A better internet?


It was after reading this story this morning

The Man Who Invented the World Wide Web Has Mixed Feelings About What the Internet Has Become

that I got thinking about the “good old days” when we just went online to do research or reading or communicating or whatever.  We actually paid for the service so we had the choice not to pay.  We didn’t worry about who was following us around as we went from web resource to web resource.  We just revelled in the fact that so much was available to us.

Then, of course, things changed.  You can’t read anything about the internet without getting advice about how to be careful and be wise in your use.

Thinking about this brought back a memory of a series of articles from Gizmodo that I enjoyed.  I wonder how they’d affect me.

It was from a series that they called Goodbye Big Five.

I Tried to Block Amazon From My Life. It Was Impossible

This looks like it’s going to be relatively easy.  I seldom buy anything directly from Amazon.  I do, however, recognize that results from Amazon appear in searches that I make online for products.  I do use Amazon to get a good idea about what a product might be worth but I’m impatient.  I’ll use that pricing as a benchmark to see where I can just go out and get my hands on what I want immediately.  That’s the retail part.

The other area is Amazon Web Services.  I have no doubt that much of what I access online comes from there.

I Cut Facebook Out of My Life. Surprisingly, I Missed It

Facebook is an interesting one.  I never really had the desire to get connected and start to look for friends, old and new.  Facebook became more than that though.  It’s the place where a lot of local businesses have a presence rather than pay for development of a unique web presence.

Then, the connections started making sense.  It’s a hoot to get connected with people from the community where I grew up.  We share stories and pictures and talk about the good old days.

But, the biggest thing is using it to share pictures with family.  We don’t see each other on a daily basis but it is a place to stay in touch or share pictures of the latest adventure.  Plus, I get a hoot of taking one of the kids out for lunch and check into the place only to get the reactions from the others.

I Cut Google Out Of My Life. It Screwed Up Everything

I would feel the same here I think.  I remember the first time I’d heard about Google.  It was an excited CAIT who shared this.  Until this point, our point of reference for search had been Altavista or Dogpile.  Google changed all of that … and more.

For the most part, I use the Google Chrome web browser.  It’s a no-brainer on my Chromebook although I do have Opera and Firefox installed there and on my other computer.  Every now and again, I’ll use a different browser until I run into a service that absolutely demands a “modern” browser and really means Chrome.  Now and again, I’ll play the real rebel and use Linux with Chromium.  It does make me feel good.

The reality is that so much in my life is Google based – Gmail, my Calendar, so many Google Documents with many of the organizations that I interact with, Maps, Earth, Android, and much more.  To replace all these with an alternative would be the ultimate digital makeover.

I Cut Microsoft Out of My Life—or So I Thought

I have an old computer (9 years old) that has Windows 10 on it but, to be honest, spend most of my time on that computer dual booted into Linux.  It’s faster, more reliable, and provides open source alternatives for anything that I might want to use.

I periodically have twinges of guilt and will boot into Windows.  Windows 10 users will know what comes next; series of updates and reboots.  Then, like most Windows machines, it gets slower and slower.  Edge is a nice to use browser but often chokes on websites wanting a “modern browser”.

I do use Outlook for some of the resources that I subscribe to and have an account for the online version of Office.  There are some people that refuse to use Google services so it’s nice to be connected and fluent enough with Microsoft online to compromise.  I do like OneNote but only the web version; keeping local installations up to date can be a challenge.

I Cut Apple Out of My Life. It Was Devastating

I’m writing this using a MacBook Pro so there’s two strike against me there.  Although it’s four year old, it works nicely now that I replaced the install hard drive with an SSD.  I’ve never warmed up to Safari as a browser (because I like my extensions and customizations)  or the Office that comes installed.  Instead, I’ll use LibreOffice or head off to the cloud.

But not Apple’s cloud.  I have an account with Apple but it’s essentially my connection to iTunes to download music.

I do walk with my headphones connected to an old iPod.  Since it’s just digital, playing music is nice and easy.  The buttons don’t work all that well but it can always be recharged if I’m unable to turn it off.  My old iPad has been relegated to a media player connected via Bluetooth to a head set.  It doesn’t do much else anymore.  My old Android phone is my new tablet.

Summary

I could go on and on but the author in these articles did a nice job so I won’t bother.  What was interesting in this whole process was to realize just how reliant and connected to so many different pieces of technology I was.  Given where I stand today, I don’t think it’s possible to escape.  I supposed that the best thing to do is to develop coping strategies to accept this reality and deal with it.

Maybe a better exercise than going through and cut out reliance on technology from these various sources, it would be easier to start from scratch and build a profile that doesn’t include reliance on them.

Where would you fit in this scenario?

Plan Now for a Year of Social Success


Welcome back to school in Ontario.  Today’s the big day for most.  I decided to drag out this old “Post from the Past”.  It goes back to the start of the school year in 2012.  I thought that it was good advice then and I am equally as convinced that it’s just as good or better advice today.  I’m not sure that I would change it much if I was writing it today.  One of the things that comes to mind might be to include a class Instagram account in addition to the Twitter account.

It’s funny; having written this so long ago – I can actually put faces and names to the social media activities described in the post.  Can you?

Are you one of them?  If so, why not take a moment and share in the comments exactly what it means to you and how you do it.


Labour Day!

The last day before getting back at it. Flash forward 9 months and the school year will be just about over but you’ll be scrambling for content for the yearbook and/or end of the year assembly. A little planning now could make that so easy and social media is the answer.

All that is will take is a Twitter account and a blog. Done properly, all the pieces will just fall into place.

First Step – Grab that Hashtag
Hashtags are Twitter’s way to tag or follow a conversation. Before your students even cross the threshold into your classroom, decide on your class’ hashtag. #MySchoolG5R3 or whatever will uniquely identify your classroom. This is the basis for retrieving all the data that you’ll create. (Do a quick search for your proposed hashtag now, before using it, to make sure that it’s not in use by someone else.)

At any point in the future, a simple Twitter search http://search.twitter.com where you enter your hashtag will bring back all of your content. Share the search with your students, with their parents, with your school, with your principal, with anyone who might have a vested interest in your classroom.

Second Step – Use that Hashtag
But, where’s the content? This is typically the stumbling block for many well-intentioned plans. It takes time to come up with content. Suggestion – crowd source it with your students. They’ve been in class all day long – at the end of the day, do a little wrap up before they head home. It might be questions like:

  • What was the neatest thing we did today?
  • Who was our classroom guest today?
  • What are we excited about for tomorrow?
  • What books did we read today?
  • ….

Any of a myriad of questions that elicit any thoughts on the day will do! Just as long as they can be summarized in 140 characters or less. Then, post it to Twitter. It could be from you or the class scribe for the day or the tech helpers or …

But the key is to make it positive and upbeat. In YOUR classroom, of course, it will be the best of the positive and upbeat!

This daily positive message will make it home before your students.

Third Step – Blog it!
If you’re not a daily blogger, that’s OK. How about being a weekly blogger? Friday night, Saturday morning – create a blog post. Don’t worry about writer’s block. You’ve got at least five pieces of inspiration already. Just do the Twitter search for your classroom hashtag, copy the results, and paste them into a blog post. It’s a leisurely reflective 10-15 minutes to expand on your student crowd sourced raw material. Post it and the week is in the bag. Do you have any pictures or a video to support the Twitter messages? Stick them into the blog post and they won’t get lost or crumpled like they might in the file folder in the top draw of the filing cabinet.

Fourth Step – You’re a Genius
There are always times you need good news stories and you’ve got them all in one spot!

Parent conferencing? You can lead it; students can lead it; Twitter can lead it; your Blog can lead it.

End of the year celebrations? Piece of cake. You’ve been celebrating and reflecting on the great things that happened all year-long. There’s no need for deep memory searching or looking for that elusive piece of information. It’s all there in your blog! Pull the pieces together and you’re good to go.

A year’s worth of successes is a good thing. Crowd sourcing them from grass-roots 140 characters at a time leverages the technology and makes a big task easy.

And, next summer when you look back over everything – you’ll be fully justified in saying “That was quite a year”.

All the best to my teacher readers for a successful 2012-2013 school year.

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Managing Social Media


Hootsuite posted this to their blog and made it available on December 29.

Managing Your Social Media Profiles While On Holiday

I suppose that it could, or should, be posted/reposted during any holiday period as a way to remind folks that there is a great deal of power available in the tools that you use.  In this case, Alyssa Kritsch is pointing to some of the strengths of their product which has become the social media browser of choice for me.

As I read her article, I realized that I was using the features that she talks about on a daily basis – not just when I’m on holidays.  Also, in the reading, I detect that perhaps her intended audience was for business but it all rang true for me and I’ll bet it does for you.  After all, we’re all selling something – ideas, concepts, promotions, friendships, learning opportunities, …

I recall a comment I heard from an edtech “leader” once and he was running down the concept of a Twitter workshop.  “Who needs a workshop on Twitter?”  I suppose that there may be some merit to the concept if all that a workshop did was cover signing up, sending a Twitter message, replying, favouriting, and sending a direct message.

Is that all there is to it?

Absolutely not.  Hopefully, by the time you get to this line in my blog you’ll have opened the link above in a new tab and read it.  Effective Social Media use does involve using the tools for more than sending a simple message or reading a couple of others.

Under the hood of the tool that you’re using, there are many features that will empower your presence.  Even something as simple as scheduling a message or a post to your blog or a picture to Facebook at the time of your choosing lets you take control.  Another simple technique of sharing an article the moment you read it helps feed the community of learners of which you’re a part.

One feature of Hootsuite that I use all the time is access to my Twitter Lists.  My Ontario Educators and Ontario Educators 2 lists are invaluable for keeping focus on Ontario things.  (And it makes #FollowFridays easier too!)  I also realized that I have a particular sleeping pattern.  Basically, I sleep at night.  There’s a whole other group of people who are busy tweeting and sharing while I’m asleep.  My way of coping is to create a special list for them – Over There – so that I can catch up when I get up.  Any list that you create would have to be done to meet your needs, but why not do it and increase the value of being connected?

The power of sharing cannot be underestimated – the more you share, the more people share back.  Consequently, you and your community of learners have the potential of being just that much more informed and, ultimately, smarter.

And isn’t that what we’re all here for?

If you care to share, what tools do you use to manage your social media presence?

Starting New


I never really thought about this for the longest time.  A new tab was just a new tab and a place to start browsing anew while not losing the original focus on the previous tab.  I really bought into the concept of multiple tabs so that I could do and work on a couple of things at once.

Time moves on and I do my best to become efficient.  Because I always check into Twitter, Facebook, my Gmail account, it made sense to save these tabs and load them automatically when I load my browser.  Then, I got hooked on Alltop.  It was a great way to have the commonly read web resources load every time I got started.  For me, I got the sense that I was working smarter and that really made a great deal of sense.  Just the menial task of manually opening tabs seemed to rob me of productivity time.

I think my philosophy changed the first time I loaded the Opera browser and saw Speed Dial for the first time.

You could turn the new tab experience into an ever greater launch point for productivity.  I started looking around and ended up with the Incredible Start Page and I shared it on this blog here.  It just because like a pair of comfortable shoes.  It was there when I started a new tab – had a notepage for quick notes to myself, access to my bookmarks, the apps I had installed, and a list of the most visited sites for me.  For my Google Chrome browsing experience, it was great!  Oddly, I didn’t make the same effort to change the new tab page in the other browser of choice – Firefox, the default always did the job for me.

Then, about a week ago, I read a couple of articles about applications and extensions to bring more functionality to the browser.  The nice thing about blogging was that I could go back to the original post and realize that I hadn’t changed the new tab function for two years.  That’s an eternity to changes made on this computer!  So, I devoured these two articles.

http://lifehacker.com/the-best-apps-and-extensions-to-supercharge-chromes-ne-982659508

http://lifehacker.com/the-best-apps-and-extensions-to-supercharge-firefoxs-n-995238717

…and then started to explore.

I had really bought into the Rockmelt philosophy that there should be something new every time you load a browser.  I was motivated to look for something with the concept that Rockmelt will stop functioning on August 31.  I really hope that Yahoo! finds some way to keeping it alive but that’s fodder for another post.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was just something new when I opened a new tab?

I’ve been curious about active tiles and how it works within Windows 8.  Not enough to buy it but the whole metro interface thing seems to be a new model for getting to the latest and greatest and having it right on your Windows desktop.  Could it not happen in a new tab instead?

To that end, I downloaded and installed the new metroTab.  It had that new metro experience but after poking around I realized that I could do some great customization to suit my needs – including the philosophy that everything looks better in green.  I had access to recently closed tabs but am really drawn to the active content on the desktop.  I liked what I saw and kept it.  It did seem a little wrong to have it running on Ubuntu so I changed the background colour to orange and it does seem to fit nicely there.

I continue to poke around and see what I can do on a regular basis.  The only think that’s seemingly a void in the upgrade was a missing notepad.  But having a tile to Evernote was a no-brainer – I really had gravitated there for the most part anyway.

What to do to refresh Firefox?  There wasn’t a metro interface in the second article but New Tab Tools gives a very nice customization ability to getting started.

In both cases, access to recently closed tabs helps out with those “D’oh” moments.

I’m liking the current new tab modifications.  I haven’t forgotten the past and they may well return but such is the life of an ever evolving search for the ultimate productivity tools.  In the classroom, what a great way to make it easy for students to get to web resources for those computers progressive enough to be using web applications.

Speaking of ever changing, you can’t be complacent.  I read this today.  Changes to Chrome’s New Tab Page.

Who can’t handle a little change?

Patti’s Great Northern Cottage Adventure


A couple of weeks ago, my friend Patti Henderson asked me if I had ever used the Flowboard application.  I had read and bookmarked an article Flowboard App Will Be The Most Important Free App You Download This Month [Daily Feebie] but that was about it.  She indicated that she was going to give it a workout to see what she could do with it.  Yesterday, she published “Going with the Flow” to her blog.  The post was a prelude to a Flowboard that she had created titled “The Great Northern Cottage Adventure“.

In the Flowboard, she used the tool to document her recent trip to Georgian Bay and environs.

Now, I’ve been known to go to a destination and take a picture or two.  In fact, yesterday, we visited Amherstburg’s Fort Malden for the Military Muster days and I took a few pictures to post.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you can view the complete set.  It’s what I think many people do with collections of images – you put them in an album on Facebook, Flickr, Google +, or whatever and share with the world.

Sometimes, you can enhance the images by adding a description to the album or to the individual pictures.

With the use of Flowboard, Patti made her collection of images into a fully documented story.  Within the Flowboard, she took the time to document where she was, what she saw, and the significance of what you’re viewing.  The result?

A full-featured story of her trip!

Navigation is simple – click the arrows and work your way through her vacation story.  However, at each slide, she’s included a related gallery packed with images.  In this case, the galleries get displayed in full context by location.  You still can’t go over the top without great pictures.  Patti uses her photographer’s eye to take some unique pictures – I love the waterfall – and some have been enhanced for your enjoyment.

The net effect is a gorgeous story of her vacation.  Of course, anyone who has made the trek there knows what a dream the place is for a photographer.  Patti’s work truly reinforces the concept.

In the classroom, I think of how many times field trips are accompanied by the class camera (and now with student smartphones).  Wouldn’t this be a terrific way to assemble the results at the end of the trip and incorporate storyboarding, image editing, and an authentic writing experience for the class?

Check out Patti’s vacation story at the link above.  Patti, very well done!

A List for Learning


Any day now, there are many educators that will be starting Additional Qualification courses over the summer.  There are a couple of things that will be certain to happen during these courses.

  • Some sort of goofy ice-breaking, get-to-know-ya activity.  This activity will definitely take up at least the first hour of any course.  They are a necessity since you’ll be learning with others in a concentrated period of time;
  • What’s your Twitter handle?  Any AQ leader worth their muster will be gathering these names and/or encouraging those who are not online learning to do so.  Then, there’s the mandatory “Hello World” Twitter message followed by “Is this thing on?” and then often little more.

The challenge with additional qualification courses lies in generating value after the course has ended.  This value comes from professional relationships or professional conversations after the last day.  Having taken a large number of these courses, I was bad with that.  At the time, working in groups was a necessary activity since the presentations that you did in for class required group work.  But, once the class was over, that was it.  We departed; often never to see each other again.  I was an out of towner, taking the courses in London and Toronto so it wasn’t even like I could car pool with a co-learner.  When it was over, it was over.

I was recently reminded of this by @pmcash.  We took the Data Processing Specialist course at the University of Western Ontario more years ago than either of us will admit.  I just received a message from Peter that he had found an assignment of mine.

Peter

I hope that he hangs on to it so that I can take a look at it.  It will affirm how far we’ve come!  If you know Peter, you’ll know what I mean when I say that he was about the only person I can remember from those courses.  As computer science teachers, our paths have crossed a few times over the years but the rest of the class – sadly, I don’t remember.

Back to the current AQ course.  Your instructor will have asked for your Twitter ID.  For some, that will be as far as it goes.  Why don’t you take it further?

Follow everyone in your class.  For the duration of the course, use that as a way to share resources and enhance your learning.  How do you keep track?  Put them into a Twitter List.  I’ve mentioned the concept of a Twitter List before.  Particularly if you’re a regular Twitter user, it’s the best way to keep track of the conversation.  Put them all into a list and then follow the postings to the list in your Twitter browser.  What a great way to share the learning (and the load) of your class!  Hopefully, all will find it so useful that the sharing continues after the course.

It’s also an immediate way to monitor any back channel that you’ve got going during those hours of presentations that typically form the core of these courses.  Of course, your AQ course supports BYOD and connectivity and encourages a back channel – right?

But the learning and connections shouldn’t stop there.  There will come a time when the course ends and summer enjoyment ramps up.  Keep the list alive.  If your learning is good enough for the AQ course, it should be even better when September returns and you’re all back in your classrooms – maybe even teaching that subject or that grade level for the first time.  Share your resources and ideas – don’t do what Peter and I did and leave it until years later, if at all.  To our defence, we weren’t preparing to be 21st Century teachers!  The concept wasn’t even conceived of at the time.  It would be completely different if we were in Prof. Walsh’s class now.

But you are!  The greatest gift and learning that you may walk away with from your course is your own Instant Personal Learning Network that extends far beyond your few weeks in the summer.

Getting Started with Planboard


In our daily phone conversations, ECOO Conference co-chair Cyndie Jacobs and I cover so much.  Today, we were talking about some of the exhibitors and I was excited to learn that the company behind Planboard would be attending the conference.  I had met one of the people involved, Suraj Srinivas, at the Ontario Google Summit where I got a quick introduction to the product and was inspired to follow up with things.

I should point out that I was a real fan of the Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner when it came along.  Having access to all of the expectations in the Ontario Curriculum and the ability to manipulate them as a unit was developed was just genius!  Sadly, that product hasn’t been maintained for a while.  That’s where Planboard steps in.

In a world where we’re moving to the cloud and sharing so much, it makes sense that lesson planning heads in that direction.  That’s where Planboard fits into things.  It’s already caught the eye of a few organizations:

and the relationship with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation was announced at the recent Curriculum Forum.  This is exciting news for Ontario Educators!  It doesn’t stop there though; expectations from TEKS and Common Core are included as well.

Signing up is free – create an account or use your Facebook or Google login to do the deed.

From there, it’s just a matter to start planning your day – all saved online so that you can plan at home, on public transit, wherever, and access your planning at school.

If you can work a wordprocessor (or more likely a blog editor), you can develop in Planboard.  Notice the intuitive menu items above.  If you need to include an image or a video to share with your class, adding it to Planboard is just as easy as adding one to your blog.  (Try doing that with a paper planner!)  If you believe in the real power of collaboration, you’ll notice the green public button above.  As educators take to Planboard and create their best lessons, they’ll be in a position to share them with others (or the world, if they care to).

Sharing is important and a variety of ways to share your efforts is made available.  I can see places where each of the ways would work but sophisticated people will just share the link to the lesson.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, try doing a search to see if someone has already created and shared a lesson.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that there are some computer science plans already shared at the site.

Of course, a lesson gains its context when you take a look at the curriculum expectations that are addressed during the lesson.  Including the appropriate expectation when you’re designing a lesson is just a matter of finding it and then clicking the add button for inclusion.

The basic, free accounts allows for 500MB of storage with an option to upgrade.

There are also campus and school licensing options.

If you’ve been in search of a lesson plan tool designed for the cloud with the inclusion of the curriculum and other tools for lesson preparation, then you need to take a look at Planboard.  It may be just what you’re looking for.