Back to College Tech Guide 2014

MacBook Air 13"

Creative Commons licensed by Alejandro Pinto – http://www.alejandroescamilla.com

It’s usually in August when people start asking me for advice on what laptop they should buy for their children heading off to university. If you are in a specialized technical oriented program like computer science, engineering or architecture, please consult with your faculty before purchasing your laptop.  That said, here is my general advice for the incoming class of 2014:

For a Standard Student Setup if you have a budget between $1200 and $1600 for a laptop and other hardware I would suggest the following:

  • For your laptop I highly recommend a 13” MacBook Air, with 8GB of RAM, and 128GB solid state hard drive. This is a beautiful, lightweight laptop that weighs just under 1.4kg (3lbs). To top it off, it has a real world battery life of over 12 hours. Say goodbye to your power cord almost all day long, as you won’t need to pack it to school and back unless you’re pulling an all nighter in the library. Cost: $1139. There are going to be a lot of this arriving on campus this fall. 
  • If you’re looking for a tablet, and don’t already have an iPhone, then I’d recommend Google’s Nexus 7. It has a gorgeous retina 7” screen, comes standard with 16GB of storage, and costs only $249! The Nexus 7 is almost due for a refresh, but it is still the best value for money in the tablet space today. If you have an iPhone, then you’ll be spending $400 on an iPad mini retina or $499 for an iPad Air.
  • This might seem like an extravagance, but a monitor to go along with the laptop you’ve just purchased is essential for anyone doing university level research and writing. Once you’ve worked on a paper with two monitors (the laptop screen plus a second monitor), you’ll never go back. For research related work most people are 20%+ more productive than using a single screen alone. The good news is that external monitors like Asus 22” are relatively inexpensive at only $160.
  • Total Cost: $1548 + taxes (note: $150 to $250 more for iPads)

If you’re budget is more constrained, you can still have all the tools you need to conduct serious undergraduate research for less than $400 with a Budget Student Setup. Read more ›

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Posted in education, Google, Uncategorized, Work

YouTube Video Editor -> Free & Easy Video Editing for the Masses!

The YouTube Video editor has made creating your own custom video more accessible and easier than ever. Video editing was once the domain of expensive video software and high end computers. The YouTube Video Editor is makes video editing available for free to all YouTube or Gmail users for free, and runs on any computer with a modern web browser. Below is a short tutorial to get you editing your first video in less than 10 minutes.

Some of the features that make the YouTube Video editor so nice are:

  • You can combine multiple videos and images you’ve uploaded to your YouTube account to create a new video.
  • Trim your clips to custom lengths to cut out unwanted video.
  • Add music to your video from a free library of music, or use your own music.
  • Customize clips with tools and special effects.
  • Edit your video on any computer with a web browser & easily move between computers, including between Windows, Mac, ChromeBooks or Linux. Great feature, especially if you use library computers or work in a computer lab.
  • Publishing your videos on YouTube couldn’t be easier as it’s already on YouTube!
  • It’s free!

Some if the limitations compared to other video editing programs are:

  • You have to be online to edit videos (no editing in airplanes).
  • To download a local copy of the video to your computer, you have to use 3rd party plugin like http://www.clipconverter.cc/
  • You need to have a YouTube or Google account to edit videos.
  • Videos are stored on servers in the USA, and are subject to the Patriot Act.

If you’d like to read through some features of the YouTube Video Editor, Google has created a nice page that outlines the Features of the YouTube Video Editor in some detail.  Happy Video Editing!

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Create an eBook in 10 Minutes

For my eBook workshop at Olds College’s iSpark conference on May 14, 2014:

Step 1: Open “eBookPublishingMadeEasy.docx” file in Microsoft Word.

Step 2a: In Windows Word 2013, “File” -> “Export” -> “Change File Type” -> “Save As a Web page”. Select “Save only display information into HTML” & save to your desktop. Close Word.

Step 2b: In Mac Word 2011, “File” -> “Save As a Web page”. Select “Save only display information into HTML” & save to your desktop. Close Word.

Step 3: Launch Sigil & open the HTML document you just saved.

Step 7: “Tools” -> “Meta Data Editor” and edit the Title and add Author information. Select “OK”.

Step 8: “File” -> “Save”, then select “ePub” in the file type dropdown, to save the ePub file to your desktop.

Step 9: Email the ePub file to yourself, and then open on your eBook reader.

If you don’t have a document for the more advanced ebook creation that includes making a table of contents, you can download this one: ResearchCollaborationToolsforStudentsStaffFaculty.docx.

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New Educational Technology + Old Pedagogy = No Significant Difference

ProjectorI’d be the first to admit that when presented with shiny new technology, I am predisposed to expect that the new technology will perform better than the old.  New smart phones for the past six years have almost always been better than their predecessors.  Can the same be said for new educational technologies?  The short answer is no; new educational technologies alone do not lead to better student outcomes.

When trying to determine if a technology contributes to the effectiveness of instruction, the issue of “no difference expected” made famous by the Clark, Kozma (Kozma, 1994) debate needs to be addressed. Clark (Clark, 1994) argued that “media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction” and that “student achievement [is not influenced by a new delivery technology like video] any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 22). Kozma (1994) countered that while Clark’s argument is often correct, “if media are going to influence learning, media must be designed to give us powerful new methods, and our methods must take appropriate advantage of a medium’s capabilities” (p.16).

When Clark (1994) defended his argument that the delivery media for instruction usually does not make a difference in, the technological landscape was much different. VHS video tapes were the primary means of watching on demand educational videos. Microsoft Windows 3.11 was the dominant desktop operating system, and dial-up modems using phone lines achieving speeds of 0.028 Mps were state of the art (compared to 2-20 Mps in 2013). At the same time, educational content was just starting to be distributed through relatively expensive multi-media CD-ROM applications for Windows and Macintosh. I suspect that in his era, Clark’s assessment that technology does not improve instruction was close to 100% true. On the other hand, with 20+ years of maturation and significant improvements in bandwidth, hardware speed, and authoring tool usability improvements, technology is now in a position to make a large positive impact in the delivery of instruction by enabling new pedagogical approaches to instruction, like Flipped Classrooms and PBL’s with virtual simulations and collaboration (Becker, 2010). Read more ›

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Football (Soccer) Skills & Video Tools

Coach's EyeMy U11 girls soccer team had a fun, engaging, if unconventional practice last night, thanks to YouTube and the CoachesEye Sport Video Analysis App (iOS & Android. $5). Thanks to unseasonably cold weather (at least for Victoria, BC), made worse by a strong breeze, we decided to move our practice indoors last night. The traditional activity for a rained out, or frozen out practice is to do a “chalk talk” session, reviewing positioning and strategy with the team. The only problem is that one hour is a long time to talk to 10 year olds about soccer strategy, so we instead did the following:

As the girls arrived, we had them do some running with a ball to warm them up and tire them out a bit before going inside the warm clubhouse for the rest of the practice. We divided the team into two groups and then had them spend 20 to 25 minutes taking turns doing the following two activities.

Activity 1: Juggling & Video Feedback – Each player grabbed a ball and was asked to start juggling the ball. I then grabbed my iPad and in turn used the CoachesEye app to record each one juggling the ball for 20 or 30 seconds each. I then asked them to stop and gather round the tablet so we could review how they were doing, and what they could do to improve their juggling technique. Here’s a sample video:

Some of the girls already had fairly good technique, and others were still learning. For those struggling it was seemed helpful for them to be able to see what they were doing in slow motion, so they could focus their efforts on making the little changes needed to use the proper technique. We did this about three more times, with the girls juggling, and then watching themselves in slow motion. In a couple of cases, girls made dramatic improvements in their technique over the course of 20 minutes. Given how much time we’ve worked on juggling so far this season, the 20 minutes we spent using the CoachesEye app, made a remarkable impact.

Read more ›

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Wikipedia Book Maker – Great for Making Travel Books

Chichen ItzaAs I started getting ready for our upcoming trip to Mexico, I decided that it would be interesting to learn more about the history of Mexico in general and about the area around Cancun in particular, and turned to my favourite quick reference source, Wikipedia.  My plan was to copy and paste two or three Mexican related articles, including some current history, and background information about other civilizations that have come and gone in the area, into a Word document. Then I’d save them as an HTML file and copy the file on to my tablet and cell phone so that I could read them on the flight down.

As I was looking at the top level Wikipedia article on Mexico, I noticed in the left menu, under “Print/export” and option to “Create a book”! When I clicked on it I realized that this relatively new feature would not only allow me to make a “book” out of the article I was looking at, but I could also add other Wikipedia articles as chapters in a book that I could compile and re-order to my hearts content.  This is exactly what I needed! It saved me a couple hours of work, and made print and e-book versions of the Wikipedia articles quick and easy to create.

When I finished compiling articles for my custom book, I then had the option of doing the following on the Wikipedia “Manager your book” page (see image above):

  1. Order as printed book (printed by a third party partner of Wikipedia’s)

  2. Download as a PDF e-book (so you could print out on your own or read on your computer).

  3. Download as a word processor file (OpenDocument) so you can edit the document on your computer

  4. Download as an ePub file ready to be loaded on your smart-phone or tablet.


I chose the last option, and have my custom book loaded on my Android tablet, reading to read while flying to Mexico.  I also made a $10 donation to the wikimedia foundation to help support the good work they are doing making Wikipedia available free of charge and fee of advertising. 

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Posted in education

Qualitative Research & The Elephant

The Rider & The Elephant as the Conscious and Sub-Conscious Mind.Because I’ve been reading about qualitative research for the past week, and because I’m going to be talking about it now, I feel like I should start by disclosing my biases before going any further. My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration, and I have been working with computer systems for close to 20 years now.  I like to use numbers to guide my decision making when possible. That said, I have been convinced that at least some of the time I’m making a decision, I have already unconsciously made the decision, and am merely finding numbers to justify what I would like to do (see Jonathan Haidt’s “Rider and the Elephant” metaphor for more  on this).

Read more ›

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