Thoughts on “All Things Google: Thinking Across Software Modules”

Today, Andrea and I are presenting at the annual MSU Tech Conference, and we are both sitting here in the kiva, Macs at the ready, to listen to the following panel discussion:

All Things Google: Thinking Across Software Modules

Google recently released a number of powerful, free tools that are very useful for classroom teachers. This presentation will showcase some of these tools, in particular: Calendar, Blogger, Reader, and Personalized Home Page. Panelists will provide brief overviews of each tool separately and its implication for educational practice. In addition, we will look across all four tools and envision how they might be used collaboratively for teaching purposes. There will be a follow up workshop on this topic presented during the afternoon session.

CTT > Center for Teaching & Technology

So, here are some notes and thoughts on the session…

Intro: Two Learning Tasks

  1. A new framework for evaluating technology
  2. Four particular tools that are important for your work

Key Principles for Evaluating New Technology

  • Free — we are looking for technologies that are freely available to anyone
    • Having a hard time getting technologies that cost money
    • Parents and students can use these technologies outside of school
    • State funding is dropping for K-12 education
    • Paying for a site license is expensive, whereas web-based tools are usually free
    • This will be important as students apply technologies in their lives outside of schools
    • Given the number of computers that are available in home and school, free web-based tools are critical
  • Future — what are the prospects that the tools that we are looking at will be around for the long haul
    • Technologies change rapidly, so knowing whether a tool will be around is important
    • Does the company or tool have a history that suggests it will be around?
    • For instance, Google has a high future potential in terms of stock, for sure, but the fact is that almost everyone is using it in some way, shape, or form
    • If you can find tools from good companies that are free, then they are likely to be around for a long time
    • Also, what support is available? For instance, Google has help centers for each of its tools.
  • Friendliness — how does the tool work on its own and how does it partner with other technologies
    • Traditionally, when we pick a tool it does one thing well. Now, we need to have technologies that synthesize and expand its purpose and functionality
    • Technology report card:
      • Works to capacity
      • Works well with others — does it add value as a tool in your life?
    • Does it work across populations that we serve: teachers, students, and parents?
      • The more it works across these populations, the better the tool

Four Google Tools for Educators

  • Calendar
    • What happens when your calendar can talk to other calendars and the people that you serve?
    • OK… I got off on a tangent trying to install “Spanning Sync” for awhile…
  • Blogger
    • What are blogs and why do they matter?
      • 50 million blogs worldwide
      • That number is doubling every 200 days (6.5 months)
      • Over 100 times bigger than just 3 years ago
      • Approximately 1.6 million posts per day
      • 11 of top 90 news sites are blogs
      • Tool for education that enables reflection, activism, and social transformation
    • Blogs allow for easy linking to other websites, blogs, pictures, and other content
    • They differ from basic websites because they allow comments
    • Tagging and allowing readers to go back through and look at themes that develop over time
    • Profiles allow students to fill out information, safely, to share info about themselves
      • We can create a class profile and highlight personal interests with tags
    • Blogrolls allow you to create links to other blogs that you are reading
    • Can use blogs for multiple purposes
      • Personal reflections
      • Taking notes
      • Class blog
      • Students posting their own work
    • Blogs can engage students in particularly powerful ways
      • A student who is writing about a tree in his backyard and how that can expand into other areas of science and inquiry
      • They can become engaged in the aesthetics of the work
      • They can become creatively invested in the work
      • They are engaged in a shared experience that contributes to the classroom community
    • RSS Feeds (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary)
      • You can choose what continuous information to receive in your RSS feeder, for instance, from your students
    • But, can my students do that?
      • Yes, the interface of Blogger is very clean and highly usable
      • It is highly customizable
      • Blogger also allows you to make things as public or private as you want
  • Reader
    • Google Reader works as a friend to some of the technologies that we have discussed already
    • If you go to a web page that doesn’t have an RSS feed, what do you do to find out if there is new information?
      • You can look for a “last updated” note, but you don’t always know what is exactly updated
    • One of the things that an aggregator allows us to do is to pool information from multiple feeds
      • It pulls in content that you haven’t read so that you do not have to go back to each individual page to figure out what you have, or haven’t, read
    • What does Google Reader look like?
      • It shows you all of your feeds, what you have read, what you haven’t
    • All of this is based on RSS
    • You can connect to students’ and teachers’ blogs, link to news sites, calendars, and anything else that is RSS subscribable (sp?)
    • Students might have a number of things that they can bring into their Google Reader, some related to official academic or news sites, other blogs (including the teachers’), items of personal interest, and friends
  • Personal Homepage
    • Ran out of time to talk about this

As I think about this session and the few times that Joe and Cherice asked the audience, “Have you heard of __?” or “Are you using ___?” — and see how many people were, and were not, using certain tools, I realize that the amount of knowledge that teachers need to have to be able to stay connected. It is a different mindset, and I think that for all the technology professional development sessions that I have done and how starting with a conversation about that mindset (and how it changes literacy) makes the most sense for educators who might ask, “Why should I do this?”

That is the question that I hope Andrea and I can speak to in the sessions that we have coming up next.

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Students Researching Online

Paul has invited me to be part of an upcoming Teachers Teaching Teachers show about students doing research online. Check out the Google Notebook for the show to get a sense of what will be happening and let me know if you have things that you want to add to it.

My interest in this topic goes back to my time teaching middle school and first-year composition at the community college. At the time, I know that asking my students to keep a list of citations with an online citation generator was considered pretty cutting-edge. Now, however, I wonder if that is A) still cutting-edge and B) enough?

In this age of hypertext composing and plagiarism detection services, I have to ask whether or not our old means of citing sources is good enough. Clearly, there are cultural norms and rhetorical traditions that we have to meet here, so I am not suggesting that we ask students not to cite their sources. However, I do want to suggest that we begin thinking more about why we are asking them to site their sources and how to keep track of them.

I have put some initial thinking in the “Citing our Sources – How and Why?” section of the notebook. And, as always, I would appreciate hearing what all of you think about this issue — what is happening in your classroom? How has the research process changed in the past few years with the emergence of read/write web tools?

Whoa! Zotero

Goodbye 3×5 cards.

No, really, this time I mean that you must get rid of these cards and jump feet first into the web-based research revolution. Easybib was cool, but this is awesome.

I just downloaded and installed Zotero, a Firefox extension. Here is part of the press release from the Center for History and New Media at GMU who created it:

Zotero is a free, easy-to-use, open source research tool that runs in the Firefox web browser and helps scholars gather and organize, annotate, organize, and share the results of their research. It includes the best parts of older reference manager software (like EndNote)—the ability to store full reference information in author, title, and publication fields and to export that as formatted references—and the best parts of modern software such as del.icio.us or iTunes, like the ability to sort, tag, and search in advanced ways. Using its unique ability to sense when the user is viewing a book, article, or other resource on the web, Zotero will—on many major research sites—find and automatically save the full reference information in the correct fields.

Zotero: The Next-Generation Research Tool now available

Wow! I am an avid Endnote user, so playing with this is going to be cool. So far, I was able to capture the entire citation info from a book listed on Amazon with one-click and capture a website’s info, too. It requires FF2.0, so I lost Session Saver. But it is worth it to have Zotero.

Combined with an RSS aggregator and Google Notebook, this could radically change the ways that students do research.