Friday, October 31, 2008

tt4t_061 Its Halloween do you know where your backup is?

It’s Friday, October 31st, 2008 and welcome to episode 61 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Happy Halloween everyone! This week a couple of experiences have reminded me of the importance of backing up your computer files. I received a call earlier this week from a staff member that accidentally deleted a folder on their computer and all the files in the folder. Of course I asked if they had a backup and you can guess what the answer was.

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Once you delete a file and empty the recycle bin then it is extremely difficult to undelete the files. It may be impossible without the help of a FBI computer forensic team or dedicated expensive program that may be able to undelete something that is if another file has not already been saved over the files you are trying to recover. If the data has been overwritten there may be no hope of recovering the files.

There is always a chance that deleted files may be recovered because when you delete a file the computer basically deletes the indexing information that is used to point to the location of the file storage area on the hard disk, if an undelete program can recover this indexing information then there is a chance (although remote) that the file may be recovered. Why take a chance of worrying about recovering from an accidental file deletion or a computer crash? Take a lesson form the Boy Scouts and “Be Prepared”.

It literally only takes seconds to make a backup copy of your important data files and I hope that making backups is already a part of your routine computing practice, if it is not let me recommend that you turn off this podcast and go make a backup copy of your files right now. Go ahead, pause this podcast and I will wait.

OK, that wasn’t so bad was it? Now you can sleep better knowing you have made a recent backup of your important files especially since we are three-quarters of the way into the semester. Be sure to backup your gradebook files, email archives, and all other essential data regularly. If you have an online system and networked drives your IT department may already be doing this but you are responsible for locally stored files in most schools. If you do not know how to make a backup copy then find someone that can teach you. It really is easy once you know how and there are no excuses for not making regular backups. Consult with your IT staff regarding policies and procedures for protecting and securing school data.

Another reason that the backup topic is on my agenda this week is to protect yourself from the threat of disasters. I have had a couple of friends experience household fires that lost nearly all household possessions including their computers.

A true backup system consists of five parts, first is the backup copy of your files. Second is that the backup is stored in a different location other than the location of the computer in your home/office. Third is the need for a routine for your backups on a regular basis. You are only as good as your last backup in the event of a disaster. Fourth, is the ability to have access to a copy of the programs used to create your data. For example if you use Microsoft Word as your default word processor then you will need to have access to Microsoft Word once your files have been restored on a different computer. Finally you need to periodically test your backup plan to see if it would really work in the case of a disaster. If there is a flaw in the plan you do not want to wait until a disaster occurs to discover that you cannot recover and access your files.

Most information technology departments have disaster recovery plans that include off-site storage and most schools also have disaster recovery plans including an action plan for recovering from a disaster. You should also have a personal plan for your home including off-site storage of important files, especially digital pictures of your family that are irreplaceable. I personally have burned CD and DVD copies of pictures and placed them in my safety deposit box.

One problem with my plan is that over time there is often the need to move the data to more current technologies. I often joke that there is a conspiracy out there by corporations for what I call planned obsolescence. If you are as old as I am you have undoubtedly experienced this phenomena. For example it is getting harder and harder to find a VCR to play back old VHS tapes I have so I need to transfer the VHS content to a DVD to be assured that I can always access the content. Or you may have purchased your favorite music album several times in the form of 8-track tapes (yes I am that old), cassette tapes, CD’s, and now digital MP3 files.

Another option for storing photographs is to use online photo services like Flickr or Windows Live Gallery. Online photo sharing sites can give you peace of mind if you do not mind having your photos online that others may see. Another option would be to use an online storage solution like Microsoft SkyDrive or other online storage provider.

Our university is in the process of implementing a business class solution for online storage called Xythos that I am currently using in a pilot test and looking forward to using it in full production mode to address the needs our college has for online storage and backups. This solution will be backed up by the ITS department so it also serves the need for having the files stored in two different locations to protect against disasters.

Schools just like businesses need disaster recovery plans and policies protect information, much of which is confidential. With Internet technologies the capability of sharing information is very easy so there should also be policies and procedures in place to protect this information including backup and recovery plans.

The final reason for selecting the backup topic this week is that I migrated my data to a different computer this week and this gave me the opportunity to see if my practices really worked and I am happy to report that they did. I have a very structured folder system for storing files locally on my computer that makes it very easy for me to make backups and also allows for me to easily restore data if needed.

Let me tell you what has worked for me over the years and then you can adapt my system for your own use or develop one that will work for you. This system works for me and keeps my data files separate from the applications used to create the data. Every school year I create a new folder called AY0809 that stands for Academic Year 2008-2009. Everything that I do for the particular academic year goes into this folder. You will find that whether you work in a business or a school that there are many things that you repeat from year to year. For example, I am on several committees and I make a subfolder under the AY0809 folder for each committee that I serve on. I also have a subfolder for each section of each course that I teach for each academic year. This serves two purposes for me. First, it makes it extremely easy for me to make backup copies because all I have to do is copy the AY0809 folder and all subfolders to another storage device (whether it be a CD, DVD, Flash Drive, network drive, or external drive). Secondly, it allows for me to easily archive information from past years. If I need to go retrieve a report to see an example from a previous year all I have to do is go to the appropriate academic year and subfolder to retrieve the file that I need. Being organized in this way has been extremely helpful to me over the years and I encourage you to develop your own system of managing and backing up your data that works for you.

So when I got the new Vista PC installed this week all I had to do was install the computer applications I use like Microsoft Office 2007 and copy the files from my backup copy to the new computers hard drive and I was back in business!

Your recovery plan is only as good as your most recent backup so be sure to make backups regularly. The hardest part of moving to the new PC was setting up the email client but even this was straight forward. I use Outlook Exchange so all I needed to copy my archived email from my old machine to the new machine and then walk through a wizard to setup my email account info on the new computer. I moved from Office 2003 to Office 2007 but the migration was painless because all I needed to do was copy my archive.pst file to the new computer and point my email account to it as my new archive file. That was it, the only difficulty will be to customize my browser settings and other program settings the way I like them but most importantly I am back to work without skipping a beat!

Technology Pick of the Week

I have two Technology Picks of the Week this week. The first a hardware pick related to the backup topic just discussed. I recently purchased a Western Digital Passport 250GB external USB hard drive for a backup storage solution. This drive is well under $100 if you shop around and is compact in size and perfect for storing backup files. It also serves very well as a storage device for large multimedia audio and video files that can consume large amounts of space on your local computer. A link is provided in the show notes to the WD Passport external drive.

USB 2.0 Western Digital Passport External Drive

One caution with compact storage devices like the Passport drive and other even smaller USB flash drives is that you need to protect your data from theft of these devices by keeping them in a secure locked location. They are very small and easily stolen. Some businesses and schools may require a password and/or encryption on these devices to protect the data. Because they are small and portable they do pose a security risk so be sure you take proper precautions in protecting any data that may be stored on such devices.

My second Technology Pick of the Week is a Web 2.0 service that I have used for a few years now and was one of the first applications that I missed and installed when I switched computers earlier this week. Skype is a free audio and video conferencing solution that allows you to make free voice and video calls to other Skype users. I downloaded the Skype client to the new Vista machine and plugged in my Logitech Video Webcam to the USB port and I was back in business with using Skype. A link is provided in the show notes to the Skype service.


Skype allows for you to easily communicate with other Skype users from all around the world and all you need is a computer with a webcam, Internet access, and a free Skype account. You do not even need a webcam if you only want to communicate with other users via voice. Many of our international students use this service to communicate with their family back home and it complete avoids long distance charges. Skype also offers additional for fee services including the ability to dial regular phone lines but there are fees for these services.

That wraps it up for episode 61 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send and email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Friday, October 24, 2008

tt4t_060 Nine Events of Instruction, Gagne

It’s Friday, October 24th, 2008 and welcome to Episode 60 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. I would like to begin todays episode by asking the question of why some learners seem more motivated to learn than others? Along with that question I would like to follow-up with why some learners are more motivated than others to always do their best. I deal with high-tech solutions for teaching and learning on a daily basis and I often find myself returning to these two questions related to motivation when designing learning experiences. I often find that technology does offer an additional motivational factor for many students.

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Robert Gagne wrote the book Conditions of Learning over 40 years ago and proposed nine events necessary for instruction to occur in an era where behavioral learning and programmed instruction dominated educational thought. After all of these years I am still fascinated by the incredibly diverse ways that humans learn. Gagne attempted to distill this diversity into basic components that still stand today as the foundation for the discipline of Instructional Design.

Here are the nine events of instruction in abbreviated form proposed by Gagne in 1965:
1) gaining attention (reception)
2) informing learners of the objective (expectancy)
3) stimulating recall of prior learning (retrieval)
4) presenting the stimulus (selective perception)
5) providing learning guidance (semantic encoding)
6) eliciting performance (responding)
7) providing feedback (reinforcement)
8) assessing performance (retrieval)
9) enhancing retention and transfer (generalization)

I have provided some additional links to online resources related to the nine events of instruction and other information regarding Gagne’s work in the show notes for this episode if you are interested in learning more about his work.

Taken at face value these events seem very programmatic yet as any instructional designer will tell you there is tremendous flexibility and numerous ways to prepare any given lesson for a desired outcome. Teachers are always looking for a way to gain the attention of the learner and find a motivational hook to keep the learner interested in the lesson. If we do not have the attention of the learner then we have lost the battle before it even begins. In teaching we move from the simple to the more complex.

Take something as simple as teaching someone to hit a baseball, the point to this lesson is to hit the ball with a bat which requires a performance goal. How one goes about preparing a lesson are as varied as the teachers that will teach the lesson. In the end however the assessment should involve the performance of the student swinging a bat and hitting the ball. The complexity of this simple goal is amazing when you actually have to break down every step in order to reach a successful conclusion. The assessment should also match the goal. In this case giving a written test on the history of baseball would not match the goal of the lesson.

Now, consider a lesson that I recently taught regarding students creating their own podcast. I have students listen to several examples in order to understand the genre of podcasting. I give them the flexibility to choose a podcast of interest to them. I then give a rather structured example of recording a podcast using the audacity program by only introducing the tools needed to do basic audio editing including importing music at the beginning and end of the podcast. This is in the form of a demonstration and then I have students duplicate the basic demo using guided practice. Students are then responsible for picking an educationally appropriate topic and writing a script for recording. I also provide links to resources including video screencasts about using the audacity program.

Some students seem to go through the motions and want very scripted step by step directions for creating their podcast. Others are internally motivated and really get into this assignment. I wish I knew how to bottle this motivation and spread it around. I give the students a lot of leeway in hopes that they will pick something of interests to them and thus be motivated to do their best work. In the end the students are to produce two educational podcasts to demonstrate their proficiency for the learning objective.

Many students are not used to having such leeway and want more structure. Teachers are told that 21st Century skills demand a workforce that can adapt and innovate therefore I believe that we must provide opportunities for students to go beyond prescriptive lessons. I try to instill a sense of pride and want all students to do their best work yet there are often a few that just want to do just enough to get by and I often get asked is this “good enough?” I respectfully ask them “is this your best work?”

As teachers we always need to strive for excellence and expect the same from our students. This is sometimes difficult to achieve as many students are used to doing one lesson and then moving on to the next with the expectation that they will never see the previous lesson again. It takes practice and multi-pass learning opportunities to get better at anything whether it be swinging a baseball bat or creating a podcast. Teachers assign homework for this very reason so that students have opportunities to practice whatever is being taught.

Yet teachers are also always pressed by the curriculum to move forward to the next topic for the allotted time that we have. Teachers need to be creative in creating multi-pass learning opportunities and avoid the temptation of simply moving on to the next lesson if students need more practice. It does no good if only surface learning occurs as there needs to be a firm foundation before generalization and transference can occur. Transference is that magical elusive goal of taking what one has learned and adapting it to a new situation to solve a different problem. In order to transfer the learning experience the learner must first retain the information to recall for later use. In short transference is an extremely valued 21st Century skill and one that teachers should always strive for no matter the lesson.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a wireless microphone from Revo Labs called the xTag that can be handy for teachers wanting to record their voices and classroom lectures and still have the freedom of moving around the room. A link is provided in the show notes to the Revo Labs xTag mic. This microphone comes in several models and is a bit on the expensive side but does offer a good solution for a teacher that wants to be mobile while recording their voice. Because of the expense I would recommend that a unit be purchased by your library or technology department and then checked out on an as needed basis.

The base model can be found for an educational discount price of under $250. The recording quality is very good and you can either clip this wireless mic on your lapel or use the provided lanyard that you can use to hang around your neck. The really nice thing is that you do not have to worry about a cable connected back to the computer. Since the mic is clipped on your lapel your voice will not fade in and out as you move about the room as is typical of a stationary mic positioned in the center of the classroom. The standard USB connected base station for the xTag also serves as a charging station so it will always be charged when you are ready to record. If you are looking for a wireless mic solution for your recording needs be sure to checkout the xTag to see if it might meet your needs. If you have experience with other wireless microphones that would be helpful for teachers to know about I would like to hear your recommendations so please send an email or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog so we can share with others.

I would like to again remind everyone that the K12Online Conference 2008 is still ongoing so I encourage you to visit this free professional development conference if you have not already done so. Please visit the site website to see the schedule and learn more.

K12 Online Conference 2008

K12 Online Conference Schedule:

That wraps it up for episode 60 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send and email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Friday, October 17, 2008

tt4t_059 The Next Big Thing: Persistent Network Computing – Always Connected

It’s Friday, October 17th, 2008 and welcome to episode 59 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. I have been predicting for some time now that we are about to see a game changer in the way we and our students are using technology. Having been around through the evolution of the personal computer we are finally beginning to see some of the long awaited promises that I imagined when I first began my professional career many years ago.

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The computing devices of today have evolved from solitary units built for dedicated tasks like playing “pong” back in the day to a multipurpose machine now capable of easily connecting to a network of networks known as the Internet. What is most promising is the recent availability of always connected computing. I have waited and waited for an affordable wireless connection to the Internet and over the past couple of years we are finally seeing the fruits of telecommunication companies efforts in building out 3G wireless networks through companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Moble, and many others.

Now for around $60 per month I can purchase a subscription to a wireless Internet carrier that will provide me with a USB wireless modem capable of connecting any laptop or desktop computer to the Internet. The only catch is that many plans require a one or two year contract and many are limited to a predetermined bandwidth cap. In the case of Verizon this cap is at 5GB of usage per month for one of the plans before charging additional usage fees. There is also a 50MB plan but this limit would quickly be reached by anyone using the Internet for anything other than just casual use. You always want to be aware of various data plans restrictions and make sure not to go over your usage limits otherwise additional charges will apply that can be quite costly.

Now for me $60 per month is still a little bit high for basic Internet access but that is about as cheap as I can find for this part of rural Illinois. For those in larger cities I would be interested in hearing what rates you are able to get for Internet access either wired or wireless. I recently saw a television ad for high-speed Internet wireless access in a larger city for $14.95 a month and wish that were available where I live but alas it is not. High rates are still a problem for many rural families in this part of the State of Illinois. We still face digital divide issues because this price is unaffordable for many families that do not have the disposable income to purchase such a data plan. Signing a one or two year agreement is still a large commitment for many and the 5GB usage cap may not be enough capacity for a family so you need to be careful not to exceed monthly limits for fear of additional charges.

Yes a $60 per month subscription for a broadband data plan is expensive but I am hopeful that this cost will come down given time and enough competition. Looking at the bright side of things it really is amazing that an average consumer can have the option of using this broadband service and having Internet access on their laptop regardless of location (that is within the broadband coverage area). For the Verizon network this covers much of the United States.

In my opinion, if the telcos are smart they will reduce this price point so that those with a family may have the option to purchase additional data subscriptions for other family members at a reduced rate similar to how they currently tier cell phone pricing where each additional unit has a substantially reduced price. Having multiple family members using the same data plan as structured will quickly reach the 5GB bandwidth limit of many current plans.

I have posted before my thoughts about my disapproval of data carriers capping bandwidth usage and I still think this is a dangerous trend that will stifle innovation and provide for a more costly model to consumers. I understand from the data carrier perspective that they are selling a service and they want to protect themselves from users who may abuse the system. This capped model is also in direct conflict with content providers that want consumers to download purchased content in the form of audio and video that can consume massive amounts of bandwidth. It will be interesting to see the compromises reached in the coming years between these two competing philosophies. Many have not thought about the consequences of downloading a TV show from the Internet that may only cost $1.99 to purchase but forget that they will also be charged bit by bit for the download on top of the original purchase price, so be careful if you are on a capped plan with limits.

OK, so how does this tie in with education? Well get ready for a tidal wave of devices entering schools that will completely bypass the schools network and any filtering that currently exists on the schools network. Some of the newer cell phone devices have already started to sneak into schools and many already have web browsing capability. Many cell phones are not really that functional for web browsing because of the small form factor but new form factors are entering the market and small laptops are now becoming readily available and affordable. Some schools have admirably worked on Acceptable Use Policies to update their AUP to the cell phone era in what I call AUP 2.0 but not many have thought about the new need for an AUP 3.0 revision where students bring their own personal computing devices complete with their own personal always on connection to the Internet.

Don’t believe me? Yesterday was the First Birthday of the eee PC netbook that started a new revolution in low-cost laptop devices. The amount of innovation that has occurred in over the past year has been breathtaking. To be fair I do give credit to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative and the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) movement that have also heavily influenced this new form factor but the big news is new low-cost devices.

Happy Birthday eee PC

This month many of the next generation eee PC models and other netbook models from other manufacturers will be sold that have a built-in wireless modem capable of broadband Internet access. In Europe some cell phone companies have already started subsidizing the cost of broadband capable laptops when a consumer purchases a data plan. I have not seen this subsidy in the United States yet but I believe it is coming soon if it is not already being offered in some parts of the U.S. Cell phone manufacturers have had cell phones subsidized for years and now low-cost netbooks are within the price range for subsidies. I have even heard of rumors where a data carrier might even be considering giving away a netbook free of charge in exchange for a 2 year data plan subscription. To that end ASUS has just announced a new sub $300 netbook that has built-in 3G wireless. If you would like to learn more about this new low-cost netbook a link is provided in the show notes to the new 901A model. Things are changing.

Sub $300 eee PC 901A Model

With all of these changes how are educators going to react to this new reality? Will we have students check their laptops at the classroom door like some currently do with cell phones? How can we develop Acceptable Use Policies and at the same time take advantage of some of the incredible benefits a low-cost always connected to the Internet laptop may have for education? How can teachers giving lessons possibly compete for the attention of students if the students have Internet access on their own laptops in school? Just a few questions to ponder because as usual the technology is not standing still and new innovations will require new solutions for education in the 21st Century.

Today many college professors face this question regularly when students bring laptops to lectures where free wireless is readily available. This does change the atmosphere in the classroom. There are times when the phrase “screens down” is needed to gain attention of the students so that a focused lesson can occur, and you thought students texting in class was distracting, ah those were the good old days. This new invasion of technologies has been happening over time particularly on college campuses and will increasingly occur at the K-12 level with the increasing affordability of netbooks and wireless data plans.

So in the coming years many teachers will face the choice of integrating the new affordable technologies or banning them. I hope the choice is toward integration and that the technologies are used where appropriate and used with new pedagogies that structure lessons to benefit from the power that technologically-assisted learning can offer. Students are regularly using these technologies outside the classroom and they can have a role in the classroom as well. Welcome to the 21st Century!

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week

For my Technology Pick of the Week this week I would like to select a new Web 2.0 service that was highlighted on the FreeTech4Teachers blog earlier this month and is currently a free service that is similar to slide share. The name of this service is Slide Six.

Slide Six reminds me a lot of Power Point Producer and has the capability of providing an online PowerPoint-like presentation with voice-overs and/or a video all available from the web.

Slide Six

About Slide Six

Best of all the Slide Six site provides you with an embed code if you would like to add your slide six presentation to your website or blog. To see an example of an embedded Slide Six presentation visit the FreeTech4Teachers blog entry for October 14th. A link is provided in the show notes to the FreeTech4Teachers blog entry about the Slide Six service.

As a reminder the K12Online Conference 2008 is still ongoing so I highly recommend and encourage you to visit this free professional development conference if you have not already done so. Please visit the site to learn more.

K12 Online Confernce 2008

K12 Online Conference Schedule:

That wraps it up for episode 59 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send and email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Friday, October 10, 2008

tt4t_058 Professional Learning Networks, Twitter, and the K12 Online Conference

It’s Friday, October 10th, 2008 and welcome to episode 58 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This morning I presented two workshop sessions about using Web 2.0 tools to expand your Professional Learning Network to local teachers at our Regional Office of Education professional development day. I primarily concentrated on Twitter as one way for teachers to consider expanding their learning network but also mentioned blogs, wikis, and podcasts. If you attended one of the ROE workshop sessions and this is your first time visiting TechTalk4Teachers, welcome, and congratulations on taking the initiative to continue the conversation.

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Too often professional development opportunities are one-and-done workshops that have no continuity or follow-up. For those session attendees, thank you for visting this blog and taking the first step. Feel free to leave a comment, just scroll down to the bottom of this episode’s notes and click on the comment link. TechTalk4Teachers is a moderated blog so you will not see your comments immediately appear until I approve them. This is one layer of protection that keeps inappropriate comments and advertising commercials from being posted to this blog. At the end of this podcast I will provide an email if you prefer to contact me that way.

If you are unfamiliar with Twitter I have provided a link in the show notes to Twitter in Plain English that does a good job explaining what it is in less than three minutes. I also embedded this video in the show notes for Episode 56.

Twitter is one of those Web 2.0 tools that you must use and experience to understand its power. It seems so simple and mundane, yet this is the tool of choice for me for expanding my professional network and has greatly increased the number of people I have professional contact with across the world everyday! Twitter will take some time to fully comprehend its benefits but for me this learning curve has been worth it. I have evolved and adapted my use of Twitter over time as my network has grown. Here are some things to consider if you do decide to setup a free Twitter account:

• Consider your username carefully
• Consider your picture representation carefully
• Consider all postings carefully and treat postings as “living” forever
• Start small, follow only a few individuals until you are comfortable using Twitter
• Agree and abide by the Terms of Service Agreement
• Protect usernames and passwords at all times and always sign-out when finished
• Treat all of your postings as public information (the world can see them)
• Twitter postings are searchable by Google and other search engines
• Twitter has its own search engine that can search all tweets
• Always use the Grandma Rule, if you would not want Grandma to see it then do not “tweet” it.
• Always use the Principal Rule, if you would not want your Principal to see it then do not “tweet” it. (Parents, other teachers, students may also see tweets)
• Only follow people you are comfortable with and that share your interests.
• Twitter is a reflection of society and you may occasionally run into a ”bad apple”. Ignore trolls and unfollow or block anyone that posts anything you deem inappropriate.

If you do decide to use Twitter at school make sure you get approval and abide by all school and/or organizational policies as with all Web 2.0 technologies. Some schools may have Twitter blocked by filtering software so you may need to get approval from the appropriate department at your school to have it unblocked. Some schools may still deny this use and in that case you would not be able to access Twitter at school.

Twitter is a social networking tool so be sure to model all appropriate behavior when using Twitter. You have probably given this lecture before to your students about their use of social networking sites like My Space and Facebook and the same principles apply for all online behavior for everyone. Because all of your “Tweets” are public you need to exercise good judgment at all times.

Establishing your virtual identity with a username and picture is how others will see you through Twitter. Some prefer to remain somewhat anonymous and select usernames that are generic while others do not mind having a public persona and using their real name as their Twitter name. I started out using a generic name but I found that as my network grew that there was value to using my real name. Thus I changed my Twitter account to reflect my real name and now use this account for professional purposes.

Your picture also needs to be carefully considered. Personally I do not like having a picture of my face out there so for now I chose to use the itc graphic as my picture. Some Twitter users even prefer to use avatars or cartoon caricatures as pictures to represent themselves as long as the images are not copyrighted.

Always use good judgment in what you “tweet” to others. A tweet is simply a Twitter posting. Twitter is a social network and tweets can be searched and archived for later retrieval. I prefer to keep my tweets professional and to the point and do not share much personal information. You are responsible for your “tweets” and if they are deemed inappropriate there may be consequences for your personal and/or professional life. Here is a news flash: You are responsible for your actions and there are consequences in life, using good judgment is a necessary skill for all online correspondence. Twitter may not be for you and that is OK. The point is that you make an effort to continually learn new things, you may prefer to read blogs and/or listen to podcasts instead.

You do not even need a Twitter account to see the posting of a Twitter user if you know their Twitter username. To visit my Twitter account you can see what I am doing by going to:

If you do decide to get a Twitter account you can “follow” me to see all of my updated tweets every time you login to Twitter. When you follow someone they may choose to “follow” you back to see all of your tweets.

I have used Twitter for the purpose of establishing my own Personal Learning Network. The idea is to follow others that you share a common interest with and tap into the collective mind of the network. This is a kind of wisdom of the crowd approach. Of course your network is only as good as the people you follow so make sure to “follow” smart people who share your purposeful use of Twitter. Keep the purpose in mind as Twitter can also be a tremendous waste of time if it is not used with a purpose in mind. One danger is that you may follow too many people of a similar mindset and may not have enough diversity within your network. I purposefully follow some that I may disagree with but at the same time respect their opinions as it is helpful seeing where they are coming from and their point of view.

There has never been another time in history where so much information is available to so many people and that is a good thing. Learning to cope with the information overload is another matter. My Professional Learning Network has helped me keep up with new and important developments related to educational technologies. I hope that I have reciprocated and helped a few of them out along the way as well. Everyone has the opportunity to learn more, it does take effort, but the opportunities are out there from all around the world. No matter how poor of a district you come from you can have access to top notch and often free professional development opportunities all it takes is an average computer with Internet access.

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week

Speaking of learning more and taking advantage of available opportunities my Technology Pick of the Week this week is an online professional development conference that is free for all K12 educators around the world. The name of this conference is the K12 Online Conference 2008 and a link is provided in the show notes.

If you have never experienced the advantages of an online conference I highly recommend that you check this conference out. It is free and offers both synchronous and asynchronous sessions so there is no excuse for not attending virtually.

K12 Online Confernce 2008 – Starts October 13, 2008

K12 Online Conference Schedule:

Here is a quote directly from the K12 Online Conference website:

“The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from educators around the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. This FREE conference is run by volunteers and open to everyone. The 2008 conference theme is “Amplifying Possibilities”. This year’s conference begins with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 13, 2008.”

Be sure to participate in this exciting opportunity and get away from the one-and-done workshops you have all experienced too often in the past.

For those of you that are visiting the TechTalk4Teachers blog for the first time I would like to remind you that all past episodes are available on the right-side of the blog, you may have to scroll down a bit to see the archive section, just click on the little triangle symbol next to each month to expand the choices available to see all episodes available that particular month. Also, remember that since I provide transcripts of past episodes you can search the TechTalk4Teachers blog by clicking in the search box located in the top left hand corner of the TechTalk4Teachers blog by typing in a search term. The results will be displayed on screen and you can scroll down the page until you find the information you are searching for.

That wraps it up for episode 58 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send and email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

tt4t_057 Personal productivity and your own virtual personal assistant, Sandy

It’s Sunday, October 5th, 2008 and welcome to episode 57 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This week I would like to add a short entry regarding some of the personal productivity tools I have recently been using. I was inspired to try out another new service this week by one of my followers on my Twitter network who asked if anyone knew of any personal assistant applications that they would recommend to others. I have used many such services in the past but as usual there is always another new tool on my list to try-out. His Twitter message prompted me to sign-up for a free service that I have named as my Technology Pick of the Week this week.

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I have used several traditional calendaring and office scheduling software programs over the years and I currently use Outlook Exchange for my day-to-day duties at the university. Outlook does very well for traditional office duties and is accessible over the web from any location that has Internet access. The biggest advantage of using Outlook Exchange is that others that I correspond with at our university also use this program and the calendaring function is easily shared with other users that you want to have access to your calendar. This calendar sharing allows others to schedule meetings with me and Outlook can quickly look through the busy and free times of meeting participants to recommend a meeting time when everyone is available. This can save great amounts of time and prevents the headaches of going back-and-forth between multiple participants trying to find a common meeting time. This is a major advantage of a having a standardized program that everyone can access.

In looking at other services the biggest barrier is that the data is often not easily transferable from one service to another. This is beginning to get better but there are still some roadblocks when trying to share information on disparate calendaring systems. Some Web 2.0 services are now offering ties to other calendaring systems like Google calendar and Outlook exchange but there are still caveats. One thing to be cautious of is the sharing of passwords between disparate systems that can represent a major security concern. As a practice I generally do not provide my userid and password between systems because of these security concerns.

Web 2.0 cell phone applications are the other big productivity tools that have really increased my level of productivity. I have mentioned Jott and Reqall services as previous technology picks of the week on TechTalk4Teachers. A link is provided in the show notes to these two services if you would like to learn more.

Anytime you are selecting a service be sure to be aware of any costs involved including subscription costs and hidden costs of long distance charges or additional text messaging charges. Jott recently completed Beta testing and are now charging fees for many services that were previously free. There is still a watered-down free version of Jott with limited capabilities available so each user will need to decide for themselves if the other services are worth paying for. The other service that I have been using a lot is Reqall. Reqall is working quite nicely and I use it with my cell phone primarly as a reminder service but I have recently tried out another service similar to Reqall called Dial2do that offers some added functionality.

I have added dial2do to my arsenal of cell phone productivy applications and I am still in the testing mode but I do like the way I am able to call this number leave a voice mail message and choose whether I would like to have my voice message emailed or sent as a text to one of my contacts that I have setup with Dial2do. Dial2do is also still in beta testing and I am still determining if there are any hidden fees for texting or long distance charges so I will let you know how things are going once I have had more time to use this service.

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week

For my Technology Pick of the Week this week I have selected the I want Sandy Web 2.0 service that offers you your very own virtual personal assistant. A link is provided in the show notes for this episode. I have also provided a link to examples for using this free service.

I want Sandy - Personal Virtual Assistant

I want Sandy allows you to email short messages and this virtual service will take it from there. If you learn the shorthand codes Sandy will place your requests in the proper category. For example if I email Sandy at the special email address given to me when I setup my account she will place this item in my calendar and I will see it the next time I login to this service.

Sandy, remind me about Smart Board training appointment on October 8 1-2pm

Sandy will add the appointment to my calendar based upon the above email message. Sandy also understands to-do lists, bookmarks, notes and other lists when you format your emails to this service using the shorthand codes that Sandy can understand.

As I said earlier you could also link this service to a Google Calendar however I am not comfortable providing usernames and passwords to other services so I have not done this. For now I prefer to have the iwantsandy service use the built-in calendar feature for this service.

If anyone out there has used the iwantsandy service or similar services and knows a way to connect to other calendaring programs with sacrificing usernames and passwords please let me know. For now, in my opinion, the security risks are too great to put that much trust into a multiple vendor solution that shares passwords. This is yet another reason to consider an OpenID solution for these recurring problems with individual identity on the Internet and multiple Web 2.0 services.

I want Sandy also allows you to setup a secondary email account that you can use to email commands to this service. This works really well for me as I can use my university account at school and when I am home I can use my personal email account and the emails I send to this service will be combined into one calendar.

That wraps it up for episode 57 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you know of other free Web 2.0 services that you use to help make you more productive please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.