Tag Archives: free

“Privacy”

fingerprint copyFingerprint (not mine – combination of this image and this image)

Maybe you’ve noticed that Facebook is separating its messenger application from its mobile application. “That’s strange,” you think, “I like things the way they are. They’re integrated, which works well. Why would they change that?” Good question. According to Facebook, there are lots of reasons that your new experience will be richer and better.

But, according to this article on the Huffington Post, users who download the Messenger app agree to terms of service that are “unprecedented and, quite frankly, frightening.” For example, by installing it, you agree that the Facebook Messenger app can:

  • call phone numbers and send text messages without your intervention
  • record audio, take pictures, and take video at any time without your confirmation
  • share data about your contacts,
  • share your phone’s profile information including the phone number, device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number you are connected to
  • access a log of your incoming and outgoing calls, emails, and other communication

Some of these are a bit scary — recording me without my confirmation? who are you, the NSA? But maybe you’re not surprised that Facebook is collecting and sharing your information because users get the app for “free,” which basically means you pay for it by giving over your data. And anyone who agrees to those terms and conditions gets what they signed up for, right? Well what if something similar was happening on the World Wide Web? Spoiler alert: it is.

Think turning off cookies keeps websites from tracking you? Take a look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Panopticlick. Even if you don’t let websites store cookies — small files that websites use to track you — on your machine, it’s likely that the combination of your operating system, browser version, browser plugins, time zone, screen size, fonts downloaded, and a few other configurations are as unique as a fingerprint. And websites recognize you by your device’s fingerprint every time you visit.

In fact, your browser history alone is another giveaway. Think about how links to sites you have visited are purple while links you haven’t are blue, then consider this thought experiment: If a website picked a handful of websites and linked to them on its webpage, it would learn about you when you visited based on your combination of blue and purple links. As the number of links grows, there would be a greater and greater chance that your specific combination would be unique. And, based on your combination of blue and purple, and the demographics of visitors to those sites, some information about you could be predicted. For example, if you have visited Martha Stewart’s website on your computer and I’ve visited Hot Rod Magazine’s website on mine, a website could predict a few ways in which we are different. And, again, the longer the list of links, the more accurate the prediction becomes.

All of this information isn’t intended to cause a panic, but rather to raise awareness. Before you bust out your tinfoil hat, consider other alternatives that are more likely to keep you safe online: Check your browser’s security settings, keep your operating system up to date, and look into antivirus and anti-malware tools. And, be aware that what you are doing online is likely trackable and traceable, so be thoughtful of where you go and what you do there. As a friend of mine recently observed in response to all of this, “It’s a scary world. But also a great one.” Be careful out there.

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Show Me The Money

statue of liberty dollar coin

I’ve posted about finding royalty- and copyright-free images on line before.  In this post, I’d like to share an often overlooked source: the U.S. Government.  Many government departments have images in the public domain, which usually means that teachers can use them in presentations, classroom activities, and almost any not-for-profit ways you can imagine.  Of course, there are exceptions, so be sure to read the fine print.

coinsThe U.S. Mint

The Mint publishes some very nice images of the money it produces including coins commemorating states, presidents, first ladies, national parks, and significant historical events.  Most are available for free download, though a few are copyrighted (such as the Sacagawea dollar coin).  There are also a few anti-counterfeiting restrictions on reproducing paper money, so be sure to read the fine print on the website.

astronaut on the moonNASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has some amazing copyright-free images and videos available.  Whether you are looking for images of astronauts, rockets or other spacecraft, or images of outerspace, the NASA website has you covered.  Some of the images include those from the Hubble Telescope which has captured extraterrestrial images for over a decade.  There are lots of science- and engineering-related images, and the website makes it easy to search for them.

washing a dogCDC

You might not ordinarily think to look on the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but but the Public Health Image Library has lots of interesting stock images available, related to topics such as home safety, personal hygiene, agriculture, child safety and more.  Of course, you’ll also find lots of images of bacteria, microscopic pests, and other diseases, some of which may not be suitable for children.

More

For links to photos from more U.S. Government photos and images, visit the USA.gov website.  You will find links to images from lots of other departments related to agriculture, the environment, defense, safety, science and technology and others.  In essence, these images are “free” because you’ve paid for them with your taxes.  So, don’t hesitate to take a look and use them if you need to.

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More Free Photos

robot toy

MorgueFile.com is a morbid name for a useful resource.  Despite what you might expect, this website does not contain pictures from a morgue.  A morgue file is a term from the newspaper industry to describe paper files that are inactive and only kept for reference.  Illustrators later adopted this term to refer to files of images that could serve as inspiration or reference.  MorgueFile.com is a large collection of images that are contributed to be used for reference by artists and teachers.

Once you get past the name, this is a very useful resource.  I was struck by a link on the homepage to a collection of photos of robot toys, including the one above.  There are a total of 116 toy robots in this collection, which is really interesting to skim through.

Of course, toy robots may not apply to all of your teaching needs.  Other searches revealed 66 photos labeled classroom, 234 photos labeled student, 734 photos labeled books, and 1190 photos labeled computers.   Many of the photos are high resolution and have a very professional stock-photography appearance, by which I mean objects are on white backgrounds and scenes are generic enough to be useful in many situations.  Next time you need an image for your PowerPoint presentation, consider an interesting and relevant photograph instead of canned clip art.

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Virtual Lectures

lecture hall

Occasionally, students in our program ask if they can take regular university classes in addition to our full-time intensive ESL program.  In a very few cases, we have arranged informal course audits through which students may sit in on courses as a way to supplement their learning.  In addition to the language input, this arrangement can be a good way to introduce international students to American academic culture.

Recently a student approached me about his interests in sitting in on a few lectures.  His primary interest was in becoming familiar with the English vocabulary in his field of study.  He was already comfortable with the content in his own language, but was nervous about learning all new terminology in English.  In the end, actually sitting in on a class was not a good option for this particular student.  Fortunately, there are a couple of good online alternatives that I could recommend: YouTube’s EDU site and iTunesU.

YouTube.com/edu hosts thousands of lectures from institutions across the U.S.  Not all of them are lectures — and it’s easy to get sucked in to videos of marching bands and football games — but there are lots of options available.  Search for “physics lecture” and you’ll get over 4000 videos.

iTunesU.com takes a similar approach, but it is tied in to Apple’s iTunes music store.  This means it is very easy to put videos on your iDevice (iPhone, iPod, iPad, etc.) to watch on the go.  The bad news is that you need to install the iTunes application to access them.

Both locations offer hours of free content from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country.  Of course, many of the videos are just recordings of lectures, which may be somewhat dull.  And sadly, that may be very good preparation for American academic culture.  But, if high level students are looking for content rich input, these sources will provide a wealth of options.

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How did he do that?

photoshop paradox

How did he do that?  Is that the first question you asked when you looked at this picture?  Look again.  Notice all of the people in the picture (and in the picture in the picture) are the same person.  Notice, too, that the person in the foreground is holding the picture being taken in the background.  To really blow your mind, scroll down to the bottom of this post to see the picture taken by the photographer in the background.  Click on either picture to link to larger versions for closer examination.

Impressed?  I was.  There are lots of examples of photoshopped dopplegangers on flickr, but few are this intricate.  With most others, it’s easy to see how how multiple images could be merged into one because the different images don’t interact and sometimes don’t even overlap.  When I look at these two pictures, I’m intrigued by how they were made.  Which image was taken first?  How many images were included?  These questions got me to thinking: I bet ESL students would have the same questions.  And it would be linguistically challenging to analyze these two photos (possibly by first priming them with something simpler) in the target language.

Next time you want to generate some discussion in your class, consider showing your students these images.  (They’re licensed under the Creative Commons, which virtually eliminates any copyright concerns.)  The discussion could lead to students planning their own doppleganger photos.  Even if they don’t have the photo editing skills or resources to pull it off, planning out the scene and even taking some of the photos required to make their own composite image could be a very interesting exercise.

photoshop paradox

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Free Photos

deconstructed camera

Deconstructed camera from flickr.com

About a year and a half ago, I posted some links to online resources for royalty-free photos.  Lately, I’ve been reading Presentation Zen (an excellent book and blog for improving your presentation skills) and thought I’d share some additional resources found therein.  If you need photos for your website, newsletter, or classroom, you can use these resources to find lots of images you can use without fear of violating copyright law.  (Of course, I’m not a lawyer, so read the fine print.)

Camera image from morguefile.com

morguefile.com

morguefile.com –  A “public image archive for creatives by creatives” contains lots of great stock photos.  For the sake of comparison, I’ve done a search for “camera” on each site.  See the results for morguefile.com and the terms of service.

camera image from imageafter.com

imageafter.com

imageafter.com – Images from “the raw base for your creativity” are not always as professionally stock looking as some other sites, but one nice feature is you can sort images by color.  See results for “camera” and terms of service.

camera image from sxc.hu

sxc.hu

sxc.hu – Stock.xchng is my personal favorite.  Get access to thousands of very professional-looking, high resolution photos when you sign up for a free account.  See results for “camera” and terms of service.

camera image from compfight.com

compfight.com

compfight.com – The best way I’ve found to search for photos on Flickr that are published with a Creative Commons license.  Results run the gamut from stock-looking to very creative, including the image at the top of this post.  This is a good place to look for something different.  See results for “camera” and read more about Creative Commons.

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Vorbeo: Easy Web Polls

Vorbeo: free and simple online polls.

Vorbeo: free and simple online polls.

Another recent resource that came across the Twitter stream (thanks @NikPeachey!) is Vorbeo, a custom online poll generator.

The most amazing thing about this tool is how simple it is to use.  The question, answers, and even the text for your “vote” button are customizable.  But, the best part is that there is a live preview of your poll that changes as you customize your poll.  When you’re finished, copy and paste the code generated by Vorbeo into your moodle or other web space.  Easy!

Making a poll with Vorbeo.

Making a poll with Vorbeo.

Now, you can poll your students, students can poll each other, and students can even poll the general public, if they can put enough people in front of the poll.

As an edupunk who likes to tinker with code on occasion, I also appreciate that the code changes as the poll is customize.  This is a great way to learn what each line of the code does.  (Incidentally, if you’d like to learn more about HTML, CSS, XML, and other scripting languages, try w3schools.com which has many examples and tutorials with live previews.)

Update: As slickly as Vorbeo generates web polls, it appears that these polls are not compatible with WordPress blogs.  Perhaps this is because WordPress already has it’s own polling feature using different technology or because it strips out HTML forms for security reasons.  Either way, trying to post a Vorbeo poll to a WordPress blog will neuter it (see below).  My other comments still apply, but check that Vorbeo is compatible with your application before counting on it in the classroom.

Do you like online polls?

Yes, the more the merrier!
Yes, occasionally
No, not really
No, I never respond to them!

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Random Choices from my Interactive Whiteboard

The slot-machine interface with big blue buttons makes randomly choosing students fun -- especially on an interactive whiteboard.

The slot-machine interface with big blue buttons makes randomly choosing students fun -- especially on an interactive whiteboard.

I finally had a chance to crack open one of Sanfields’ free flash resources for teachers (which I’ve blogged about before) and everything worked great.

I had been looking for a reason to incorporate Les Rouleaux and found it when we started a unit on Negotiation.

As you can see, Les Rouleaux is a slot-machine inspired interface which spins and stops randomly after a button is pushed.  The example on the Sanfields website randomly chooses a kind of weather, a kind of clothing, and an activity.  This can be used in any number of ways (practicing vocabulary, writing sentences, etc.).

The best part about this activity (and most others on Sanfields) is that they are editable.  In this case, you can exchange, edit, or create your own slot-machine reels.  (Each reel is a .jpg image with 15 images measuring 120 x 125 pixels.)  Complete instructions and the files you need to download are all on the website.

In my example, I created a reel with my students’ pictures, which I used for the first and third reels, and another that had the styles of negotiation we had been studying (win-win and hard / soft).  The two students who were selected by the slot-machine had to roleplay a negotiation in the style that was selected for them.

Because I don’t have 15 students in my class, I created “Students’ Choice” and “Teacher’s Choice” squares to fill in the remaining spaces.  Also, obviously, I have blurred my students faces in my example to protect their privacy.

My students really enjoyed incorporating this activity into our classroom.  Granted, it’s a bit indulgent.  I could have pulled names out of a hat and I could have clicked the buttons on my laptop instead of the interactive whiteboard, but students did enjoy this richer, more interactive experience.

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Mashable Interactive Whiteboard Activites

Body parts.

Body parts.

I recently followed a tweet (a message on Twitter) from Dai Barnes to his Diigo bookmark list (Diigo is like Delicious, but you can annotate pages with highlighters, etc.) and found several interesting resources.  The most immediately useful was Sanfields Free Flash Resources for Teachers.

This site links to several popular classroom games including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune, and Matching, all of which pull questions from an XML file, which means they can be customized for your words and phrases!  Instructional videos for doing this are linked from the website.

There are also some handy little gizmos like a clickable traffic light, which could be used to give non-verbal feedback to students, and a customizable wheel of fortune for making random choices, picking teams, questions, etc.

There are also a few games tailored specifically to the interactive whiteboard-equipped classroom.  One of these is a fridge magnet letters game which allows students to drag and drop letters of their choosing.  Another, which I think is even more ingenious, is called Rouleaux.  It works like a slot machine with three spinning reels (a two-reel version is also available) which randomly selects topics from a given category.  The results of each spin can be used to generate ideas for roleplaying, impromtu speeches, and many other activities.  Again, the best part is that the game is cutomizable; You can choose different combinations of reels (for example, the “body” reel at left) and even create your own.  How great!

I’m thrilled to have found activities that are so customizable.  Being able to adapt and change them makes these resources exponentially more valuable.

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