Tag Archives: web

Online Bulletin Boards

bulletin board

Most schools and classrooms have bulletin boards, but what is the online digital equivalent?  If you are using a course management system, there are lots of tools built-in that approximate this experience.  But if not, there are various options that offer lots of options for interaction between users.

They can be used asynchronously so that people can leave messages anytime and the conversation happens over a long period of time.  They could also be used in real time so that users can interact in a very visual environment.  Messages can be various sizes, color-coded, and dragged around so they can be grouped together in various ways.

Wallwisher

One online bulletin board is Wallwisher.com, which allows a user to create a wall to which other users can add “sticky notes.”  It’s quick and easy to use, but unfortunately it appears to be a victim of it’s own success — in my recent experience the site is not loading quickly, possibly due to being overwhelmed by a large volume of users.  If these issues can be worked out, Wallwisher will be a very useful tool.

Stixy

A very similar tool is Stixy, which allows sticky notes and other items (photos, documents, and dated to-do list items) to be posted on the wall.  Clicking on an item opens a menu with lots of options for color, font, as well as placement (in the front or in the back, relative to the other notes).  You can also lock certain notes so that instructions or introductions, for example, can’t be moved around like the rest of the notes.  And the site doesn’t seem to have any problems loading due to demand.  Yet.

Squareleaf

This site also allows the creation of sticky notes, including very small word-sized stickies, which could work very well on an interactive whiteboard as a way to make fridge-magnet-poetry dragable words.

Google Docs

In addition to the sticky-specific applications above, it’s worth noting that documents created in Google Docs can be configured to be edited by a group of people.  Create a new document and use different colored boxes in place of stickies and the same effect can be achieved.

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For information on these tools and others, visit The Pursuit of Technology Integration Happiness which includes several examples that you can test drive.

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Poll Everywhere

clipboards

Ever stare out into a roomful of your students’ faces as you explain the role of the comma in differentiating restrictive and non-restrictive adjective clauses?  I have.  After a few terms, I began to wonder whether those blank stares indicated that students were overwhelmed by the topic, or bored because they already understood this material and couldn’t wait to move on, or were just plain bored (though I was pretty confident the latter was true.)

I thought it would be great if we teachers could adopt the same technology that the network news teams use when they take a roomful of average citizens and make them watch debates with a dial in their hand.  By turning the dial left when they are happy and right when they are not, an average response is displayed in a graph that scrolls across the bottom of the screen.  Wouldn’t it be great if students could dial between “I don’t understand. Slow down.” and “I get it.  Move on.”?  For now, we must make do with the analog, “Any questions?”

Getting live feedback can be very useful in the classroom.  Poll Everywhere is a website that makes creating live polls extremely easy.  With a free account, you can create a poll that allows up to 30 responses by web, text message, smartphone or Twitter.  You can even download your poll on a PowerPoint slide, which you can use to observe the results as they roll in.  More features are available for paid accounts.

Polls are very easy to set up, but there are lots of good online tutorials out there, including this one by Sue Frantz.  These kinds of polls can do a great job of gathering instant feedback from your students using technology they likely already have with them (instead of requiring them to purchase Clickers, devices with only one function.)  Whether asking students if they the pace of the class is appropriate or checking comprehension of content, Poll Everywhere is an extremely flexible tool that can be used in a wide variety of situations.

poll image

To respond to this poll, text the code for your response to 37607, tweet the code to @poll, submit the code to http://poll4.com, or use the web form to make your selection.  View results.

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Web Browsing in 3D

3D glasses

Everything else is available in 3D (movies, televisions, the real world), so why not 3D browsing?  I recently came across this demo video of a 3D browsing experience created using WebGL, HTML5, Javascript and the Mozilla Audio API.  Is this the future of Web browsing?

I’m not extremely fluent in all of these technologies (for more info, see Flight of the Navigator), but as a demo, this is pretty impressive.  To me, it looks a little like Second Life with tons of screens out to the internet.  In other words, slick and different, but I’m not sure how useful, or even how truly integrated this experience would be.  Would you rather navigate to different places on the Web by moving through a 3D space or by Ctrl-Tabbing to the next open tab in your browser?  Maybe I’m old-school, but the latter seems far easier to me.

Of course, there are lots of other demos posted online and it will be interesting to see where this goes.  Checking your favorite Twitter feeds in-game would certainly blur the line between the gaming experience and the real world, but is this necessary?  Probably not, but maybe that’s not the question to be asking with whiz-bang technology like this.  It certainly opens up interesting avenues for the greater integration of a wide range of technologies.  Where that takes us will be interesting to see.

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Plagiarism To Go

blackberry

We had an interesting case of plagiarism come up recently.  A teacher gave students a writing assignment based on what they had learned from a movie they had watched in class.  After collecting the papers, the teacher noticed that one of them had some interesting phrases that did not sound like they would naturally come from the student who turned in the paper.  So, like many of us do, the teacher typed a couple of sentences into Google and found the web page that contained much of the writing assignment that the student had turned in.  She then followed up with the usual information about “you need to cite sources” and “this is plagiarism”.

What’s so strange about this particular case?  All of this occurred in the classroom during the twenty minutes that the students were given to write.  Clearly, the student must have accessed the internet via a cell phone, searched for some keywords, and written down parts of a passage from a website.

cellphone cheating

Cheating via text is so 2008.

I was a bit stunned that this could happen, but in retrospect I shouldn’t be.  Smart phones are literally putting the Internet into our pockets, so why should students’ habits online be any different whether they are at home or on the go?

All of this technology can obviously be a very good thing when used appropriately.  For example, many students have dictionary apps on their phones which makes a useful resource very accessible.  But occasionally “checking the dictionary” is not just checking the dictionary and it is becoming easier and easier to confuse the two.  This experience served as a good reality check for us.  We are now more keenly aware of how easily students can access these resources and how important it is to teach them how to use them appropriately.

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Walking Through Caves

cave

Games present an interesting environment in which students can learn and practice a language.  The Cave is an interesting game that was created for a Sony Pictures movie back in 2005.  I came across it on a recent timely post on Digital Play — just in time for Halloween and just after 33 miners were rescued from a mining collapse in Chile.  (Obviously, a teacher will need to determine whether this is an appropriate game for younger students.)

Digital Play is a great resource for online games for students because each one is couched in a simple lesson plan with suggestions for whether the game is appropriate for a classroom, computer lab, or independent use. Interestingly, Digital Play includes a walkthrough — a solution to the game — in the form of a diary account of the only survivor, which they player can become upon completion of the game.

Many games have walkthroughs available online.  Most are created by users or fans and some are created collaboratively as the game is solved.  Walkthroughs are very popular with the latest cutting edge games that can take tens of hours to complete, but solutions are available for almost every game.  Just Google the name of the game along with terms like walkthrough, solution, or help.

The way the walkthrough used in the case of The Cave is a very creative solution.  It can serve as additional reading for students to support their understanding as well as assisting students in completing the game.  Walkthroughs can also be good resources for teachers who want to support students that get stuck on one part of a game.  In a language classroom, getting stuck actually presents an opportunity for students to interact with each other by making requests and helping each other, so a teacher jumping in with the solution should not be the first resort.  In fact, it has been argued that walkthroughs ruin the experience of a good game because it can be too easy to look for the answer instead of working to solve the problem for oneself.  But, for teachers who are nervous about using games in the classroom, it’s good to know that solutions are available.

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Blank or Blank: a Concordancer Game

This is a 10-minute demo of a web-based game I’ve been thinking about.  At its heart, it is a concordancer, but the game is also a repeatable, user-directed tool that could be used to study many interesting linguistic structures.  It could be used in any language and in other, non-linguistic disciplines.  I’ve also incorporated crowdsourcing and social networking to make it more useful and more fun.  And it’s so simple, it just might work.

Don’t believe me?  Too good to be true?  Perhaps.  Watch the demo and decide for yourself.  Then, share your reaction in the comments.

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Top 5 Technologies I Should Be Using

2 kids wearing 3D glasses.

Last week, I listed the top 5 technologies that you should be using if you are an ESL teacher in 2010.  Today, I present the list of the next 5 technologies I need to explore and possibly add to my bag of tricks.  If you have experience with them, leave your opinions, suggestions, and tips in the comments.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the (near) future:

1. Google Wave – Occasionally billed as the Future Of Email, Wave combines email, IM, and the collaborative parts of Google Docs.  Watch the full Google demo video or the lower resolution abridged version to get the idea.  This is one of those really cool technologies that leaves you asking, “So what do I do with it?”  I hope to have answers to that question soon.

2. Zorap – Like Wave, Zorap combines several disparate elements into one collaborative space.  From what I’ve seen, a space can be set up for many users quickly and easily.  That space can then be used for audio, video, and text conversations and files and documents can be shared to the group.  See the demo for more.  For a free application, it integrates a surprising number of interesting options for remote learning.

3. Ning – A social network akin to Facebook, but it’s not Facebook.  There are many existing nings for topic areas such as The English Companion Ning (“Where English teachers go to help each other”) and Classroom 2.0 (“the social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and Social Media in education”).  Plus, you can create a Ning for a topic that you like or a specific group of people, like the students in your class.  Because it’s a closed system, Ning may be more useful to anyone who can’t (or doesn’t want to) use Facebook or other social networks with their students.

4. Screenr – A free, web-based screen recorder.  Just drag a frame over the part of your screen you want to capture and Screenr will record a video of what happens inside that frame until you tell it to stop.  Great for creating demonstration videos or capturing a presentation.

5. Prezi – When I first saw Prezi, I thought it was just another slide sharing application.  Since then, I’ve seen some slick, remotely controlled presentations that use Prezi to great effect.  One of the best features is the ability to smoothly zoom in and out on portions of the presentation.  One large document can contain everything from headings to footnotes with each part zooming and snapping into place on the screen as it is selected.  This works equally well if the presenter is guiding the presentation or if an individual wants to explore it on his own.  For example, take a look at this Grammar Review Prezi.  You can use the arrows to go forward and back within the presentation, but you can also take control by zooming in and out, dragging the page around, and clicking on the text to zoom to a specific point.  Once you get used to this style of navigation (or, rather, every style of navigation simultaneously) many interesting ways to structure and organize information become possible.

Bonus: Sikuli – I’ve used applications with macros before, but Sikuli’s approach is unique because it can create a macro for any application using your computers GUI.  Think that sounds geeky?  Then the demonstration video might also be a little intimidating.  The gist of it is, you can automate almost any multi-step task on your computer, just by writing a simple script for Sikuli to follow.  While I can’t think of any tasks that are repetitive enough that I’d actually save time by learning how to use Sikuli (and, frankly, I’d rather play Bejeweled myself, thank you very much), the potential of this application is intriguing.

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