Wednesday, February 13. 2013
Etherpad is a web-based collaborative real-time editor, allowing authors to simultaneously edit a text document, and see all of the participants' edits in real-time, with the ability to display each author's text in their own color. EtherPad is an open source project.
You can quickly set up shared documents and it is fast enough that you can see what others are typing as they're typing it.
One possible negative is that the documents ("pads") aren't protected by a password, so anyone with a link to them can edit them. People immediately compare Etherpad to Google Docs. EtherPad is probably better to use than Google Docs if you want to support anonymity and/or allowing people without Google accounts to participate.
Anyone can create a new collaborative "pad" and each pad will have its own URL. Anyone who has the URL can edit the pad and participate in the associated chats. Each articipant is identified by a color and a name. The software auto-saves the document at regular, short intervals, but participants can permanently save specific versions ("checkpoints") at any time. A "time slider" feature allows anyone to explore the history of the pad. The document can be downloaded in plain text, HTML, Open Document, Microsoft Word, or PDF format. There is also a chat box in the sidebar to allow meta communication.
Google Docs does not do real-time collaborative text editing, so it takes about 5 to 15 seconds for a change you make to show up on other people's screens. That doesn't sound very slow but as the Etherpad creators say, "Imagine if that was true for white boards or telephones." EtherPad (as in ethernet cable) does it in real time which might be important in working as a group.
Etherpad was first launched in November 2008 (as EtherPad) and the software was acquired by Google in December 2009 and released as open source later that month.
Monday, January 14. 2013
I don't know if this is what School 2.0 will look like in the near future, but in The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, Salman Khan’s vision of the college of the near future doesn't look like the university of today.
Khan is the founder of Khan Academy, a website which has gotten a lot of attention for offering free online video lectures about a variety of subjects. It started as a one-man operation on a no-budget and has grown and obtained major funding from places like The Gates Foundation.
This book takes his ideas much wider to how he sees the future of education. It builds off what he set out to do with Khan Academy. He is really talking School 2.0 (versus University 2.0) since he is intent on changing elementary and secondary schools more than higher education.
There is a chapter on “What College Could Be Like.” What does that college look like? In brief, it's a place where students spend most of their time working on internships and mentored projects and not in classrooms. Not that traditional educational approaches are gone, but much of that is self-paced learning on the Khan Academy model.
He sees ungraded evening seminars. "Faculty" are mostly professionals who act as mentors and guides along with a some professors who still teach theory, concepts and the knowledge base. The entrepreneurs, inventors, and executives that he sees working with students are more like the adjuncts who often teach now in professional schools. The lecture-based course is either eliminated or greatly reduced in number.
Although MOOCs are not really part of the book, some issues that those courses need to address are part of his plan. For example, he thinks that colleges can separate the teaching from the credentialing. He does not see students being graded in the way we grade now. His vision is more about compiling a portfolio of their work and of their assessments from their professors and mentors. But students will still need to have their learning progress validated by some institution.
Wednesday, December 5. 2012
At one time, teachers were concerned with teaching students how to use computers. I did lessons with middle school students back in that last century on how to turn on, log on, search the Web, and use applications. Now, students come to school with computer skills and perhaps even better skills than the teachers (depending on grade level) and access to more computers and devices at home than in school.
But one area that is still more the domain of the classroom is learning to write code. This doesn't mean trying to turn kids into programmers. Getting an introduction to programming not only gives you a sense of how computers work, but is also teaches math, logic and critical thinking.
Although computer science courses don't usually appear until high school or college, there are lots of ways of teaching younger students programming.
My sons both loved playing with LEGO blocks and that led me to buy them Lego Mindstorms which allowed them to do robotics building and programming. I did sit on the floor with them at first, but they were fine with just playing around and figuring out how to make things happen.
Lego Mindstorms’ kits have sensors and motors and use command-box programming rather than code programming. The LEGO-supplied language can be modified to work with third party languages. Mindstorms grew out of the work at the MIT Media Lab and you will find several other projects from there in the resources below.
Monday, December 3. 2012
I was at an educational technology conference last week. I asked several people about whether or not the Google Chromebook was having any impact on their campus. Not only was there zero impact, half of those I asked didn't even know that a Chromebook was a personal computer.
That may change in 2013. Chromebooks run the Google Chrome OS operating system. The first Chromebooks for sale, by Acer Inc. and Samsung, were announced at the Google I/O conference in May 2011. Six laptop models have been introduced to date, as well as a single desktop, known as a "Chromebox".
I signed up for some type of beta test of the Chromebook and wanted to use it in a project I was involved with at my college, but I wasn't selected. I never heard anything about those educators who were selected. (I assume that some people did.)
Chromebooks are originally touted for for their comparatively low cost and fast startup times. The advantage or disadvantage - depending on your way of using a computer - is that they are designed to be used while connected to the Internet and support applications that reside on the Web.
That means you don't use your traditional PC applications like Microsoft Office and Photoshop that would be installed on the machine itself. You need to be online all the time and using the cloud.
I have read about some programs Google did with the device. I'm not sure that handing out as loaners on Virgin flights and sending reviewers freebies was the right approach.
But NY Times’s technology columnist, David Pogue, seems to think that right now at $250, it could be a gamechanger. That's half the price of an iPad for a laptop.
It plays Flash and opens Office docs. The shell is plastic with a brushed aluminum look. It's light — 2.4 pounds and has a keyboard that is similar to a MacBook Air.
I like my iPad, but I still need a laptop to do my work and play online. The Chromebook has HDMI, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 and a headphone jack and a memory-card slot for photo transfer. It has a 11.6-inch screen, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and Google claims 6.5 hours for the battery.
Like an iPad, you can get a $330, you can get a version that gets online over the cellular data networks.) The 11.6-inch screen isn’t glossy, which is good, but it’s a little washed out. It has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Google claims 6.5 hours for the battery, and that seems about right. It is an instant-on machine and the operating system is updated automatically about every six weeks.
Maybe the audience for the Chromebook is someone looking for a second computer, but I think Google would be wise to make another and better push for the education market. In my days teaching in the last century, the reason I became an Apple user was because they made such a push to get into schools and support teachers. My first classroom computers were Tandy TRS-80s but the first compters my students really used were Apple IIe computers in the back of my room. It took years for Windows PCs to enter the school and that happened mostly because the Apple products got too expensive.
If Google combines the Chromebook with some even better bulk/education/educator pricing AND their current online offering with some new offerings, I think it will have quite an impact in classrooms.
I don't have a Chromebook yet, but I assume it takes some getting used to. Not so much because you are learning the new OS, but because it takes a computing lifestyle change. You are living in a browser. You're using e-mail, YouTube, and apps like Google Drive with its free online word processor, spreadsheet (pretty weak though) and PowerPoint-ish slide show programs. The Chromebook is silent and solid because it has no no fan, no DVD drive, no hard drive. There is little storage space because the idea is to store your files online. Google gives you 100 gigabytes of storage for two years. You can pay for more storage but 100 gigs is a lot.
There are all kinds of payoffs to this approach. The laptop turns on instantly. It has “insane levels” of security, according to Google.
The previous Chromebook cost $450 and people were not convinced it would replace their laptop, so it seemed like another little device to play with and rather pricey for that. Does $250 make it work for you? There are several models. Samsung and others offer them. There is even a $199 Acer version that lacks a bit. When I looked at the Samsung Chromebook (Wi-Fi version) on Amazon it was out of stock - which is probably a good sign for Samsung and Google.
C'mon Google, (higher) education awaits you.
Monday, November 19. 2012
You can call it brainstorming, concept mapping or mindmapping (and, yes, there are differences) but we ask students to organize their thoughts and using some of the free online options make sense.
Bubbl.us is concept mapping text style with a nice interface. A central idea branches off to other thought bubbles can be easily created or deleted.
Wisemapping.com is also a basic way to create a mindmap with icons, shapes and colors that can be shared or exported in several formats including PDF.
Mind42.com is simple and similar to the previous tools and it allows you to move and regroup with drag and drop.
Mindomo.com is a more robust tool with clipart and the ability to import images or video (from YouTube) with a familiar interface that looks like MS Office.
Mindmeister.com let's you click to add content, icons and images from a library or other sources, notes, links and attachments. The free version has ads and you are limited to how many free maps you can create - which might be fine for having students use it for one project.
Thursday, July 5. 2012
I was doing a Web search on some science terms this week for a post on another blog. I happened to be using Bing and was surprised that the top result was not Wikipedia (as I expected), but it was the Simple English Wikipedia at simple.wikipedia.org. Even though people often bad mouth Wikipedia as a poor place to do research (I disagree), apparently the information there is too complex for some users.
I was searching the term aphelion, but the standard Wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphelion redirects for "Aphelion" and "Perihelion" to "Apsis" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apsis which has a much more complicated article. Yes, a definition of aphelion is in there, but it was simpler to read the Simple Wikipedia entry.
So why is there a simpler Wikipedia? Before you start hearing arguments about the erosion of education and the world of knowledge in general, take a look at what Wikipedia has to say about this.
The Simple English Wikipedia is a Wikipedia encyclopedia, written in basic English.
It makes good sense to me, especially the idea that it is for "for people with different needs" such as adults who might find it hard to learn or read and people who are learning English.
I am always amused and bemused when I hear teachers at all levels say that "I don't allow my students to use Wikipedia," as if they follow their students home and to the library when they are doing research. Your students use it. They just don't cite it.
Yes, Wikipedia is one of the top sources for plagiarism. All the more reason to teach how to use it better and how to cite it. In most cases the Wikipedia article has better documentation for sources than the papers you get from students - and better than citations than in articles you read online in most major publications.
When I was a young student in the last century, we used encyclopedias and World Book was the one my teachers didn't want us to use. It was the Wikipedia of its day - too simple; too easy.
That was wrong to do then. It's also wrong to make believe that Wikipedia is not useful. Even with the flaws inherent in its use by students, it is here to stay. Use it. Teach students how to use it.
And start giving your students who have different needs the link to Simple Wikipedia.
Tuesday, June 12. 2012
Are you ready for a hard drive in the cloud? I have been using Dropbox as my free cloud drive and I am very happy with it. I put aside my flashdrives and also set aside some of my concerns about not having a file with me at work or home or at a conference when I need it.
Now, I know colleagues are starting to use Google Drive which is another way to store your files on Google's servers "in the cloud."
If you run the free Google Drive application, then you get a folder on your computer (Windows or OSX) that looks just like a directory on your hard disk that you can drag your files in to. In that way it is similar to Dropbox. Anything stored in that folder is kept on your hard disk and also copied to your account in the cloud. You can access those files from drive.google.com or from other computers, including mobile devices.
Google Drive is also the new name for Google Docs (Google's suite of Web-based productivity tools: word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation app).
"Documents you create using these tools now show up in your Google Drive. Sort of," says CNET's Rafe Needleman in an updated FAQ post at http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57420402-93/the-google-drive-faq/
Tuesday, May 22. 2012
Sipping from the fire hose that is the Web gets harder every day because of the amount of information that is available. You probably have your own methods of filtering or curating the Web for yourself. Perhaps, following this blog and others is one of those ways that you use other "trusted" sources to do some filtering for you.
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