Here is a screen cast I put together to show you just how easy it is for music educators to start using Google Reader. It literally just takes a few minutes to be up and running with rich content. The key (as you will see) is getting two bookmarklets into your bookmarks bar.
Now just continue to hit the "Subscribe" button when you discover new sites. Next steps include creating your sharing settings, organizing your feeds with tags and folders, and connecting with other Google Reader educators. Find me here: http://www.google.com/reader/shared/scnmusic
So... you have a movie on your personal laptop and want to show it in class. Do you (a) email the huge file so you can download it to the computer that is attached to the LCD projector, or (b) hook up your personal computer to your LCD projector (wasting valuable time) or (c) stream the media from your personal laptop to the computer that is already hooked up to your LCD projector?
This morning I was doing some searching for sms-based online polling (clickers are too expensive and oh-so-20th century). PollEverywhere looks great, but I also happened to stumble on this notification service called SendGM. It does basic polling, but its real forte is notification.
You enter contact information into your account, and from there you can assign the contacts to any combination of groups. The real power comes in the types of notifications that SendGM can provide. It will send any combination of email, sms, and text-to-voice notifications based on the contact info for each person. You can also request replies from the contacts (hence the polling feature).
The free account handles up to 25 users, but the next level (100) is only $79 per year. Not bad. I like that it is a more private, controlled, and flexible system than Twitter. This could be the ultimate school group notification system, especially for travel.
A few months ago I heard a rumor that Apple was thinking about buying a music streaming site called lala.com. Well, I had never heard of it, so I spent the next few days checking it out. They have since acquired it (mainly to get the talented programmers folded into the iTunes team) but it is still up and running.
You need to check it out too, and I'll tell you why. Do any of these things interest you?1. You can put your entire digital library online for FREE and listen to it from any computer.2. You can preview new music in its entirety rather than just a 30 second clip.3. You can buy streaming rights (they call it a "Web Song") to new music for one thin dime and listen via the web whenever you like.4. You can also download songs for 89 cents. 79 if you already own the Web Song.5. You can link to your friends and get/make suggestions about different music.6. You can make a playlist and embed that list onto any website where people can listen to the entire list (once) for FREE.Sound unique? It is, and clearly there are some ideas here that interest the likes of Apple. Who knows what Apple will decide to do with their new acquisition, but I decided to dive in.
I have to tell you, it's great having access to my entire library online. Lala has an app called the "Music Mover." Basically it looks at your collection and matches it to its licensed catalog. Anything they already have is linked to your account, and (here's the cool part) anything they don't have gets uploaded and hosted. No limitations, no cost. That is pretty sweet.
The embedding feature is great. Recently my colleague and I embedded some recordings of pieces we are starting to work on in our rehearsals (example above). You can see the embeddable players on our website. This is a great way for the students to at least hear the music one time (after the full listen, they get the traditional 30 second clip). And of course if the kids want to purchase, it's only a dime for the streaming version. If you've been trying to convince your students to "do the right thing" by purchasing the recordings of the music you are working on at school, purchasing streams at one tenth the cost of mp3's is a pretty nice alternative.I think this Web Song idea has some promise. Think about it, for 100 bucks you can get 100 songs from iTunes, or you can get 1,000 Web Songs. Sometimes you might want the download, but I think the streaming version can be a great (and extremely economical) option. I don't know if Apple will keep the feature (or the site for that matter) but for now I'm finding it to be really helpful.Anyway, head on over to lala.com and check it out. I'm "Brian W." on lala if you want to look me up.
Is the stereo in your rehearsal room located too far from your podium? If it is you probably don't use reference recordings and a rehearsal metronome as often as you should. Well if you have an iPod Touch/iPhone and about fifty bucks, you can stream music and metronome from your podium to your stereo. All you need is this device from Sony: The HWS-BTA2W ... catchy name, very easy to remember.
This little device (only about two inches high) is a Bluetooth receiver. Simply plug it in, connect the audio output to your stereo, then "pair" it with your iPod Touch/iPhone. Pairing works just like pairing a Bluetooth ear piece. Just like that, you will be able to stream the audio output of your iPod/iPhone from just about anywhere in the room. No time wasted walking over to the stereo. You can stop/start the metronome instantly (I like "Tempo" or "Dr. Betotte"), or pull up a reference recording on the spot. Pretty cool right?
Another nice feature: You can also transmit audio with these Sony devices, and they will pair with one another. So with two of these (one set to transmit, and one to receive) you can send audio wirelessly from anything that has a headphone jack, so you're not limited to devices with built in Bluetooth like the iPod Touch/iPhone. The only catch is that the Sony device is not battery powered, so you would need AC at your podium if you wanted to use one as a transmitter.
Bluetooth has a range of about 30 feet, so it's not the solution to everything, but for those of us who have multiple rehearsal setups in the same room, this can be a real productivity enhancer, and it sure beats running a long audio cable across the floor.
Update: I forgot to mention that this can also be a nice way to stream from your Mac too, since Macs have Bluetooth audio profiles built in and you can easily pair it with the Sony. Comes in handy when your computer is not near the stereo. The Sony will pair with up to seven devices.
Last spring as my wife was preparing to take her college choir on a trip across Europe, we were discussing how to keep in touch with the whole group easily. It is always a little nerve wracking when students are spread out across an airport terminal or sight seeing in a foreign country and the need arises to reach everyone. Time can really be of the essence in those situations, especially if the itinerary needs to change on a moments notice.
It occurred to me that Twitter might be a viable option for a mass contact tool. If you don't know much about Twitter, I'll explain it briefly as a service that people use for posting information, thoughts, or status updates. So it is basically like the status box in Facebook for those of you familiar with that feature. Twitter does a few other things, but not much. It really is focused on these brief 140 character updates, which are fondly referred to as "tweets."
Well, one of those "other things" that Twitter does is allow a user to receive updates from someone as a text message on their mobile phone. It was this feature that appealed to me, because it seemed to me that my wife could post one "tweet" and, provided all the students were "following" her, they would all receive the tweet instantly as a mobile text. We decided to try it. Over the next few weeks the students registered for Twitter, requested to be able to "follow" my wife's updates (which were set to private), and checked the box for receiving tweets from her via sms. Twitter sends a quick verification text to your mobile phone and then you're all set for getting tweets as sms. The whole process from registration to verification takes just a few minutes once you know the steps.
After a few tests stateside we were set. She ended up using this tool quite a bit, both in the various airports and across France and Austria. Any changes in plans were easily and instantly communicated to everyone. Worked like a charm, and sure beat trying to use a phone tree. If your groups travels a lot, it might be something you want to consider. If you students are younger and having Twitter accounts isn't a viable option, you could at least use it to communicate with your chaperones. It could also be a nice way to keep parents back home up to date as well. For example, you (the teacher) could have an account for communicating with the students and/or chaperones, and one chaperone could have an account for trip highlights that parents could subscribe to. In any case, let me know if you have any questions, I'm happy to help if you want to give this a try.
UPDATE: I now recommend www.sendgm.com over using Twitter for mass sms.
Today was a teacher workday for us. I had my grades under control by lunchtime, so after lunch I started tackling something I've been thinking about for years: webcam-based digital assessments.
For many years we have been using video camcorders for assessments in our school. I prefer it to audio because it really helps to see the student in addition to be being able to hear them. But if you've ever dealt with setting up and taking down video cameras, you know it can be a hassle. Tapes, tripods, power adapters... over time it can become a deterrent. Assessment needs to be reasonable for the teacher as well as the student, right? I had been thinking about using one of our Macs for some time, but it just seemed it would take as much or more time to deal with the digital files. I decided to do a little research about automating the process.
Of course the ability to record audio and/or video on a computer has been with us for a while now, so this is not some huge revelation I'm sharing with you. But what I was interested in was a process that could (a) be run by the students while rehearsal continued, (b) allow me to review the files remotely (can you say at home), and (c) be easy to implement. If it's not easy, I'm not going to do it regularly, and regularity is what students need.
So basically the process I was after was this:
Student clicks a button, and a new video file is created
File is saved to a folder
Repeat for as many students as necessary
Files are uploaded for viewing
The Key: Automator
A few years ago Apple released an application with OS X called Automator. Basically it is like "macros" that you may remember from other software applications like Microsoft Word. Automator allows you to "record" a number of steps that are then saved into a "workflow." This workflow can then be launched just like a stand alone application.
Automator is not exactly the type of application you can easily figure out. Fortunately I found a great site called automator.us that has some helpful tips and some workflow files you can use or modify. After a few hours I had a workflow that would:
Open a new video file in Quicktime
Offer the student a button to press to begin recording, and tell them to begin
When the student clicks the button to stop recording, tell the student "Thank You" and "Send in the next student"
In the meantime, the file is exported to
My iDisk (on me.com) which
Allows me to view the file(s) from basically anywhere, including iPhone or iPod Touch
So once I start the Automator workflow at the beginning of class, I don't have to interact with it at all, and the video files will be waiting for me when I get home. Pretty slick eh?
Next week I'm going to look into modifying the workflow to utilize Drop.io instead of iDisk. The advantage there is you do not need a me.com account. Drop.io is free and also has a nice player built into their site so you can easily view the video files in your web browser (and iPhone with the Droppler app). I'm also going to try to figure out how to have the student enter their name, which will then become the file name. Not a really big deal since the video thumbnails basically show you a picture of the student, but still would be nice. Hey maybe I'll even have the Mac speak their name at the end just for fun.
If you happen to have a Mac and would like workflow file, just let me know. Here is a little Automator example in case you are interested in seeing what the interface looks like: