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Freebee Friday: Welcome to the Online Classroom

GradeChange-150pxWhat is the state of the art for online classes? According to “Grade Change,” the Babson Survey Research Group reports that there were 7.1 million online students in higher education during the 2012 fall term, a 6.1-percent increase. The survey included the opinions of 2,800 academic leaders, of which 90 percent responded that it was at least likely most higher education students will be taking at least one online course by 2019.


Freebee Friday: Classroom Decor


Accessorizing a classroom usually means than getting tablets or a projector, but Busyteacher.org has a different idea. The site has nearly 300 downloadable posters that emphasize different areas of curriculum, from vocabulary to popular fruits and vegetables. There’s sure to be at least one for each classroom.




Cool Servers

SRCool 12K bAnyone’s who has a server that’s overheating and causing network havoc knows that it’s not a pleasant experience, but there are things you can do to prevent it, like adding ventilation or active cooling. Tripp-Lite’s $650 SRCOOL 12K is a portable air conditioner that can remove up to 12,000 BTUs of heat from a server room, protecting the computers from heat-related damage. The system is small, self-contained and built on casters so it can be wheeled to wherever it’s needed. The system evaporates any water it produces so you don’t need a drain line or water container. The best part is that with Tripp-Lite’s data module you can remotely monitor the unit and the room’s temperature over the Internet.

3-D Printing for Schools

MB05_REP_02_BuildPlate1While Cubify’s Cube was the first out with an inexpensive 3-D printer, MakerBot takes this idea to a new level. The $1,375 Replicator Mini is a desktop 3-D printer that produces items up to 75 cubic inches 200 micron layers at a time. Students can create their own designs or print dozens of premade 3-D designs at Thingiverse.com. It’ll be available in the Spring.


Class in the Cloud

SmartSharpenWith the world moving to the cloud for everything from testing to math problems, it’s only natural that the software for working on images, video and Web pages goes there as well. In fact, Adobe makes it very attractive for schools to use its Creative Cloud infrastructure with the ability to pay a monthly or yearly fee for the apps.

Adobe’s current school Creative Cloud replaces the Creative Suite and does away with paying for software once and using it forever. The Creative Cloud’s 26 desktop programs are available on a subscription basis, so it’s like renting the software rather than owning it. There are currently more than 1.4 million Creative Cloud users.

The CC apps range from the familiar, such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere, to lesser known programs, like Edge Animate, Phone Gap Build and Speed Grade. It even includes Prelude for adding or editing metadata to files and Story Plus for formatting scripts. To signify that they originate in the online world, rather than number versions they all have a CC suffix to their names.

Kuler-ColorWheelRather than having to load a new version ever few years, the software will be updated as needed rather than as a group. For example, Illustrator CC has a cool new Pencil mode for more natural freehand drawings and Photoshop CC is a step ahead of the version 13 with support for 3D Printing, Camera Shake Reduction and Perspective Warp. On the other hand, compared to older versions, Photoshop CC has lost the ability to drop an image in the clipboard directly into a perfectly sized file; it’s now a two-step process.

To get started, everyone who will need access to the programs will need an Adobe ID membership and log-in credentials. All of the CC programs are downloaded onto either a PC or a Mac and once installed acts like any other program. They leave behind a Task Tray item for instant access to Creative Cloud options.

All you do is pick the new apps from a list of available programs in the Adobe Application Manager, but you can’t have them all install at once, which can slow getting machines prepped for class. On the downside, while loading programs, you may find yourself typing in your password three or four times.

To avoid confusion, before you load any of the CC apps, you’ll probably want to uninstall any older versions of the software. If they remain, sometimes the older software will load, other times the new CC app will.

A word of warning for those schools with older computers: the Creative Cloud applications are currently a mixture of 32- and 64-bit programs, but over time, they will more and more be the latter. For example, Premiere Pro video editing software now requires a 64-bit computer.

AE_C4D-Integration_in AEPlus, the Creative Cloud only covers traditional notebook and desktop programs and not Photoshop and Lightroom extensions for iPads and Android devices. It’s a shame because they are an excellent adjunct to the more thorough and complete Mac and PC software.

While you need to load the CC apps over the Internet, they don’t require an online connection to operate, unless you want to store items in an online repository. The Adobe server will, however, attempt to identify and verify the license of each CC-enabled system once a month.

As has been the case for years, Adobe has hundreds of online teaching resources. The best are videos that show how to perform specific tasks, but there are also tutorials that can be adapted as lesson plans. Happily, they are project based, have step-by-step instructions and include time estimates. For those who have mastered the mundane aspects of the programs, Adobe has an innovative Master Class section with advice on how to perform specialty or hard to complete tasks.

Unlike most software companies, Adobe wants to know what you – and you or students think. Along the way, many of the CC apps have a place to click to request a new feature.

AE_C4D-Integration_C4DLiteWhile access to this variety of software would cost thousands of dollars per system, Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Students and Teachers costs roughly $20 per month for individuals if you sign up by April 14; after that the price jumps to about $30 per user. It includes two licenses for use on different computers. By contrast, you can license a single app for $20 a month and there’s a combo of Photoshop and Lightroom for $10 a month; you’ll need to sign up by the end of February to get the introductory price, though. The company has discounted plans for licensing the Cloud on a school- and district-wide basis.

A big bonus is that each Creative Cloud user gets a generous 20GB of online storage for each member for saving projects that are being worked on as well as finished items. This can take some pressure off of the school’s servers, but moving large files to and from Adobe’s servers will require a reliably fast Internet service to avoid frustrating waits for large files to load.

Because the apps can be updated individually, the Creative Cloud won’t stand still. For instance, the Cloud has recently added more than 800 fonts in Typekit as well as the ability to connect with a 3-D printer. Next up is the ability to synchronize files between the online and desktop worlds.

Adobe has made a lot of progress in making the various interfaces look and act like each other, but there’s still some work to be done here as well as a way to more easily move completed items from one program to another. Once that’s done it should feel like one app that does everything having anything to do with graphics, the Web or video.



Adobe Creative Cloud/Student

$30 per month; school discounts available

+ 26 up to date desktop apps

+ Complete selection for image, video and Web site editing

+ Programs get updated when ready

+ Lots of teaching resources

+ 20GB of online storage per user

+ School licensing options


- Can’t load all apps at once

- Tablet software not included

Touch Me

Untitled ProjectIf using bulky pens with interactive projectors is needlessly awkward, Epson has a new idea. Its Brightlink 595Wi ultra-short-throw projector not only can be used with its interactive pens, but fingers as well. The $1,799 projector uses a trio of LCD panels to put 3,300-lumens of light on the screen and lets teachers and students reach out and touch their lessons by interacting with a module that is placed on the wall near the screen. It can interpret the finger motions, taps and annotations of up to six fingers, perfect for on-screen collaboration.

Scans without the Wires

Epson workforce ds560Tired of having all those cables clutter up your desk? Epson’s WorkForce DS-560 is a sheet-fed scanner that can connect over a WiFi wireless network to a PC or Mac. It comes with TWAIN and ISIS drivers, has a 50-page hopper and can churn through 26 pages per minute while creating images of both sides of the sheet. The best part is that in addition to picking up the scans on a computer, you can have them uploaded to online repositories, like Google Docs or Evernote. It costs $449.


Math Problems Galore

Schedule and CreateIf you’re running short of fresh math problems to get students ready for standardized tests, Shmoop’s Math Shack Assignments Vanquish SAT & ACT Math Woes gives students unlimited acccess to a huge library. They are randomly generated from the system’s library and organized into 200 categories, from algebra to Data Analysis, while teachers get accurate reports on the student’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s free for schools that license Shmoop.

Full Service Storage

Premiere tutorialInstead of being only focused on making and storing video, the Web-based Pixorial service now allows the editing and storage of still images, making it a more complete online media network. All the editing and storage is done in a Web browser window, so it works on most recent computers, from Chromebooks to Android tablets. Not only can a school now import all sorts of existing media content into Pixorial, but it can store the output of a classroom of Web cams and everything can now be organized in albums, making retrieval and sharing much easier. Teachers get a free Pro account for their class that includes Pixorial services and 30GB of storage space.

Freebee Friday: CSI, Classroom

Body of evidenceAs if figuring out zombies wasn’t bad enough, Texas Instruments’ latest STEM Behind Hollywood installment has a dead body on its hands and you have to figure what he died of. Developed by crime-scene investigator Dr. Diane France, the appropriately named Body of Evidence, there’re missing person reports, evidence and suspects galore to sift through on a TI graphing calculator, iPad or computer. The best part is that even if you can’t tell a patella from a pancreas, there’s a set of detailed teacher notes to help guide you through this fun and informative activity.

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