The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?

The Good

It’s been one of those weeks where I have initially despaired of being able to find the open source software that ticks all the boxes of what I am trying to do.  I’ve been looking for free, easy to use video editing software that allows you to overlay either an image or another video.  Naively I thought this would be easy to find.  Turns out there is a lot of great free photo editing software out there (GIMP anyone?), but video editing software is thin on the ground. Finally I found the answer in VideoSpin, which is free open source video editing software from Pinnacle.  Pinnacle are part of the Avid family and I’ve seen their programs used in professional video editing suites so felt that VideoSpin could be a little gem of a program.  It is incredibly good as it makes editing video a lot easier but also means that with the videos from LFF10 we can overlay new images to block out any that infringe copyright or, if necessary, block out entire frames of video. 

The Bad

While editing these videos has become an enjoyable challenge (thanks to the discovery of VideoSpin, and honestly I’m not working on commission), there is the matter that an hour’s worth of video means a large file size.  Not necessary a problem if you are planning on keeping these files to yourself but when trying to place these files in an OER repository it can become a not-so-enjoyable challenge and one that we are still working on.  While using a friendly file format (MP4) and a smaller screen size (320 x 288) helps reduce the amount of megabytes in the video files we are still looking at 40-60MB worth of footage. But the finished video files are well worth a watch and will help us extend the impact of LFF10 so file size and storage remain high on my (and the other learning technologists) to-do list.

The Ugly?

I was going to use this heading to make unnecessary jokes at the Zookeeper’s Skoda, but since I’ve driven this beast myself I do have a new found respect for it. So I have decided to pick up on a news item that has been around for a while: broadband connection speeds.  The BBC has a couple of current news stories about this:

With the amount of photos, audio and video that are uploaded, downloaded and shared on the Internet, the need or want for everything to be faster to keep up to date with all the new developments in browser-based technologies, e.g. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, could become a real problem.  The first news story highlights some innovative ways of getting broadband, but it looks like maintaining and improving these speeds and connecting the entire UK could be tricky.  Perhaps this is an ‘ugly’ future?

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

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The beckoning Wave

‘You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment’, wrote Henry David Thoreau.

Though really torn about using Thoreau’s name and that of Google in the same piece, I could not think of a more meaningful quotation with the term ‘wave’ in it.

Not happy with just being the undisputed leaders in online searching, Google has unveiled Google Wave, a system aimed at improving online collaboration. Perhaps I should say ‘revolutionising  online collaboration’.

Beware Microsoft and Apple. Google, whose company mission is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ has just hit a home run!

Like the legendary Macworld Expo, where the Applemeister Steve Jobs has annually held court, Google launched the Wave to developers at the Google I/O Conference in San Francisco.

With the unveiling of one piece of groundbreaking technology after another at this humdrum convention venue, the Moscone Centre, has become the choice of site for ‘revolutionary stagings’ –  not unlike a Runnymede or a Bretton Woods of the technological age! 

After displacing the AOLs and the Yahoos of the ‘search world’, and then emerging from the shadow of the Apple vs. Microsoft struggle for ‘net-world domination’, the not-so-subtle message now is that ‘Google has arrived’ and it appeared to be received loud and clear.

Maybe Google staffers are just hitting back because Google was nudged from the top spot (sliding to number 4 in the rankings) of Fortune Magazine’s list of the 100 best companies to work for!!

Google software engineering manager and the man behind Google Maps, Lars Rasmussen pointed to previous communications advances such as email and instant messaging as the starting point for Google Wave – essentially, posing the question: What would email look like if we developed it today? Read it here in his own words.

With Wave, Google are proposing a new communications model, and appear keen to find out what the world might think. Though Google don’t have a specific timeframe for public release, they are  planning to continue working on Google Wave for a number of months more as a developer preview. If you’d like to be notified when Google launches Wave as a public product, you can sign up here.

Just a scan of the available reviews from the blogsphere reveals generally gushing praise – with terms like ‘how frighteningly integrated’ and ‘an absolute game changer’ liberally used to greet the Wave.

Google hopes Wave will cause a rethink about what a single communications platform might look like and be able to support when it is built from scratch, but with access to the online technologies most users take for granted in this day and age.

Wave will allow multiple users to exchange real-time dialogue, photos, videos, maps, documents and other information forms within a single, shared communications space known as a wave.

Users of the system should be able to see instantly what fellow collaborators are typing and even publish a wave to a blog or web site, where the content will update instantly as the wave changes.

Google said the aim is to allow people to communicate and work together in an infinitely richer, more instant and integrated way.

Google Wave will introduce features such as concurrent rich text editing, whereby users will be able to see, ‘almost instantly, letter-by-letter, what fellow collaborators are typing into a message or document in a wave,’ according to Rasmussen

There will also be a playback feature, and Google said the technology can integrate with the rest of the web. And supporters of ‘open sourcing’ need not fret as Google also said it was planning to open source Google Wave in the coming months. ‘Developers can build extensions to Google Wave using our open APIs, embed waves in other sites, or build applications that interoperate with Google Wave,’ said Rasmussen.

Among other things, online teaching and collaborative learning potentially stands to be revolutionised in ways we only imagined before. How long before a system incorporating Google Wave gets adapted as a VLE, with opportunities for online collaboration that other VLE platforms can only wonder about?

– Jai Mukherjee (3 June 2009)

With inputs from online news sites and print news publications … since Google invited neither Thoreau nor me to the launch!

How is Free Free?

Open educational resources have been the buzz here at BDRA for some time now so I ran a quick search through the stuff stored in my hard drive for anything with the words Open Source in the title. What I am interested in is what motivates people to put out in the World Wide Web for free things that other people normally sell. Why is free free? And why free is free mainly in the world of Internet and software/technology? By the way I’m not counting mobile phone free minutes as free, they are a Machiavellian extortion plot. Still, why does Google give me all the services provided by Google Mail for free? Why does Mozilla come for free? Open Office? Are educational resources (such as course content and delivery) different or similar to Google Mail, Open Office and my free WAV to MP3 decoder? What does free mean?

MIT’s OpenCourseWare is probably the best known example of open educational content. Recently I came across this resource, which I like much better:

http://academicearth.org/

It is a portal, an online hub for videos of university lectures and other educational content. Last time I checked, its first page offered a full video course on The American Novel since 1945 by a Yale academic, a course on Classical Mechanics from MIT which I can only describe as super cool (featuring the professor swaying on a swing in a big lecture hall) and a lecture on political science by the author of The World Is Flat Thomas Friedman. Some of the courses (not all) come with the exam papers and solutions to the exam questions. Truth be told, most of the content is lectures rather than complete courses. And the institutions participating in the project are names that need not fear that prospective students would, instead of enrolling, devour the open educational content and fly to better pastures. Participating institutions are MIT, Yale, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford. Why do institutions participate in initiatives like this? What is the motivation of the institution? Of the author of the content? Well, in the best traditions of adventure movies, I shall leave you with this cliffhanger – watch this space for the answers on the 13th of March (to add to the drama, it will be Friday 13th….).

And if you are interested in cool applications and gadgets for free, these people offer The Best of selection:

http://www.webappers.com/

Sandra, BDRA 

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