Archive for the ‘Tools’ category

A Little Help from Edublogs

March 21, 2008

I had forgotten about this little gem until I found it again in my inbox as I was doing some housekeeping. Edublogs has

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created a new blog and user creator to facilitate the creation of blogs for others. All you need to do is fill out the details to easily create multiple users and blogs and even add yourself as admin to them if you woud like. This process makes it very easy to add blogs for your students or perhaps your colleagues. And, for students, it has the feature of being a co-administrator in their blog if that is something that would be desirable.

The tool allows you to create 15 new blogs/users at one time and couldn’t be easier.

10.5.2 Makes Me Happy

March 1, 2008

Finally – Apple released a major update a few weeks ago and I am just now learning about the changes that go easily missed if you don’t know the specifics of this update. So, I decided to share my favorite enhancements here for those of you who use Mac OS X Leopard.

1. You can finally get rid of the translucent menu bar in the Desktop/Screensaver preferences. I don’t know about you, but I did not like my desktop background showing through the menu bar.

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2. You can control how Stacks behaves in the dock. Now you can make your stack behave hierarchically in a list like you used to be able to do before Leopard. Just right-click on the stack to make this change or any of the changes in 3 and 4 below.

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3. You can also display the folder as a true folder instead of a stack. All this means is that the folder icon does not keep changing based upon what you put into that folder. I personally found this very annoying. Now my custom folder icons that help me distinguish one from another are back 🙂

4. Further in stacks, you can sort your hierarchical list display in the traditional manner of kind, name, date added, date modified.

If you want to get more information on this update (many issues were addressed here), visit Apple’s 10.5.2 update page or watch the Macworld video.

Twitter for Us Old Folks?

February 21, 2008

Stumbled across an article in the NY Times titled, “If You Can’t Let Go, Twitter“. It it, the writer describes her attempt to connect with her 3 daughters (digital natives, right) via Twitter. Let’s just say, it didn’t work. After trying a number of tactics, including giving away money, she consults with a Walter J. Carl, an assistant professor of communications studies at Northeastern University, who said he wasn’t surprised. He is quoted as explaining the problem in the following way:

“You want to use these tools to keep up on others, in a good way, of course, and to let them keep up on you,” said Professor Carl, whose research focuses on social media. “But their perception is it’s surveillance.” One of the main reasons people embrace social media — Facebook, for instance — is to create identities for themselves and control other people’s perceptions of them.”

And then…

“Maybe Twitter isn’t the right tool for that job,” he said. “The people who I see using it are an older demographic, people in marketing or P.R. or advertising, who use it for work, to present themselves as particular types of people. They’ll twitter, ‘I’m traveling,’ or ‘I’m going to interesting restaurants.’ They’re using it to do identity work.”

Isn’t it interesting how this new communication tool that so many adults are using is not considered all that useful with kids… that they are more concerned with “creating identities for themselves and control other people’s perceptions of them”, as happens on Facebook and MySpace. But here’s my question: kids to love to IM and text. They thrive on social networking. One would think, in combination with social networking services, that a tool like Twitter would be “phat“. Huh!

In this new age of information glut/data smog, the importance of being information literate has grown exponentially. How do we reconcile this generation’s desire to “control other people’s perception of them”? Seem’s natural, for sure. But is the digital realm blurring the line between fact and fiction in a way that we must better address in education? Are students more accepting of blurred realities? And, if so, how does this impact one’s ability to value the truth and seek it out?

Google Forms with Spreadsheets

February 7, 2008

Google has now added the feature of forms to its already budding suite of word processing, presentation, and spreadsheets. Forms works in conjunction with spreadsheets and is so slick. What you do is design a new spreadsheet as if it were a form for the purpose of soliciting information from a pool of folks. Simply add categories such as name, phone number, address, etc… whatever information you are looking for. Then, under the “Share” feature, choose “Form”. form1.jpgThis option allows you to “invite” people (up to 200) to fill out your form, view the results, or become editors/collaborators (need a Google account for this) of the form/spreadsheet (Go here for more info). They each receive an active form in their email (if their local email app. allows it). Or, there is a link that they can paste into the browser that takes them to the secure location to fill out the form (no registration needed). What happens when the recipient fills out the form is it simply updates the spreadsheet that you created. Rather than share the actual spreadsheet and have invitees fill out information on it directly and risk data loss or confusion, this form option allows them to add information to the spreadsheet document without actually seeing it (although that is an option) or editing it directly. How cool is that? It worked like a charm when I tried it. Now to find a real reason to put it through its paces.

Enough With the Silly Pencil Argument!

February 5, 2008

pencil.jpgOkay, I understand the basic premise of the pencil argument (and here). But, come on now… this is far from an equal analogy! Here is what Doug Johnson had to say about the potential risks that pencils bring into the classroom in the February 2006 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology. It was referenced in Wesley Freyer’s latest post over on his Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog.:

1. A student might use a pencil to poke out the eye of another student.
2. A student might write a dirty word or, worse yet, a threatening note to another student, with a pencil.
3. One student might have a mechanical pencil, making those with wooden ones feel bad.
4. The pencil might get stolen.
5. Pencils break and need repairing all the time.
6. Kids who have pencils might doodle instead of working on their assignments or listening to the teacher.

Now, again, I understand the rationale behind this argument, but let’s compare:

1. Only psychopathic students would gouge out another’s eye… with anything. However, teachers have been known to be violent pencil wielders. Imagine what they could be capable of with an iPod in their hands!

2. A written insult or profanity is seen only by the one who holds the written note. We all fully understand the far-reaching implications of digital bullying!

3. One simply cannot compare pencil-envy with things of high value that create classes of students and do create envy (high-fashion clothing, shoes, and yes… electronics!)

4. In fact, pencils do get stolen all the time. I have rarely seen a student fall to pieces over it. However, if it were a $250 pencil, I could see why that could happen.

5. Pencils break. So you sharpen them again. The “repair” is done in seconds. Electronics break and are repaired with greater cost, time, and learning interruption/disruption.

6. I would much rather have a student doodle with his or her pencil than be consumed with the vast array of on-line distraction. And, most other classmates don’t usually get distracted by one student’s doodling. Not so with a laptop or other electronic device.

So, if we are to present a compelling rationale for issues surrounding freedom to learn and teaching/learning innovation, we at least need to bring valid and sound arguments to the table. To do otherwise only serves to make light of real and pressing concerns of many stakeholders. If a pencil is the equivalent of any other learning device, then I say, let’s stick with the pencils. They are cheaper, easily replaceable, quite reliable, disposable, efficient, highly portable, facilitate collaboration and sharing of information, they have excellent battery life – heck, they don’t even have lead in them anymore, making them environmentally friendly to boot!

But, if there is a significant difference here (and I would agree that there is), then we had better not be making such silly comparisons. Folks might just want to settle for the pencil, then.

Note:
Freyer’s blog post is otherwise right on the mark.

Ch. 5 – The Peek-a-Boo World

January 29, 2008

(Continuing on with by book club of 1…)

Today, I read a new post by Will Richardson on the topic of Twitter and it resounded so strongly with me (you can read my comments there) because I had just finished reading this fifth chapter of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and found incredible parallels between the influence of the telegraph, photograph, and television to the newer forms of information technology in this last decade . Will is wrestling with the impact of Twitter on his world, and how folks are restricted to communicating in 140 characters or less and others following up to 600 or more tweeters out there. Wow – have we ever changed from information moving as fast as physical people could carry it to seconds after the “post” or “publish” command has been invoked. Postman introduces the idea that this has produced “context free” information which holds merit simply because it is novel, interesting, our curious, “elevating irrelevance to the status of news”. I don’t think I am alone in being annoyed with the state of news in the US these days. In the morning I get 5 minutes or less of shallow news bytes and then 55 more minutes of the best macaroni and cheese recipes, 5 tips to firmer thighs, and where in the world is Matt Lauer. There is now such an glut of irrelevant information out there that instead of finding productive ways of taking action locally in our own communities, we struggle to stay afloat in the endless sea of information that seems important, but so disconnected that in the end we can’t find ways to take action on any of it. The idea of neighborhood has been replaced with “global neighborhood” – one that Postman defines as “… a neighborhood of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.”

Although Postman’s thinking evolves into a criticism of the television world, I find meaningful connections to newer worlds as well. To quote Postman once again,

“Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation… Knowing the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, backgrounds, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing lots of things, not knowing about them.”

As a teacher, I am compelled to help my students make sense out of both the information at their fingertips as well as the impact that the information medium has on his or her understanding and view of the world. I am challenged in new ways to help my students use new information tools in powerful and meaningful ways that do not sacrifice depth and complexity for breadth and glitz. How are we making sense of our world with the presence of such tools and glut of information? Are we struggling just to RSS the headlines and keep up the Jonses… I mean the Twitters? Do we need to be up on every RSSd headline or blog post? Or, are we tackling meaningful projects that positively impact our own communities based on meaningful and powerful uses of information. Are we contributing at all, or have we become so consumed with feeding on information that we have forgotten about our real neighbors and communities? Do we now live so much in Facebook or MySpace that the idea of community service is almost crazy? I mean, I have followers… I have an obligation here to satisfy them and their desire to know what I am doing every moment of the day. (sorry… this is getting a tad sarcastic)

Wow… this is making me think about a great deal. I have no answers at this point as I struggle with all of this. But, I am struggling, reading, and reflecting…, and that is good. What do you think about all of this?

Great Blogging Tool

January 28, 2008

MarsEditMarsEditIcon128.jpg is a tool that I discovered not long ago and I have really come to love it. So I decided that I would share it here. Here is a great (and simple) blogging tool that runs locally on your computer (OS X) and allows you to compose blog posts off-line and upload them to most major blogging services when you want. mars1.jpg

It has great editing features for both text as well as media and could not be easier to use. The editing features are great and it also allows you to work with the full menu of media resources.mars2.jpg Built-in text markup options are great. markup.jpg

Once you are ready to publish specific blogging drafts, all you have to do is publish. What I really like about this it that it allows me to work on draft posts without having to be connected. I know, except for the network necessity, all of this is feasible without a program like this one. I don’t know what it is, but I prefer it to posting live. It is more like writing your post in a word processor, then cutting and pasting into a new blog post… minus the cutting/pasting. It also allows you to easily edit and republish a post – great for those times when you see that glaring typo or think of some critical angle or detail that you forgot to include. It also works with Flickr if you have photos there. It does have a number of advantages that I have come to love.