Tag Archives: web

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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Twurdy: Readability-Based Search

Twurdy = Too wordy?

Twurdy = Too wordy?

I came across Twurdy the other day and thought it was interesting enough to share.  In fact, I came across it on a blog post by someone that was recommend via Follow Friday on Twitter.  If I still had that electron trail, it would make an interesting story, but I don’t.

So, back to Twurdy.  This search enging is Google-based, but it also analyzes search results for readability using a proprietary algorithm.  The results are color-coded into the list of results.  If an item is determined to be easy-to-read, it is light in color.  Harder-to-read items are progressively darker in color.

Does it work?  I haven’t used it enough to be sure yet.  It’s certainly an intriguing idea, but the results will only be as good as the algorithm, the details of which are not shared on the Twurdy website.  But it may be a useful for learners with limited ability to start with the easiest-to-read pages or, conversely, for students to analyze the differences between easy- and hard-to-read texts.  I’m not suggesting students reverse-engineer the algorithm, but finding the features that make a page “hard-to-read” could start an interesting process that could aid students in their writing.

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Crowdsourcing Meta-Resources

A Google Spreadsheet of TED Talks.

A Google Spreadsheet of TED Talks.

I came across a blog post on The History Teacher’s Attic which organized TED Talks by educational discipline and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  The interesting part is that the post is based on a Google Docs Spreadsheet containing information on every TED Talk through July 29, 2009.  The thing I like most about this post is the potential in this spreadsheet.

Johnny Lee's TED Talk introduces his $50 interactive whiteboard.

Johnny Lee's TED Talk.

First, most TED Talks are fascinating (Johnny Lee’s talk introduced the world to the Wii-based $50 interactive whiteboard) and authentic audio resources for advanced ESL students.  Having one central resource with overviews of all talks, is very useful for an ESL teacher.

Second, Google Docs can be very useful tools for collaboration.  Because they are cloud-based, anyone can access and edit documents via a web browser.  By opening up the document for anyone to edit, the work of compiling all of the information can be distributed to many people.  For example, this list of educators on Twitter spreadsheet was crowdsourced, meaning many people did a little bit of work to build what is a pretty extensive list.

The US Presidents mashup.

A mashup of US Presidents.

And once the spreadsheet has enough information, it can be mashed up in useful new ways.  For example, this mashup, created using MIT’s Exhibit, makes the information in the TED Talks Google Docs spreadsheet sortable and searchable.  Other examples include Flags of the World, which combines flag images from Wikipedia and a Google Map, and US presidents, which includes a timeline, map, images, and facts about each president such as religion and political party.

So, at this point, I’m ready to begin the new project of collecting and compiling some of my favorite resources into larger, crowdsourced, mashable meta-resources.  I’m going to start with a wide-open Google Docs spreadsheet, and then try my hand at different mashups.  But, before I begin, here are some questions I’m trying to answer.  (Feel free to supply your answers by commenting on this post.)

This American Life has great audio.

This American Life has great audio.

First, what resource(s) should be compiled?  TED Talks seem to be relatively well covered, but how about a similar resource for This American Life episodes, stories from The Moth live storytelling events, YouTube videos (EDU or otherwise), or other resources?  Should the meta-resource be targeted to ESL / EFL teachers or all educators?  And finally, what information should be included?  A link to the resource, the title, duration and a synopsis are obvious details, but what else?  Maybe keywords or tags as a way to organize them, the goegraphic location of where the story takes place, a warning system for language or content not appropriate for the classroom, and links to related resources in case students want to explore particular topics further.

So, consider this a call to action.  I’m going to solicit lots of feedback and then begin.  Once underway, I’m going to solicit more help.  With a little crowdsourcing, we can grow some really interesting and useful resources.

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Teach Like a Dandelion Not a Mammal

(cc) http://www.flickr.com/photos/28481088@N00/434872938/

Teach like this.

I was still thinking about Connectivism when I read “Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It’s Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity,” Chris Anderson’s article in Wired magazine. The article is an excellent interpretation of how the increasing ubiquitousness of technology has changed our relationship to it. The central metaphor here is how two very different organisms, dandelions and mammals, reproduce.

Dandelions reproduce by scattering as many seeds as possible, a tiny fraction of which will take root and grow. Fish, and many other kinds of animals, reproduce this way too. By contrast, mammals in general, and humans in particular, typically produce far fewer offspring and work much harder to ensure each one survives. Technology has become so cheap that it, too, can be scattered everywhere. This has the potential to change everything from business to education.

One example from Anderson’s article is the medium of video. Broadcast television, the traditional way video is viewed, operates like a mammal. Each television show is research, cast, scripted, piloted and refined before it airs because media companies need to be certain their shows will be watched millions of viewers in order to attract advertisers. But YouTube, which is free, behaves like a dandelion. Countless videos are posted, the best of which are viewed millions of times, while others may never be viewed at all.

Anderson inludes lots of other examples, but I really got to thinking about how to teach like a dandelion. This brought me back to Connectivism. One issue that I think Connectivism addresses nicely is that students can make connections to knowledge that are appropriate for their own individual learning style. For example, listening to two people talking on a YouTube video may be very useful for auditory learners, while visual learners might prefer to see a chart outlining a topic or idea.

I often use a course management system (CMS) with my classes and post links to a variety of resources for my students. For example, when teaching grammar, I often post copies of my presentation materials, notes I make in class, practice quizzes, YouTube videos, and other resources. But what if I posted more? And what if I encouraged my students to post more? Maybe we could break out of the CMS by devising a common tag based on the course number, and we could all tag resources using a social bookmarking tool like Delicious.

Another important aspect of Connectivism is that the teacher should teach students how to evaluate resources. In a dandelion-like world, where countless resources come floating at you on the wind, this will prove to be an essential skill. The technology that will enable this shift in teaching already exists. But will teachers and students, most of whom are mammals, be ready for it?

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Interface with the Future

I’ve been thinking about interfaces for a while. Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) probably got be thinking in this direction, and the recent announcement of the motion sensing Project Natal for the Xbox has finally pushed me to write about them.

Note the fine print: actual features and function may vary.

As computers have evolved, so have the interfaces we use to interact with them.  To give you an idea of my own personal timeline, I have no experience programming on punchcards, but I do remember the pre-GUI days.  The mouse has become ubiquitous, but what comes next?  Here are some possible answers:

Interactive Whiteboards: These are pretty heavily documented on this blog and elsewhere.  Here, the user can interact with the display, making the mouse and, to an extent, the keyboard unnecessary.

Slap widgets: Physical tools to be used with IWBs and the like, further blurring the line between the physical and the virtual.  (Watch the video!)

Siftables: An interesting miniaturization of an IWB-type interface with the added bonus that each mini screen can interact with the others.  If each Siftable had a letter or a word, how could they be used to teach English?

MIT’s Sixth Sense: This video went viral a few months ago, but keeps popping up.  Why can’t your computer interface with the physical world?  It soon may.

Wii & Natal: Nintendo has enjoyed blockbuster sales of it’s Wii gaming system which features motion-sensitive controllers.  Now, Microsoft has unveiled the same thing with Natal, but no controllers are needed.

Do it yourself interfaces: In addition to making your own IWB using a Wiimote, other examples include the Beatbearing, in which ball-bearings are used to sequence electronic drum beats, a modified Nintendo Powerglove, which upgrades late 1980s virtual reality technology, and a giant Katamari ball controller, which is a controller designed and built specifically for the game Katamari, in which players roll a ball through an environment which attracts more stuff (litter, park benches, people, their pets, etc.).  The makers of each of these interfaces have posted detailed plans and instructions online so that you can build and modify your own.

Move over visual learners, kinesthetic learners are about to have their day.  And why not?  Why should  simply watch something when we can interact with it in more natural ways?  The next generation of computer interfaces promises to expand our idea of how we relate to computers.

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How is technology changing learning?

I’m starting a short research project and looking for as many interesting responses to this question as possible:

How is technology changing learning?

It’s pretty general, and very open-ended, but that’s by design.  If you’ve perused much of my blog, you know that I’ve posted several of my own answers to this question.  But, this project isn’t about what I think; It’s about what you think.

Please leave comment(s) below.  And, if you know someone who might have an interesting answer, please invite him or her to comment as well.  Although you’ll be able to post your comments here until WordPress shuts its doors, I can only include them in my project if they’re posted by May 15, 2009.  Comments may be used for research, but don’t let that scare you off.  Once the project is complete, I’ll share some of the results here.

Thanks!

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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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