Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Debating Cursive Writing

I wrote the assignment on the board, white chalk on black slate. When the kid in the back row asked me to read it aloud, I was worried that he might need glasses. So I asked him. His answer floored me: “I can see fine; I just can’t read cursive.”
A Lost Art by J Amos. Education Week
Recently, the Toronto Star’s Education section published a few of articles on the state of handwriting – cursive - in our local schools. A few among the many articles we've encountered over the past year looking at the disappearing art of handwriting.

But why all the fuss about teaching and learning cursive?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The days of the netbook are over...

Well, at least according to Stuart Miles, founder and editor of technology blog Pocket Lint, as quoted today in a BBC technology article. The article discusses the success of Netbooks as the very possible "undoing" of them as a sustainable, cheaper, popular option for portable computing...especially when firms see building mobile platforms as the real long-term solution. Many of the newer model of Netbooks are now running Windows XP or Windows 7 which has forced both the specifications and price upwards: a big change form the initial intent, and a move toward becoming simply a smaller laptop minus the real computing power (which is why laptop makers are creating thinner machines), and let's not forget that the battery life of Windows platform is never more than 3-5 hours, while the battery life of Linux, the original Netbook platform, is 10+ hours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Report Card Mandate for Ontario Elementary Teachers

The Ministry of Education released a statement today regarding changes to the delivery of report cards. Ontario elementary teachers are no longer expected to deliver a provincial report card three times per year, teachers are now mandated to deliver a fall progress report card.

The fall progress report is intended to facilitate and increase communications between parents, and to be used as a means of identifying how their child is progressing using a very well, well or with difficulty. From the looks of it, it's a means of addressing the concerns of parents, identifying the needs of students, and taking the pressure off of teachers to do something which is very difficult in the first 6 to 8 weeks of a new class - carefully, accurately, and fairly assess a student in order to target specific learning needs. And to do all this is a context more conducive to honest, proactive communications with goals set for the long-term.

The progress report will assess and evaluate students in the same areas as the report card, will count towards the student's overall assessment, and will be stored in the students' Ontario Students Records.

The new Progress Report Card has been tested in pilot projects in sixty schools and nine school boards, and will be introduced in the 2010-11 school year.

Read about the new Fall Progress Report Card initiative:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Kids 9 - 16 and Writing. A UK Report on the Role of Technology

Young people and writing: Attitudes, behaviour and the role of technology, by the National Literacy Trust, looks at young people's views about writing in the UK, with a focus on exploring "what type of writing they engage in, how good at writing they think they are, what they think about writing and what the role of technology is in young people's writing". In term sof technology, it explores writing with respect to mobile phone ownership, having a blog and having a profile on a social networking site.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Kindle and Accessibility Issues

If you're going to be using the Kindle as part of your "service delivery" package and you think you may be serving clients / customers with high vision loss, well, you may be interested in a recent Education Week article.

Twitter and PowerPoint Presentations - Now this is Interactive

Timo Elliot has recently released PowerPoint Twitter tools built on SAP Business Objects that let presenters see and respond to tweets within their presentations in real-time. Now that's interactive. Some positive possibilities for presentations delivered via web conference or ways of introducing other remote presenters / parties.

Context is everything, though, in certain environments I can see this tool backfiring or causing certian editorial challenges vis-a-vis "distracting" tweets. Correcting this thanks to clarification by Timo Elliot himself,
"there's a moderation option for any off-topic (or off-color) tweets (with the help of TidyTweet.com and a designed person to monitor the feed)"
Worth a try. There are a number of PowerPoint Twitter tools to accommodate different presentation and information gathering activities, e.g. feedback, voting, etc.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

K-12 Online Learning in Canada - A Report

K-12 Online Learning in Canada, a State of the Nation report by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), and a more in-depth follow-up to it's initial 2008 snapshot report.

The report examines the K-12 distance education policies and activities in each of the provinces and territories, with a focus on the legislation governing distance education in Canadian jurisdictions and the respective programmes.

Some surprising stats for Canadian teachers. While all jurisdictions have some form of K-12 distance education, two provinces make sole use of a single, province-wide K-12 distance education programme...this latter point actually surprised me, I was under the impression that no province had yet to get their act together enough to support a province-wide initiative, let alone have one sole provider.

Basically, a very detailed, policy and programme based report, teachers usually shy away from these reports but I think their useful and informative.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

ThinkFree Online - yup... another online office suite

ThinkFree Online is yet another online office application suite, it's been around for a few years and is based out of South Korea (a Haansoft Corporation product). It's an impressive platform and has a wide array of features which make it attractive to enterprise models as well as educational communities.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CCPA Report on School Funding in Ontario


Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has just released a report which looks at education funding in Ontario - No Time for Complacency: Education Funding Reality Check. The report provides an unkind review of the funding framework for elementary and secondary education in Ontario. The CCPA report takes a cross-jurisdictional and comparative look at education funding (Canada and the United States), providing background and data. The "stats" are what they are, numbers, and one thing we all know is that data and analysis can vary greatly between groups: plus, we do need to keep in mind that the Ministry are the only ones who have access to all the data.

The CCPA's final recommendation is somewhat disappointing:
We need an independent body responsible for accountability and oversight for public education in Ontario; a body that can speak credibly about the funding and programming that are required for student success, and which has the resources
to evaluate the effectiveness of school boards and the Government of Ontario in achieving our educational objectives.
In today's fiscally conservative political landscape, and this rings true regardless of which side of the fence you happen to land, recommending a layer of bureacracy on top of a well-established Ministry (i.e. a big Ministry) is, politically, a little "yesteryearish".

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Education and Web 2.0 White Paper


Steve Hargadon, social learning consultant and creator of Classroom 2.0, has just released a white paper - Educational Networking: The Important Role Web 2.0 Will Play in Education.

If you take the computer out of the educational process in many of today's classrooms and schools the activities and instruction wouldn’t change much, but Steve Hargadon see's Web 2.0 changing all that. His central point is that Web 2.0 will be the computer "technology" which will finally change the institution and practice of education as we know it - how we teach, how we plan and integrate curriculum, what is curriculum, process, etc.. He identifies the spreadsheet, the word processor, and email as seminal in the changing and defining how the business world now functions, and frames Web 2.0 in the same context as regards the educational process.
...The advent of the Internet, however, and in particular what we are calling “Web 2.0,” has so significantly changed our relationship to information and our own personal learning opportunities outside of formal education, that we’re beginning to see a set of software tools emerge that are profoundly altering both learning processes and outcomes. These tools allow us to see the start of a radical evolution in education that will bring such dramatic changes that we’ll soon be at a point where we won’t be able to imagine education without them.
Steve's discussion is really clear, well outlined, and takes an "umbrella" look at the layers, including professional development and participation at all levels (a pet peeve of mine I'm constantly harping on about).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Smart End of "Social" from Google and Twitter

Two announcements this week have helped push Google News and Twitter toward a smarter "social" this week.

Listiti, a web-based application, was introduced to the social media world this week and its tag line is "Google Alerts Meets Twitter Lists"....excellent. Yes, Twitter lists does help navigate the onslaught of meaningless tweets, but we still had to face the prospect of filtering through endless meanderings to find one useful tweet: and the more you follow the more of an ordeal it becomes. Listiti allows you to have keywords you specifiy, and as many as you want, search through an associated Twitter list of your choosing. Once you've set up your alert Listiti will send you email alerts (presently set at once every hour) whenever tweets match your specified query.

Google News has developed a Custom Sections Directory, which gives users the ability to create customized news sections to put on their Google News home page and / or share with other users. In other words, if you use Google News and find yourself building complex filters to simply gather articles on a particular topic, now you can just create your own section for that topic. and it's simple - add the relevant keywords, tests the results, if you're happy you can then publish it to a directory so others can benefit.

All we need is an application which would allows us to combine our news section with the Twitter list alerts...now that would be an all-encompassing news goldmine during elections or other news-crazed activities or periods.

We teach media and media monitoring to our elementary students, and products like the new Google News custom sections helps bridge the students with information which may still seem a little "grown-up" to them.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gaming and Education - Rethinking the Rules

We decided to explore these articles because of a recent announcement by our board to investigate and pursue the opening of all-boys schools. Our board sees this as a means of dealing with the falling grades and general behavioural issues of boys in our schools. We're sure that this solution will work for many boys, we definitely hope, but we can't help but think about the connections which have been made between gaming, learning, and boys and whether a rethinking of how we see the institution of school and how we teach may not offer a complimentary long-term strategy: one that would also better prepare our kids for the careers, jobs, and socio-political mosaic of the future.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Note-Taking Service for the Busy Post-Secondary Student

NoNotes note-taking services which allows you to record your lectures, meetings, debates, or personal notes through a digital recorder of your choosing (they obviously sell and recommend their recorders, and they require that you submit files in either MP3 or Windows Media format.), upload the audio file to your free NoNotes.com account online, and then download or have the transcribed notes e-mailed for a fee. The fee starts at $9.57 per class hour, and they advertise packages of 1, 5, and 10 hour class times.

The automatically generated notes can then be edited and modified at one's leisure, allowing the student to build on the class notes. There are some quality-assurance issues to keep in mind and which NoNotes does point out:
  • Have the recorder as close to the output source as possible to get the best audio quality, and in turn, most accurate notes;
  • Only one speaker/time. (For Example: Scattered back and forth speech may be difficult).
For students with disabilities, students with a heavy workload and the financial ability to dedicate some money toward such a service, or student work groups who pitch-in to manage their workload, such a service is well worth the reasonable fee. Most files will be transcribed and delivered with 1-2 days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nook - Book Store Enters the eBook Game

Yet another e-book article, a follow-up to yesterday's e-publishing article: Nook, the Barnes & Noble ebook reader, has just hit the market...Amazon Kindle's big competitor. And it comes with some nice features, for around $250 USD you get enough memory to hold about 1,500 books, supports the open e-Pub standard, and it's running Android, Google's mobile OS.

With Barnes & Noble in the ebook reader game, school libraries and educators will have to seriously consider the very real market penetration of this technology and how to integrate it into class activities.

For more detail on Nook read Barb Dybwad's article on Mashable.

Monday, October 19, 2009

FastPencil - Collaborate, Write, and e-Publish

About two weeks ago I posted an article on Sony's eBook Platform for Self-Publishing and wondered aloud as to how we can tie this type of tool into creative writing activities. Well, along comes FastPencil, an application which combines workflow, writing, and self-publishing into a service.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

cctext - New(ish) Wiki on the Market

cctext is newish wiki in an already flooded wiki market, with many of the free wiki offerings already being taken advantage of by educators. cctext is aiming to cater to the Enterprise 2.0 interests with a focus on the small business market.

cctext is starting to get some coverage on the blog circuit - check RWW's article, but what really caught my attention and made me decide to mention this new player is the fact that it's open to Google Apps users and allows us to carry over our login,
"If your company uses Google Apps, you don't need to remember another account or password. Just use your company Google Apps account to sign in to any services of cctext. Welcome Google Apps users!"

For many of us who are using Google Apps in classroom activities, or have fully integrated these services into our teaching plans, a wiki environment which accommodates tools from our preferred service is a real bonus. The only drawback is the price, or the fact that it actually costs, $12 a month. Check out the full list of features you get for $12 a month.

It would be a tool best integrated at a corporate level by IT, and offered as the default for the school as a means of absorbing the expenses. But not all of us work for districts / boards that are in a position to pursue this financially.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Survey of K-12 Educators on Social Networking

edWeb.net, a social networking site for educators, has just published the preliminary findings (never quite sure what that means) of a survey of K-12 Educators on social networking and online collaboration tools. The online survey had 979 total responses, seems like a high number but it's actually a very low 1.4 % response rate of total members available to respond. But in terms of capturing general patterns, I think it's still a useful number of respondents and kind of represents the typical school profile, this is the response breakdown: 59% teachers, 14% principals, and 26% librarians - the last one is kind of high, but librarians do tend to be more responsive to information gathering exercises.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sony's eBook Platform for Self-Publishing

Sony recently setup a partnership with Smashwords and Author Solutions which will allow any author (published or self-published) to upload a book to their eBook Store, and in-turn give all these writers access to disseminate their work via the e-reader platform.

Sony will of course monitor and vet content for hate speech, plagiarism, formatting issues or public-domain books offered by someone other than the legitimate author or a legal representative.

I can't hep but think that there's got to be a number of different ways to tie this tool into an activity, especially secondary and post-secondary projects and creative writing classes. These open platforms really do represent the promise of the web for all with the interaction, control, and participation of Web 2.0 - for digital learning, a peer-based learning environment guided by teachers and educators, as emphasized by the Digital Youth Project.

As a side note, Amazon also provides a similar service which allows authors to self-publish to the Kindle platform - it's called Digital Text Platform, but Amazon’s service only accepts submissions from within the United States.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Pimp that Project" Presentation Resources for Students (and Teachers)

There are now a slew of web applications which students and teachers can take advantage of to create online slideshows, videos, and webinars, and to share them publicly or privately. These tools can provide a platform for delivering the perfect compliment to projects and presentations, and for creating a sharing, online community of similar interests and content. We've listed a few of the web-based video / slideshow applications which we've been using - we've created some samples using photos of our newborn twins...yup, proud parents.

These tools are all dead easy to use - creating a slideshow on any of the tools listed below should never take you more than 5-10 minutes. If you have any you think should be included please do make mention of them.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Bookless School Library

"When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books..."
Cushing Academy (Ashburnham, Massachusetts) Headmaster, James Tracy
And the 144 year old New England prep school has decided to "walk the talk" and discard its 20,000 book collection which has served generations of kids for a century and a half...no measured "bridging" from one media to another needed here - feels about 451 farenheit right now, though Headmaster Tracy went out of his way to emphasize that this is not "that" situation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Writing, Students, and the New Literacy

There are endless articles clamouring about how active participation in social media and social networking sites by students is eroding their writing skills, and how literacy - or a borderline illiteracy - is emerging as a societal concern. The Stanford Study of Writing offers some data and conclusions which outline a very different picture.

The Stanford Study of Writing was an extremely ambitious research project which followed a large group of students (approximately 12 per cent of the year's class, a pretty solid figure for deciphering trends)throughout their four years at Stanford and one year beyond. The study collected student submissions of their class writing / notes, in all disciplines, along with whatever they were willing to submit of their out-of-class or extracurricular writing - this included in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. The research team, headed by Professor Andrea Lunsford and Vice Provost John Bravman, also invited these same students to be involved in an annual survey, of which one-fifth agreed to participate. In the end, the research team collected circa 1500 pieces of student writing which is now digitally stored in an Oracle database and available via the Library archives for future scholars and study.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

School Policy and Student Expectations - Diverging Realities

A review of a couple of research papers which cover the role of Web 2.0 in education from very different perspectives: one looks at school administration and policies, the other at student / youth behaviour and activities. It's quite surprising how the two are still so far apart - how educators are trying to fit Web 2.0 into traditional teaching and learning models, when it's quite apparent that it's becoming a question of us building models and paradigms to accomodate what is not simply a new technology-based expereince, but a new society.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Online Education Report - Some Key Findings by Ed.gov

The US Department of Education recently released Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, the title is dry but the findings are quite surprising.

The report is based on a very thorough literature review of online learning studies from 1996 to July 2008. One of the key findings states the following:
Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction...
What a finding, even though many of us actively push the integration of information and digital technologies into the learning process, this must still come as a surprise. The study also highlights the fact that when teaching / instruction combines online and face-to-face elements (blended learning) the advantages to the students are even higher.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Box.net - A Collaborative Tool for Professional Networks

The cloud / desktop relationship and the desired "seamless" bridging of content between the two is still a bumpy one, that is why any foray into cloud computing and online collaboration by a professional community requires a communications understanding and agreement by all participants for the selected collaborative tool to work. Many of us will use Google Apps or Zoho for one thing and then turn to our MS Office apps like Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint for the more "traditonal" office activities. The ability to seriously, and sincerely, integrate Web 2.0 tools into ones workflow is of course hampered by working relationships, networks, and the networks and expectations of others - not everyone you meet in your working circle is going to agree to change their work habits simply to join a collaborative application you use.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Free Collaborative Platforms for Teachers Part 5 - Glide Engage and OS Microblogging and Online Collaboration

Glide Engage is an ambitious service which attempts to capture and serve two of today's most popular online 'application' activities: microblogging and online collaboration. Surprisingly, it doesn't disappoint.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Student Generated e-Content and Records Management

On the last day of the school year, most elementary, middle and high school students will cleanup their desks and take with them all their workbooks. Some may leave their workbooks behind but most teachers don't want to deal with the clean-up and ensure that students leave an empty desk. But how do you deal with student generated digital data at the end of the school year? If you've pursued a number of web-based projects, maintained a classroom site / wiki, or used accounts created by you or your school on any number of Web 2.0 tools, how do you manage the transfer of the digital data they created? How will they carry their e-content home at the end of the year?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

DIY Videos for Class Projects & Events

A number of educators are starting to use video technology to capture everything from class drama projects, to school activities and outings, or to make available supplementary notes or how-to instructions for assignments and projects. These video-taped items are typically made available to students via classroom computer(s) or the library's computers, however, many teachers are now taking advantage of online video sharing platforms to turn video into a collaborative experience. There are now a number of web tools and online video platforms that we can make use of to upload and package our video - YouTube being by far the most obvious and popular, and an increasing number of collaborative tools specifically geared toward the education community (such as wikis) are allowing contributors to search and embed YouTube videos into their pages. Most of these services can be public-facing or private (set number of defined users), you can control the parameters and address the specific security and privacy concerns of your environment your own way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some Delicious Links, July 21, 2009

This week's collection of links from our delicious site focuses on web sites for educators involved in technology or the development of new digital learning environments.

Consortium of School Networking (CoSN)
Founded in 1992, the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) is the premier professional association for school district technology leaders. If you check the list of CoSN initiatives it's quite clear they have been busy and involved in some very ambitious projects.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Free Collaborative Platforms for Teachers Part 4 - the Wikis

Wikis have become the tool of choice for many teachers, it provides an easy way to create web pages and to link them up, and allows one to do all this using a wysiwyg editor. And with the number of free wiki products available on the web, many of which now integrate social or widget elements to entice users and add to the collaborative experience, wikis have also built platforms that are geared directly at teacher and education communities.

But one thing to keep in mind when considering a wiki for classroom learning and activities, is that the web and web tools / apps for many students is not a "special" activity, it just is: their relationship to the digital realm, being their desktop or mobile, is nothing short of a new way of learning, thinking, playing, and socializing. In fact, the results of a three-year collaborative project out of Berkeley, USC (Digital Youth Research - Final Report) clearly indicate that the ways young people use the internet everyday are transforming learning in ways that adults often fail to understand, but which represent major new opportunities that need to be taken advantage of by supportive educators. (Read
Information Literacy, Educators, and the Digital Classroom).

The following is a review of a few wiki platforms, but by no means a full reflection of all the wiki tools out-there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Some Delicious Links, July 16/09


Open Atrium
New Drupal-based open source intranet developed by Development Seed. Packed with blogs, wikis, microblogging, to-do lists, and other collaborative features. Plus, it's free and supported by a massive development community...Hello, proprietary intranet vendors, a big change is coming.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Free Collaborative Platforms for Teachers Part 3 - ZOHO Personal Collaboration and Productivity Apps

Zoho is an Indian web office applications development firm that is taking on the big guns, Google and Microsoft, and actually giving them a run for their money. Zoho's range of products is an immense, fulsome collection of personal collaboration and productivity apps, consisting of ten products, and an at cost business apps service comprised of nine products. It's a very sophisticated platform, with a smart long-term model for business development - these guys are going to be around for a long time: they're Venture Capitalist free and have financed themselves internally and through investments.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Some Delicious Links, July 11/09

Some resources we came across this week, reposted from our megsnotebook Delicious account.

Hybrid web browser out of Japan. Provides the use with the ability to choose on of 3 browser rendering engines: Trident (found in Internet Explorer), Gecko (the same version found in Firefox 3.5), or WebKit (found in Safari and Chrome). while the average user may not be very interested in this feature, it's great for those of us who do web development: different browsers displaying certain things differently (e.g. embedded videos), and Lunascape allows us to quickly scan the three rendering engines to find the right fit.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

On Cell

I've started to enjoy the "rawness" of photos taken with a cell phone camera and decided to start a little On Cell section which I'll feed from my Flickr account. I find it a nice way to complete a hanging moment or capture a meaningful one on the go...and it's also wired, so nothing more than a quick upload to share an on-the-spot, unphotoshopped photo.

Toronto Pearson International Airport, Terminal 3...On Cell


Boredom at the counter.


Gridding the grey skies, X and Y with a boutique nearby...

Your E-mail Address – What You May Not Know

Most companies, employees, and general users now recognize the dangers of visiting certain sites, the risks of downloading and installing third party tools or programs without some form of
verification process, and have become increasingly concerned about online privacy.

However, security risks to companies and the compromise of your online identity and privacy is quite often less a technical issue and instead one of process, practice, and awareness. One common process and practice which users almost never consider a privacy threat is using e-mail to sign-up / register with sites. If you have an account with a popular social network, like MySpace or Facebook, it's good practice to use a personal or single-use e-mail which you would not use for professional, business, or any activity that may require the exchange of private data. If you use one e-mail for all activities, including work, then you may be exposing more of yourself than you think.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Free Collaborative Platforms for Teachers: Part 2 - Office Live Workspace

I've tried out Microsoft's Office Live Workspace, a component of the Office Live platform which includes the ability to create a professional web presence, have an online storage and sharing space, and real-time online collaboration. Office Live Workspace is Microsoft's response to Google docs and all the other online office apps, and it almost pains me to say that part of me likes it. Office Live Workspace is a hosted version of Sharepoint, Microsoft's massive enterprise CMS, with a slimmed-down Office suite (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) and the required Outlook activities.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Free Collaborative Platforms for Teachers: Part 1 - Google Apps

Google Apps Education Edition is a free suite of hosted communication & collaboration applications specifically geared at schools (universities and K-12).

If a school board does not want to, or is unwilling to, invest in Google apps for education, a teacher can still easily integrate all of the features offered simply by creating Google accounts for all students / participants: a Google account offers a vast array of collaborative tools such as Docs (excel, presentation, doc, and forms), Notebook, Picasa web albums, allowing users to share documents in real-time. In addition, Google docs offers a form of versioning, or version control, which ensures all 'participation' gets captured: Docs' version control is called Revision History and is available under the File tab of the doc you happen to be working on. While the version control is not as sophisticated as certain wiki apps or enterprise services such as SharePoint, it works and allows large groups to manage collaborative projects and fairly capture who did what.

One thing to be aware of is that working with Google Docs has a very different feel from working with a desktop Office application suite such as Microsoft Office. It's much more "raw" in terms of the formatting offered, but they have smartly designed these docs to capture most of the common formatting standards and remain light-weight, so you experience very little "screen freeze" in Google Docs. A really important design feature given the context of real-time collaboration.

A couple of other Google tools to keep in mind for collaborative projects are Blogger and Google Talk. Many educators and schools are traditionally nervous about using public facing blog software, such a Blogger, because of the privacy and security issues related to the possibility of sensitive student or school information being made public. However, you can password protect Blogger and use it as a secure platform to engage students in longer, staged projects, such as journals. And keep in mind that the teacher can create all the Blogs and permissions right from their account, giving them the ability to filter and manage any misuse.

Google Talk is Google's IM tool and the perfect accompaniment to collaborating in real-time with all the other tools. It has become even more attractive with the addition of video and audio chat.

User Level: Junior High+
It would make very little sense to introduce Google apps to a classroom that is pre-junior high. In fact, I would say this platform and all its tools are best aimed at a high school and post-secondary school crowd.

Product Features: Good to Excellent
I rate all the available features in Google apps as good to excellent. The key features are product integration, document migration, and ease of use. The ability to save a doc in a word compatible format eliminates any worry about limiting one's arena of use. The range of products is immense, and we can now integrate Google Tasks with Google Calendar, a great feature for students to learn the value of simple project management.

And while Google docs' formatting may be a little raw by traditional desktop standards, its ease of use easily makes up for what's lacking in terms of document richness.

Any Complaints?
Over the last 6 months I've experienced some disruptions to the service that have caused me to lose some work: this happened more-often-than-not in Notebook, and some innate bugginess may explain why they've discontinued support of this product.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Can Wordnik be Used as a Literacy Tool?

The common problem with getting students to turn to dictionaries or similar tools to verify spelling, pronunciation, or simply learn the meaning of a word, is the basic limitations of the experience. When a generation that has grown up participating in and / or leading the creation of narrative online (via their social networks and blogs) is faced with a non-to-low interactive and non-social experience, we can easily predict the outcome: boredom and disinterest, and they will only do it if absolutely necessary. Wordnik offers the younger generation some relief from the perceived drudgery of learning a new word.

Wordnik is a highly interactive and social alternative to the traditional dictionary (print or online): in fact, it does not want to advertise itself as a dictionary.

Wordnik clearly and nicely displays all of the standards:
  • definitions, with easy to understand descriptions of the word as a noun or verb, and provided by a number of sources, such as American Heritage Dictionary, Webster's Unabridged, and WordNet
  • the word you're looking for in context - Wordnik harnasses large archive of blog posts, web sites, and newspaper and magazine archives, as well as out-of-copyright books from Project Gutenberg, and shows usages of the respective word
  • synonyms and antonyms taken from Allen's and Roget's II
  • entymologies
  • audio of the pronunciation (...and they let you record your own pronunciation)
But what really sets Wordnik apart are the social and interactive features that will definitely speak to a younger generation.

Wordnik will display real-time examples of the word in use on Twitter, for example a search for the word influence provided me with these real-time examples from Twitter:




It also provides images from Flickr tagged with the word influence; gives the user the option to add a tag to the word page (allowing the user to create associations and folksonomies that work for them, and help them learn); and offers a cool, but arguably useless, statistical feature which indicates how often a word is used on a weekly basis.

And here's the really cool feature, it allows you to recommend words, add your input on a word, and publishes urban slang that is not available in regular dictionaries...yet.

Yep, it's a handful of social media glitz. But which would capture the attention of an 11 year old, Merriam-Webster Online or Wordnik? I think Wordnik is worth giving a try with students: have them upload their own pronunciations, check Flickr photos to see if they can infer the meaning visually, and let them create their own associations - I think this would generate a little more interest in this traditionally "flat" activity.

The only drawback, from what I can see there's no option for starting groups or collaborative spaces, that would turn this into a real project tool.

Some Useful Social Networks for Educators

Just joined Ning in Education. Ning is a hosted social networking platform, and it appears some educators have created a nice spot to build educational social networks. This network of educational social networks is made up of 158 groups covering everything from writing groups, to intercultural awareness, to professional development - a good resource for teachers who want to learn new ways of integrating technology into their classroom activities.

Using Web Annotation Tools for Projects and Research

All of the sudden we have quite a few players in the web annotation and notes game. A number of startups have been around for a while, like Diigo, Fleck, ShiftSpace, TrailFire, and Stickis, they let you add notes or comments in a sidebar to any public web page you happen to be browsing. These notes can be to yourself or an you can share them with friends or your network, and likewise you could also view notes from others on your network. Very recently, Reframe It, became yet another web annotation application offering much of the same features, plus a few social whistles like a Twitter-style feature to follow other people's comments.

Information Literacy...What a Mixed Bag

Information literacy has, unfortunately, become a "hyper-term". There are so many varying definitions and interpretations of information literacy, that it's become sidetracked in its own meaning and self-analysis by well-intentioned academics and information professionals. And there's nothing wrong with refining the theoretical framework of an increasingly salient phenomenon, but we believe there's a very basic and real thread of human/user experience which can connect the various definitions; and especially when applied to the contexts of information technology and the classroom.

Information literacy is well documented in the context of library studies, and in its most basic form a service concept mapping user to information need, and which emerged out of generations of librarians working to help their users learn how to research. The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), an American Library Association division, defines information literacy as "the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information", and sets of standards have been created that outline in detail the skill set needed to be information literate.

However, the definition that most appeals to us is the one put forth by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in 2005. Known as the Alexandria Proclamation it proclaims that "Information Literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments and to all levels of education..." The report (The final report of the High-Level Colloquium on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning) argues that information literacy is part of the basic right to lifelong learning, that it is far more than a library or education issue, and that in a digital world it should be considered a basic human right.

The association between information literacy and lifelong learning seems to resonate best in the present context of our students' digitally-infused social, play, and learning activities. Exchanging information has now become central to play, "throwing sheep" at your friend on Facebook, or sending an emoticon-ladden IMs to your friend for them to decipher, there are many steps and connections they have to learn to participate in these activities and we need to translate this energy into classroom activities and learning.

Here are some really useful sites focusing on information literacy:

Information Literacy, Educators, and the Digital Classroom

The rate at which information technology has become integrated into our daily activities is nothing short of mind-boggling. The web we were all fascinated with 10-15 years ago is absolutely common place - a normal, daily activity and not given a second-thought by most under the age of 35. In fact, an entire demographic now view e-mail the way many of us view fax technology - ordinary and antiquated: recent studies found most teens get their first e-mail at the average age of 13 and the quickest way to reach them is by text message, and that a number of universities are no longer providing incoming students with e-mail addresses.

Meg's Notebook

We're a wife and husband team, and we agreed to share this blog as a spot for us to pursue education and digital learning discussions with whomever is interested. Our blog, like most, is largely a vehicle for providing us with our own "opinion" platform and a space to have some creative fun.

I'm Megan Hickman, I've been an Elementary Teacher with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for 10 years. I'm interested in critical thinking, web 2.0, literacy, and curriculum planning.

I'm Peter Marques, I've been a librarian for about 12 years, and have a strong professional and personal interest in digital learning, the social web, and online collaboration.

We hope you enjoy the articles and discussions. Please do comment and if you have any questions you want to ask us directly please e-mail. Oh, and it's called Meg's Notebook because I always found myself doing my web work on Meg's Toshiba notebook...

Don't be shy, here are a few other avenues to connect with us: