Archive for November 2013

WordPress Multisite for Class Blogs – Why WordPress?

wordpress-multisite-graphic-500px

TL;DR

  • WordPress MultiSite is not the easiest blog tool for your class, but it offers a lot of advantages:
    • Professional standard web software (for free!)
    • Good opportunity to model with your own blog or site
    • Students have ownership of their own site to use as permanent digital portfolio

 

Any teacher who wants to set up a class blog for them and their students has a multitude of free and easy tools to use. I’ve seen teachers with absolutely minimal tech expertise set up whole class sites in KidBlog, for example, in less than an hour and with minimal coaching. You can find great tutorials on setting up an easy platform to get you and your students rolling immediately. This is not one of those tutorials. Given so many quick and easy options, this is the story of deliberately choosing an awkward and slow one. For my Intro to Digital Media class, I decided to take WordPress’ new Multisite mode out for a spin. Today, the first of a series in how it works for my students and I. First, though, why on Earth did I choose WordPress when there were so many easier options out there?

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Beyond GarageBand: iOS Recording

(cross-posted at ChoralNet)

TL;DR

  • Use GarageBand to assemble products
  • Bounce audio to effects processors and advanced editing using AudioCopy/AudioPaste
  • As with hardware, select an app meeting your level of need/expertise/time
Last week, we talked about some microphone options and ways to get audio into an iPad. There are a wide range of setups, from a simple single microphone to a full digital audio workstation, that let you record the audio that you want to work with and share. The next question is what apps to use to record, edit, and produce it. Like with the microphones, the best option will depend on how in-depth your project. You can use a very simple process to record a quick example for playback in rehearsal, but you may want to do more editing and production before you publish to the web. This is a very small sample of some of the tools that you have at your disposal however complex the process.

My Six Hats: The Job of an Educational Technologist

I help teachers and students use technology for more effective and efficient teaching and learning.

“Yes, but what do you do?”

Remember this one?

 

A quick survey of 20 Ed. Tech professionals at a conference will likely get you 20 different job descriptions, and at least 10 different job titles. So far in my brief Ed. Tech career, I’ve been an IT Coordinator, Director of Technology, Director of Educational Technology and now Director of Academic Technology. And yes, these are all indicative of different views of the role of Ed. Tech within a school structure or technology program, or the different areas of responsibility within the school.

Early in this school year, my new boss (himself a former INSERT TITLE WHICH INDICATES ED. TECH LEADERSHIP HERE) brainstormed the broad categories in which I should be involved. Since my position is a new one for the school and I was obviously new to the position, it was a good exercise is defining where my eyes should be. Here is what we came up with:

  • Curriculum. Technology integration requires looking at the curriculum of a school, both the capital ‘c’ Curriculum of the courses and the learning opportunities afforded by extracurricular clubs and activities. 
  • Device Program. A successful 1:1 program lives in both the educational and IT realms and requires an understanding of both. This is one of the greatest arguments for having a dedicated educational technology expert aside from whomever is in charge of the IT infrastructure of the campus.
  • Digital Culture. Technology integration requires a cultural shift as much as a pedagogical one (and it could be argued that these are in fact the same shift). As with curriculum, this requires addressing the world inside the classroom as well as the other areas of the campus. Where does innovation happen, and how is it celebrated? Do we have opportunities to showcase high-quality digital work as well as traditional/physical artifacts? What is the digital citizenship plan for the school? Why does it matter to teachers and students?
  • Faculty Development. Perhaps the most visible and constant aspect of Ed. Tech leadership is either working with faculty directly or producing training resources for faculty to use on their own. If one subscribes to the TPACK model, we are perhaps the most direct source for teachers wanting to increase their Technological- and Technological-Pedagogical knowledge. To my mind, this also includes my development and learning needs as well as PLN activities like blogging, which way go back to my own faculty or others around the world.
  • Infrastructure. This may be one of the greatest sources of variation in all of our positions– to what degree are we responsible for the infrastructure? I would argue (in another post, perhaps) that it’s imperative for the educational technologist to not have responsibility for managing the infrastructure. I feel very fortunate to be in a position now where I can focus exclusively on the teaching and learning, yet I have to be well-versed enough in the infrastructure to be the bridge between the educational and IT staff. To be effective, I think that we as Ed. Tech leaders have to be able to communicate the needs of the educational staff to the IT program, and vice versa. You don’t want me fixing your computer. You do want me, though, to know when your tech is failing or insufficient and tell someone why you need different hardware.
  • Teaching. Again, this is an area of huge variation in the field– how much, if any, do you still teach? Most of us are classroom teachers who walked down a very specialized field and began sharing that knowledge, passion and expertise until we found ourselves in a support role rather than a classroom one. In small or private schools, we may still teach a class or two (I have the opportunity to teach an elective in Digital Media, for example). In larger districts where the technologists work at the district office, there’s little to no opportunity to stay in the classroom.

These are my six hats– are yours different? How does your school define the role of the educational technologist?

Consequence-Free Planning

www.media.purdue.edu

TL;DR

  • Projects don’t have to be “digital” or “physical,” but can incorporate each at different stages of development.
  • Use digital planning even when creating a physical artifact
  • Digital planning allows students to create with a low consequence to failure

Digital Work is Not Binary

Debates about digital projects in the classroom often boil down to a question of “real” product vs. “digital product.” This debate appears in many forms: handwriting vs. typing, physical artifact vs. virtual one, the rigor and process of creating by hand vs. the “flashy” or “gimmicky” digital packaging. This “all on” or “all off” is an artificial line, though– a sign of us dancing awkwardly about work with technology instead of having immersive and transparent usage. A workflow which includes both digital and physical products renders this argument moot, and it gives us a peek into another way in which digital work can transcend the same-old process (Substitution or Augmentation) and create new and transformative opportunities (Modification or Redefinition).

Edudemic published a teacher profile on Friday of Cheryl Uy from the Shekou (China) International School. Cheryl’s students created art by using the iPad as a planning tool, then painting in watercolors the work that they had sketched out on the device. This allows students to create a physical artifact of their learning, and keep the traditional art-making skills of her curriculum, while creating consequence-free planning for her students.

Planning Should Not Be Painful

Intellectual courage, creativity and critical thinking require experimentation. They require, as James Jorasch put it, “putting in the hours and trying […] You don’t need to make a big leap–you need to take a thousand small steps.” In teaching this discipline to our students, we often have to push them through the barrier of realizing that they have to scrap the line of thinking/action/work that they’re currently in, and start over again. We celebrate the idea of the inventor hunched over the drawing table at midnight, throwing wadded-up drafts in the trash… but how to we get our students to enter that mindset?

Digital planning lets us reduce the “pain” of having to start over, modify, edit, revise or in any way tinker with and improve upon our work. Going back to Cheryl’s students, imagine if they painted their work, but then realized that they didn’t like the way two colors clashed? They’d have to start from scratch again. By planning in app-space first, an edit or undo command erases the offending article and lets a student try again without jeopardizing the rest of the work.

Finger Painting to Forming Hypotheses

Take the same thinking to any discipline, and opportunities appear to use digital planning as a way to fail safely and revise painlessly. We’re used to the idea of massively revising work in a word processor by dragging sentences or entire paragraphs and editing wholesale before a “final print.” That same thinking is at work in Cheryl’s design, as well as:

  • Music: Writing music electronically allows instant feedback in composition rather than having to wait to find someone to play it for you.
  • Science: Running simulations to predict outcomes prior to designing or conducting a lab experiment. Do the results match expected outcomes? Why or why not? Does this let students simulate work with otherwise limited or expensive resources prior to launching “the real thing?” Does it also allow them to form a more informed hypothesis in advance of running the lab?
  • History: Before creating a timeline, sketch it out in Skitch or Paper to ensure that all the key elements, pictures and text fit within the given space and have an effective layout. Encourage students to include design thinking and elements of visual/graphic design in the planning stage to create a more visually powerful result.

All of these result in a concrete physical artifact, but allow experimentation and design to happen in the digital space to reduce the consequence of experimentation. Overall, the easier it is to experiment with an idea, and the less painful the consequences of discarding it, the more willing our students will be to create and challenge themselves.

Recording High-Quality Audio on your iOS

(cross-posted at ChoralNet)

 

 

The iPad or iPhone are, out of the box, perfectly capable “home movie” devices, and can create decent video or audio recordings of your ensemble with the built-in camera app. Using a combination of some basic retail accessories and a couple of workarounds, though, you can make the iPad a fairly powerful portable recording and editing station. Over the next three weeks, we’ll explore some of the ways to expand the capabilites of an iPad for recording the kind of high-quality audio that you’d like to use with your ensemble. This week, we’ll start with the hardware.
Rules of Thumb (or No-Thumb)
If you have no money to invest in this project, but want to be a little more reliable in your recording, consider this quick tip: remember the first time you ever got a small film camera? How long did it take before you got your first pictures back with your thumb or a finger covering part of the lens? With digital cameras, it’s easy to see when your finger is in the way, but since we don’t listen to digital audio as we’re recording it, it can be hard to know when background noise is creeping into your recording. An additional challenge is that most people aren’t entirely sure where the microphone on your iPad is.
(There it is!)
Hard cases for the iPad tend not to move around much, but soft cases do, and they can cause handling noise to appear in your recording. To ensure that your recording is as background-noise-free as possible, consider removing it from a soft case, or finding a way to prop it up out of your hands (resting it on a table, for example).
Violating the $0 clause from above, there are now attachments which allow you to mount your iPad on a music stand or microphone boom, which would allow you to position the device ideally for recording. As with any sound system, though, if you have $1 to spend, $2 of it should go to…
The Microphone
When the iPad first came out, one of the loudest initial criticisms of it was that it didn’t have a USB port. Critics went so far as to way that without a way to expand the capabilities of the device via USB, the iPad was doomed from launch. Apple did make it possible to expand the device, though– they just wanted you to have to buy their hardware to do it. The music industry has caught up in a major way to the designs of Apple’s proprietary port, and there are dozens of iPad-specific microphones on the market now which use either the 30-pin or Lightning connectors (see below). Many of them are designed for podcasting and may not be sonically ideal for music, but there are also some which closely emulate our more traditional vocal mics.
One additional layer of complexity– iPads now have two types of ports on the market (as do iPhones): the 30-pin or the Lightning. 30-pin has been the staple of iOS devices since their invention. The iPad 2, still available to buy new, uses the 30-pin port. All of the newest generations of iPad use the Lightning port. When I refer to ports henceforth, I’ll assume that the two are interchangable, but if you are purchasing a microphone or accessory, make sure that you are purchasing the correct version for your device. I’ll point out any significant differences between 30-pin and Lightning when necessary.
(30-Pin on the left, Lightning on the right. h/t to gottabemobile.com)
Your choices for microphones fall into two broad categories: USB mics which will work with iPads, and dedicated iPad mics. Dedicated mics like the Apogee (Lightning-only) or the Rode iXY (30-pin) are designed to work natively with the iPad or iPhone, and provide significantly higher-quality area recording sound than the built-in microphone.
USB mics work by taking advantage of a quirk in Apple’s design: they began manufacturing a device called the Camera Connection Kit which allowed users to plug in USB cameras through Apple’s adapter. These kits are available in the 30-pin or Lightning versions, and were immediately jumped upon by all manners of iOS aficionados as a way to connect every type of USB device on the planet, including USB mics. The catch is that this is, in its heart, a workaround relying on a piece of hardware is was neither built for nor marketed to handle the kind of data that live audio recording takes, sometimes there are errors. Your mileage may vary, but there are enough cautionary tales of crashed apps or laggy audio to be wary of this solution and steer towards one of the mics designed to work directly with the device.
Beyond the Microphone
Mention must be paid to the next level up in your iPad recording options, which is a full Digital Audio interface. Most of the consumer-grade audio manufacturers have entered this field with an interface designed to connect to either the Lightning or 30-pin ports which allows for audio and MIDI in/out, may have preamps on board, and likely has both XLR and 1/4″ ports available (including 1/4″ headphone jack). These range in price anywhere from $100-$1500+. For recording a choral ensemble, some of these features like MIDI may not be relevant, but having dual 1/4″ jacks to record a proper stereo field, being able to use your existing microphones, and having a preamp built-in dramatically expand the potential of the iPad for recording live audio.
Now What?
In the next two weeks, we’ll take a look at what to do once it’s in the iPad– apps and workflows which allow to you edit and publish the audio directly from the device so that you can record and share your audio with your ensemble or a wider audience.
Do you have experience working with any of these devices? What do you use to record with your iPad? Join the conversation in the comments below!

Mining Gold from OER

TL;DR

  • Textbooks are inefficient when compared to open and available content.
  • Teachers should use Open Educational Resources (OER) as at least a supplement to, if not replacement to, textbooks in the classroom.
  • Different types of OER match different class design needs.

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Storing and Sharing Rehearsal Audio

(cross-posted at ChoralNet)

Are you still handing out practice CD’s? Are you not handing out anything at all? The ease of sharing audio with our singers has blown up the idea of the practice tape, and offers myriad ways to customize a practice resource depending on what you want to accomplish. Chris Russell wrote a post this week called “Using Soundcloud Out of Necessity” at Technology in Music Education (a must-follow for teachers). His post comes from the desire to allow students to record their own singing to use as an assessment, and he talks about the limitations of an iPad in that regard. What if you just need a way to share files with your singers? Let’s look at some options available.
The Legal
First, the debate about sharing recorded practice materials is extensive both from a conducting/pedagogy perspective and a legal/copyright one. I am not a legal scholar, and I am skipping this debate lest it dominate the larger idea here: distributing audio (whatever practice resources you’d like) to your musicians. In an educational setting, fair use includes distributing material to students who are considered enrolled in a course or institution– the intent being that if you could share it with x people within a class setting, you can share it with that same population x through an online portal. In general, whether in education or not, it’s now accepted that you best have any copyrighted material behind a password/login option whereby you can ensure that the scope is limited to your population, rather than the whole world. Again, please consider whatever limitations and implications of sharing copyrighted material online.
Not copyrighted? Go nuts.
The Webpage
The first iteration of distributing practice files online was posting to a webpage. This is certainly an option, and there are easy ways to create blogs and websites for your organization. Unless you’re going to add some additional components, though, it’s hard to restrict webpages and blogs to only members of an organization unless you create accounts for each person directly. There are cleaner ways to address this.
Cloud Storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive Pro, etc.)
Creating a folder in Google Drive or any cloud storage option is easy, and folders can be directly shared with individuals. This is closer to our intent– to share our files with a defined group of individuals. These programs all have ways to access files on a mobile device, meaning that our singers can load the files directly on their phones or tablets. They all require individual accounts, though, which again introduces a layer of complexity to our equation. An advantage of Google Drive is that Google Accounts are so ubiquitous (and apply to so many products) that many people already have them. If your singers use GMail, Google Calendar, or any other Google products, the same account will apply to the Google Drive.
SoundCloud
We’ve talked about SoundCloud in the past as a way to reflect upon and analyze a rehearsal, but Chris’ post describes it as a way to share audio with his group. SoundCloud offers a variety of options for communicating around music files, and is a great way to extend the rehearsal process. SoundCloud uses a content identification system (similar to YouTube) which scans files and attempts to identify if the audio matches anything requested for takedown by a copyright holder. If you are attempting to share an original recording of a pop song, for example, you may run afoul of the upload system. In addition, it’s yet to be seen how far-reaching these software ID systems will be as they develop. Arrangements of songs, for example, usually don’t get caught in the filters (especially if they’re general MIDI/keyboard sounds), but melodic analysis software may in the future be able to identify melody fragments more effectively, identifying arrangements as well as full songs.
What About You?
How do you share your files with your singers? Do you have advice about how to set this up with the members of your groups to share? Post below!

New Instruments and Soundmakers

(cross-posted at ChoralNet)

 

 

 (image: commons.wikimedia.org)
The only instrument that can match the sheer range of sounds available to the human voice is the synthesizer. While not capable of the incredible variation of tone, timbre and resonance of the voice, the synthesizer has a similar capability to create a diverse palette of tones and mix them in myriad unique combinations. Over the last 40 years, the synthesizer has been synonymous with the electric keyboard for most people, but now that computing hardware is smaller, more customizable and more economical, the capability to synthesize sounds is breaking out of the keyboard and into a variety of artistic tools. Developments such as Kickstarter, the Maker movement and “hackable” technology like Raspberry Pis and Arduino kits are allowing a whole generation of tinkerers, composers and sound artists to add tools to our musical imagination. While no means extensive, here are some of the more interesting ideas that have risen to the surface in recent months.
BeetBox
This Raspberry Pi-based project measures electrical resistance to generate pitch. Nothing new there– the theremin has done the same thing for years. The theremin, though, doesn’t also help you fill a basic food group.
Ototo
Looking like something from a high school science project, this kit of leads and a processor allow you to make anything into the “keyboard” or playing surface for an instrument (anything conductive, that is).
The Imaginary Marching Band
This tool begs for a collaborative music and dance project: finger triggers for a MIDI synthesizer. Since it’s based on MIDI, it can be run through other sound processors or editors as well, meaning it could be put to endless performance and recording instrumentation.

The Recycled Orchestra

Finally, while not a synthesizer project, a worthy reminder of finding music in odd instruments– and a bit of perspective the next time we all bemoan the state of our funding.