Having it all

I’ve mentioned before that I use Symbaloo as one of the start tabs on my computers.  It’s a great way to have links to a lot of resources.  Here’s one of my home pages.  If you care to, go ahead and psycho analyze my browsing habits!

These webmixes can be created and shared with others, if you wish.  The nice thing about finding a great one is that it reflects a great deal of curating that someone has done on a particular topic.  Add their efforts to your Symbaloo account and you’re enjoying the benefits of their work.

It’s almost like a super Google or Bing search where every result is relevant!

Where would you find a need for something like this?

Well, let’s say you wanted a collection of resources for the iPad.

Just enter a search….

and sit back to enjoy the results.  Here was one webmix that provided some interesting new resources to explore.

Recently, I was showing a friend Ubuntu and demonstrated how the same principle can be applied there to grab Ubuntu resources.

When you are able to cobble together resources on a theme, it’s a powerful way to put them all together in one spot.

As a launch pad for students, just consider how easy it is to describe a button and have the student click on it and they’re there!

Don’t forget also that Symbaloo has an iOS application as well! Download it from here.  And there’s an educational program.  Could you ask for more?

Check out the top 10 most popular educational webmixes here.

Powered by Qumana



So Smooooooth

There’s so much about Google Chrome that I like and it’s been my main browser for quite a while now.  There was one annoyance that happened when I sat at my desk, using a full keyboard and a scroll mouse.  The scroll action to the mouse just didn’t always seem right.

It seemed slow and jaggy at times.

But no more.  I read about and installed the Chromium Smooth Wheel Scroller.  There is a smooth scrolling option available if you’re brave enough to ignore the warnings and go to chrome://flags/ and experiment.  Sadly, as of the current release, it’s not available for the Macintosh.  However, this extension has you covered and more

Install the extension and then right click to head to the configuration options.



Then, quite frankly, it’s just a matter of adjusting the sliders until the scroll wheel does what you need.

The cool thing about Chrome is that you install the extension in one installation and, with synching turned on, it appears on them all.  So, I installed it under Linux where I use the scroll wheel and shortly thereafter, it appeared on my Macintosh.  I had spent some time configuring it under Linux and got it just right.  Fire up the Mac and Whoa!  It takes a little while since the trackpad has a different level of sensitivity so it was back to the sliders to get it just right there.

It was worth the time and effort.  Scrolling is even smoother on all the machines now.  It’s so nice.  There are other little niceties like having the screen bounce when you reach the bottom like iOS.

All in all, I just have to recommend this extension if you’re looking to customize your scrolling experience.  Be prepared to spend a little time adjusting it until it feels just right.  Once you get the knack of it, hide the button and never look back.


Still Relevant

Part of my regular Saturday routines involves maintenance to my computers.  On this machine, it’s the one day that I reliably boot into Windows.  That lets me grab any/all of the updates from Microsoft from the past week; run a defragging utility; I update my anti-virus; and I scan the computer.  Thankfully, all goes well and I move on.  Last week, instead of rebooting into Ubuntu, I put it to sleep in Windows 7.  Later on, I awoke the computer and gave a “oh no” as I watched the computer struggle to awake.  Just like a boot into Windows, the ol’ hard drive is going like crazy awaking everything that was either sleeping or hybernating.  It took quite a while and was a reminder why the computer spends most of its time in Ubuntu.  When I wake it from sleeping, it’s almost instant on.

I’m still not at the point where I would move it to Ubuntu fulltime and forget about Windows.  There is software on the Windows side that I paid for, there’s software that I’ve spent half a lifetime learning and mastering, I play around with C# there, and I just like to keep my hand in it when I get asked a question.

But life in Ubuntu has spoiled me.  I’ll confess that I do most everything on the web now so really I just need a good acting web browser.  Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox get workouts regularly.  I’m a fan of both products.

As it happens, I read an article recently “Never been convinced by Linux? Here is a challenge for you.

I shared it with Twitter which is my place to share interesting articles with others and a temporary holding place for me so that I can go back and read the article thoroughly when I have the time.

Later that day, I did in fact re-read the article.  It was one that had me nodding my head in agreement.  I recall when I first tried to work wtih Ubuntu – it was just a curiosity that took up some time in a summer.  However, the more I used it, the more I liked it.  I wished that I had taken the advice from this article sooner.  I think I would have become a regular Ubuntu user much sooner than I did.

I chuckled as I read some of the replies to the post.  Some talked about Vista and Windows XP doing just a fine job for them.  Again, I chuckled.  I wondered – why aren’t they talking Windows 7 or 8?

Then, this dummy confesses, I looked at the date on the article.  It was December 23, 2007.  I guess that Zite had just picked it up because of a recent revision or something.  I was just dumbfounded.

I think that the advice in the article is even more relevant today than it was in 2007.   Actually, it’s probably more relevant.  Ubuntu and Windows have certainly both become better products since then.  If you’re using the web for your work, browsers absolutely have become so much better.

Reading and experiencing the article is time well spent.  Reading the replies (170 pages of them) can take a while but there’s a world of education in the replies.  Of course, as one would expect, there’s your share of Windows-bashing or Linux-bashing but in between some very good reading.

Powered by Blogilo

Badge Me

Seeing Peter McAsh at the ECOO Conference last week jogged me to a blog post that I had started to write but never finished.  That’s on the order today.

In our hall closet, there’s a big picture frame and inside there are things from my youth.  Underneath the glass covers are all of the badges I earned from the Wolf Cubs and Boy Scouts and swimming awards from the Red Cross, Royal Life Saving Society, and the Canadian Lifeguard Service.  Every time we do a thorough house cleaning, the question is posed “Why are you keeping this stuff?”  My response is always the same “I don’t know but I worked really hard to earn those.  I just can’t bring myself to throw them away.”

In fact, I bought an extra Bronze Medallion and Award of Merit when I earned them.  They remain with me all the time on a chain around my neck.  (except, of course, when I remove them to take a picture…)

Some of the other badges/awards just don’t follow me around like those two do!

Probably the one that I had to work the hardest for was the Bronze Medallion.  I remember that I had to take the course twice.  I failed the first time but got it on the second.  It smartened me considerably that success wasn’t just the in-pool work but that the RLSS took the academic knowledge part seriously as well.  Given the change in mindset, the Award of Merit was mine on the first try.  These two and all of the other things I’ve collected mean a great deal to me.

The concept is similar to education.  You learn; you pass a test; you win or lose, pass or fail.  Except that in education, we have different levels of passing.  By assigning a number to the work, we somehow quantify “how well” someone passes.  I wonder though – does that really matter?  I recall a number of students who wouldn’t be satisfied with 99%.  They wanted 100% for everything.  “Sir, it’s no sweat to you…just change it”.  I usually did.  It never happened but I often wondered how I could justify a “low mark of 99” to a parent or a “high mark of 99” to a principal!  After all, maybe the assessment was about proficiency of the IF statement.  How do you quantify that?  Isn’t it better that learning how to use that statement was an accomplishment and you could either use it or not use it?

It turns out that this type of logic is shared is other places as well.  In fact, the more you think about it, the more sense it makes.  In the “real world”, whatever that means, you learn various tasks and the test for success is whether or not you can do it.  Recently, I just took the Google Power Searching course online.  It was one of the better online courses that I’ve taken.  I actually signed up for the course earlier this summer but didn’t have the time to complete it.  I made a concerted effort the second time around and passed.  The result?  I have a certificate.  In order to be successful, I had to be able to demonstrate that I knew the concepts before passing.  Fair enough.

Some more examples…

Ubuntu Accomplishments
The description of this lays it out very nicely.  “The Ubuntu Accomplishments project is designed to provide a means in which you can be awarded trophies for different types of accomplishments in the community and elsewhere. The project is designed for Ubuntu’s needs, but actually supports any community and project.”  In this case, trophies are given for contribution to the community which is at the heart of the Ubuntu philosophy.  Or, there’s another alternative that I’m enjoying doing.  As you learn how to do things in Ubuntu, you’ll earn a trophy!

In this case, I learned how to change the desktop wallpaper.  Got me a trophy!

Edmodo Badges
This was where Peter came in.  He and I had had a discussion about the use of badges for achievements in courses offering all or some of the course in this learning environment.  Edmodo comes with pre-designed badges or you can create your own!

Mozilla Open Badges
The folks at Mozilla, which gives us Firefox and Thunderbird, have a really interesting concept in the Open Badges project.  By participating, you have an “Open Badge Backpack” to store the badges as you earn them.

I think that there’s a great deal of merit in the approach.  In fact, most skills are ultimately judged by whether you can do them or not.  Why can’t assessment be a celebration of the fact that you’re able to do something instead of trying to assign a number to everything.

Finally, it you’re an Ontario Edublogger, why not add an Ontario Edublogger badge to your blog.  I think it’s another good example.  If you’ve elected to become a blogger, that’s it.  There’s no percentage of posts or anything else required to be a member – just do it.

Finally, as I’m writing this entry, I dodge into my Diigo account and see that I’ve also bookmarked a site called badg.us.  I’ll admit that I haven’t used it to any great extent.  The whole concept of do something – get a badge really intrigues me.

Plan B

One of my favourite television shows of all time was “The Practice“.  It was a show about lawyers and one of their strategies was “Plan B” which would be used in certain occasions as part of the defense strategy.  It made for great drama and I remember the phrase “We’ll Plan B them” just as if I’d watched the show last night.  I’ve adopted the term myself and use it to represent alternative plans.

If you know me, you know that I’m a big Minnesota Vikings fan.  I’m not a Favre-come-lately.  In fact, my first purple football jersey was purple and featured the 44 of Chuck Foreman.  That bring backs great memories of Fran Tarkenton and Bud Grant.  Last night, the Minnesota Vikings had to kick in their own “Plan B”.  With the winter weather, we’ve all seen the collapse of the roof of the Metrodome, the playing home of the Vikings.

So, what was their “Plan B”?  They hopped onto an airplane and played their game instead at Ford Field in Detroit, the home of the Detroit Lions.  As we now know, this strategy was not friendly and they lost badly.

Last week, the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee hosted its annual Symposium for technology leaders in the South Western corner of Ontario.  We hold it in the heart of Ontario’s snowbelt where it’s not uncommon for huge storms to pick up the moisture from a yet to be frozen Lake Huron and dump it on places like Grand Bend, Strathroy, and London!  It has never happened but what would happen if a keynote speaker that we invite from warmer places was unable to attend?  Well, we have our own “Plan B”, a closely guarded secret that would implemented if necessary.

In both of these cases, “Plan B” would be less effective than the original.

In the use of technology in schools, I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t stuck in a perpetual “Plan B”.  My Faculty of Education students recently came back from their placements and expressed their frustrations with their teaching environments.  At the Faculty, we work with dual boot iMacs with the Mac OS on one side and Windows 7 on the other.  On each partition, we have access to the entire suite of OESS licensed titles.  Everything that’s available is installed and functional.  The machines are also equipped with an area that allows us to install things on the fly, if necessary.  A good example of this would be Microsoft’s Small Basic which wasn’t available in time to ask the technical to have available for us.  But, we needed it for a recent practice lesson and so the student teacher mounted a sharepoint on the instructor’s computer and we all accessed the installer from there and were up and running in seconds.  There’s a “Plan B” that worked.

Is that the norm or the exception in a typical K-12 classroom?  Hardly.  The reality is that you need to plan at least a year in advance for the use of technology and then hope that all is good to go when you need it.  If it’s not, do you have the ability to put a “Plan B” in motion?  If not, why not?

Typically, the answer lies in the way that technology is managed in schools.  Rather than having realistic support levels, we generally have enough support to just get by.  In my previous post “Time to Consider 2.0“, I made reference to a posting that helped you discover if your technical support was 1.0.  I just received a rash of emails from folks who wanted to try this or that and were unable.  Like my faculty students, they had planned their lesson at home or read about it and wanted to try it in their classroom and were unable.  So, what’s their “Plan B”?

Maybe it’s time that we revisit the original plan.  Plan A?  As long as we continue to purchase industry equipment equipped with full-featured operating systems designed for every conceivable option, we’re going to be locked into this perpetual loop of doing things.  Is it realistic to use a computer and network so bloated and locked down that even the process of booting requires alternate entertainment?  I’m really intrigued with the instant boot and full access to technology that iPad and now the Google CR-48 provides.  Somewhere along the line, we’ve had to modify expectations about what computer technology can do for the classroom.  I can’t help but think that we need to be rethinking and regearing to reflect a more usable and reliable experience.  I’m really enjoying reading of the successes that people are having with iPod and iPad pilot programs.  The CR-48 is too new to have reports but it may well be a viable solution that gets students up and running and on task.

Imagine a educational technology world where “Plan B” isn’t necessary!

Powered by Qumana

Five reasons not to fear a $200 Linux PC


You sure hear enough in certain places about the joys of these less expensive computers. How much longer before they become mainstream and students show up at your doorsteps demanding to use them in their classes. How long can an educational system say no?

Want to try it out? Before you throw our your old outdated computer and spend big bucks to upgrade at home, get yourself a Linux distribution and throw it on the machine.

My old MDG machine which was getting progressively slower and more sluggish with Windows Home Edition is like a brand new machine with Edubuntu on it. It’s got my required suite of applications: Flock, FirstClass, OpenOffice, NVU, Python as well as lots of other things that I use on a rotating basis.

The cool thing is that there is no shortage of support should you need it.

Blogged with Flock

Tags: ,

Vista and Office 2007

BECTA (the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) released a study this weekend that represents a study of how Microsoft’s Vista and Office 2007 should be deployed (or not) in British schools. For both products, the general advice appears to be to wait and see.

The report indicates that most British school computers are underpowered and wouldn’t be able to run the software to begin with. I would suspect that that observation would be appropriate world-wide. Unless your strategy involved replacing everything on a grand scale, you’re bound to have a mixed platform of Windows XP, 2000, and Vista should you make these types of purchases. Support by an IT Department in the school system is difficult without adding another layer to the mix and so the report could probably have been predicted.


Life isn’t always that simple though. There will come a time when you cannot purchase XP licenses any longer. What then? You’ll need a plan to move to the new platform. What of the Office product? By the time that the machines have the horse power, how many more iterations of the Office Suite will there be? How do you make sure that you can move quickly? Both products are pricey and may be prohibitive for schools to adopt. Ironically, there are free solutions in Linux and OpenOffice that are available right now. With all things, the more powerful the computer, the better they will perform. Is Microsoft shooting itself in the foot?

Probably not. There will always be those who just love to spend money on products because of the ability to pay for support.

In the meantime, what of the home user. It’s pretty common to walk into your favourite computer store and see variations of Vista running on new computer. Here in the bunker, I’ve been running Vista and it does what I need it to do. I need to be in a position to help folks at home with their challenges. It’s been quite a job because virtually all applications that are Ministry of Education licensed were developed in an XP world and for an XP environment.

But, industry goes on. Computer manufacturers have to sell boxes and software vendors have to sell software. And, do need a quad-duo-core-overclocking CPU to run Kixpix?

Blogged with Flock

Tags: , ,