms.
I had two goals when I created my poster:
  1. Use text sparingly
  2. Use QR Codes instead of handouts

I'm really proud of how my poster looks. As a former Graphic Art teacher, I love having the opportunity to play with Adobe InDesign. I tried to play off the colors in the program itself and use the same font as Scratch.

I thought QR Codes would be a great idea, and I had several on my poster. I linked to the following web pages:

This worked for about 60% of the people that stopped by. Either they didn't have a device to read QR codes, didn't know what they were or both. I had about 100 business cards that were gone in like 10 minutes. My goal at ISTE is to come home with the least amount of paper as possible - but that didn't seem to be the standard operating procedure.

All in all I had a great experience presenting a poster at ISTE, and I highly recommend presenting one!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Girl with the QR Code Tattoo

QR Code for my Twitter Feed
I've been on a bit of a QR Code binge lately. I've added them to business cards, put them on my ISTE poster and created a scavenger hunt for orientation (all of which I hope to blog about soon). But to top it all off I decided to make a QR Code Tattoo. Now I love to create funky things (You can see my so not edtech Flickr feed) and I like them even more if they are a tad but geeky (heck my other blog is called craftygeeks!) So I knew I wanted to make something with QR codes, but what? One day on Twitter I noticed Allanah King's Twitter avatar and asked her about it. She had earrings custom made with her QR code  how cool is that?!??! I thought of making my own earrings or necklace, but I wasn't sure I would have time to make something before ISTE

So I started looking at Etsy for QR code items - and I hit the jackpot - I found someone making QR Code Tattoos. They looked good and were reasonably priced, but then my friend Jonathan (@jelkimantis )stopped by in my office and said,

"You know you can buy your own Tattoo paper and make your own."

Well I just HAD to make my own now! On I found 5 sheets of tattoo paper for laser printers. It is some pretty cool stuff. So here are my steps for making a QR code tattoo:
  1. Get a QR code for your website! I used but plan on using in the future. It will shorten your URL (which makes a cleaner looking QR) as well as giving you a hit count. Plus I had some issues with getting my QR code read by non-iOS devices - not sure if it was a code or device issue.
  2. Save the image to your computer and place it in a document program. Personally I use Adobe InDesign, but I believe word would work just as well. 
  3. Duplicate this image as many times as will fit onto an 8x11 sheet of paper. I added my twitter name under my QR code as well.
  4. FLIP your image horizontally so that it is backwards. The way the Tattoo paper transfers the image - it is important it is reversed.
  5. Print a test page and test your qr code. If you hold the paper up to the light you can test the qr code through the back. (Or print before you flip your image and test)
  6. Follow the directions in your package - basically print on the special paper and then apply adhesive. 
  7. I then cut out all of my tattoos to apply when in Philly. They lasted a good 3 days!
I got some weird looks for my QR Tattoos, but more often than not I got the geek high-five and it worked as a great ice-breaker to meet people.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I read...for fun

I have a confession to make, I read a lot. For as long as I can remember I've been an avid reader. I still have fond memories of my local librarian in Winston-Salem (Ms. Orange) whom we would visit on a weekly basis. I met my husband because he was reading a book I didn't like (and subsequently told him so). I have read through the night, just to finish a good book. But my confession is this, I don't read academic books, or non-fiction books, I read fiction! The horror! Ever since I graduated with My Masters in 2009 I just haven't been able to get back into academic reading. I want to read The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch and Disrupting Class by Clay Christensen or even Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell . These are books I should be reading. But instead I get sucked into the Hunger Games Trilogy or the Sookie Stackhouse Books, or Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I enjoy these books and would rather do nothing more than spend an afternoon reading some new found story. But the books I should be reading, I just can't bring myself to. I don't know if I got burned out in grad school, need a break from the constant depression of what is wrong with education in America, or a little of both. So while most people are reading so-called "Beach Reads" - I pledge to read one "academic, non-fiction" book, but which one? Any ideas?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Re-designing Learning Spaces for a Laptop Environment

One of the things that I love about my job is that I never really know what my next project will be. This past year I became involved with furniture design. Not in the "lets start with wood and glue" kind of way, but in the "how do we make our open spaces more accommodating to students with laptops" way. We needed to rethink what defined a "learning space" and how we could make the open spaces of our building collaborative areas for students to work. We also wanted to re-think our Media Center space and how that could be made more collaborative.

One of the easiest and biggest changes we made was adding additional power. You could see students all huddled around the power outlets to charge their many devices. We added 16 outlets to each of our atriums - the large gathering spaces in the foyers (i.e. atriums) of our building. This was probably the biggest investment we could have made. We immediately saw students using these areas more.

We then had to think about furniture in those spaces. It needed to be multi-functional (we have "social" events there) and movable, but not so movable students would walk away with it and furnish their dorm rooms with it. In the end we decided on a large collaborative table (seats 6) at cafe height (see how I use those designer terms - I tell you I have a new calling) that had lamps that could be removed and be transformed into a serving buffet. Then we set-up one Atrium to be more comfortable, with lounge chairs and the other atrium with more tables and chairs. On the two-top tables we added plug extenders and lamps that I used zip-ties to attach the cables to the table pedestal. This allowed for cord management, but provided just a bit more of a deterrent for would be thieves. The four-top tables are movable and can be reconfigured to fit our needs. Overall for the past few months we have seen students using the area in all the ways we have intended  and nothing has gone missing!

The Media Center I was less involved with, but just as proud of. They did an excellent job of creating collaborative spaces for students to work together on projects as well as keep places for individuals to do homework or study. My favorite spots are the meeting areas that allow for six laptops to be connected and then switch between users. It truly demonstrates what a 21st century learning space can be!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

U-Streaming Tech Tuesdays

I have been conducting Tech Tuesdays (or it's previous carnation Wired Wednesday) for the past few years. Slowly, bit by bit I have had lower and lower attendance. I wasn't completely discouraged, faculty would ask if sessions would be taped and available later, so I felt that the content was worthwhile. I just could never get the timing right. Last year I started Ustreaming my classes. This did several things for me. 
  1. I was able to record my class easily - you can stream and record. Not only that  it automatically posts. I didn't have to go through the extra hassle of getting my video internet ready.
  2. I was able to stream my class that may be of interest to faculty that can't be on campus, or others in education that are interested.
  3. It created an automatic back-channel through the Ustream chat (once we got passed the do not watch the video as you sit in class - created sound)
My graduate student would stream and record my sessions as well as man the chat to see if there were any questions. By the end of the Fall semester my number of participants dropped to one maybe two people and they were always the same people. I decided to be more economical with my time and this year decided to only Ustream. One of the downfalls of Ustreaming a live class is that it can be difficult to capture the teacher's screen. Another issue was that most of my classes are centered around discussion or activties - not really stream or recording friendly activties. I really wanted these videos to serve as a resource for my faculty. So I decided to focus on the quality of my Ustreams and to stream out of my office in a controlled evnironment.
I used the video camera I traditionally stream with (Sony Handycam - it is a miniDV cam, but has a Firewire port that I can connect to my laptop), and shared my screen as well. In effect creating a streaming screencast. It took me awhile to finally get my settings down, but by the third Ustream we were working well.
At first I was having screen resolution issues. My audience could not read the words on my screen, especially when I was demoing an application. I have an excellent Internet connection so I decided to transmit with "Best SD Quality 16:9" I also had to lower my screen resolution on my own machine to 800x600. I recommend you change your screen resolution and close all un-needed applications before starting a UStream. I found that the application Backdrop on a Mac is perfect for hiding your messy desktop!
Then I set-up a few input scenarios. I wanted to be able to change form a talking head to a talking head with a screencast (PiP - Picture-in-Picture) to a screencast only - all while keeping the same audio input from my camera. Luckily, Ustream Producer will allow you to create these presets and save them. However I did run into audio issues (especially in my first Ustream). I found that I needed to test these pre-sets every time. I also needed to mute the audio on my computer so I wouldn't get re-verb issues. Once you start a stream, in order to change your settings or add more inputs you have to stop the stream, fix your issues and then re-start.
Eventually, my graduate student Preference and I had a good groove going. Fifteen minutes before we started we would get everything set-up, I would practice streaming with all of my inputs and she would sit next to me with a laptop tuned in wearing headphones. She also ran the chat for me while I talked. I could only do so many things at once, plus it messed with my screencast.
Overall my attendance was better we had up to 16 attendees for one session and as low as 2 for another. However, now I also have some great resource videos that I can use at a later date.
First Ustream Screencast (audio issues)

Latest Ustream Screencast - much better :)

If you have any suggestions to make my Ustreams better or topics that would endear themselves to a Tech Tuesday - please let me know. Check out my Ustream channel at Who knows what I will do next year!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The world lost an incredible photograper, and we lost a friend

(This is an incredibly personal post)
I met my husband in college at the Agromeck (our yearbook at NC State), working on the third floor of Witherspoon Student Center with the rest of Student Media. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was joining a fraternity, not a real one, but one that just happens because you all share the same passion and dreams. I became part of a group of friends that I have known and loved for over 15 years. We've been to each others weddings, been there for the births of our children, and supported each other when no one else could. We may not always be as close as we once were, but are always there for each other when we need to be.
Source: Getty Images
This week we lost one of our own. Chris Hondros died in Libya this week. He was a war photographer, and one of my husband's best friends. Chris always had adventures wherever he went, from New York City or Athens GA, and if you were lucky you could go along with him. His adventures took him all over the world. He reported on war in a way I didn't think was possible, without judgment. He wanted to show the horrors of conflict, but never blamed the military, or the troops he was stationed with. He told their stories honestly and openly. He knew what he was getting into, but that doesn't make this any easier. I didn't know him as well as some, and even less than others, but Chris had a huge impact on my life and my group of friends. I was proud to know him and call him my friend.

Show your students his pictures and discuss what happens in war. That it is never neat or easy. That just because a war doesn't happen in your backyard doesn't mean it doesn't effect you. That a picture can say a thousand more words than I ever could. Thank you for the indulgence of this post. 

So have a vodka martini, listen to some Mahler and think of Chris Hondros for me.

Friday, March 4, 2011

iPads vs. Laptops - NCTIES presentation

This week I had the honor of presenting at NCTIES about iPads in education. One of the questions I always get when talking to educators about iPads (and disclaimer - I love mine) is if they will replace laptops in a 1:1 environment. I wanted my presentation to not be about how awesome the iPad is, but a critical assessment of the pros and cons of implementing iPads in a school environment. My goal was to not give a definitive answer about which was better, because every school has different needs, but more to highlight what IT needs to look at in implementing iPads and how they are different from a laptop environment. I felt the presentation went well overall, although I did feel that some people in the audience really wanted me to just say one way or another which one is better.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tech Tuesdays

I love conducting workshops and in the past I have had great attendance from our faculty. I typically do a few workshops throughout the year and also conduct a bi-weekly brownbag tech session called either Tech Tuesday or Wired Wednesday. We try to stream and record those sessions using Ustream. However, over the past year we've had a significant decrease in attendance. I've been brainstorming with my colleagues about why this could be happening; are the topics not interesting? is the time bad? do my faculty just not have time to come? is it a combination of them all? I don't want to give up on my sessions, but I can't devote time and effort to something that no one shows up for.

So this semester I will be trying something different.  All of our Tech Tuesday sessions will be streamed live from my office. Instead of having a hybrid model of in person and online we will be completely online. I hope this will allow me to give the online participants more attention as well as create a better product to be viewed later. I'm worried how some of my session topics will lend themselves to this online format, but I'm sure we will find a way. I also hope that this will give others outside the college the opportunity to join us on a regular basis. Here is our Tech Tuesday schedule:

February 1st Web 2.0 Tools and how they fit within the Digital Blooms Taxonomy
February 15th Creating Screencasts to share with your students
March 1st Keeping up to date with news and information using RSS and Google Reader
March 15th Using Smartboards in the classroom
March 29th Integrating Turning Point Clickers in your classroom
April 12th iPads for Teaching & Learning

Our Ustream channel is at

View one of our older sessions to ensure you can see the video and hear the audio.  In order to watch the live stream you will not need a Ustream account. However, if you would like to participate in the chat you will need to sign-in. You can sign-in with a Facebook account, a Google account, a Yahoo account, an OpenID account, OR you can create a Ustream account. If you would like to create a UStream account, please do so before the session.

I hope to see you all on Tuesday!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Finding my Purpose

I have found myself wondering aimlessly in the past few months. So much of last semester was wrapped up in my trip to China, that everything else has been reactionary. I have found myself barely trying to keep above water and my life a series of questions and answers. I haven't blogged, I haven't tweeted and I have barely facebooked. I have cut myself off from the one community that could have supported me, and I'm not really sure why. One of the blogs that I read recommended everyone chose a word for the year, and have that word as a theme direct your plans and vision for the year. So my word for the year is purposeful. I will be purposeful with how I use and organize my time. I will find the time to do the things that matter to me and I will work on continually finding my purpose in life.