web tools

Yesterday, Dina Rosen and I presented at a conference on Pedagogy across Disciplines: Imagining and Delivering the Possibilities. We looked at the use of blogs, wikis, and google docs for promoting interaction among students and among instructors.

Participants had quite a few questions. One asked how what we were doing was any different from Dewey approaches to educcation. We responded that the approaches aren't different, but that these online tools support experiential learning in ways that may be more difficult without them. For instance,

  • These tools allow students ways to interact without having to meet physically, a key factor for commuter and working students.
  • They create real audiences, thus giving an authentic purpose that motivates students.
  • They can engage students more, thus ending up with them spending more time on task, the main factor in learning.
  • And so on.

As one participant noted, however, it's not about the tools: It's about learning. Thus, as we use these tools, or others, we need to ask ourselves:

  • What's my purpose? That is, what do I want myself and my students to accomplish and why?
  • What's my strategy for accomplishing that purpose?
  • What's my strategy for integrating factors of learning, motivating, and interacting with ideas?

Although none of this is new for those already engaged with such learning tools, it is new for the majority who aren't. And they are interested in learning about these tools, and they ask good questions about using them. It's just a matter of time for integrating them in learning-oriented ways in their own instruction.

On a sidenote, I like putting my presentations online. I generally leave them up for a while so participants can return and click on the links, plus email me if they have additional questions. If you have a Mac, Sandvox is a great way to put up websites (and presentations) quickly. All you need to do is fill in the content. The program takes care of the design. I used it for my "Why I don't have comments" page, along with "E-Learning", "Second Language Writing", "Kean University Writing Project", and others. You can see others who have used it for their main websites at Sandvoxed. For those who want to simplify their website life, this is one way to do it.

Marc Prensky reports on the NSBA Study on Online Behaviors. The report, "Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social and Educational Networking", gives some welcome statistics on how students are using the Internet, showing that much of the concern on the dangers on online social networking is exaggerated. For me, another problem is the exaggerated hype on why schools and teachers aren't using web tools.

Prensky writes:

In general, schools (teachers and administrators) are deathly afraid of what I call “The Emerging Online Life of the Digital Native” because it is something they don’t understand.

On what evidence does Prensky base these claims: (1) that schools are "deathly afraid" and (2) they are afraid because they don't understand it. I can imagine some schools and teachers being nervous, but deathly afraid? And perhaps some don't understand it, but all of the schools who don't accept it don't understand it?

I can think of other reasons for not rushing to accept social networking apps. The main one is time. I have my students using blogs, wikis, and RSS now. And I've been wanting to start incorporating podcasts and videos. But to learn how to use them (some of my students do use them, which is great!) effectively in my classes, I just don't have the time: I have two papers to write on the front burner, two on the back burner, a new text for our composition courses that I have to study and figure out what changes are needed to incorporate it, committees to serve on, and a wife, son, and daughter who I want to spend time with. (I suppose I could stop blogging to find the time.) I imagine other teachers are just as busy, too, and they may simply be finding it difficult to find the time to to restructure and revise their teaching and keep up with their other tasks and responsibilities. Of course, some teachers, as Prensky notes, are likely stuck on "lecturing."

Prensky states:

A lot of concerns about the “have nots” would go away if the schools kept their computer labs open till midnight and on weekends, and teachers assigned projects to groups where at least one member (or the school) had the technology. Kids are great at sharing and teaching each other.

Now, I like this idea, but I wonder what would be involved and how much it would cost to do this. Most people already grumble about the taxes they pay now for schools. As a member of a school's board, I know that we couldn't cover the cost with our present budget.

Prensky has other good ideas, too. The exaggeration, however, is problematic: That is, those who don't listen to the Web 2.0 evangelists are in "darkness," as Prensky puts it, and those who heed the call will be in the "light" and go to education heaven.

Related posts:
The Myths of the Digital Generation
Myths of the Digital Generation, Part II

The Online Education Database is an excellent resource for online learning. Yesterday, they posted "Take Any College Class for Free: 236 Open Courseware Collections, Podcasts, and Videos". This page also has a link to their Top 100 Open Courseware Projects, The Top 25 Web 2.0 Apps to Help You Learn, and The Top 25 Web 2.0 Apps to Help a Student's or Professor's Productivity.

Mark Marino (at Writer Response Theory) has, along with links to pertinent readings, a good summary of Web 2.0 tools for the writing classroom ranging from social software to browser research tools like Diigo, Zotero, and others.

Here's an excellent list on the "Best of the Best Web 2.0 Web Sites" (via Stephen's Web).

Also, see Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0: Part I, Part II, and Part III, which is an excellent introduction to educational applications.

Scott Leslie of EdTechPost reports on a new web2.0 tool: stu.dicio.us.

stu.dicio.us, while still in beta, is an incredibly simple student-focused tool that currently supports note taking and scheduling, with file storage and self grade-tracking coming soon. There are three things about it that are really beautiful:

- it is REALLY simple, and yet quite useful. ...

- all class notes are shared (you have to agree to this to use the system). ...

- based on the amazingly simple interface....

As Scott notes, this tool produces "an ecology of class notes for individual classes" but can also be used to find notes in similar classes around the world, simply by searching via keywords. I'm not sure how this tool might affect attendance, but imagine students reading other students' notes, seeing differences between their notes and others, and expanding and re-organizing their own notes. The importance of reviewing notes has been posited in research. Jeff Beecher's "Note-Taking: What Do We Know About The Benefits?" (ERIC Digest) covers this topic. Here's an excerpt:

The importance of reviewing notes was mentioned briefly by Crawford in 1925. In 1973, Fisher and Harris concluded that "note taking serves both an encoding function and an external memory function reviewing, with the latter being the more important." (p. 324) Kiewra (1983) found that reorganizing notes while reviewing led to higher test achievement. The Cornell system of note-taking encourages this practice (King et al., 1984).

In a report on their study which allowed students to review their notes immediately before a test, Carter and Van Matre (1975) argued that the benefit of note-taking appeared to be derived from the review rather than from the act of note-taking itself. They even went so far as to suggest that reviewing notes may actually cue the student to reconstruct parts of the lecture not initially recorded in the notes. An interesting study by Kiewra (1985) also endorsed the value of review--but not of student notes. He suggested that "Teachers should be aware of students' relatively incomplete note-taking behaviours, and therefore, encouraged to provide learners with adequate notes for review." (p. 77 ...)

Whether it's note-taking or reviewing that helps, stu.dicio.us would seem to accomplish both. Plus, it should help students complete their "relatively incomplete" notes and more fully understand a topic as they attempt to resolve differences, or contradictions, between their notes and others. In addition, it facilitates the building of networks outside of class that can support learning, along with the social-relatedness and autonomy elements of motivation (see self-determination theory).

For an extensive list of Web2.0 software, go to IT Redux (via the DEN Blog).

Sudeep Bansal has a good list of Essential Freeware for the PC User.

Another comprehensive list of freeware can be found at 121 Space.

Steve Froemming has a list of Academic Freeware.

And for a short list of freeware for Mac OS X, go to "Open Source Mac".

On Wednesday at the NJTESOL-NJBE Spring Conference, I presented an overview in blog format of different web 2.0 tools for enhancing classroom instruction (i.e., blogs, wikis, RSS, Flickr, social bookmarking, and podcasting). I plan to keep it up on the Internet as a website (not blog) resource. You can find it here, grandiosely entitled "The Web 2.0 Classroom".

Last week at HigherEdBlogCon held quite a few good presentations on libraries and the potential for using blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS, IM, etc.

Susan Herzog taught Blogging 101, providing a good overview of the use of blogs in libraries, including a bibliography page on blogging and much more.

John Blyberg wrote "Patrons in the driver’s seat: Giving advanced tool-sets to library patrons." One tool among many he mentions is a virtual card catalog that allows users to share their personal card catalog with the public, something like del.icio.us, but with "vintage-looking catalog card[s]." Other tools include wi-fi, RSS, and even AADL-GT, a gaming tournament.

There are 13 other presentations for this week: too much to report on, but well worth the time to read. Here's a breakdown of the sessions by title:

Blogging in Libraries
Blogging 101
Subject Librarian 2.0? - ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ It’s Just a Cover Song Using New Instruments
Blog Applications At a Small Academic Library

Podcasting in Libraries
Podcasting 101: the Basics for Librarians
Learning to Speak: Creating a Library Podcast With a Unique Voice

Leveraging Web 2.0 Technologies
Blogs, Wikis, and IM: Communication Tools for Subject Specialists
An Online Research Toolkit - Exploring Web 2.0 for Library Research
Using RSS to Increase User Awareness of E-resources in Academic Libraries

Issues in Libraries
Open Access for Teachers
Upon the Shoulders of Giants — Building Library 2.0 Together, From the Platform Up
Web 2.0 and the Small College Library: How to take over the World

Making Information Work Harder
Building a “Wall of Books” From a Library Online Catalog
Go Where the Patrons Are: Outreach In the Age of Library 2.0
Google Maps and You: Five Steps To Including a Google Map On Your Website
Patrons in the Drivers Seat: Giving Advanced Tool-sets to Library Patrons


For a listing of Web2.0 awards of over 300 web2.0 websites in 38 categories, visit here. It's a great round-up of not only the well-known sites like but also less-well-known ones.

Thomas Leverett of Southern Illinois University, as part of one of his TESOL 2006 presentations, provided this site with many good links to a variety of web resources covering podcasting, audio and visual files and storage, weblogging and videoblogging, and others.

Leverett also posted on the web his paper "Daring to Enter the Blogosphere." This site also has quite a few links, some the same as above but including many others focused on weblogs.

New web tools are just popping up all the time, with many of them free or offering free versions.

News Alloy is an online news reader (still beta) that may, according to Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, become a "cult favorite."

Learner Blogs offers free blogs for K-12 students.

Stikipad is a new browser run wiki service (via Educational Weblogs).

Nuvvo, an LMS, receives a fairly favorable review from Jason Plunkett.

For Mac researchers wanting a tool to integrate "visual arts, design and theoretical research," check out txtkit (via Ulises Mejias):

txtkit is an Open Source visual text mining tool for exploring large amounts of multilingual texts. It's a multiuser-application which mainly focuses on the process of reading and reasoning as a series of decisions and events. To expand this single perspective activity txtkit collects all of the users mining data and uses them to create content recommendations through collaborative filtering. The software requires Mac OS X 10.3 and Internet access.

A new software tool Digg combines elements of social bookmarking, RSS feeds, blogs, and more. From their site (via Ulises Umejias):

Digg is a technology news website that combines social bookmarking, blogging, RSS, and non-hierarchical editorial control. With digg, users submit stories for review, but rather than allowing an editor to decide which stories go on the homepage, the users do.

It looks like the building blocks of the different software tools are gradually being integrated into one tool that will facilitate more reading, more writing, and more interaction. It will be interesting to see what sorts of links and networks will emerge from making technology easier and especially more social.

Question: How will these technologies affect educational institutions? Will there be a move from a more authority ranking relational model to one of the other relational models?