Friday 18 December 2009

"It's worse than that, he's got bullets, Jim"

Excellent article and brilliant video from Brain Rules by John Medina. Anyone planning a presentation next term should see this!

Thursday 5 November 2009

Are you the next Bill Gates?

If you're a student entering University in 2010 then here's a nice opportunity to get some fees paid and probably lots more goodies too! Although part of a marketing campaign by an organisation called XMA, still worth a try.

Here's the link. Good luck. Remember me if you do win - you might need a chauffeur, someone to make tea, fix your spelling and grammar . . .

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Catch a wave

Delighted to get a Google Wave account at the weekend. And 20 invitations which I have already had requests for at a ratio of about 5:1. If you haven't heard of this then you soon will (and there are links in some previous posts). Think e-mail, IM, live collaboration on a document, image or video sharing, maps showing where you or something mentioned is, polls all rolled into one application that lets you see someone's message or additions as they enter them rather than waiting for them to hit send and you may get the idea.

I'll be trying it out with some carefully chosen friends, probably doing something silly like planning a trip to Greece or boring like agreeing a meeting agenda at first and then hopefully extending it as we get more expert and figuring out what we can achieve.

If you think you could be a useful ally in this trial then contact me - there should be a link somewhere on the blog. Or look on my web site.

So, to end as I started, with a Beach Boys track, Let's go surfin' now, everybody's surfin' now, surfin' USA . . . and UK.

Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age: what people said

This excellent discussion produced a host of intelligent and thought-provoking comments, as well as reassurance that there appear to be plenty of others who share my views on how well and how not so well e-learning is developing.

Fifty statements/quotes from panelists taken from notes at the Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age Forum, Oct 27 & 28, 2009 made by Cheryl Davis, Miramonte High School can be seen at the link below. What I really like is the use of Google Sites to publish this! That makes it 51 statements!

Monday 2 November 2009

By the time we get to Phoenix

SARS Farce

Hundreds, no thousands, of middle managers across Further Education (and maybe schools too) are probably locking themselves away in their rooms or burning the midnight gin at home on something they call SARs. Because virtually everything in education has to be reduced to a set of initials, like I'm sure STUDENT came not from the Latin studere, to be diligent, strive after, but seldom turn up daily eventually never there or something along those lines, SAR stands for Self-Assessment Review. It's a set of facts and figures and comments that every curriculum area has to do within an organisation. All the data comes from records maintained by the institution but, of course, they get re-written again here. Then, all the individual forms, which can be a dozen pages long, get sent to someone at the place who has to combine them all into a single document which gets sent off to a government agency and, amongst other things, can form the baseline against which people like OFSTED may assess progress.

Collating the data and setting targets for improvement, commenting on things that may or may not have gone well are all sound enough and the general concept is a sensible enough management procedure but what really strikes me as crazy is the way in which the process is handled. My guess is that just about everyone will be filling in Word forms. Except they won't even be real Word forms (the type where you can type in boxes to update a document rather than editing the whole thing). Even if they were decent Word forms, though, the business of typing, printing, putting in pigeon holes and then some poor person having to extract bits or somehow make sense of the whole before transferring it all elsewhere (never mind what could be several interim approval meetings) is crazy in this day and age. It's bonkers, which is more than mad.

Firstly, all the data should be filled in before anyone gets the forms. It really shouldn't be re-entered again and again. Some institutions may have figured that one. Let's hope so. But still we have people handling, many literally, all this paperwork.

I say it's time they forget worshipping at the statue of Word. Why not use a Google document that lots of people can collaborate on? All that each manager needs to add will be comments, actions etc. in the areas related to their activity and maybe check data and other standard stuff. As they progress with the on-line document it can be shared with others and, as necessary, older versions retrieved if someone makes a mess. Then, when it's ready, they can share it with the person collating all of them or anyone else for that matter.

No need for any repetition or printing. No slow opening e-mail attachments, confusing file names, folders full of awkward files with names with [1] or [2] after them because people have used the same file name . . .

And then we need to think of the government agencies or departments involved. Why don't they demand a more efficient method of submission? It must be almost as crazy for them to have to sift through all the inbox attachments.

Everyone involved in the whole damn process really should know better and be setting a good example to others. New e-learning technology has the answers to this. Use them. It won't totally remove the stress from the faces of my colleagues but would make everyone's job a whole lot better.

Wake up, folks. Let's end the SARs farce.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Odd things at Generator

"I really want to see Further Education students enjoying the opportunities and benefits technology offers. There are already excellent examples of learning technologies right across the sector. But I want to see more and better. I want to see our colleges and training providers recognised nationally and internationally for the innovative and creative way they use technology. One practical source of support is Becta’s new online assessment tool, Generator, to help leaders in FE review and improve how technology is applied in their organisations. We need commitment from top management if the strategic importance of technology for learning is to be recognised."

Apart from the sentence about Generator, that's exactly what I said at a conference back in 2005. But it's SiƓn Simon MP that gets the credit on Becta's Generator site. Well, it would be if you could actually see the text (and picture and Government department logo).

I had forgotten all about this since filling in yet another e-maturity tool there back in April. then I received a couple of weird blank e-mails which I would normally have ignored but they appeared to be from (don't you just love how agencies spend our money and come up with so many urls) so I decided to have a look at the site again. In Firefox it looks dreadful and not a great deal better in IE so I thought I'd have a look at the code (the underlying script that a browser reads so it knows how to display the web page). That's where I found the quote above. Initially I did actually think it was a response I had made on the site, perhaps when registering or something, as I often copy and paste stuff from other articles, but then I saw the code for the MP's photo and the bit about Generator which I wouldn't have included.

I didn't spend time checking the code as to why the quote doesn't show but there's probably a missing tag or something. Looking at the standard of display of the rest of the site I would not be surprised if there were an error like that.

Losing count now of how many attempts have been made to create these e-maturity tools. I believe that there are even training sessions being run to show people how to complete this one! Presumably, the trainers will first format delegates' memory of previous tools. Whilst it doesn't look as though much of our money has been spent on Generator, I wouldn't mind betting something in the region of £½ million has gone this way to date. The only obvious immediate beneficiary would seem to be the Department of Whatever Education Is Called Now who can publish nice glossy statistics showing changes in e-maturity.

"Surely he's not saying students should have Facebook in the classroom?"

That's what many people will probably say when they start reading this. Especially the IT Services people who control what everyone in the College can access, including teachers!

Having read through Online College's 100 Ways You Should Be Using Facebook In Your Classroom, though, I do hope some will think about this a bit more. I can't say that I agree with every one of the 100, and you may well think of some more, but this is a great list of ideas and some simple but effective ways to approach tasks in a different way.

I'd probably change the title to say 'Could' instead of 'Should' and you'll need to bear in mind that it's American so some tweaks here and there required as well as a few less 'z's.

I'll add the list to the web tools wiki for future reference, which you can also access via the Facebook link in the More Tools section on the main site.

Friday 23 October 2009

In two minds

I'm in a bit of a quandary about Facebook and Twitter. Up until now I've been using Facebook mostly for social stuff and Twitter for slightly more serious work-related thoughts. Occasionally they've overlapped or I've used Twitter to say something that just occurred to me but generally Twitter seems more suited to the quick comment than Facebook.

Lots of people, though, do use Facebook status messages very much like Twitter and I get streams of odd thoughts, outbursts, comments and rants changing the home page every few minutes. The people I like to communicate with are also spaced out across the two so Facebook friends miss my tweets and vice versa.

Perhaps I'm not so much mad (previous article!) but schizophrenic now, displaying one character in one place and another in the other! So I've decided to join the two which means my poor Facebook friends will now see their home pages scrolling down even more quickly as my tweets get added and what was once a weekly status change could turn into several times a day or more as the mood takes me. There's always the Remove button so I shall not feel too bad.

I divided the two initially when I noticed that a colleague tended to send tweets every few minutes from various conferences she attended. She had the two accounts linked so I was getting everything twice and some days the whole of my Facebook home page was occupied with copies of tweets I'd already seen and wasn't really wanting to see again. I didn't really want to annoy or bore non-work Facebook friends with my tweets so stopped Facebook collecting them. I don't seem to have got into that tweet-a-minute gossip mode, though, so, hopefully the increased status changes won't now be too much of a nuisance to Facebook friends.

Something else I noticed about my behaviour was that I tended to think before changing my Facebook status - not so much about what I was writing but who would be likely to read it. Tweets didn't matter - they seemed more transient (although I am aware that Google can now locate and publish them!) - and the likelihood of actually seeing any of my followers other than a couple of people was almost non-existent. I quite liked that laissez-faire approach (and also got the message out much more quickly) so my Facebook friends will be seeing more of that now.

Until I decide that I prefer schizophrenia again.

Less pcs, more comfy chairs and clean carpets

I am beginning to think something quite strange: maybe we should start reducing the number of computers in FE classrooms. This is pretty weird stuff from me, I know. I teach various computing / ICT units for courses at a Further Education college. I've been saying for years that every member of staff should have a computer and my suggestion that we should have a 1:1 ratio for students to pcs was regarded as slightly mad. Yes, staff should all have one but I'm not so sure that I want rooms full of computers for students any more.

A little while ago I visited a college which had had substantial rebuilding and lots of new classrooms. The people showing me round were clearly really proud of the shiny new rooms and all the new equipment. I remember walking into one new classroom and there were rows and rows of black boxes and screens before my eyes. It was awful, even quite threatening. There was precious little space on any desk for anyone to write or place papers, despite the small footprint monitors and pc units. It reminded me of those language labs some schools used to have. It was like the sole purpose of the room was to provide access to a computer screen and keyboard.

I think they'd crammed 45 machines into the room. Then, at another college, I visited a library where gigantic monitors were lined up against each other on desks all over the place. Beautiful screens but, boy, did they dominate the whole environment.

At my own college there has been a gradual replacement of the big beige monitors with the little black (inevitably Dell) screens and there's no doubt that the extra horizontal space is welcome, along with the better speed of new machines. There, by not cramming the place so much there is, at least, still an airy feel to rooms and room to do something else. Not a lot, though, and there are several rooms where I have more students than chairs, never mind computers! That, and chairs with backs that never stay in position and make access to some parts of a classroom quite impossible, is another story.

What has started to happen, though, is that students have started to bring in their own laptops, some netbooks are appearing too and, unable to access the college wireless network, they solve the problem by utilising their own mobile broadband sticks or accessing via mobiles. I am waiting for the smarter ones to work out how to display mobile internet images on the monitors! My feeling is that this is quite a natural move. They are using a familiar pice of equipment. It probably contains all the applications and files they want to access. It's rather like bringing in your own pen and notebook instead of using the standard stuff dished out to those who forget. I see this use of personal equipment escalating. Another interesting observation is that whereas all the monitors are standing near vertical at head height, the laptops and other devices are far more angled and the general position of students appears much more relaxed whilst still attentively so.

I have less trouble seeing students when I don't have to peer across or around all the displays. I get their attention more easily too when I want to talk about something or show them something on the whiteboard or smartboard. It's as if their smaller screens, less intrusive on their immediate visual environment, are easier for them to be diverted from by whatever antics I employ.

So, where does this lead? My first thoughts are that we could clear all but a few of the college machines from most of the rooms I use and reclaim the horizontal space and have a much more pleasant teaching and learning environment. (This would have the immediate benefit of allowing every room in the college to have a few decent machines. Currently other departments struggle to get access to computers and often have the limited choice of the endless rows of 96 black screens in the rigidly disciplined, no talking and pretty unpopular IT Workshop or occupying a computing department room thus leaving computing students with a room with zero equipment).

It's not something that will happen overnight because although nearly all my students do have a laptop, I accept that this may not be the case in other disciplines and it is only a small proportion who have a mobile broadband facility. But it is changing, and fast.

Something that could be considered would be opening our wireless network (or some part of it or a specially created one - sorry, I'm not a network person!) so that the mobile broadband wasn't a necessity. As I have said in a previous article, saving documents in some allocated part of the student network isn't that important these days as there are alternatives.

There will always be a need for a few computers for students to use - for those who don't have suitable equipment or if theirs breaks down. Tutors would need to keep an eye on what was being accessed but no longer would students be needing to spend time getting around net nanny systems or having to use applications that aren't quite what they would naturally use elsewhere. Perhaps the savings in future IT equipment budgets could support the provision of some laptops or netbooks, even broadband subscriptions, for students. Things they can use anywhere rather than fixed items they can only use in one place. No-one need be excluded. Yes, the rich parents may provide kids with top of the range kit which will make others jealous but is that really any different to the range of clothes they wear or their forms of transport in the car park or bike shed?

There will also still be a need for computer labs where units require specific applications to be used which students wouldn't be expected to have on their own equipment and some rooms will inevitably stay fully equipped. But I believe the vast majority could be totally refurbished with decent desks and chairs, blinds and carpets so that the room is attractive, clean and genuinely inviting rather than formal or threatening. We don't need a rebuild, we need a rethink and clean carpets.

[I'm not talking about schools here, just institutions for 16+. Not sure about the provision for younger people. They may need to retain current standard equipment for a bundle of other reasons.]

Thursday 22 October 2009

Digital exclusion

There is a lot of talk these days about digital inclusion but as the internet and on-line applications become more and more part of life I am having problems with the restrictive policies operated by IT Services departments at a UK Further Education college.

Web design students need to test their pages in several browsers but can only access IE8 in class. Firefox has some great web developer tools but they can't get at the browser, never mind the add-in. Students make videos but can't access YouTube, never mind upload their work or share them that way, which is where they would normally just click a couple of buttons and have the job done. I have developed some useful Facebook pages on e-learning but exchanges of ideas, comments and the like are invisible as no-one can access that anywhere, not even staff!

Twitter is regarded as some kind of new threat and students will be using it inappropriately when it could be a great way to share progress with tasks and even search for ideas in a different way or find answers from others in the big, wide world. Again, no-one can access Twitter on College equipment.

Students ask me why. I try to defend IT Services' position but it is getting very difficult. I tell them that if something inappropriate is viewed then the College might be sued by parents. I can't honestly think of any other reason. Yes, it's in some strategy or policy or procedure but that will have been written several years ago and probably just to satisfy OFSTED inspectors that we were complying with whatever was the initiative of the day, Every Child Matters et al.

Some staff worry that their students will all immediately lurch into bad places or spend the whole lesson sending each other rude messages. Sure, some will. Maybe many will, at first. But the novelty will wear off. And, anyway, tutors should be able to control this. It is pretty obvious when a student isn't looking at what he's supposed to be - the body language gives it away if the giggles, red-faced laughter restraint or even expressions on nearby faces don't give the game away. Then there's the swivelled monitor. Easy to spot. A little hard discipline should sort that out soon enough. If it proves really hard to control then surely it must be possible to have some extra restrictions applying within a particular part of a network? I have seen systems that allow tutors to see what students are looking at on their own screen. It wouldn't help me as I am seldom looking at a screen when teaching but for those still stuck at the front behind a monitor then using the monitor to monitor will show who's misbehaving (or teachers could just pretend it did which would deter quite a few!)

I have a pretty crazy diversity of students. Some will use proxy browsers and get round the system anyway but, guess what: most of the time they're doing so to access sites they want to get genuine information from for my tasks! A few minutes checking e-mail or facebook these days is no big problem. If I were to tell them to do so then it would probably soon become uncool to do so as well! Some have some very dubious interests and visit apalling sites. But they only do so once. They don't like the idea of their parents being shown a list of sites visited by them. The threat works on all occasions. I don't have the very young - everyone is over 16 and most over 18 and adults in other legal respects.

I am aware of anyone's sensitivities - it's all about getting to know one's class and understanding what may offend them or cause upset. The worst problem I face is actually the language that the boys and girls come out with. I should be the one suing their parents!

It seems that no-one wants to make a move on this. My colleagues just shrug their shoulders and don't bother. The rules help them as they probably haven't thought about using anything other than very safe sources and few know there's anything other than Internet Explorer anyway. Tweeting is seen as very strange behaviour and Facebook, well, "why on earth would I want a Facebook account?" they ask!

What a shame. They're all missing so much.

I have also recently heard about something that might prevent me even having students as 'friends' on Facebook or similar. This is a really worrying development and seems to indicate that I shall be assumed to have bad motives which is atrocious. Something has to be done to stop this steady State control of how we think, how students think, what we may or may not say, do, act like. So much has happened already and I seem to be surrounded by tacit acceptance that the authorities must be right and anyone who objects is to be regarded with suspicion.

I am used to being regarded as a bit of a rebel but this latest development, if true, wouldn't be amusing. I so much hope that someone somewhere can see sense and start trusting teachers, tutors and decent staff generally. We don't need procedures, policies, regulations. Many of us are parents, quite used to making decisions. In some circumstances my rules might be even more draconian than the college (certainly on litter, manners and language!). In others they may be more relaxed but I know what kids try to do and can control and maintain a decent, clean and respectable environment in my class. I dislike not being trusted by others to do so.

My Google day

It's just occurred to me how seldom I use hard drives or even USBs these days. Google Documents provide a perfectly acceptable alternative to Word for all the word processing type of things I need, like handouts, instructions, notes etc. and students are now happy to save their work in the same way, sharing it with me which makes giving them feedback and correcting things so much simpler. My son shares a folder called 'homework' with me which I don't look at as often as I should but it's there if ever he's stuck with something, wherever I am.

I use Google presentations to display quick mini slide shows on either students' VLE pages or course pages I publish elsewhere. They love them and one or two have started doing their own presentations that way too. It will be a while before the majority do, as instant pretty designs are thin on the ground and layout controls still a bit basic. For simply getting a message across, though, rather than creating something along the lines of a Hollywood movie, the application's great.

Google spreadsheets found their way to my heart as soon as they came out, what seems many years ago now, saving all those problems when you wanted to share data with lots of people and maintain an up-to-date record of your and their amendments. Everyone should use these, I reckon. Just so sensible.

Today I needed to update some records and provide colleagues with some data which was so straightforward. Really, really cool, though, was when it came to collecting students' opinions, targets and the like during tutorial sessions.

The official College method is to download and print about 8 pieces of paper Word documents (in regulation Arial 11 and various boxes outlined in black). then you trot down to the Library and photocopy them 40 times. Well, no you can't do that becuase you're restricted to 20 at a time so you do it twice. Sometime through this process a ream of A4 needs to be added to the tray, of course, but you eventually walk away with this massive pile of hot paper under your arm. Next you try and hide the mass of paper as you enter the classroom and slowly get the students round to the idea that they have to write in the boxes with black lines and tick other boxes, not forgetting, of course, to write their name and a whole load of data we already have on file. To do this they need pens which is often another problem but I'll skip that now. Finally, if you're lucky, the forms come back in grumpily and the comments are about as short as they can make them as they just hate writing these days. Forget trtying to analyse the data. It's a mess anyway and you just stuff the forms in their files and hope they haven't set themselves too silly a target or said anything disastrous about you or a colleague.

Being the rebel that I am, though, I thought there must be a better way. Google Forms! Brilliant! I copied the questions onto a Google Form and selected the type of response required (short text, paragraph, tick boxes, etc) and put a link to each form on a course web page. There are some good, simple designs available which make the form a little more inviting too. Not Arial 11 so I'll be in trouble but never mind. I was a little nervous when I watched the first few students clicking the link but slowly screens around the room filled with my new creations and I was amazed at how little objection exactly the same questions raised. Within a short sapce of time I could open my copy and see who had responded and review comments.

Nicest of all were simple charts illustrating things where choices were available so I could instantly see which type of assessment was proving the most popular, for instance, or what proportion of the class felt they needed to improve their time-keeping or whatever.

Later in the day someone wanted some text from a novel which Google Books found smartly for them and no doubt Google Mail and Google itself got in on the act too. I showed another class what Google Chrome's nice new designs looked like but no-one could use the browser at College as they're locked in to IE8. Still, something to do at home, maybe.

Oh, nearly forgot, to show my last class some of last year's students' work I used the blogs they had created with posts for each task and images uploaded with Google Picasa and more of those mini presentations. That was a Level 1 class too - far more impressive portfolios that many of the Level 3 bundles of grey Word documents in Times New Roman I had.

So, unless I've missed something, I don't think I saved anything or carried anything around at all. Remarkable. I'll still be in trouble for the Arial 11 omission, though, and not having piles of standard documents in their folders. Pity. Nice day, though, for all that. One day I'll be appreciated.

Thursday 15 October 2009

'On-line community' maturity tool

Interesting take on the 'maturity tool' developed about 5 years ago by Steve Smith and myself, now using grid to illustrate development of community.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Etherpad brings real-time collaboration to documents

While Google Wave developers are polishing their product for launch Etherpad have slipped in with one bit that will certainly cause quite a stir - the document screen where you and others can interact in real time. It's quite an odd experience at first, watching someone else move your text around and add theirs - but you'll get used to that soon enough and appreciate the benefits and advantages.

This is certainly worth experimenting with - public spaces are free but if you want to work privately with a address to store work the free version is limited to 3 colleagues. I'm a bit surprised at the $8 a month fee for more people at this early stage. Few people will have heard of this and are unlikely just to buy, however cool the instant participation is. And, of course, Wave's on its way, and that will be free and, I rather suspect, knock anything like this into the wilderness.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Polls are getting really interesting

Polleverywhere have come up with a great new way to get people to participate in your presentation. Here's an example. It will be pretty empty to start with but add your comments, suggestions or whatever and see them appear on this page! To vote using the web click here.

Smartphone users should browse to to avoid text messaging fees.

There's also a twitter interaction that I haven't figured out yet - this post is also for me to play with to find out how it works.

Monday 27 July 2009

Here and there

Nice example of the internet at work. I received a request from someone who wanted to add some comments and links to the webtools wiki the other day. Checking the credentials of the person making the request, I noticed that she was based near Milan in Italy.

Replying to confirm I had authorised the new contributor, I mentioned in passing that my children were on holiday there at the time. A few minutes later the lady wrote back to say that as they were close by she would be delighted to show them around some of the best places often missed by tourists. Now, she didn't know that I had had a series of text messages from my daughter, 13, to the effect that she really wasn't enjoying things very much, visiting non-Italian relatives and not actually seeing the sights or tasting the local food which she had hoped to do.

So the offer from someone who seemed also to have a good affinity with children was pretty cool. I sent her e-mail address straightaway and hoped they might find a way to contact her. The lady in Italy then sent me her telephone numbers which I sent via a text message to be sure they reached them.

Within a matter of hours she wrote again to say that they had called her and would visit her and I hope as I am writing this that they are all having a bit more fun, eating some great-tasting pizza, pasta and seeing how beautiful that part of the country is.

The Italian lady is fairly new to using web tools but at Creative English Labs she has written about several simple ideas and I shall be working with her on some new projects in this field too.

It is just a simple little story of serendipity. Certainly made my day. Which also happened to be my birthday!

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Live Mesh because I'm lazy

England. Summer. Working outside with a laptop isn't too bad when the sky's grey. At least I get some fresh air. It was one of those jobs that I'd been putting off for ages, well, actually hoping someone else would do it as it was going to take a while and wasn't particularly enthralling. I had to find literary agents that might be interested in my novel by looking up details on the internet and then copying and pasting their addresses into a document that would ultimately finish up as a database for a mail merge, envelopes and all that jazz.

Without thinking, I just copied and pasted the information into Word, where I knew I could tidy it up and turn it into a data table without too much hassle. You know how text from the internet comes with a load of garbage and an assortment of fonts, colours that can quickly be removed that way (or via Notepad if necessary).

After about three hours in a strong breeze I had about 30 potential names, addresses and contact details in a respectable-looking and usable table, ready to send to the person who will be sending the stuff out.

Coming indoors, I was delighted to find that the document was already available on my main pc where I could continue to work on it with some other bits and pieces I had there. No copying to USB drives or e-mailing to myself, it was just there. Great.

Then I realised that there were probably a host of web tools I could have used to do the job - and certainly something like Google Docs would make the future collaboration on the data easier. The thing is, there were so many other ways that I couldn't quickly decide on any one in particular and I wasn't sure that my partner would have Google Docs ready to go and the thought of explaining everything and her not getting on with the task as quickly did put me off a bit. So I just went with the comfortable option. I bet lots of the people we describe wonderful new e-learning techniques to often do the same!

Monday 20 July 2009

17 new additions to the web tools site!

Quite a few changes to the webtools site today. The main one is a nice simple rating system for some of the tools in each category. Thanks to ZohoPolls for making that so easy.

I'm particularly keen to get some examples of the recent additions in action so if anyone has used them and doesn't mind sharing the results somehow do let me know.

The new pages are yet to be created on PBworks wiki but I'll get round to that before long. If you want access then please contact me.

I'm sure there are lots more out there I haven't featured yet. I do trawl various lists whenever I see them and do remember that I'm unlikely to feature 30-day trials (although there are exceptions) or sites that hit people with adverts (again, with some exceptions). The whole idea is to help people, not sell them stuff. Many of the free tools are brilliant and, in my experience, better than some of their ££ licence alternatives. Naturally, the developers hope that someone will come along and pay them lots to turn their application into a product you have to purchase or subscribe to. Good feedback will help that process but often those who signed up at a beta stage will be able to continue using applications for free. Some do disappear completely but that's unusual. I've found that many of the individuals behind these products are happy to talk to you so even if you do find you've got data on a distant server and the free access has been changed they'll help you out.

As always, let me know if I missed something. Hope you get some ideas.

Monday 13 July 2009

Google Chrome OS

Well-written article on what I think will be big changes in the way we use applications and our computers.

Well worth a read, especially if you have no idea what Google Chrome OS is!

Here's a link to the Google updates blog to keep up-to-date:

Thursday 2 July 2009

E-fair 2009

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Copyright - nice on-line guide

Just found this via Twitter friends - looks excellent.

Saturday 13 June 2009

Trying out Zoho Polls

Just discovered Zoho Polls. I've been telling everyone about Zoho's other particularly useful tools - Forms for web design use and Project for project management - but I hadn't appreciated that they now have a full range of office-type services. Not all are free but many are, including this one, Zoho Polls which I'm using here as an example.

If I add some links to the applications listed then this could make a brilliant addition (or even replace part of) the webtools site.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

The millionth word in the English language . . .

. . . is Web 2.0!! Brilliant!

Wave Hello

This is going to change everything. The video's long but well worth watching.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Why I'll take a year's break from moodle

Moodle 2.0 is coming along well according to Martin Dougiamas's presentation and I particularly like the proposed integration with Google Docs (see slide 27). Unfortunately, all the good work looks like continuing through until 2010 and will it even be ready for the crucial early summer of that year when tutors will need to become familiar enough with it to use at the start of the academic year?

Even if it is that still means another year of frustration. Principal woes are the drag of uploading documents individually to each course. I write notes, task sheets and things that lots of people can use and I finish up staring blearily at a screen and trying to remember to choose them and sometimes get so fed up at having to enter this or that time and time again that titles get more and more abbreviated and as for descriptions, well, forget it!

Then there's the business of making the page look reasonably professional. You know, add a few images, consistent fonts and arrangement of things on the page. You've got the images but upload them at your peril as most will be too big either in pixels or KB. Yes, you should have done that before hand but there you are, with editing windows open and ready to roll and the temptation to say 'sod it' and forget the pictures is pretty great. As for figuring out what font or size you may or may not get from the odd information supplied on the toolbar - well even I get fooled by that more often than not.

Something lots of people ask is to have links on the page to other course pages which I can do but, boy, it takes ages. I do try and explain to some of the more web aware how to make the other page if it doesn't exist (and, yes, do all the assigning roles and mind-numbingly repetitive admin stuff each requires) and then note the long, weird-looking url which can be used as a hyperlink for an image or text. Honestly, I do try but mostly feel sorry for them and just do it myself which takes about the same time.

Then there's what actually gets put on to most pages. Word documents abound. PowerPoint files everywhere. Loads and loads of lines of text links to documents that often are far too big anyway and take a while to load, sometimes in one window, sometimes another. Anxious not to give my students the same mundane experience, I use pdfs, web pages, Google docs and slide shows that are there, ready to roll, on the page. However, especially if I want to arrange things a little, I have to work in html view and tables can be so confusing but necessary. 

To cut what could be a long moan short, I have for a while realised that I can create nicer looking and more usable areas on wikis and web pages far more simply. I want students to start in moodle but I get them out again which rather defeats a lot of what moodle was intended to be all about. But do I care about stats for who's visited which page how many times? No. I know my students and can see for myself how they're doing from coursework and simple observation. I can make quizzes with other software and provide feedback on their results automatically. I can handle a bit of extra admin storing the results if need be but none are used other than for refreshment. Forums? Much nicer with social networking apps or something like lefora. Calendars? Again, much nicer in Google or many others. 

I'll get criticised for students leaving the moodle frame but I'm not convinced that other tutors keep them in either with myriad external links and documents opening in new windows. All I lose really are those ruddy stats but so much more to gain. 

Logging in? This became a huge issue this year. It even resulted in having to pay someone else to host it as no-one could really manage the database. All the problems of people not being able to log-in for a couple of months while we decide if they're staying on a course, user names and passwords, incorrect e-mails I shall wave goodbye to. They can add themselves to pbworks courses, forums etc and, whilst I'm happy to share all that I create, if there is something to hide or restrict circulation for then I can do so sufficiently well elsewhere. Anyway, I'm not suggesting we abandon moodle completely so they'll still probably log-in when they can but I shall leave my courses open to guest access anyway. I honestly cannot see that the benefits outweigh what will be the advantages of a much more modern, professional and interesting alternative that might even inspire a few. Who knows, if I can get facebook allowed, the fun will really start and I'm very tempted to experiment with some DIY games apps there.

Not being the ILT Co-ordinator has its advantages! I can just be a tutor and do what I like instead of feeling obliged to set a good example within the party line. Another year of that would be depressing. Instead, I'm actually quite looking forward to the challenge. And 2010, of course.

Monday 27 April 2009

Any colour you like as long as it's #002f7e

If you need an image with a particular colour whether for a web page or just to hand on your colour-co-ordinated wall then this site is the place to go. It may sound a bit odd but you'll be there for ages trying different combinations of colours and seeing what comes up.

Images from Creative Commons places like Flickr and others are searched and those that have a prominent proportion of the exact colour you seek are presented in an attractive grid. Collect them and enjoy!

Thursday 12 February 2009

Live Mesh: it works, and works well

I am very enthusiastic about Microsoft's LiveMesh. It has proved itself genuinely useful twice this week.

Once was with photos. I had taken loads in the snow and downloaded them onto my main PC. Later I wanted to use some of them on my laptop. In the old days I would have had to put them on to a USB stick and move them from one place to another, attach a data cable between the two machines or maybe uploaded them to an on-line album and then downloaded what I required. This time all I had to do was check a folder which I had set to be synchronised between the two and, sure enough, there were all the new pics for me to do what I wanted with.

The second occasion was when I needed a bundle of old files which I knew lurked in the depths of the PC but I was somewhere else with my laptop. I was able to access the desktop of the PC, open folders, open files until I found the ones I wanted. Then I could just copy and paste them to my laptop.

Quite brilliant.

Whilst it won't do staff or students' carbon footprints much good to leave their PCs running at home when they come to College, it will enable them to access and save files and even use home software if they prefer and no longer need 'Sorry, I left it at home' be a valid excuse.

Yes, I know there have been similar applications around for a while that allow remote access but this is free and just works in a familiar way. Microsoft have stolen a march on Google with this. It will interesting to see how Big G respond as, with Live Mesh, Big Blue cannot fail to reclaim users to their other Live products where Google Documents have flourished.

Thursday 5 February 2009

How did I miss Live Mesh?

I can't believe I missed this. Microsoft's Live Mesh will allow you to do all sorts of things like synchronise computer and laptop files, get remote access to a home computer when out and about or at work, and maybe vice versa which would be something.

Rather than ramble on, I'm going to get on and install the stuff and start experimenting. You may want to too. The good people at Office Watch have all the information you need.

More if and when it works!

Monday 2 February 2009

More web tools updates

There's a host of new additions to the web tools site. Here's a quick list - there'll be more information on the updates page of the site or with the individual entries.

Office: and another plug for e-snips
Images: Zoto, PhotoSynth, animoto, Jing and Camtasia
Research: Shelfari, Timeline, TeacherTube (which you already knew about), Quizlet and Poll Everywhere
Web design: Glogster

Reviews are needed for quite a few entries so don't forget to add some comments either to the wiki or join the studyzone forum, whichever you find easier. Of course you can always just tell me what you think and I'll try and remember.