Tag Archives: flickr

Flickr is Saving the Whales

humpback whale flukes

Flickr is a popular online photo sharing website that allows users to attach information to the pictures such as keyword tags, date, time, and location the picture was taken, and even the kind of camera that took the picture.  Although pictures can be made private, many are uploaded publicly.  This online public database is now being used to help save the whales.

I first came across this project on the CNN website.  People are using pictures of whales, particularly pictures of their tails which have unique markings that can be used to identify individual whales, combined with the date and location information of the pictures to track whales’ migration.  One whale that was tracked via Flickr was found to have a longer migration route than any other previously recorded migration route.  These citizen scientists are helping further scientific research.

Crowdsourcing solutions to problems is no longer uncommon, particularly via games.  Newspapers have made a game out of combing through online documents on government spending, thereby turning readers into investigators.  Fold It is a game in which players twist and untwist actual molecular structures to further science in ways that computer modelling cannot.  Jane McGonigal has created a game called Evoke that challenges a community of players to share and evaluate solutions to the world’s problems.  The U.S. Navy has adopted a similar approach to fighting piracy.

Can language teachers and learners make use of crowdsourcing?  Of course.  Forvo.com, a pronunciation dictionary created by users, is one example.  Creating an online dictionary that includes pronunciations for every word in a language would be a nearly impossible task for one person, which is why it took a crowd of hundreds to create Forvo (which includes pronunciations for scores of languages.)

Can language teachers create similar games for language learning?  Perhaps.  Julie Sykes has created a location-aware game called Mentira which sends students into an actual Spanish-speaking neighborhood near the University of New Mexico campus to solve a fictional mystery set decades in the past.  Students who have finished the game are now involved in writing and rewriting it to add more detail and different possible outcomes.

Given the game-like nature of language learning (learners learn skills to level up) there are lots of options for teachers– from encouraging students to become involved in the above activities to creating new games for students.  If you know of other examples, leave them in the comments.

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21st Century Newspapers

rolled up newspapers

A long, long time ago (maybe 6 or 7 years now) I taught an elective ESL class centered around a student newspaper.  We tried various formats including weekly, monthly, and quarterly editions, which ranged from 2 to 32 pages.  We also experimented with various online editions, but at the time that mostly consisted of cutting and pasting the documents into HTML pages.

Fast-forward to 2011 and look how online publishing has changed.  Blogs are ubiquitous, if not approaching passé.  Everyone but my Mom has a Facebook page.  (Don’t worry, my aunts fill her in).  And many people get news, sports scores, Twitter posts, friends’ Facebook updates, and other information of interest pushed directly to their smartphones.

It’s no surprise, then, that a website like paper.li has found its niche.  The slogan for paper.li is Create your newspaper.  Today.  Essentially, paper.li is an RSS aggregator in the form of a newspaper.  RSS aggregators are nothing new (see iGoogle, My Yahoo!, etc.).  As the name implies, the user selects a variety of different feeds from favorite blogs, people on Twitter, Facebook friends, etc. and aggregates the updates onto one page.

The twist with with paper.li is that the aggregated page looks very much like a newspaper — at least a newspaper’s website.  For people not on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, paper.li might feel much more comfortable.  Also, publicizing one’s pages seems to be built right in to paper.li’s sourcecode.  I say that because I first learned of paper.li when I read a tweet that said a new edition of that person’s paper was out featuring me.  How flattering!  Of course, I had to take a look.

Would paper.li be a good platform to relaunch a student newspaper?  It might.  If students have multiple blogs, paper.li could certainly aggregate the most recent posts into one convenient location.  Other feeds could also be easily incorporated as well.  (Think of this as akin to your local community newspaper printing stories from the Associated Press.)  The most recent news stories about your city or region, updates from your institution’s website, and photos posted to Flickr tagged with your city or school name could each be a column in your paper.li paper right beside the articles crafted by the students themselves.  You could even include updates from other paper.li papers.

To see examples of paper.li papers, visit the paper.li website.  (And note that .li is the website suffix — no need to type .com no matter how automatically your fingers try to do so.)  You can search paper.li for existing papers to see what is possible.  A search for ESL, for example, brought up 5 pages of examples, some with hundreds of followers.  Take a look.  You might just get an idea for your own paper.li.

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Writing 1000 Words

Tell me about your bus ride to school...

So, tell me about your bus ride to school...

Getting your students to write (or speak) can sometimes be a challenge.  They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, which got me to thinking: Where can teachers find interesting pictures that might prompt students to write or talk.  Here are some examples:

Photoshop Contest.com

Photoshop Contest.com

Photoshop Contest.com is a website that posts a picture each week for visitors to edit into other pictures.  The results can be fascinating.  The historical decoder device at right used this picture of typesetter’s letters as a starting point.  In addition to generating interesting pictures, trying to tease out which components of the picture are from the original can be an interesting challenge for students.

Worth100.com

Worth100.com

Worth1000.com is similar to Photoshop Contest with a variety of contests for beginning through advanced photo manipulators.  Although the results range in quality and interest, some of the theme categories could generate some interesting writing or discussion.  For example, the subjects in Sports Literalisms and Bald Celebrities may not be universally recognized by students, but Unsung Vending Machines and Less Than Usual require no explanation.  Some of the Literalisms provide interesting visual examples of idioms and other common English expressions.

Compfight.com

Compfight.com

Flickr is a very popular photosharing website.  And, although the sheer number of photos posted means it takes a little more digging to find them, similarly provocative photos can be found.  I often use Compfight.com to search Flickr because it’s very easy to select search parameters like Creative Commons licensed content and Safe Search.   Try searching for terms like manipulate, photoshop, and trick to find pictures that have been digitally edited.  Some, like the example of the car parked on the street have had no digital manipulation, but there is another trick involved.  Can you spot it?  Can your students?

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How Is Technology Changing Learning?

Recently, as part of my final project for EDU P&L 823 – The Functions of the Computer in the Classroom, I asked the question “How is technology changing learning?” using six different channels of communication: on this blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, via email and face-to-face.  The question was deliberately very open-ended and I received some very interesting responses.  But, perhaps more interestingly, were the differences between how people responded on each of these channels.

Obviously, the channels that reached people with whom I had close connections (email, face-to-face) received a lot of responses.  Other, more ephemeral, forms of communication where connections are not as strong, received far fewer.  In some ways, this was a bit humbling — I have a hundred followers on Twitter and even more on Facebook — but the response rate was very low.  Perhaps the people with whom I communicate via these channels simply weren’t interested in this question?

Although these new channels (Twitter, Facebook) are changing communication, clearly they do not completely replace the others.  And perhaps integrating them all is the most effective approach.  Watch my final presentation below.

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