A quick update on projects I have been and am working on:
1. ESL Sandbox – coming up – I had been kicking around this idea (basically, word blocks that can be dragged around the screen to form a variety of sentences), but I have decided to try to pull it together. After talking with some of the ICALLers at CALICO, I think I can come up with a flash-based version that would perform some basic, binary analysis of word blocks as they are dragged together. If the words can be paired in that order, they will “stick.” If not, they won’t. Sentence level analysis might be too much to ask, but will word pairs be enough to analyze? Once it’s built, we’ll try it and see.
2. Twitter and Personal Learning Environments – coming up – I was recently introduced to Twitter but really became a fan during CALICO. It was used as another layer of discussion (a backchannel) that really added to the conference experience for me. I also learned a lot about Personal Learning Environments and other ways to apply Web 2.0 technologies in educationally useful ways. I intend to explore these further, particularly in the context of exploring offering online classes.
3. Interactive Whiteboards – ongoing – Since building my first $50 Wiimote-based interactive whiteboard, this project has been very well received. I’m still hoping to get another grant to put more of them in more teachers’ hands. (If you’re in Ohio, and interested, make sure you contact me.) In the meantime, I received a Smartboard to use Spring Quarter. It will be interesting to see how they compare. I talked to some people at CALICO who had used both and preferred combining the Wiimote hardware and Smart software. The Wiimote hardware is much more portable and is easier to use with permanently mounted projectors, which are in most of the classrooms I use. Look for more updates on how this shakes out in the spring.
4. Second Life – done – I taught an elective class in Second Life last fall. There were about six students who stayed with the course for its four-week duration. Overall, they enjoyed the experience but it was more of a novelty than something that could really be used regularly in the classroom. The student in my class were obviously technophiles who took to the movements (walking, flying, etc.) very naturally. Building was a frustrating experience because of both the precision required and difficulty with collaborating (if two people accidentally take ownership of something by editing it, neither can move it again.) We also had trouble finding reliably friendly places to meet new people to talk with. Second Life search feels a little like pre-Google Yahoo searching — finding something you know is easy, but finding something new is difficult. Until these issues are resolved, I probably won’t take students there again.