Archives For Web technology

Posts about Web technology like XHTML, CSS, accessibility, etc.

Here’s yet another shot across Microsoft’s bow. Google announced yesterday that presentations have been added to their online office suite. Their offerings are getting more and more compelling.

Google spreadsheet screenshot

I’ll post more on this soon, but I’m thinking about going to the Google Apps for a student email solution for next school year.

I discovered the U. of MN’s Assignment Calculator back in 2004 and thought it was a really cool idea. I learned at the TIES meeting today that MEMO, Minnesota’s statewide media organization, has collaborated with MINITEX at the U. to develop a new version of the Research Project Calculator which is aimed more appropriately at a K–12 audience.

The old version was aimed squarely at traditional research paper projects. The new one has broader appeal and includes information about essay, presentation, or video projects. (The site has “PowerPoint” as an option. I always avoid specific products when possible since there are many alternatives to PowerPoint.) Once the project type is selected, students can enter their email address for automated reminders and the project due date. The calculator prints out a five-step research guide and deadlines for each step to discourage procrastination. The new site has a lot more supporting documentation than the original, and a teacher guide is on the way. This would be a great site to link to from a media center or other school web page.

Now that Microsoft has released a new version of Office with a different default file format, we’re starting to have kids show up at school unable to open a document that they created at home. The version we have at school is now one generation behind, and with the cost of buying new licenses and the training necessary to get our staff up to speed on the new interface, it’s going to stay that way for a while.

We’ve identified a couple solutions. First, the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack will add compatibility with the new format to the older versions of Office programs on Windows. It also patches the Microsoft “Viewer” applications.

Another approach, and one that works for Macs, is to use Zamzar. Zamzar is a really cool online file conversion utility for dozens of document, image, music, and video formats. To use the site, you upload your file, select what format you’d like to have it converted to, and wait for them to email the new file to you. It really works.

Here’s part of an email I received recently:

I’m trying to find a way to work with a wiki with my students. We’re trying to do some collaborative writing type activities. I want them to work in real time in the same document so a wiki seemed perfect. However, because we don’t allow email access I need them to do it without registering as a user of the wiki (the only way I know would require an email address to register). I tried it with several different types of wikis, but every time some peoples’ work was lost. It seemed like when someone saved what they had entered, it deleted what someone else had typed. I thought working in a table might help since they would have a specific place to type and not actually be entering in the same space, but that didn’t show any real improvement. Unfortunately, we don’t have Moodle at this time – maybe next year – since that would probably eliminate our registration problems.

My strategy has alway been to divide up the wiki editing into smaller chunks of content on multiple wiki pages to reduce the chances of editing collisions. It’s far from a perfect solution. Google Docs would work, but the lack of student email accounts would prevent that.

Is there a better solution out there? Is there a wiki engine that support simultaneous edits gracefully? I’m all ears.

Here are links to all of the sites I’ll be mentioning in my talk at IL-TCE on Thursday and Friday.


Google Maps mashups

Tag searching



Update: I popped into Steve Dembo’s presentation to hear what Web 2.0 apps he’s using these days. Here is his top10freesites wiki.

Google launched another salvo against Microsoft last Thursday when it announced Google Apps Premier Edition, a subscription service that offers enterprise support for Google’s email, chat, word processing, spreadsheet, and web page creation tools. Wired has a short article that describes some of the pros and cons of the Google Apps package. Everyone knew this was coming, and the fact that Google has signed up some huge corporations gives them a little more credibility right off the bat.

So is this a good deal for a school district? There would have to be a significant discount over the current $50/user/year cost. I pay about $35 for a copy of Microsoft Office currently and that doesn’t expire after 12 months. I love the collaborative features of Google Docs, and I think it would meet the needs of our staff and students 99% of the time.

Other concerns:

  • We have to upgrade our district’s bandwidth anyway, but we would need a lot more to support extensive use of Google Apps. That would add even more to the cost.
  • Would it be legal to store confidential information about students on Google’s servers?
  • We’d need something to replace PowerPoint for teacher and student presentations. It wouldn’t break my heart to give up PowerPoint though.
  • I’m not sure where I’d start trying to convince teachers that changing to a web-based office suite is a good idea.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for news of educational pricing from Google.

Update: Within minutes of posting this I found a reference to Google Apps Education Edition. You can remove ads from Gmail for students, and they claim to support single sign-on. I’ll sign up and report back with a review.

Update again: It looks like the Education Edition is limited to post-secondary institutions. I tried to sign up and found that they require a .edu domain name.

Web 2.0 video

20 Feb 2007

I’m giving an informal talk about Skype and Web 2.0 technologies at TIES for the Key Instructional Contacts group. This video by Prof. Michael Wesch from Kansas State University gives a pretty nice overview of the concept.

Computerworld has a handy article comparing four leading web-based office suites. Their favorite by a wide margin is ThinkFree Office Online, a free suite offering a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tool. It looks like the ThinkFree crew has more in store:

Currently, ThinkFree hosts only a free version. By April 2007, the company will make available a Premium Edition that will offer offline and online access, synchronization between offline and online files, bulk archiving of documents in your online folders and priority tech support (with 24-hour response). Following the release of the Premium Edition will be a version for small and midsize businesses that will add group and user access.

I’ve used Google’s word processor and spreadsheet a few times, and I’ve been impressed. I’ll have to put ThinkFree through its paces; I’m especially interested in the collaboration features.

thinkfree, office suite