Wednesday, April 25, 2012

File Sharing: Simple As 1, 2, 3…



(Not to Mention 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
I have long been seeking solutions for being able to quickly share files with multiple students using assistive technology; there isn’t a one-step process, unfortunately. Dropbox comes close, but depending on how you intend to use it, you have to sacrifice either security or convenience, and some school computer networks will not allow users to install it anyways.

 However, I have come up with a reasonably decent solution using the web. There are many ways you could achieve the same results, but from all the ways I’ve tried, this is the easiest. It involves combining a couple of simple and free Web 2.0 tools and takes about 5-10 minutes to set up, but then only a few seconds to use each time you want to share a file, and you can upload and download files to and from any Internet-connected computer, not just at school. I’ve broken down the steps to be really simple, so it looks like a lot of work, but the steps are short; most take only a few seconds to execute.

Setup instructions
Step 1:
Start up Internet Explorer or other web browser and go to the website http://ge.tt and click SIGN UP (top-right area of screen) for a free account. Where it asks for your full name, use the name that you want your students to see (E.g., Mr. Smith). Make sure you remember or record your password for later.

Step 2:
Click Upload files and upload a sample file.


Step 3:
You will be given an http:// web link with a randomly generated code. Click Copy link.







Optional Step 3.5:
Click on the pencil icon  (over to the left a bit, above the “Add files” button) and create a title for your ge.tt sharing space: e.g., your name or your subject.

Step 4:
Now go to a different website: http://notlong.com; this site takes any webpage address (URL) and lets you customize it, which is useful for sharing all kinds of web links, but especially complex ones that are hard to type or remember.

Step 5:
Paste your randomly-generated ge.tt link from Step 3 into the field where it says “Long URL”. (Control-V is a handy shortcut for Paste in Windows.)

Step 6:
In the field just underneath that, where it says “[Save As] http://________.notlong.com,” enter something easy for your kids to remember and type (maybe your room number and/or your school’s initials) or something unique … whatever is accepted by the system, but the shorter and simpler the better.

Step 7:
Make sure you write down or copy and paste your customized notlong.com web address. You and your students will use this to easily access your ge.tt sharing space. (Note: the http:// part is optional from this point onwards, so that string of 7 characters doesn’t need to be recorded or typed by your students).

Step 8:
Have your students go to the customized notlong address you created in step 7 and add it to their Internet Favourites/Bookmarks or make it their home page.

Daily Use by You the Teacher:  (Uploading Files for Students)
Step A:
Go to your notlong.com web address you recorded in Step 7 above.

Step B:
Click log in and enter your credentials as you did in Step 1 above.

Step C:
Click Add Files and select the file or files you want to upload.




Note:
You can delete old files by moving your mouse cursor over the unwanted file and clicking on the X that appears on the far right side.
 


Daily Use by Your Students: (Downloading Files)
Step A:
Students go to your customized notlong.com address in their favourites/bookmarks (Steps 7 and 8 above)

Step B:
They locate the specific file they want and click the download button (down arrow) that appears on the far right when the mouse cursor moves over the filename.
 


If you want to have several teachers doing this at your school so the kids could download from any of them as they rotate from class to class, I would set it up differently. Sorry, I won’t go into all the step-by-step details here, but basically I would have each of the teachers do Steps 1-3 above and email me their ge.tt links. I would then create a Webmix using Symbaloo.com to create a tile for each teacher’s ge.tt link; however, I would have to remove the last two characters (?c) from the end of each ge.tt link to make it work with Symbaloo.  Next I’d copy the Symbaloo Webmix sharing link, and then follow Steps 4-8 substituting that Symbaloo sharing link for my ge.tt link.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Exclusive Preview of SMART's new LightRaise Interactive Projector

The SMART LightRaise 40wi Interactive Projector (pictured upside-down).
It certainly isn't every day that CyberSERT gets a real scoop, but I was fortunate enough to have a sneak preview at SMART Technologies' new LightRaise 40wi Interactive Projector. Due out sometime in late May 2012, the LightRaise is a lower-cost alternative to a wall-mountable SMART Board with an ultra-short-throw projector (estimated educational price is US$1599). It's meant to be used on a regular whiteboard (dumb board?) or a smooth wall

I was able to try out this product and was quite impressed overall. Our situation did not allow us to properly mount the LightRaise above the projected area, so we propped it up on a small table below a whiteboard; note that SMART Tech does not approve of using the unit this way as it could be dangerous to the projector or to people using it. Setup was incredibly easy. Just plug the LightRaise into the power outlet, connect to the display port and USB port of a computer (with drivers installed), pick up the pen, and you're in business. Unlike a SMART Board, there is no need to orient the LightRaise... ever. You can move the unit while drawing with the pen, and all your interactions will be perfectly aligned with the projected image. You barely have to position the projector more than a few inches from the wall to get a gigantic interactive surface: up to 100 inches diagonal.

The interaction happens via a special "pen" that has some kind of optical device inside (when you look past the hollow "nib" you can see what looks like a lens; I can't tell if it's for a sensor or for an infrared light source). I have to say that I didn't like the aesthetics of the pen; it didn't look as good as a SMART Board pen (nor feel as good in the hand). It's just too chunky. I regret not measuring its girth, but I'm pretty sure the pen is more than an inch in diameter -- definitely thicker than your average permanent marker. I'm not sure if what I was using was just a prototype, because it clearly wasn't brand new (there were faded traces of red ink, visible in the photo above). I just really hope that they're planning on slimming down that pen at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Although the pen is made for interacting with your software by you clicking and dragging it on the wall or whiteboard you're projecting on, it can also control the mouse cursor just by pointing (see video, below) and clicking a button on the side of the pen. When used like this, it's a lot like a Wii-mote. It's not super accurate, especially as you approach the 30-foot limit, but it's an excellent feature for the classroom, especially if you have kids who can't come up to the front because of physical disability. I wish they had put a right-click button on the pen, however.




The unit comes with a wall-mountable pen locker that can securely store your pen in the classroom when you're not around and charge the lithium-ion battery at the same time.

The projector also has a 10-Watt sound system built in, which can accept a microphone and/or computer input.

If you're used to using a SMART Board, you might miss being able to control your computer by touch, or just picking up the eraser to erase a line. Instead you have to click on every tool with the pen, and to right-click, you either have to hold a click for 5 seconds, or go to the SMART Tools and click on a right-click icon and then the spot where you want to right-click. But there is an advantage of using a pen-based system: no problems with unintended touch. A user leaning with one hand or their palm while writing with the pen will not have a problem. Or if you have a bunch of kids up at the front at the same time, an impatient or careless student touching the board will not ruin the work of the kid whose turn it is to write.

Overall, you do get great value for the money with the LightRaise, plus something no competitor can offer: SMART Notebook. With version 11 due out at the same time as the LightRaise, Notebook is boasting exciting new features, making the LightRaise and SMART Board line harder than ever to beat.

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