Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.

Archive for January, 2008

Back to school ~ staff laptop policy
January 29th, 2008

The new school year began today, at least for the teachers. The day began with a Mass and a morning tea along with the staff of St. Paul’s Primary School. The two schools are situated side by side. The students begin returning on Thursday.

The most interesting item of news is that our school shall phase out its current staff laptop policy so that we are in keeping with the policy of our regional office. Presently the school supplies staff with either a Mac or PC laptop and has done so for about seven or so years. The laptops are replaced every two to three years. All of the other schools in our region do not have such a policy and staff are encouraged to purchase their own laptop via salary sacrifice. That reduces their taxable income. Not such a bad idea.

The change in policy does not particularly worry me. When I joined the school four years ago I already had a Mac laptop and I have since replaced it with a new laptop via salary sacrifice. I prefer to own my own laptop as I have greater control over its management and I prefer to look after it myself.

There are arguments for and against this change in policy. It is felt that from a fiscal perspective it is better that the funds be devoted to purchasing additional equipment for the students, particularly in the event that we evolve into a 1:1 school like some of our sister schools in the region. It is also felt that it is more egalitarian if the staff are on a similar agreement as the staff in the other schools. The staff would have access to dedicated desktop machines and shared laptops.

Others feel differently. It is felt that a number of staff may be unwilling to purchase their own laptop. Some felt, particularly heavy users of technology, that they would find it challenging to share laptops with others staff when the demand was high. Some feel that the staff are effectively taking a pay cut of $2000.00 to $3000.00 dollars as they will have to purchase their own laptop. They feel that the current policy within the school should continue as evolving syllabi demand that instructional technologies form a compulsory component of the teaching and learning programme.

I personally am not worried by the change. I think the experience of working in a startup company where we supplied most of our own equipment, used our own mobile phones for all communications and occasionally waited for 3 months between pay cheques taught me to be grateful for whatever benefits I receive from my employer these days.

Literally clearing the decks…
January 25th, 2008

Well, I have over 200 items that remain unread in Google Reader. This is my first post in 5 days. It will not be earth shattering.

My wife and I finally finished setting up the living room. We moved about 900 books and filled three bookcases. We moved the desk upstairs. We applied these little pads to the feet and bases of all our furniture so that the freshly sanded and oiled floorboards would not be scratched. We finished all of that on Wednesday morning and we took it easy, enjoying the moment.

Yesterday we removed all the outdoor furniture and pot plants from our outside deck. I sanded back most of the flaws and water stains. I then cleaned the deck with a solution. Once that had dried we applied a coat of natural decking oil. Shao Ping did a lot of the fiddly bits and I brushed on the main coat with a lambswool applicator attached to the end of a broom handle. This morning I was up early and redid the fiddly bits with an old towel and then applied a second coat. We used 30 litres of decking oil in total. It is a big deck.

Now, yesterday fine weather was forecast. Today that has changed to chance of a shower…. please do not rain!

I managed to win a couple of old David Bowie records on eBay in between coats. Normal blogging will resume in a day or two.

Clearing the decks and my back up of the Internet
January 20th, 2008

During the last few weeks Shao Ping and I have been re-organising our home. Following that downpour in December we decided that it was not such a good idea to have so much stuff downstairs. Our neighbour Dale who helped us to quickly move a lot of stuff upstairs agreed. We had created a rather nice study downstairs where we had our books, records, CDs and files. It was a nice place to escape. There was a sofa and a good desk.

But when that water started flowing in and we had to start shifting all the stuff closest to the floor upstairs it was essentially a pain. Now, we really do not want to go through that again so the books are coming upstairs. Maybe that downpour will not happen again. Maybe it will. Given climate change I am not willing to take that risk. I am yet to sort out the records. I am going to sell some on eBay. Many of them are bootlegs by David Bowie.

Yesterday I went through boxes of old files. I even found stuff going back to my days in the ANZ bank as a young bloke. My training assignments, notebooks and guides were all there. I ended up in the audit department and that was quite enjoyable as I was able to travel far and wide as myself and other auditors inspected groups of branches in diverse regions. I would find myself in one horse towns that normally I would not get the chance to visit.

I thought I had cleared out most of that material before our move to Singapore years ago but there it was. I spent all of yesterday going through the files and most of them went into our paper recycling bin. Even old assignments from university, and paper work from my time at the Interactive Multimedia Learning Laboratory at the University of Wollongong. Time to let go. I kept a few files that were either typical or special but that was it. About 6 packing boxes of stuff was reduced to a small box. The rest will be recycled. I still have two more filing cabinets to go. Some of the old newspapers and historical documents I will take to school.

At one stage I was employed by the university to train at least two teachers from every school in the region how to use the Internet. The trained teachers would be the Internet Contact Persons for that school. Every Tuesday and Thursday a group of teachers would come to the university and I would teach them how to use Netscape, Alta Vista, gopher searches, etc and the various ways one could go ‘back’.

Now, you may find this difficult to believe but I always carried a back up of the Internet with me on a number of floppy discs when my training took me to sites other than the university. I had used the software WebWhacker to completely download some web sites including Volcano WorldThe Nine Planets and a couple of others. I copied the folders to a set of floppy discs. Of course I could not do that today as these web sites have increased dramatically in size. Back in 1996 and 1997 it was possible.

I was conducting a training session at the University of Wollongong’s Shoalhaven campus at Berry on the south coast of NSW. We were using some Windows PCs running Windows 3.1 if I remember correctly. Might have been Windows 95 but I doubt it. There was a great storm and a lightning strike broke our connection with the Internet.

We decided to have a tea break and I placed the contents of the floppy discs on the server. The participants copied those folders to the computers and they simply clicked on the index.htm file for each web site’s folder to explore that web site. As a result they could learn how to use the Netscape browser. They could learn all of the buttons and most of the menu items. They could still learn how to download images and text. Just about the only thing they could not do was conduct a search.

Later that day the connection to the Internet was restored and the participants could learn about searching the Internet using Alta Vista, WebCrawler, Infoseek and others. I always enjoyed showing the teachers how to filter and refine the Internet searches. Another neat trick was showing them the power of exploring directories by altering the url of a site. The workshops were always enjoyable. The only time I was reasonably distracted was when one participant insisted on using the mouse “upside down”. When they rolled the mouse towards themselves the cursor went up the screen and vice versa.

I found some old publications from back then. Later today I will scan a couple of them online and write a quick blog. I hope you will be amused, enlightened and perhaps a little intrigued.

I would love to read some of your stories from the early days of the Internet. Ten years ago is really not that distant but in terms of the Internet it seems to be ages ago.

This afternoon, my sister’s husband Kieran will be coming around to help us shift the bookcases upstairs. Then we shall all retire to the pool in our backyard and later a barbecue. Isn’t life good?

How to resize those images
January 17th, 2008

I like to illustrate my blog posts with images and photographs. One of the essential processes I must go through is resizing the photographs or screen shots that I display in my blog.

Why do I resize the image? I have two objectives. One is so that it will neatly fit in the area that my blogging template allows for text and images. That area is 450 pixels wide. The other objective is to reduce the file size of the image. For example, a screen shot may have an image file size 0f 400kb but through image resizing that may be reduced to 30kb for example. It will download much more quickly.>

You wish to display a digital camera image on your blog. Digital cameras allow you to create images of different sizes. The size of the image is also dependent upon the settings you have specified on your camera. In this case, when I refer to dimensions “height” and “width”. For example, the two cameras that I use can produce images in a variety of dimensions. Consider the table below.

I usually “capture” or take my digital photographs at the highest resolution or largest dimension so that, for want of a better expression, I have plenty of “data” to work with when I edit the digital photograph. I find that with a larger image you can create an amended photograph with excellent detail and clarity when you resize it for printing, inclusion in a document or hosting on the Internet.

As an aside, the higher the dimensions an image possesses the greater its file size will be in kilobytes, most of the time. Consider the table below that shows the file size of the “north beach” digital photograph after it has been resized and saved at a “High Quality” setting in the JPG file format at a variety of different dimensions. You will observe that the original image weighs in at 1383kb. If it is simply re-saved it immediately drops in size to 404kb. As one decreases the dimensions of the image its file size drops as well.

All of the images listed above are available from this online directory.  This is a screen shot of the directory on my mac.

I like to work with Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. If I need to resize just a few images I will simply open each image in turn and select Image menu > Resize > Image Resize. The following dialogue box will appear.

In the example above you can see that the original image is 2048 x 1536 pixels. The resolution is set at 72 pixels per inch which is the ideal resolution for display on the web. I prefer to work pixels in terms of units. Other users prefer centimetres or inches. I can visualise pixels better on the screen.

I wish to give the image a width of 400 pixels. I simply type 400 in the width field. Notice that the checkbox “Constrain Proprtions” is selected. That ensures that the resized image is not distorted. Photoshop Elements automatically set the height at 300 pixels. Once I have completed the two fields I click OK.

Adobe Photoshop and Photsoshop Elements have a “Save for Web” menu option from the File menu that gives you a great deal of control over the dimensions, file size and quality of the image. You can alter the quality and numbers of colours and view the impact in real time. 

Photoshop and Photoshop Elements also allow you to batch process a folder full of images so that all are resized to the dimensions that you prescribe. 

Why would you like to resize an image? Well, there are a number of reasons:

1. Images with large dimensions are also large in file size. The North Beach image before resizing is 1.2 megabytes. After resizing it is 20 kilobytes. An amazing reduction in size. It is easy for you to include this image in a word processing document, PowerPoint presentation or an email.
2. Placement within a document. Do not simply import large images into a Word document and then resize it. The file size of your document will be too large as all the original image data is retained.
3. Importing into PowerPoint. Do not simply import large images into a PowerPoint presentation and then resize it. The file size of your document will be too large as all the original image data is retained.
4. Emailing to a friend. What would your email recipient prefer? A 1mb or a 100k file?
5. Posting to the Internet. Keep the image a reasonable size so that download times are reduced.Creating a desktop image.

You can download a set of instructions in pdf or word format that I created for resizing images in addition to other common image processing operations from my digital photography workshop page.

There are alternatives to Photoshop and Photoshop Elements when it comes to resizing images. On the Mac there is the excellent programme Pixelmator which allows for batch processing of images as well. On the PC there is a dedicated tool called PixResizer that also performs batch operations.

Please share your own techniques below.

Immigration to Australia ~ resources for students of history
January 17th, 2008

During the course of Year Ten my students study a Stage 5 unit of history focused upon Immigration (NSW BOS Syllabus). One of the very first questions that I ask the students is “Which country do your ancestors hail from?” The students share their origins and there is a mixture of surprise and recognition as their various backgrounds are revealed. My own background is a mix of Irish and English heritage. It is not unusual for students in my class to have European, South American and Asian backgrounds. Some countries of origin predominate more than others within our school. Our region saw a great deal of immigration, particularly from Europe, after the Second World War.

There are some excellent resources on the Internet that I share with the students. One in particular is a web site established by the Migration Heritage Centre. Words almost fail me on this site. There is a wealth of primary historical source material. There are documents, photographs, community newspapers, video interviews and oral history reports. The site is well designed and the quality of the media is excellent. The content is relevant, rich and and varied. Anyone would enjoy exploring this site. There are dedicated stories within the site and I shall briefly look at some of these stories below.

The first, Half A World Away, looks at post war migration to a country town in NSW called Orange. It is located across the Blue Mountains, several hours west of Sydney by car. For migrants from Europe the country town of Orange would have been a whole new universe. A wonderful town yet so different to Europe. There are stories from  more than 20 different families. Some of the topics covered include Europe After The War, Journey To The End Of The Earth, Jobs For Everyone and a Time To Relax. The stories and photographs are captivating and intriguing. Perhaps some of your relatives live there now?

Another story, Pai Nai Ma (Where Have You been?) deals with the expereinces of Thai migrants to Australia. One of the first Thais I ever met was Miss Suwana at Holy Cross College, Bellambi back in 1981. She taught Thai, French and German as well as having an excellent command of the English language. Thai immigration to Australia stretches back to the 1860s however after 1901 it slowed with the introduction of the most distasteful policy in Australia’s history, the White Australia Policy. This abhorrent issue is dealt with in Pai Nai Ma. This section looks at Thai brides, early Thai migration and The Colombo Plan among other topics. (This section is difficult to read as there is little contrast between the font and the background).

A third story is Packing To Leave ~ Saris, Suits and Spices.  This section looks at migrants to Australia from South Asia, in particular the sub-continent. They originate from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. There are 8 video accounts that describe their experiences including the shock of the new, homesickness and the feelings of their children ~ quite often the only non-white kids in an entire school. The accounts are moving and intriguing. This material is inspiring for the students and acts as a launch pad for their own audio and video projects.

Now, I ask my readers out there, anywhere, any country, any journey… do you have any immigration stories to share with others, including my students? I would feel happy to read your own stories, those of your ancestors or friends. Please add your thoughts below.