Thursday, May 26, 2011

Building Your PLN-A Primer For Anyone

At ASCD2011 I sat down with the good folks over at Follett and talked about a wide variety of topics surrounding technology, leadership and more.

Here is the first part of the interview on Building A PLN.

What do you think? What are some other important aspects of PLN building or just network building in general. What works for you?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Technology Training...In Pictures

I love my job, but sometimes it can be frustrating trying to meet the needs of all the teachers and staff members in my district. I constantly look for ways to give teachers instruction that they can do on their own or in groups, together. These are not meant to replace the face-to-face training that I do or the other resources I create. They are merely there to provide that additional information some teachers/staff need.

In the past I have blogged about TechEase. This is a great training resource out of the University of South Florida that provides some really basic information for teachers on how to do everything from burning CD's to using email to hardware/software troubleshooting. While I love this site I needed something else to help give teachers a leg up on specific software they use in their classroom and I needed it to be easy to follow and understand.

In Pictures does exactly that. According to their website the In Pictures project was created as a research project for the U.S. Department of Education, with the ultimate goal of providing easy to use computer tutorials to students and adults with learning disabilities. The site contains tutorials for all major Microsoft Office Products like Word, Excel, Publisher, Power Point and Access, both the 2003 version and the 2007 version. There are also tutorials for Open Office programs, creating basic webpages, MySQL, Perl, and PHP basics.

What makes this site stand apart from all the others is their approach. Quoting from their website:

Where's the Snazzy Stuff? So where are the color screenshots? The cartoon characters? The video animations? We don't use these things, because our research showed us that:
  • The simpler, the better.
    Tutorials should be as simple as possible. Multimedia animations may look nifty, but they can be hard to follow. That's why these tutorials use static screenshots.
  • Black-and-white is better than color.
    Color screenshots can create a "kaleidoscope" effect that makes it difficult to focus. Black-and-white doesn't. That's why these tutorials use black-and-white screenshots.
I have already had several of my teachers tell me that they learned more going through the tutorials on this site then in any previous workshops they had. They were able to move at their pace and work side-by-side in the program and the tutorial. The screenshots they use are easy to see and the wording is very easy to follow. Overall, this is a site that I will be sending teachers to for those refreshers they sometimes need, and hey, why not use it with students? Head on over to In Pictures and learn something new today!

In Pictures-Computer Tutorials In Pictures, Not Words

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Questioning The Value Of RSS

I have been a big advocate of RSS. I have written about it, even included it as part of my Essential Tools for Teachers and my Administrators Toolkit. Being able to track blogs and websites as they change is a real plus for someone who constantly wants to be connected. And up until a few weeks ago I used it religiously. I would get up in the morning and check Twitter and my Reader.

But now I am at a crossroads...

I have been questioning the value of the service all together.

Now there is still value for RSS. Like I say, being able to have those constant updates to ever changing information is important to many. And being able to aggregate all that information in on place, organized in pretty much anyway possible is a great feature.
But for me I see my RSS use go from everyday to none almost overnight. Here is a screenshot of my Google Reader as it sits today. Keep in mind I haven’t checked in just over a week.

Crazy, I know. The obvious answer for me is to unsubscribe to some content there by relieving some of the pressure of the Reader inbox from collapsing on itself. But then I wonder will I miss valuable content?

That brings me to my whole point of all this. My feelings are that RSS is much less valuable now because of access to real-time information I can find on Twitter and Facebook. If a blog post or some type of information is really earth shattering or a “must read” it usually ends up in one (or both) of those places and gets passed along multiple times over multiple days.

The way it has been working is that I first see a blog post or some information on Twitter or posted on Facebook with a direct link. I go, read the information and decide to keep it or toss it. Sure my reader does the same thing but it’s another place I have to go to find that information. So when I hit up my reader the vast majority of the information that is there I have seen in another place already. Not too often do I find any new information I have not seen yet already.

Now of course the argument is that what if there are people not in those spaces? Sure, for them RSS might contain a large amount of value. And RSS can be a gateway to those real-time spaces. But for me I am at the point where I want to dump RSS altogether and focus my efforts on the real-time.

I am interested in what others have done. There is a good mix of people that read this blog either via Twitter/Facebook and RSS. So if you are in the real-time spaces do you still keep up with your reader? If you are not in those spaces does RSS in anyway encourage you to move to the real-time? What do you think about the future of RSS? Leave your thoughts below.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Next Vista For Learning

Last week I talked a little bit about Common Craft and the In Plain English video series. (If you missed it, check it out here.) So it seems I am hung up on videos because I have another great site that has tons of great videos to help you learn new concepts, present information in ways that might not be quite conventional and some that are just plain awesome.

I consider Rushton Hurley one of the most forward thinking educators around. He has been a Keynote speaker all across the country this year at several state technology conferences and other places. I had the honor of hearing him at my state conference, NCTIES, a few months ago. Just a brilliant mind. I also got to talk to him for a few moments and I can just tell he really cares about kids and improving learning.

Now, I had heard of this website, Next Vista, before but it wasn't until several months ago that I made the connection to Rushton. See, Next Vista, is one of Rushton's projects. And I am so glad it is!

Alright, so what is Next Vista? According to the website:

"Next Vista works to make learning more engaging, with a focus on helping students start strong with any topic they study. Its central project is a free, online library of teacher- and student-made short videos for learners everywhere. Next Vista believes a strong four-minute video could save students days or weeks of frustration by providing a variety of presentations on the topics that give them trouble."

Videos are made by adults, but mostly by kids. They are also reviewed for content so you can trust what you get here. And you know, they are really good. 

There are three collections.

First is the Light Bulb Collection. These are videos to introduce topics to students. They also can serve to show a different way of thinking about particular topics. This collection is organized by subject area and topic. There are your standard math, language arts, history, etc. But there is also videos related to careers, technology, world languages and visual arts.

Here is a video I found on FOIL in math.

Just an example of the type of video you will find. Short, fun and engaging.

Another collection is Global Views. As the site says, reading about another place or community can help to make a connection but when there is a video it is a bit more easier to make that connection. These are videos, organized by continent, created by kids that share what life is like in their corner of the world.

Here is a video about what life is like in Lagos, Nigeria.

The last collection is all about Seeing Service. These are videos all about good deeds and kids doing for others. It's a small but powerful collection from around the world.

Here is one on efforts to eliminate poverty in South America.

All the videos are downloadable and embeddable so you can use them in class or kids can use them in projects.

Perhaps you have an idea for a video. Go ahead and submit one and add to the collective knowledge. Or better yet, maybe your kids could create some videos.

So add Next Vista to the ol' bookmark bar or save it to your favorites and the next time you are needing a new or different way to introduce or reinforce the content in your classroom head over to Next Vista and see what they have.