Thursday, November 8, 2007

Free and Inexpensive Tools for Online Learning in Nashville

Hi, Jim Patterson back at ya. This time I am in Nashville for the League for Innovation in the Community College's Conference on Information Technology.

I'm speaking on free and inexpensive tools for online learning. As many of you know, in addition to teaching Business and Information Technology at
Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, I am also the online learning coordinator. I've always had a fascination in the lower cost to free tools that are out there. Plus, none of our budgets support buying all the equipment we need. And, I like choices! Sometimes a free version is exactly what I need to do what I want.

You can enhance an online course with many free or nearly free programs. You can start with some of the links I'm going to put in here or you can Google it! That reminds me, if your college wants to get out of the email business I'd suggest looking at what either
Google or Microsoft is offering for free. I'm sure other companies will jump on offering free applications and email to colleges, too.

An early consideration on whether to use a tool or not is is it complicated? Can you get trained? Also, why are you using the tool? It should be to enhance and further education, not just to provide some gee whiz.

You can work with
Adobe tools like Captivate, Breeze, and Authorware. They cost, but your college may have a discount. I have an example of something I did in Breeze.

Another commercial product for online instruction is Toolbook. There is the cheaper Assistant version or the full blown Instructor. It will produce interesting and engaging content for cd/dvd, Flash, or the Web. And there are trial downloads available at SumTotalSystems.

What is an LMS? That stands for Learning Management System. Many of you teach online classes and may use
BlackBoard, WebCT, eCollege, Desire2Learn, Sakai, or Moodle, for example. The last two are free. I just did an evaluation for Quality Matters for a course from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and they use Desire2Learn. But did you know you can go on the cheap and use Yahoo? Yahoo for instant messaging (can you say virtual office hours??) and Yahoo Groups for discussions. Google also offers a similar service called Google Talk.

You want to do Flash but can't afford or have the time to fool with Adobe Flash? Try
SWISH instead. They have a deep, very deep, educational discount. You can buy it at that discount from lots of educational discounted software companies. One I use a lot is Academic Superstore. Another is Journey Ed.

Camtasia. I love these guys. You can record desktop demonstrations with narration and video easily. You can publish to flash, cd/dvd, and streaming video. Check out the examples and the trial software by going to the
TechSmith site.

Wink is a freeware alternative to Camtasia.

Blogging... just like I'm doing. Why do it? IT IS EASY. You can be a "journalist" in seconds and publish your stuff to the Web. If you have the
Google Toolbar installed with your browser, you can see Blogger is the free blog of choice. Blogging is so easy you can use it for student assignments. They often get a kick out of seeing how easy they can post to the web. Then again, I bet many of them know that already.

Everybody is doing podcasts these days it seems. There are many commercial editing programs out there but
Audacity is free. PVCC's Mike Ho and Student Life do a lot of podcasts and Mike tells me they get THOUSANDS of hits on that page. Give a listen to some of the 'casts.

Now this next program is going to be addictive. It is called
Hot Potatoes. It is freeeee! You can produce mix and match, fill in the blank, even interesting crossword puzzle quizzes. You can output to an html file or package into a zip for import into BlackBoard, for instance. It doesn't really record the grades for you but it makes fine review-type fun quizzes.

Everybody has a digital camera. Some use their cell phones. Others, like me, have gone wild and have spent a lot of money on equipment. Photos are fun and easy and a great way to build rapport. I use
Photoshop Elements. You can download a trial and then purchase the real product for well under $100. Take a look at my photography page. Then click on the portfolio link on the left side. That was made with Photoshop Elements. Not bad, eh? Now, how about a pretty darn neat photo editing program that is free? Try Picasa. It will also build nice galleries for you. I have both Photoshop Elements and Picasa on my home and work machines. Some additional photography sites that have gallery building and limited editing would include Shutterfly, Kodak Gallery, and Flickr. Click on the link to see my personal Flickr gallery. And the 2007 CIT has a Flickr site of pictures and comments... give it a gander. Oh, before I forget, Kodak has a neat Digital Learning Center if you want project ideas and learn how to get more out of your digital camera.

All of us use PowerPoint slides. Publishers give them to us and we create our own. But posting the PPT file takes time and space.
Impatica is a program that can scrunch a PowerPoint file down by up to 95 percent. I had a nice PowerPoint slideshow on how to give a great presentation on my web site. Nice idea until I found out my students were printing page after page of the slideshow in the computer lab! So I used Impatica to produce this slideshow. Impatica is not free so check to see if your college has a site license.

You can incorporate simple video into your class without breaking the bank. Many of the newer video cameras have USB connection, so that makes it easy to import video into your computer. And I bet you might have had some free or trial video editing software bundled with it. If not, I'd suggest
Adobe Premier Elements, the partner program for Photoshop Elements. Or, how about the free Microsoft Movie Maker? For simple videos, I use my Logitech QuickCam Ultra Vision which records video in near darkness. There is a free program that will output very small videos that play with Real Player. It is called Real Producer. You can stream the video or make a nice small video from the original and post to your website or LMS, for instance. Here is another addictive toy you are going to love. Go visit Flixn now and get started with simple videos. It will record up to five minutes, then you can post the URL anywhere for viewing. Click here to see my sample Flixn video for you. And my TechSmith friends have a free thingie out there similar to Flixn called Jing. And of course, you can house your videos on YouTube. Look at what a couple of fool college professors did from PVCC! Well, one of em is a fool. You guess which one. haha.

And there is the whole open source movement. Again, get your Google site up and ready to do some searching. One nice suite of programs similar to MS Office is
Open Office. In the Spring of 2008 PVCC will be hosting a "Dialogue Day" on open source products for education. Visit the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction or MCLI for more information.

Let me know if this has been helpful... I'm at at work or you can visit me at my faculty webpage.