I am now entering the geek cave. I will not emerge until I have Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) installed on my PowerBook. With any luck I’ll have a brief review to post later this weekend. In the meantime I’ve got a lot of backing up and restoring of files to do.
Archives For April 2005
I took some time today to swing by the U. of Minnesota to check out a session on UThink, the U. of MN’s campus-wide blogging project. I posted about UThink recently. Shane Nackerud gave his presentation called “UThink: Blogs at the University of Minnesota Libraries” and it was quite interesting.
UThink was unveiled in April, 2004 and is now the largest academic blogging site in North America with 1,270 blogs, 18,650 posts, and 2,250 individual users. The idea was born in 2003 and Shane published a white paper on the topic that got the ball rolling that September. He talked a bit the hurdles that he had to overcome to get UThink approved. A few University officials and faculty were opposed to the idea initially, expressing concerns about the image of the U. among other things. But in the end, the enthusiasm for the project among the librarians who proposed it overcame the opposition.
The project proposal included a few goals:
- Promote intellectual freedom
- Build communities of interest
- Enhance the traditional academic enterprise
- Retain the cultural memory of the institution
- Change perceptions about the library
At the end of the presentation Shane showed some blogs representing the various types of blogging being done on the system. They have individual blogs, course blogs, and department blogs. Here’s a selection:
- EGAD — Astronomy grad student studying in Israel and writing a lot about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast — Another grad student writing about her dissertation
- Save The General College — An issue blog dedicated to saving the U.’s General College
- Random Thoughts – by Joe — An undergraduate blogging about everday things
- Viking Underground — A fan blog by an adjunct professor in the Pharmacy Dept.
- be silent, my dear — A photoblog.
I’m working as a mentor in several ISTE Institute sessions this year and one of the participant’s comments took me back several years to my first experience using online discussion forums with students. She was describing an idea for a student activity and my first thought was that it would be great to have the students interact in a forum setting about the work they were doing. My second thought was that there is no way for this individual teacher to set up her own server running Moodle to create an online course. Blackboard? Forget about it.
It’s easy to forget that even open source software like Moodle has costs associated with it. Not every teacher has a spare server or knowledge of configuring server software, much less a supportive tech department that encourages creativity and innovation. (Don’t get me started on that one.) What if there was a free service on the Internet that let teachers create online courses that could be used to post links, share documents, and host discussions?
That rather long intro brings me to the Internet Classroom Assistant. If you’d like to experiment with adding online components to your face-to-face classes, the ICA might be just what you’ve been looking for. The site has been around since 1998 and I think I used it with my high school physics class around 2000. It’s not fancy, but it’s free, simple, fast, and has no ads. Read about their philosophy and some of the ICA features. Does it do everything Moodle does? Not even close. Does that matter? Not for someone who wants to dip their toes into the online learning world and see how they like it.
I found myself needing to send a very long URL to a group of teachers today and I suspected that not all of their email clients would handle a four-line hyperlink gracefully. So I reached into my bag of tricks and paid a visit to TinyURL.com, a handy little site that takes long URLs and creates shorter ones that are much easier to email. Here’s an example from Google Maps that points to the Hopkins School District main office:
When converted at TinyURL, this rather unwieldy URL becomes:
Isn’t that better? The service works by creating a permanent redirect from the tiny URL to the ugly one. The tiny version is never deleted and can be used over and over again. This site has been around quite a while, but it seems to be fairly unknown. Now you know!
The success of Frank Miller’s Sin City in theaters has brought the comic book genre into the spotlight. As a former Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil fan I was quite intrigued when I heard about Comic Life on the MAKE:DIYcast podcast this morning. Comic Life is a Mac OS X application that takes photos from iPhoto and lets you drag and drop your way to a comic book. Check out the Comic Life gallery for some examples.
This software has such amazing potential with kids. Can you imagine how geared up students would be to use this? Heck, I had a blast creating my first comic. (I created it very quickly. Please forgive the rampant silliness.) Who wouldn’t be motivated to do a writing project this way? Given that iPhoto can be used to manage any kind of image and not just digital photos, my brain is racing to think of uses for this software. Here’s the first off-the-top-of-the-head list:
- Science students create lab reports combining digital photos of an experiment with hand drawn or computer generated graphics explaining what’s going on. They could include their data analysis right in the “comic.”
- History students find some period costumes and re-enact a historically significant event.
- Students use Comic Life to create a storyboard of a video project including some sample dialog and key visual elements.
- Combine digital images and hand-drawn graphics in the same panel to send characters back in time or create giant ladybugs that can crush cars.
- Students create a comic book that explains their family history and combines old and new photos.
This software would be a great addition to the student laptops in our one-to-one computing project. The cost is very reasonable (especially for site licenses) and the potential is huge. This is easily the most fun I’ve had with a piece of software in a long time. If you’re reading this and think of a good project idea, post it in the comments. Let’s see if we can get a good list going.
As much as we’d all like our students to spend all of their time doing hard-core constructivist school work, the fact remains that a lot of the learning we ask kids to do is not much more than memorization. So until cranial expansion slots are commonplace there will be a place for software like iFlash.
iFlash is a Mac OS X application for creating and sharing sets of flash cards. Their Web site has a good description:
iFlash includes many great features to help you study. You can record audio directly into any flash-card (great for foreign languages), as well as attach images. Other features include an unlimited amount of card sides per deck, advanced importing and exporting, iPod support, quick-searching, and a beautiful interface that is strikingly similar to other iApplications (like iTunes and iPhoto).
As cool as it is to have flash cards that can include images, audio, and multiple sides per card, I love the fact that teachers can create sets of cards to share with their students and students can share cards with one another. (Practicing on your iPod is pretty cool too.) I’ve purchased a district license for this software and it will be included on the laptops in our one-to-one computing project next year.
Although I won’t be popping any corks in celebration, I suppose it’s worth mentioning that this is my 200th post here at The Savvy Technologist. The first post, Blogging for learning, was made on September 4, 2003. I don’t think it will take as long to get to #400. It’s amazing how much has happened in the ed tech world since the fall of 2003. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure.
I’m happy to announce that the Hopkins Information Technology Standards for Students (HITS) are now available for all the world to see on the Web under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license. These standards are the product of many talented Hopkins educators. From the HITS Web page:
The Hopkins Instructional Technology Standards (HITS) were developed by the Hopkins School District to define a set of technology skill expectations for all K–6 students. The HITS were developed and refined by many Hopkins educators over a number of years and reflect the Hopkins curriculum, portions of ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S), and the technology integration work that has been done in Hopkins over the past few years.
Each grade level standard includes a description of the skills and a checklist. Items from the HITS appear on student report cards and are assessed on a completed/not completed basis. Work on standards beyond the 6th grade are underway and will be included here once they are completed and approved.
The bulk of the standards were developed before I started working in Hopkins, but it’s been my pleasure to help with some refinements. I’m especially glad that our district’s leadership has decided to make this work available to all under Creative Commons licensing. Although it’s not required by the license, I’d love to hear from anyone who finds these standards useful enough to incorporate into their own district’s work.