Category Archives: Tech Tid Bit

Augmented Reality Monitor: Make your monitor truly transparent

Do you ever wish you could see through your monitor?  I know at work, as a teacher, I do.  My monitor sits between me and my students, causing me to look over my monitor when I am at my computer (this is a not a big portion of time but is necessary when doing things like taking role).  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see through your monitor.  Again, has inspired me to take one of their ideas to the next level.

Transparent Monitors: A Space Enhancing Solution via

Image from - Transparent Monitors: A Space Enhancing Solution

In the post, “Tranparent Monitors: A Space Enhancing Solution” Jason Fitzpatrick talks about how a reader has set up his monitors’ desktops or wallpaper with a picture of what is behind them.

I thought about what I could do to use this in my position.  Recalling an ealier post from Lifehacker, “Set a Video as your wallpaper with VLC” I knew I had my solution. I would use software to make my desktop/wallpaper the video feed from a webcam.

Here is the set up:

PC users need a web camera and VLC (a full featured multimedia player).

Mac users need a web camera (the built in iSight camera will face the wrong direction) and Quicktime

PC users:

First, download and install VLC and set up your webcam.

Next open VLC and go to “Tools” and click on “Preferences…” select the Video and change Output to “DirectX video output” and click “Save.”

Then, in VLC go to “Media” and click on “Open Capture Device…” select your web cam for the Video Device and for the Audio Device select “None” and click “Play.”

Last, in the VLC window go to “Video” and select “DirectX Wallpaper.”

The view from your webcam will now be on your monitor’s desktop / wallpaper.  You will see a VLC window open; just minimize that window.  To change back to your existing display just close the VLC window that you minimized.

UPDATE: In the newest version of VLC you might not be able to minimize the window and keep the video as the desktop.  Just shrink the window size down and move it mostly off the screen in one of the corners.

Mac users:

First, download and install “Secrets Preferences Panel”. In Secrets (it will be in your System Preferences), click on “All Secrets” and search for “Fullscreen” and deselect the option to Exit fullscreen when switching apps for Quicktime.

Next set up your webcam.

Then, open Quicktime and click on “File” and select “New Movie Recording.”

Last, in the Quicktime window, you should see the image from your built-in iSight Camera, click on the down arrow to select the webcam, and click on the fullscreen button (arrows pointing in opposite direction).

Note about the Mac version: This is not actually setting your video as your desktop / wallpaper.  You will essentially be running Quicktime in a fullscreen window behind your other running programs. To see your Dock just move your mouse to the bottom of the screen and select the programs you would like to see.  If you click on the video all windows will move to the background.  Use the Dock to bring your apps back to the front.

If I could fix one thing about either of these solutions it would be the ability to run a webcam on each monitor of a dual screen display set-up.

Now get out there and make your monitor transparent.

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Posted by on February 11, 2011 in How To, Teaching, Tech Tid Bit


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Easily share bookmarks to your class or lab with Google Chrome

I recently read an article on (one of my favorite websites) about how to use Chrome and Chromium Side by Side.  Doing this will allow you to have multiple users or multiple accounts with the two almost identical allowing you to sync information from one computer to another.

Chrome Sync

Now this is very cool, but it got my brain thinking about another way to use the ability to sync Chrome browsers.  How could I use this ability to sync in a school computer lab setting as a tool for education?  Here is the idea:

Google ChromeFirst, set up a generic class Google account.  This could be a regular Gmail account or a Google Apps account, it really doesn’t matter.  You just need an  account to set up the sync.

Second, set up Google Chrome on your classroom computer and set up the sync with this new account. You do this by clicking on the picture of the wrench, then “Preferences”, and then click on the “Personal Stuff” tab.  (If you would still like to sync to your account and have the class account also, check out the link from Lifehacker in the first paragraph.)

Last, set up your classroom or lab computers with Google Chrome and start the sync with the class account on all of the Computers.  (This may sound like a long process, but I think you will enjoy the benefits.)

Now comes the fun part.  When you present your lesson to your students and need to share a link, you could give them a shortened URL or have the log in to a social bookmarking site like Diigo, but instead all you will have to do is create a bookmark on your browser.  The bookmark will sync with all of the other computers in the lab tied to that class account. You could even do this on the fly in the middle of class (the students might need to hide and then show the bookmarks bar to refresh it). Even better, you could have one student share a link quickly with the rest of the class.  If you wanted to take it to the next level, set up bookmark folders for different units/subjects, classes, or even students.  This is social bookmarking without the extra log in for our students.

Some final clarification: You are only using the generic class account to set up the sync in the Chrome Browser settings.  You and your students are not using this to log in on a Google Apps account.  That is part of the beauty of this setup.  You get to sync all the cool stuff with Chrome but you and your students will still be able to get to your individual accounts with your own mail, docs, calendar, etc.

Who said Google Bookmarks was dead? Now get out there and sync some bookmarks.


Posted by on January 27, 2011 in How To, Teaching, Tech Tid Bit


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Google Calendar: How to use a Google Group with GCal to set up birthday announcements

How would you like to post a Happy Birthday wish for people in your school or group on their birthday and allow everyone else to add to those wishes?

I have been doing this for a great group of educators (Google Certified Teachers) over the last year and a friend, Mark Allen, has inspired me to post about how to make it happen. He has also given me the great idea to automate it for use in schools.  Wouldn’t it be great to wish every student a Happy Birthday?

We will look at both methods, one more personal and no automation and the other with automation but with better consistency.

What you will need:

  1. Google Calendar
  2. Google Group
  3. Gmail
  4. Everyone’s birth date

The personal birthday connection.

  1. Have a Google Group set up (this can be an exsisting group) with everyone.  In Google Apps you could use a Google Apps Administrator Group or a Google Apps User-managed Group (A group that a user sets up if User-Managed Groups has been turned on by an Admin) .  If you are not using Google Apps you can use a Google Group.
  2. Create a new Calendar and Share it with the Group so the members can add their birthdays to the calendar.
  3. As a member’s birthday comes close. Post a message to the group to wish that person a Happy Birthday and to encourage others to do the same. (To make things easy on yourself, add a default email reminder to the birthday calendar two to three days in advance.  Then you will receive an email so you will not forget to post to the group.)

The automated birthday connection.

  1. See #1 above (This could be a group that will only allow announcements or it could be interactive)
  2. Create a new Calendar.  You can still have members add their birthdays to the calendar by sharing it, but since you will be automating the process it might be cleaner to use a CSV file to import all the birthdays into the Calendar. (Suggestion: make the “appointment” subject something like “Happy Birthday John Smith”
  3. Be sure to add a default email reminder to the birthday calendar. Because this will be automated you will need to decide if you want to send the birthday announcement on that day or two to three days in advance.
  4. To make this fully automated you will need to create a filter in Gmail to forward the Happy Birthday reminder to the Group email from #1.  You will need to use the advanced filters to make sure only the Happy Birthday messages get forwarded to the group.
  5. If you want to really publicize the birthdays you could use Google Calendar to Twitter to Tweet the birthday news to all of your followers.

Now get out there and wish everyone a Happy Birthday!!!


Posted by on January 8, 2011 in Google Calendar, How To, Tech Tid Bit


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Five free screen capture / recording alternatives from the web for screencasts

In my last post, Camtasia, Jing & Snagit – Great tools for educators from TechSmith I talked about some great screen capture / recording tools from TechSmith.  I love these tools, but some of you may be saying you always talk about free, where are the free versions of these tools?

Here are five alternatives for screen capture / recording tools that you can use right from the web. No downloads needed (except for a java applet).

ScreenCastle is very easy to use. You don’t even need to register. Click the big red button, adjust the screen capture area and start recording.  You can use a microphone to add voiceovers.  When finished ScreenCastle gives you lots of options (see below). The disadvantages are you will not be able to go back later to watch the video if you don’t have the link because you do not have an account.  I would recommend saving the link and possibly downloading the video file.

  • Link to watch the video
  • HTML embed code
  • BBCode -Big
  • BBCode – Small
  • Direct link to the file
  • The Pure video ID
  • Address – Big  image
  • Address – Small image

ScreenToaster is also easy to use.  You can set up an account with ScreenToaster that will give you lots of options, including adding audio and a webcam. You can publish your videos on the ScreenToaster website, download your videos, embed them on your website, mail it, and even edit your video.  ScreenToaster is probabely the most advanced of the tools here.

Screencast-O-Matic is the next most robust tool but it also gives you the option to GoPro and pay for more features.  With Screencast-O-Matic you can create an account, which will give you the options to Record a 15 minute video; free hosting of your video; upload to Youtube HD; Export to MP4, AVI, & FLV (with watermark); and record from a web cam.

Screenjelly is again easy to start with a big red button similar to ScreenCastle.  Screenjelly will save your videos online with your account.  It is designed to instantly share your captures with a link, through an email, with a tweet, or through Facebook. Screenjelly will even give you the ability to put a screen capture button on your website and has a bookmarklet feature to let you quickly grab a screen capture from a website.  I have to admit, out of the five tools listed here, it is the only one I could not get to work with my Macbook.  I am not sure if it was user error or a problem with Screenjelly.

The last tool which is the simplest in nature is Screenr. Screenr allows you to choose the area to record, voiceover your recordings, and save the videos to your account.  The main idea behind Screenr is to provide “Instant screencasts for Twitter.”  You even authenticate your account through Twitter.

Happy Screencasting.


Posted by on December 31, 2010 in How To, Teaching, Tech Tid Bit


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Camtasia, Jing & Snagit – Great tools for educators from TechSmith

In my last post “How to become a Google Apps EDU Certified Trainer” I mentioned using Camtasia, a TechSmith product. It made me reflect on their outstanding products and how I use them in my different roles in Education.

As an Educator, I find myself consistently using software from TechSmith. I have used Camtasia for the last two years at school and Jing for at least that long. In my experience, their software is simple to use with outstanding results.

As a teacher and Technology Coordinator for the Le Grand High School District, I use Jing to quickly take screen-shots and screen-captures to help my students and staff. If I need to easily show someone where the submit button is on the screen or how to reserve a room using Google Calendar, Jing is the software I open. With a few clicks I can quickly take a screen-shot or a screen-capture, save and upload it, and have a URL to email or post for students or teachers to view. I find myself also using Jing more and more for twitter to help answer questions or to ask my own questions.

As a Google Certified Teacher and a Google Certified Trainer I have had the opportunity to be a Lead Learner (presenter) for professional development sessions for educators from around the world.  I have found Snagit to have that professional polish for taking screen-shots to add to my presentations. Snagit is as simple to use as Jing but with some great added features, like drop shadows and transparency to name a couple.

As a blogger and an online teacher, I find Camtasia Studio to be a wonderful tool. Camtasia allows me to make great how-to videos and simply save them locally or send them to Youtube to be published to the world or my class. For on-line courses it’s a must have. I can show and explain the process the students need to perform simply, with no confusion. As a blogger some of my most viewed posts are ones with screen-captures demonstrating cool applications or software. Again, TechSmith makes things easy in Camtasia just like in Jing and Snagit, but still gives you the added features to take your screen-capture productions to the next level.

TechSmith has an Education Community and an Education Blog for more information on using their products in Education.  I would love to hear how others are using these products or similar ones in their classrooms.  Please use the comments below and be sure to leave a link to your How-to’s.

(Full discloser, I have been using Jing and Camtasia for two plus years and was recently given a copy of Jing Pro, Snagit, and Camtasia Studio for free from TechSmith through the Google Certified Teachers group.)

Update: Here are some tweets with links to great examples of TechSmith Products in Education;

DeputyMitchell David Mitchell – @iteachag I don’t have ‘How to’ but my 10 year olds do! and this is Thomas: A must watch

ianaddison Ian Addison  – @iteachag under staff. @baggiepr‘s are on

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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Teaching, Tech Tid Bit


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Do you Google?…It’s more than just a search engine.

Most of us have used Google to search for information and we might have even told our students to “Google it” at some point in time.  But did you know that Google has a lot more to offer.  Google is more than just a search engine.  Google has technology that educators and students can benefit from and the best part: its free.

As an educator, I try to use technology in my classroom all the time either to present or share information, communicate with colleagues, or produce materials for the class.  I have my students use technology for the exact same processes.

One of the problems that I used to face with students and the use of technology was inconsistency of software and hardware students were using between school and home.  The other problem was how to turn in, share and collaborate with assignments and information. Google Apps has helped to solve these problems for the school environment.

Students now do not have to print out their assignment or email an attachment to turn it in.  They are able to share it with the teacher for correcting and other students for peer editing. Teachers and students can leave comments on the document.  More importantly comments and even editing can be done on the same document at the same time with multiple people.  Students also do not have a need for a flash drive or other storage media. Anywhere students have access to the internet they will have access to their documents.  They are even able to upload and/or convert documents from different software to Google Apps.

Google Apps is platform agnostic software that is used in an internet browser.  Students can use any operating system (Windows, Apple, or Linux); all they need is an Internet browser that is up to date.  Google Apps gives you access to a word processing program, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program, email, and a calendar program.  You can use your personal Gmail account to access your personal Google apps (little a), but a better alternative for Education is to sign up for Google Apps (Big “A”) for Education. This allows you to have more control over the programs and lets you sign up students through your school account for these great tools. Lets take a look at what Google can do for your classroom, school, and Ag Program.

Google is known for its search page ,but are you and your students utilizing its full potential? There are some great resources on the Internet to show the capabilities of search.  Google even has a set of lesson plans on using search.  Here are some of the things that might be useful for your classroom.

Google Advanced Search: Something that is easily missed on Google’s Search page is a link to Google’s Advanced Search.  This takes the place of having to know Boolean Search Language, but more importantly Advanced Search will let you pick a file type, look for only recent information, designate usage rights (free to use), and even define a region.  For example, lets say you wanted to do a search for corn on Google’s main search page.  You would get back around 123,000,000 results.  But if you used advanced search, you could limit your search to results for corn, only PowerPoint files, and only information within the past year from the United States.  What you would receive are 800 PowerPoint files from the the United States posted in the last year – current information ready for you and your students.

Google Timeline: Timeline is a great way to put information in historical or chronological perspective for students.  If you do a search for FFA in Google, then click on “Timeline” under “More search tools” you get a visual representation of the events that have happened.  You will see a significant spike in 1928.  “Students look at this time line, what do you think happened in 1928 to get a such a huge spike of news?” This could be a great way to get your students thinking when introducing FFA to them.  Timeline will let you “drill down” from a decade, to the year, to the month to better refine the information you are looking for.

Behind search, the second most known product that represents Google is Gmail.  As stated before you can use your personal Gmail account or you can sign up for free for Google Apps for Education and use your own domain name.  This is the preferable method.  I was able to buy a domain name for $10 per year ( and this allows my chapter to have their own email address for our advisors, officers and even all the members if we choose.

Having email accounts for my students is wonderful.  First, I don’t feel weird corresponding with a student that has an email account that we have given them (example: instead of their personal email account, that as we know our students don’t always pick the most appropriate email address.  Second, students are able to communicate effectively with me about class assignments, projects, FFA events, etc.  Being an Agriculture Teacher we have to be away from the classroom to take students to different events.  During this time I am able to keep in contact with my students during class even when I am not there.  Students are able to ask questions about assignments as needed.  This is one example of how effective email has been for my class.

Along with Google Apps Mail, there is the availability to turn on Chat.  This has been a boon for my students. During class students can communicate throughout the room without leaving their seats to ask questions of one another and teach each other quickly and efficiently in a manner they are used to.  Granted chat can be a great tool and also a huge distraction, but with some simple classroom management this can easily be controlled.  This year I had a student with three chat windows open and I went over to investigate, thinking the student might be using chat for the wrong purpose.  To my delight the student was helping three other students at the same time with the current assignment through the chat windows.


Another great tool that I have found students as well as teachers do not use to its full advantage is Google Calendar.  This is by far my favorite application of the Google Tools.  Most people think of a calendar application as just a simple way to keep events in order, but Google Calendar offers so much more and has so many ways to take advantage of this seemingly mild mannered application.

Google’s Calendar application allows you to have multiple calendars visible in one location as well as being able to share calendars with others, embed calendars in websites, send out reminders by email, and the ability to invite guests to an event.  These are just the basics of Google calendar.  Teachers and administrators are always coming up with new ways to use Google Calendar in their schools and classrooms.

There are many ways to take Google Calendar to the next level.  Use it to make a class pacing guide with due dates for assignments, attach the assignment to the event and then share it with students directly and on your class website. Set up reminders to come straight to your phone through SMS messages.  Even have Google Calendar send reminders of events to your community on your FFA Twitter, FFA Facebook page, FFA Website and to a list of email subscribers (Google Calendar by default will not Tweet or send information to Facebook, but with a couple of simple tweaks this is easily possible).

Google Docs are three web based applications that come with Google Apps.  They are Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations. These tools come close to being full fledged desktop applications but have some significant advantages.  With Google Docs you have the ability to have multiple people working on the same document at the same time.  This allows students and/or teachers to collaborate on a document, spreadsheet, or presentation without having to break it up into multiple files.  All of the files also have the ability to become web pages that can be shared to edit or view with a single individual, a whole group or publicly with the world.

Spreadsheets in Google Apps also have a great added feature: the ability to collect information through a form.  The forms are very easily created, like most other Google Docs, and can be sent to individuals to fill out through emails, embedding them on a website, or using their own URL to become a simple website themselves.  Use a form to collect data from FFA members, find out what food parents are bringing to the potluck or even use a form to create an application for an FFA award.  With some simple formulas applied to the spreadsheet of the form you can even use a form to create a self grading online test.

The last tool I am going to talk about with you is Google Sites.  Sites allows you to easily create an FFA website, a class website, or turn your students to Sites to build an online presentation, lab right up, or presentation board that they can share with you, other students, their parents and even the world. Sites have the ability with a few clicks to add one of your Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, or Calendars on to your website.  A novice user will have no problem building a website and experienced users will be amazed at what you can do with a Google Site.  With the ability to use pre-made templates users can also have a site ready to go in a few clicks and just need to add their own content.  My students are always amazed when I tell them tomorrow we are going to build our own websites instead of making a powerpoint or poster for a project.  Kids love the idea that they are making something that could possibly be viewed by anyone.  This is great for the idea of an authentic audience.  When students know that what they are creating has a large potential audience they are more likely to put in a great amount of effort.  At our school we are using Google Sites to build ePortfolios with our students.  They start their portfolios as a Freshman and continue working on them until they are Seniors when they use them as part of their exit interviews.

Links to teaching and learning resources

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Posted by on September 20, 2010 in How To, Teaching, Tech Tid Bit


Google Certified Trainer Program and a Google Calendar Labs How-to

I am very excited, I found out today that my application was accepted to become a Google Certified Trainer.

To become a Google Certified Trainer, check out the “Become an Apps Certified Trainer.”  There is a great Training Center and then you will take six exams.  After passing all six exams, you become a Qualified Individual.  The last step to become a Certified Trainer is to fill out an application and produce a two minute video “which demonstrates your ability to create and present instructional material.” (Program Details)  Even if you are not interested in taking the tests, I would recommend using the training center to learn a great deal of information about Google Apps.

Here is the video that I produced as part of the application process. It is on Google Calendar Labs.

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Posted by on September 14, 2010 in How To, Teaching, Tech Tid Bit


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