Ning – Create your own Social Network

Facebook, Facebook, Facebook… have you heard of it yet? If not, maybe your head is buried in the sand. In my classes, I was looking for a solution that would provide me with the opportunities and features of Facebook but with more privacy for my students. I found Ning.com – a site that allows you to create your very own social networking site. 

Ning.com offers you many features in your networks. You can have a photo viewer, videos, audio, chatting, forums, notes, games and even more. What I love about it is that you create the network and everything is self-contained… like a mini-Facebook just for you and your students! What my students seem to really love about it too though is that they can configure what their own profile pages looks like. There are dozens of themes they can choose from as well as having the ability to change colour themes and so on.

What Ning has opened up for me though is the ability to draw my students into something outside of class. I will sometimes post a new forum topic right away after class. By the time students arrive at their house, they will see the forum topic and they CHOOSE to respond. No pressure involved and they do it! I am very excited about the possibilities. 

Another feature I like is that with my music classes, the students belong to a more vast music student network belonging to the school. For my individual classes, however, there are subgroups within the network that I can allow for more specific discussions and posts. 

With all of this, I also am aware of the security issues when dealing with students and online behaviour. This is why I have set up my Ning.com sites to only allow new members based on invitations and my sole approval. Without my approval, NOBODY can become a member of the group. Without membership into the group, people can not see inside the network. 

Check it out and see for yourself. Ning.com

Did I forget to mention that it is free?

Google Forms – Tutorial

Here is a tutorial I made with the intention of being brief and not going into too much detail about Google Forms. This is how to go about setting up a form and gathering information. Have fun setting one up! You will see the light!

Next time I do one of these, I’ll make the screen larger for eyes that need to squint! :)

Google Docs – Tutorial on using Forms from Eric Moccio on Vimeo.


Collaboration – what is cheating?

In this day and age, technology has moved kids to look for a different way of working, a different way of learning. In fact, it may not just be kids. Do you belong to a social networking site like FaceBook? Chances are that you do. If not, you are at least aware of it. 

Why have these types of sites become popular? It is in our nature to want to be with people. Even more so, we love to collaborate. Never in history has it been easier to collaborate – the barriers to communication have come tumbling down with new technologies like email (not so new), instant messaging (not so new), FaceBook and Google Docs. 

I have set up Google Docs for my classes. I send out Google Forms to my students to gather information on them at the very beginning of the semester. By emailing a link to a form I have created, a student simply fills in the information on their own time and the information immediately gets tabulated in a spreadsheet for me to manipulate. I can then sort the information in the spreadsheet as I please. For example, in my music classes, after polling the whole class (a senior class) about their voice type, I can then pool together using Google Spreadsheets (or download it to my program of choice, Numbers by Apple) all of my tenors, sopranos, altos and basses. Even more impressive, is that I have all of their musical biographies in one location – I have saved paper and time having to go through each sheet.

This isn’t the only good thing about this process however. We will now start collaborating together (like a Wiki) using Google docs. Students will share documents for collaborations (i.e. scripts or storyboards for their video projects) using Google Docs. They can work on them ANYTIME and ANYWHERE.

In my experience, students want to collaborate. I think we need to rethink what “cheating” is because of this. I know this could become a hot topic but what if we designed more projects that had students collaborating together and sharing their knowledge and research in order to produce something even more powerful. Traditionally, we will tell our students that they must work on this on their own. But is this realistic? Do you belong to FaceBook, I ask again? Why? You like to share with others perhaps. 

If we shift our thinking that memorization of information is the most important of all to a mindset that helps students find the information they need (look at the amount of websites there are online now), we will begin to design projects where it does not really matter if they share knowledge. Together, students can then use their higher order thinking skills (Blooms Taxonomy) to delve deeper into their learning and think more critically about what we are asking them to do. They will retain the new learning more easily and will be challenged along the way.

The current generation of students is a collaborative one. We need to help them with these skills. It will be crucial for the future as they become our business, political and educational leaders of the future. 

If you are interested even more, here is an example interview with a teacher in the United States who has some interesting thoughts along these lines (especially the cheating). Have a look! 

Steve Maher

Technology – Done right or wrong.

Here is a tip or two for teachers wanting to start this journey.

I have heard some teachers say that they would use technology or start using it if they felt they knew more about it. They feel as though they can not allow students to use technology or new software because they themselves do not have a good understanding of it yet. 

I would like to suggest that it would be good teaching practice at this point to dive in. What I mean by this is to allow the students to learn it for themselves. Here are some pointers:

  •  
    • Allow students to launch the program and just fiddle around with it for 5-10 minutes before you dive deeper. Ask them to click various tools and see what happens. 
    •  Accept that you are not always the expert. Students will appreciate it more if you say that you do not fully understand everything about the software yet. Allow them to engage you in a reverse mentoring process (Don Tapscott in Grown Up Digital discusses this to greater length). This means that you are the student and they are the teacher.
    • Try learning a few things about the software before you start teaching it. Show the students this new learning and then allow them to continue on their own.

I think the wrong way at this point would be to approach it by thinking that you can not do this and do nothing about it. Students will surprise you if you give them some ownership in this way. While it is a legitimate fear to feel that way, I encourage those who do feel that way to move to action. You will not regret it.

There have been times when I will give students an assignment and simply say, “I don’t care which program you use to complete this assignment.” If they have to create a promotional poster for a band of their choice in my music class, for example, I will say to them that they may use Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Fireworks, Microsoft Paint (yes, it’s true), Corel WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Powerpoint or any other program that will allow them the freedom to accomplish what they want. Each and every time, I get a wide variety of file types handed in (no paper). Some students choose a program they are already familiar with and other students choose software they have not yet learned. I have been amazed by some work coming in from those students who were just learning the software on their own.

The main goal in using the technology, remember, is not always to specifically learn the technology. It more often than not is to learn USING the technology. The technology, if chosen right, becomes transparent in this process.

RSS – Real Simple Syndication

Here is another video that explains recent technologies in a simple manner.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0klgLsSxGsU

Why should you watch this video? Because this technology (RSS) can revolutionize your news reading and website reading while at the same time cutting down on the amount of time you spend hunting down that information. Also, it would allow you to keep track of entries to this blog.

Enjoy.

The Right Tools – Are you a carpenter?

Carpenters never just use one tool… they have many! Many different hammers, screwdrivers, chizels, saws. To someone like myself, who knows that wood comes from trees, that may seem unnecessary. Why would someone need different hammers? A hammer is a hammer, is it not?

They need to use many different tools for different purposes. I have seen some carpenters work. They use their tool belts to hold the tools they need at hand. You don’t want to be 10 feet up and not have what you need to get the job done. Therefore, they keep many at their disposal in order to accomplish certain tasks.

The same is true with computers. Sometimes one word processor is not enough. Sometimes one web browser is not enough. Sometimes one presentation package is not enough. 

I use 3 different pieces of software to make webpages – depending on their purpose and complexity. I use several types of photo management and editing software. It takes me 2 different video editors to get a job done sometimes. I know I am not alone here. 

There are times when one software package is missing a required feature. In this case, I need to use another package. There are other times when one software package does the same task but cuts the amounts of mouse clicks and time required in half. 

Quantity of tools is not always the singular factor when being productive. The quality of the tools makes a world of a difference. To give you a tangible example, I just finished making a presentation using Apple’s Keynote presentation software (similar to Microsoft’s Powerpoint). I wanted to film myself depicting certain actions (for French vocabulary in my French class). I simply loaded Photo Booth (free software that came with my Mac) and filmed a multitude of short clips (3-5 seconds each) using my built-in Webcam. I then just dragged the videos from Photo Booth into Keynote and voilà! It just worked! There are countless more ways that Keynote has made many complex things simple for me. 

In discussion with other professionals and friends, I find that many people categorize their software – they use one program for one use. They will often use a word processor simply to write reports, essays or stories. I know for myself, I have 3-4 word processors at my disposal for various reasons. 

I am not saying that one program can not fulfill your needs. In some cases, there is only one piece of software I need for that purpose and it is nice when that happens. There is also something to be said for learning other software packages for your own versatility and future compatibility with the software of tomorrow.

Social Bookmarking – Huh?

Have you been wondering what Social Bookmarking is all about? Do you know what Del.icio.us is? 

If you want to know more, here is a great video that explains it in plain English. Easy to understand. Short. Concise. Kind of like this entry.

VIDEO