Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Haul out your "The End is Near" sign. If Cushing Academy is anything to go by, it's a whole lot closer than I imagines.

The Boston Globe reported a couple days ago that the Boston-area independent school has turned its library into a media center--minus the books. Except for a few children's books and rare editions, they've given away everything and replaced it with a couple of large screens, laptop bars, 18 Kindles and a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

Never mind my English teacher/librarian reaction to doing away with a library full of books. One odd result of making the library switch is that I'm surprisingly less sentimental about books than I used to be, whatever Nicholson Baker says.

But this horrifies me for a number of other reasons.

1) 18 Kindles for the entire school? Reading is going to be down, that's for sure. And how will they ensure equitable access for all? Usage rights are so limited with digital information, I can't imagine how they're going to work this. Are students who can't access the libraries Kindles forced to buy assigned texts? Google books is great, but how many online books provide free full-text access? Not many.

Moreover, Kindles cost around $500 each; that doesn't seem very cost-effective. And what happens when the Kindle has a run-in with the output from that $12,000 cappuccino machine? Believe me, it will happen, and the results won't be pretty, as anyone who has spilled a drink on their keyboard knows.

2) I'm a tech-geek, so I don't dismiss online reading out of hand, as many do. I think it's another literacy we need to teach. However, there is no doubt that reading from a screen makes deep, sustained thought less likely, if not altogether impossible.

This seems like a bad idea on so many levels, almost all of the pointed out in the comments section, which is almost more interesting to read than the article. Take a look.

Friday, September 4, 2009

ScreenToaster: The Alternative to Jing

 UPDATE:  Sadly, Screentoaster is now defunct.  I posted an updated blog on other screencasting tools here.

You've gotta love how easy Web 2.0 makes it to do screen tutorials. These are huge time-savers, whether you use them to record lectures for students to view at home or as catch-up tutorials when students miss a lesson.

Jing pretty much dominated the free-screencasting market until ScreenToaster launched in 2008. And, while Jing is a fantastic tool, there are some advantages to using Screentoaster.

First, ScreenToaster is web-based, requiring no software download and works on all of the major web browsers.

Jing also requires a Pro upgrade (i.e. money) in order to have the option to embed webcam video (a video of yourself embedded in the tutorial); with ScreenToaster, it's free. You can also add audio and titles, though ST doesn't allow you to add graphic call-outs (arrows, etc).

Most importantly--and this is a biggie--while both tools record video as Flash files, ScreenToaster allows you to save your tutorial as a high-quality .mov file. In other words, you can load the file into an iMovie or MovieMaker....and EDIT it! No more 15 takes trying to get something right.

Finally, you have the option to host your video on either the ScreenToaster site (ala the Jing-related or upload it directly to YouTube.

If only for the ability to edit, ScreenToaster will now be the screencasting tool of choice that I use with students. Check it out.