Monday, April 23, 2007

An Introduction to Screencasting

From the Idealware website, which provides candid Consumer-Reports-style reviews and articles about software of interest to nonprofits, centralized into a website. Through product comparisons, recommendations, case studies, and software news, Idealware allows nonprofits to make the software decisions that will help them be more effective.

An Introduction to Screencasting

By Beth Kanter, March 2007

Screencasts – movies that capture tasks performed on a computer – can be powerful communication and training tools, and you don’t need to be a Hollywood filmmaker to create them. Beth Kanter walks through why screencasts are useful, how to create them, and some of the software tools that help in the process.

If you provide end-user technical support, people likely ask you about the same software tasks over and over again. What's more, you've probably discovered that not everyone responds well to text or verbal instructions. What if you could send those people a brief video showing the procedure, accompanied by your voice walking through the important concepts?

Or what if you need to provide some quick training on a new software package to a bunch of folks around the country, or you want to demonstrate a new concept – perhaps how to collaborate using social bookmarking software? A video that combines demos of some of the key tasks with an overview of the concepts around the software could provide a compelling introduction.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

10 Skype tips for the Advanced

(image via Communigations)

Riny Heijdendaal, Harry van Oosterveen, Dorine Ruter and Simon Koolwijk have shared some skype tips, so together it makes for a list of 10 Skype tips for the Advanced skype user.

Here we go:

Tip 1: You can add echo123 as a contact person to test your headset and microphone settings. When you dial echo 123 you will be invited to speak and the recording will be played back to you so that you will hear your own voice as a a person to whom you are talking on skype would hear you.

Tip 2: Skype has a lot of short commands which make it easier to type fast. You can find the commands by typing /help in the chat function. An example of a command is /me which is short for your name. So if you type /me is hungry is will be displayed as Joitske Hulsebosch is hungry. (but only if your name is Joitske Hulsebosch).

Tip 3: One of the commands is /alertson [text to match]. If you for instance type finance instead of [text to match] only messages that contain the word finance will make your skype blink. Easy if you're in a discussion with a bunch of people and only want to be notified if someone is talking about "financial" things for example

Tip 4: You can create a link to a skype name, for instance in an email. Upon clicking on that name, a call is started. To do this, create a link to 'callto:skypename'. People have to be logged in in Skype to be able to make the call by clicking on this link. By the way a direct link to an e-mail address (opening an e-mail interface when clicking on the address) can be done by creating a hyperlink to''.

Tip 5: You can record skype conversations or interviews by using recording tools. You can record skype calls and make them available for others lateron in mp3 format, so that they can listen to it on their computers or ipods. There are various tools from free to paid services. For instance skyperec (free, I haven't tried this), Audacity (can be used for free, but I found it hard to get all parties clearly audible, my own voice was recorded better than the voice of parties on the other side). And hotrecorder. For hotrecorder you pay almost 15 dollars but the sound is good and the interface is very user-friendly. You can convert the audio file to formats like mp3. When we did small skype conferences during an online event for capacity building advisors, this allowed people who had travelled to remote places to listen to the recordings lateron.

Tip 6: If you start skype you can add some options to it, for example: to get rid of the splashsreen, look at your skype shortcut, and add /nosplash for not showing this.

Tip 7: To use skype with a large group (more than 9) you can use a phonebridge like Highspeedconferencing. This allows you to connect a larger group, but also people with a landline of mobile phone can call into the same conference. This can be a great advantage when you have a mixed group of people, people with good skype access and experience, and people who prefer to use 'ordinary' telephone. Or you can organise/participate in a skypecast. Skypecasts bring internet conversations to life, think of them as your own personal online radio station. You host the show, chat away or play the music, take the calls from listeners or open up the airwaves to everyone who has joined in. (anyone with experiences?)

Tip 8: Use an answering machine with skype so that people can record messages to you when you are offline (pretty much like the anwering machine function of the regular phone).

Tip 9: You can use skypeout to call someone into a skypeteleconference. You need to charge some credit to your skypeout account. Then you can add a person's regular or mobile phone number by clicking on 'Call phones' and 'add skypeout contact'. The person with his/her mobile phone number will be shown in your regular skype contact list. You can create a conference call in the regular manner, and include this person. When I was in Ghana and my internet was irregular, it was good to have this backup system, and I was called in on my mobile phone. The costs are about 0.07 cents (dollar or euros?) per minute for most countries in Africa.

Tip 10: You can download and use it to share your screen with others on your skype call. It can be used in combination with skype so that you can invite the other skype users to look at your screen. You can point to certain spots on your screen, so it is a good tool for instructions at distance for instance.

A story about Skype for development:

When I was in Ghana this month, I had a meeting with our Dgroups facilitators who had been trained. They exchanged and expressed that it is sometimes hard to know why discussions flow or do not flow, a kind of lonely job. They thought it was a good idea to set up a group coaching system and I proposed to use skype conferences. Surprisingly, within 5 minutes, everyone had given me their skype names, so it had become quite a regular and normal tool for this group! It makes it very easy for me to continue coaching them while being in the Netherlands, which changes the pressure that is there on my visits to Ghana, and opens up possibilities of supporting their learning process in a more continuous manner. We have planned a fixed day, but with the electricity off days in Ghana (every 2 days 12 hours off), it is not always easy to know whether you'll have electricity, so that may be a factor that will influence the sessions.

Another short story: At a certain moment when I was in the Netherlands, and my colleague in Ghana, the coordinator in Ghana contacted me on skype to ask something about the schedule of my colleague in Ghana. Since I had access to his outlook agenda, I was able to help him!

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Exploring Moodle

On the previous face to face meeting we had with the e-collaboration community, facilitated by Kontakt der Kontinenten, we had several e-tools to be explored. One of them was Moodle, introduced on their own website as: ‘a course management system (CMS) - a free, open source software package designed using sound pedagogical principles, to help educators create effective online learning communities.’

I was looking for an online environment which could be used in a learning process based on face to face meetings and learning in the own workplace in between the meetings. For guiding the learning process in between I was thinking of using an online platform, where participants can meet, share ideas, experiences and stories. And where they can work together, have discussions on specific topics, and give feedback on each others products. I know Near-Time (, but this platform doesn’t have any chat, forum or discussion options. So while I was looking for something else I heard about Moodle.

In the meeting with the e-collaboration community we explored Moodle, having several computers giving us access to this platform. We tried out some features, like having a chat conversation, starting a discussion and uploading documents. As always it takes some time to find your way in a new e-tool. It felt like having a ‘first touch’, as if there is so much more to discover. And there probably is! Afterwards, Agnes interviewed me about what I see as possibilities in Moodle, take a look:

Now, three months later I am using Moodle in an action learning process with 25 people! It is an intensive learning by doing process in which I learn about Moodle, all possible features and ways to design an environment in which members can find their way easily and can do what they want. Not so easy as it seems like. Besides that I learn a lot about facilitating this online learning process. Questions arise, like: what steps are helpful, what responses, how to stimulate members to share experiences, how to create a learning process between the members. Very interesting to learn about!


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