Monthly Archives: March 2009

Interactive Whiteboard FAQ (Wii)

Ivan just got back from TESOL, where the Wiimote-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard was very well received.  We started talking about some of the questions that were asked which lead to this post: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the $50 Interactive Whiteboard.

How much does it cost? / Is it really only $50?
The controller for the Nintento Wii is for sale throughout the United States for $40.  You can build an infrared pen for $5-6.  The software is free to download.  The cost of the computer, projector, and Bluetooth adapter (if your computer does not have built-in Bluetooth) are not included in the $50.

I can’t make my own infrared pen.  Can I buy one?
Absolutely.  Do a Google search and you will find several options starting as low as $6.

Do I have to modify the Wiimote? / Can I still use it with my Wii?
No / Yes.  The Wiimote connects to the computer via Bluetooth, the same way it connects to the Wii.  You don’t have to open the Wiimote, break it, or reprogram it.  So, if you (or your kids) have a Wii, you can use the equipment you already have for both purposes.

Can I take a Wiimote and infrared pen in my carry-on luggage?
You mean if you’re flying to a conference to make a presentation?  It turns out you can.  Both Ivan and I have recently carried these devices onto flights and had no problems at all.

How do I know if my infrared pen is working?
Check it with the camera on a cell phone.

How do I get started?
Download the free software (Mac version or PC version), build an infrared pen (see my demo) or buy one online, connect to the Wiimote via Bluetooth (open your Bluetooth devices, push the 1 and 2 buttons on the Wiimote, add the device), run the software, calibrate it (push the “calibrate button,” click on the targets), and you are done.

How do I set it up?
Place the Wiimote so that it is at least as high as the midpoint of the screen and aimed at the center of the screen.  It should be at a 45 degree angle from the surface of the screen on either the left or right side, depending on how you write — you don’t want to block the Wiimote’s view of the pen with your hand.  The Wiimote should be placed far enough away (usually about 10 feet) to be able to “see” the whole screen.  You’re ready to calibrate (see above).

What should I do?  My writing is choppy. / My Wiimote can’t see my pen. / There are too many infrared dots!
If your writing is choppy or your pen seems to stutter, try adjusting the “smoothness” on the PC version.  Mac users have fewer options.  Quit as many other applications as you can and / or try moving the Wiimote closer to the screen and recalibrating.
If your Wiimote can’t see your pen, check that the Wiimote is connected to your computer and that your pen is working.  Assuming everything is working properly, you probably need to reposition your Wiimote so that it can see the entire screen.  The Mac version allows you to track infrared dots that the Wiimote sees, which is helpful, but both versions tell you how many dots are visible.  Try the pen at all four corners to make sure it is visible.  If not, move the Wiimote and try again.
If you are seeing too many infrared dots, you may be picking up interference.  I’ve gotten infrared interference from overhead incandescent lighting.  Try moving the Wiimote around to see if you can identify the source of the interference and then eliminate it (in my case, I turned off those lights).

Hope this helps.  If you have a question that does not appear on this list, leave it as a comment and I’ll answer it and / or add it to the list.

31 Comments

Filed under Projects

Spring Inspiration

With the Spring Quarter right around the corner (i.e. tomorrow), I’m thinking about the courses I’ll be teaching in really big picture ways.  I’m reflecting on two videos I’ve seen recently, which I’ve embedded below.

The first is a nicely edited visual summary of how the web, and Web 2.0 applications, are changing how we use language.

The second is similar, but has a much more Edupunk aesthetic and “call to action” vibe.

As I plan my courses for the spring (a high-elementary listening / speaking class and a high-intermediate grammar class) I’m asking myself how I can effectively use technology to enhance my students’ learning.

In the L/S class, my list includes a podcast to help students correct errors and a Moodle course to organize links, resources, and discussions.  I’m not sure if they will be ready for much more than that.  I’ll also need to work out a way to administer two simultaneous audio quizzes in a lab because this class is really an elementary / high-elementary split, but that shouldn’t be a major technological hurdle.  I’ve also got a Smartboard this quarter, so I need to think of how to tie that in.

In grammar, I’ll again have a Moodle course which I’ll use for discussion and posting lecture notes on the grammar points we cover.  I’ve been kicking around the idea of inverting what is done in class versus for homework.  Can’t students watch a Slideshare presentation on the grammatical structure at home, then come in and do activities and ask questions in class?  Would they actually watch?  Would this be an improvement over studying out of a book?  How can we make this process less unidirectional?  Makes me wish I had captured my lectures last quarter.

I’m looking forward to teaching something new and taking on some interesting challenges.  Stay tuned.

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration

Projects: Update

A quick update on projects I have been and am working on:

Not actually my desk, but you get the idea.  Lots to do!

Not actually my desk, but you get the idea. Lots to do!

1. ESL Sandbox – coming up – I had been kicking around this idea (basically, word blocks that can be dragged around the screen to form a variety of sentences), but I have decided to try to pull it together.  After talking with some of the ICALLers at CALICO, I think I can come up with a flash-based version that would perform some basic, binary analysis of word blocks as they are dragged together.  If the words can be paired in that order, they will “stick.”  If not, they won’t.  Sentence level analysis might be too much to ask, but will word pairs be enough to analyze?  Once it’s built, we’ll try it and see.

2. Twitter and Personal Learning Environments – coming up – I was recently introduced to Twitter but really became a fan during CALICO.  It was used as another layer of discussion (a backchannel) that really added to the conference experience for me.  I also learned a lot about Personal Learning Environments and other ways to apply Web 2.0 technologies in educationally useful ways.  I intend to explore these further, particularly in the context of exploring offering online classes.

3. Interactive Whiteboards – ongoing – Since building my first $50 Wiimote-based interactive whiteboard, this project has been very well received.  I’m still hoping to get another grant to put more of them in more teachers’ hands.  (If you’re in Ohio, and interested, make sure you contact me.)  In the meantime, I received a Smartboard to use Spring Quarter.  It will be interesting to see how they compare.  I talked to some people at CALICO who had used both and preferred combining the Wiimote hardware and Smart software.  The Wiimote hardware is much more portable and is easier to use with permanently mounted projectors, which are in most of the classrooms I use.  Look for more updates on how this shakes out in the spring.

4. Second Life – done – I taught an elective class in Second Life last fall.  There were about six students who stayed with the course for its four-week duration.  Overall, they enjoyed the experience but it was more of a novelty than something that could really be used regularly in the classroom.  The student in my class were obviously technophiles who took to the movements (walking, flying, etc.) very naturally.  Building was a frustrating experience because of both the precision required and difficulty with collaborating (if two people accidentally take ownership of something by editing it, neither can move it again.)  We also had trouble finding reliably friendly places to meet new people to talk with.  Second Life search feels a little like pre-Google Yahoo searching — finding something you know is easy, but finding something new is difficult.  Until these issues are resolved, I probably won’t take students there again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Projects

Top 5 Subscriptions for Edupunks

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while.  Here are the top 5 magazine subscriptions I recommend for other edupunks:

I've pulled the engine out.  Now what?

I've pulled the engine out. Now what?

  1. Make – Lots of challenging how-tos on a wide variety of topis (optics, music, etc.)
  2. Wired – A comprehensive view of the tech landscape
  3. Car Craft – DIY hot rodding
  4. Family Handyman – Great illustrations of useful home projects
  5. Brew Your Own – Tips for making great brew

So, why did I post this list now?  Probably because I spent the last 2 days in my garage pulling the 320 cubic inch V8 engine out of my 1955 Packard Clipper Deluxe.  I bought the car on eBay a couple of years ago and finally tore into it.  I’ve always considered myself a car guy, but never had a car to wrench on.  To be honest, I don’t know what I’m doing.  But, I believe that one of the best ways to learn is to do.  So, I am.

I enjoy DIY projects in and out of the classroom (interactive whiteboards, clickers, etc.).  And what better way to spend Spring Break than by getting out of my comfort zone and learning something new.  I often ask my students to do this with when they are learning English, and putting myself in their shoes gives me some good insight.  There have been moments over the last couple of days when I held an unidentifiable part in my greasy hands and, despite my ignorance and fear of not being able to put it back, I had to keep pushing ahead on my project.  Can I motivate my students to do the same?

Maybe your list of magazines is different.  But I hope you find what you need to inspire and challenge yourself and your students.

2 Comments

Filed under Inspiration

Visualizing Words with Wordle

Word cloud of my blog feed.

Word cloud of my blog feed.

Word clouds and tag clouds are a popular way to visualize words.  The larger the word, the more frequently they appear in a given text.  Wordle makes creating a word cloud simple: Just paste some text into the Wordle interface (or link an RSS feed) and the cloud is generated.  You can even tweak the color palette, font, and orientation of the words.

How can this be used by an ESL / EFL teacher?  I’m still working that out, but it seems like a word cloud must appeal to visual learners.  After pasting in a student’s writing passage, what can we learn?  If some words are very big, maybe she needs to expand the range of vocabulary used.  If very simple words are big, maybe her writing is too simple.  Did any words from the academic word list make it into the cloud?

Of course, other texts can also be analyzed this way.  Take a look at @iVenus‘s wordle based on program for the 2009 CALICO conference.  Gives you a pretty good snapshot of the conference, doesn’t it?

By stepping back and viewing this information visually, we can get an interesting snapshot of the overall text.  Why not turn your students loose and see how they use Wordle?

7 Comments

Filed under Inspiration

Everyone’s All a-Twitter

Twitter.com

Everyone's on Twitter, or will be soon, it seems.

Twitter is exploding in the way that the Web did at the start of the late-90s bubble.  Remember when every TV commercial had to include “www”?  Twitter is becoming ubiquitous in popular culture and, by some accounts, may not survive the coming wave of new users.

So what is it?  Twitter is a form of microblogging (there is a 140 character limit) which is akin to updating your Facebook status.  Many people use it to update friends on what they’re eating for lunch and other vapid topics.  But there are more constructive ways to use it.

One way to describe the various kinds of tweets (Twitter messages) is David Silver’s thick or thin analogy.  The more layers of information a tweet contains, the thicker it is.  Thick tweets can convey a remarkable amount of information in 140 characters.

For example, tags can be used to create channels of discussion.  Search Twitter for #calico09 and you’ll see all of the tweets related to the 2009 CALICO Conference that include that tag.   In this way, another layer of discussion can be added to the typical attend-a-session / discuss-it-in-the-hallway routine.  In fact, I had the experience of discussing a question raised in a conference session during the session via Twitter.  The same question was asked 20 minutes later, after the presenter had finished.

There is also power in the network.  A friend who is a webmaster often posts messages about trouble he’s having with various projects.  Because he has about 100 mostly like-minded followers (you can choose to follow others’ feeds and others can choose to follow yours), he often receives a useful response from this community.  These feeds can also be added to blogs and other webpages, as I’ve noted before.

By retweeting messages (rebroadcasting a tweet you have read, typically inserting RT at the beginning,) information can spread very quickly.  For example, after tweeting about my presentation on Interactive Whiteboards at CALICO, it was picked up by someone following the topic who retweeted it so that it could be read by the hundreds of people following his feed (but not mine).  So, my message (a thick one, with links to resources,) which was only read by my two dozen followers, became available to hundreds more.

If nothing else, Twitter’s 140 character limit is an excellent exercise in self-editing.  If you’ve read this far (all 434 WORDS!), you know I can use the practice.  So, as the popular media continue to become enthralled with Twitter, consider some of the ways it can actually enhance communication.  Or, just tell the world what you had for lunch.

5 Comments

Filed under Resources

Edupunks alive and well

An edupunk.

An edupunk.

Came across this image recently on Open Thinking, a blog on my blogroll.  It’s good to see the philosophy of edupunk has continued to grow and prosper since my first blog post on it.

Give me my Macbook and I can teach English to anyone, anywhere and anytime.  Need an interactive whiteboard?  I’ll build one with a Wiimote.  Can’t come to Ohio State?  Maybe we can develop online courses using Web 2.0 technologies that allow us to interact across vast distances.  Need something else in the classroom?  Find it.  Build it.  Do it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration