Animoto Review: Engaging… but educational?

July 28, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Cloud Computing, Digital Era 

Another late night and another review of something interesting I have come across this year. As I was taking a tour of Twynham School with one of our visitors on the last week of term we popped into a lesson where the students were using netbooks in their normal classroom. The class were producing presentations to send to David Cameron and a number were using PowerPoint as I might suspect. The interesting thing is that many of the students had opted to use a different presentation that the PowerPoint/movie maker norm- instead they were using Animoto.

Animoto is an ‘on the fly’ producer of presentations which incorporate your pictures, videos and music. Its value is in the ease and simplicity with which you can throw your different components into the web interface and quickly get a compelling presentation. Here is an example of a History presentation which would be used by a teacher at the start of a new unit to get students engaged.

I think the real value of Animoto beyond its simplicity as a mash-up tool is the way in which students are engaged by the production of engaging presentations. As we know for most students music is a major impact on their lives and the ability to add soundtracks or run one at random alongside movie quality effects certainly appeals. The other side of course is examining what the educational value is of such a tool. In the presentations I saw there was very little evidence that Animoto added anything here beyond engagement. That said Animoto also has an educational section where you can sign up so take a look here and try it for yourself.

Pogoplug review: your own personal cloud storage

July 27, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Cloud Computing 

Time for a bit of non-SharePoint/Learning Platform talk. As those of you who have followed the blog over the last 18 months will know I am very interested in cloud computing and love gadgets. One of my first ever blog posts back in January 2009 was about a new device which was launched back at CES. The device was called Pogoplug and Robert Scoble made a big noise about it.

Having lost touch with Pogoplug since then I was pleased to come across their 2nd Generation version in PC World last week. I could not help but pick one up as the ability to access my vast library (which currently sits on three large hard drives) from anywhere would be really useful. If you have not met Pogoplug before it is well worth watching this quick video below to get an overview of what it does.

Although the video was made by Pogoplug the hype was very much accurate. Within 60 seconds I was up and running with complete access to my 3 hard drives which are connected up to the Pogoplug and then into my modem. The web interface is simple and intuitive and very responsive. Given a cost of just £70 I was left wondering why would you pay for cloud storage on a monthly basis when you can own your own for a one off payment. One other bonus is the range of devices the Pogoplug can be accessed on and in my case the iPhone app will be my most common access point.

Pogoplug have also announced in the last week that they are launching a business version of Pogoplug with more details here. Demos of the Pogoplug will be posted when I have had more time to play with it.

Software as a Service and Cloud Computing

March 30, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Cloud Computing 

It is easy to use jargon when talking about IT in education and I did this myself on Friday when referring to ‘Cloud Computing’ What is more I did trip between the concept of Cloud Computing and Software as a Service as interchangeable ideas when they are not. Quite a few people have contacted me asking for clarification on these terms when I have used them recently and so I thought it was worth a post. Before I try to define the differences in the terms myself I thought it might be useful to employ the use of YouTube! Here is a short (5 minute) video on Cloud Computing which is a big buzz word in IT at the moment.

If you are still thirsting for more then take a look at The History of Cloud Computing. Alongside this is the idea of Software as a Service. Take a look at this video here for a quick input.

So the difference? Cloud Computing is a broad term which refers to the availability of Internet based services on a ‘pay as you go’ basis replacing the traditional need for significant hardware and software investment for businesses to run their online operations. Software as a service is a much narrower concept based on cloud computing where software is hosted in the cloud and available to users via the Internet instead of on their machines. So thinking about education what is a managed Learning Platform like Fronter or Frog? Does it represent Cloud Computing or Software as a Service? I think it is both but am keen to be corrected by someone more knowledgeable. Surely though it is software (e.g. SharePoint) which is hosted in the cloud and is easily scalable dependant on the number of users. I knew this post was a bad idea!

Generation Y moves into the cloud with OnLive.. YouTube a greater influence than MTV

As a teacher of 10 years I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to engage students in their learning and understand (but not be in) their culture.  Last month I ran a series of blogs looking at teen culture, what their motivation points are and how we can engage them with online learning and technology in general. As a recap here are the posts which relate to this topic:

  1. Digital natives coming to a school near you
  2. Using SharePoint to engage teens without web 2.0
  3. SharePoint as on Online Learning tool for teens
  4. Student Collaboration in SharePoint forums
  5. Snow days 1 and 2-What did our students do?

In the second post above I outlined the increasing influence of online mediums over the entertainment of older generations. Music is clearly the number one driving force for teens followed closely by gaming. Just take a look at this preview video for a new gaming service launched this week called OnLive.


There is also an interesting article on the BBC today showing that in the 15-24 age range more people watch music (interesting phrase- watch music) on YouTube than television. It would appear that these two major influences have been enhanced and developed by the coming of the Internet and particularly broadband. Although the era of cloud computing is not yet fully here it can only be a matter of time before high speed Internet completely changes the way we use devices in the home and elsewhere. Returning to the idea of my nephew who I blogged about earlier in the week, I genuinely believe that the use of cloud computing and wifi will dominate the lives of young people both in school and at home within the next decade.

PogoPlug and the Cloud

January 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Cloud Computing 

During this week we have been focusing on the development of ‘Cloud Computing’ and how we are trying to use this at Twynham School with SharePoint. One of the related discussions we have been having in the systems team is about access through the cloud to your personal details. Much of what we are looking to do with students is develop SharePoint’s My Site as an online home drive or e-portfolio. There are huge challenges here with the widespread emergence of students and staff using video. This is even more challenging when you consider the impact of HD now and especially in the next few years. Although storage is rapidly coming down in price the simple reality is there isn’t enough space on school servers to put the entire contents of 2,000 staff and student’s digital resources.

The result is that much of this material stays trapped on laptop hard drives and over time gets transferred to external hard drives which often sit at home as a back up. During the last year I have been talking about the need for a simple and convenient way to access all your resources over the internet from your home broadband. Whilst there have been some development within the home through the use of Network Attached Storage (NAS) these often allow complicated access remotely via the internet and often usually with subscriptions. I have been impatient for a simple method of attaching all my resources to my broadband router on an external hard drive so that I might access them from anywhere in the world for free. Well it seems that we might have the answer through the product launch at CES of Pogoplug.

This cheap ($99 after CES) device does exactly what I and many people have been looking for- allows free access to all your digital media through the cloud. It is another example of how the internet continues to become more dominant in peoples lives as broadband speeds develop. Check out their product launch interview with Robert Scoble of Scobleizer and Fast Company.

Trialling Remote Applications on SharePoint

January 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Cloud Computing 

Yesterday I started talking about the trial Twynham School is running on ‘Cloud Computing’. This is being led by Network Manager Dave Coleman and Tony Smith who is Head of ICT. Since September Twynham has had Terminal Services 2008 installed with a number of applications being run through SharePoint over the internet. These have included Outlook, Word and Excel with a small group of teachers and a few students testing the robustness of the system. Starting this week we have opened the trial out to two of Tony’s classes for the specific use of Microsoft Project 2007. It made sense to start our trial with this software as it is less memory hungry and is only used for 6 weeks of the year on a specific A-level course. Running the software remotely saved the need to set up the software on all the computers yet it can still be accessed in different rooms each year without any setup.

The student homepage is shown above for Twynham’s Learning Gateway. Dave has provisioned the applications on the right side of the page for the specific classes using Active Directory and SharePoint audiences. Although we are only in our first few lessons of the new term the signs are encouraging that this model can work.

Of course the real test will come over time with potentially 2,000 users pulling on a server farm both inside the school and at home. Will it work on this larger scale? At this point the jury is out amongst the technical staff with some wondering if a large secondary school can effectively run a setup of this nature in-house. This reality seems to be what is driving Microsoft to move into Software plus Services and could lead to an explosion in the use of SharePoint Online.

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