Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

America lost one of its great twentieth century writers last night. Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron” has long been a staple of my American literature classes, and my students really enjoyed his tips on How to Write with Style (pdf), too.

Sometimes, when I have a male student — a certain kind of disaffected youth who has trouble finding books he likes — I recommend that he read Kurt Vonnegut.

Vonnegut Links:

So it goes.

[tags]Kurt Vonnegut, Postmodernism, literature[/tags]

Related posts:

Tips for New Teachers

Hipteacher has a new post full of great advice for new teachers. I wanted to comment on a couple of pieces of advice and add my own.

There is no one lesson plan format. If someone wants “lessons” from you ahead of time, you could be turning in anything from red Sharpie scrawl across a napkin to three page documents that site local/state/national standards. Don’t do the latter if you can do the former. This, after three years of teaching and beating myself up about my inability to make and keep plans, is part of my actual philosophy of teaching. If I can remember a lesson that I’ve done before, and I want to do it again, then it was probably really good. If not, then I need to go back to the drawing board. I know this won’t work and won’t make sense for many people, but, for me, I keep my lessons fresh and my own excitement and engagement with the material high by doing this, and the kids respond.

I know this isn’t what she meant, but don’t go in there cold without knowing what you’re doing. The students have a nose for the unprepared teacher, and they will make sure your lack of plans means that no learning will take place. But she’s right in that a variety of lesson plan formats and templates exist. The bottom line is do whatever it is your school expects regarding lesson plans.

Stay away from negative, I-hate-children teachers. Avoid break-room, and eat in classroom if necessary. In private school, amend somewhat to eat lunch with others a couple times of week. This is a social thing and, therefore, necessary.

I don’t completely agree with this one. Yes, you should avoid those negative teachers; however, I don’t think they exist only in public schools, nor would I single out private school teachers for the “amendment.” You can find teachers who are happy in their jobs in either place, and you can find negative teachers in either place.

Keep handwritten, like with a pencil or pen, records. Keep everything. Your electronic grade book will erase your grades at some point.

This one is really important. In this day and age probably most of us are required to keep grades on the computer or at least send grades via a computer program. But keep a handwritten copy.

Other stuff I would add:

  1. Take notes during phone conferences and face-to-face conferences so you have a written record of any agreements/concerns/etc.
  2. Keep track of absences and tardies for each class period. I use a separate gradebook just for this purpose.
  3. Figure out a way to get students to do the work they need to do to practice without you having to grade every little thing. Ask me about notebook checks.
  4. Dress professionally. It really does make a difference.
  5. Get involved in professional organizations related to your field and subscribe to a journal.
  6. Bell-to-bell teaching is critical, particularly in middle school.
  7. Reflect on your teaching practices either in a paper journal or blog or something like that, even if it’s just once a month or once a quarter.
  8. Get support. If you are not assigned a mentor, find one for yourself; pick someone who likes his/her job, is willing to spend the extra time talking with you about teaching, and is admired for his/her professionalism and good teaching by the administration and faculty.
  9. Read The First Days of School by Harry Wong.
  10. Get yourself a professional planner (my favorite is the Teacher’s Daybook by Jim Burke).

Veteran teachers, add your own advice in the comments.

[tags]advice, teaching, teachers, education[/tags]

Raising the Level of Civil Discourse

K. Lehman at Ed Tech in the Classroom pointed me toward a movement (and article) about Timesraising the level of discourse in the blogosphere. All of this discussion seems to stem from the Kathy Sierra incident. Considering the awful things people felt completely comfortable saying to and about Kathy online, you had to wonder what kind of people these folks were. My contention is that they are probably normal folks who feel empowered to be mean when they’re online. I’m not sure what it is that comes out in people online, but I have noticed that people tend to say things online that they would never say in person. In many cases, commenters level the equivalent of verbal abuse upon people they don’t even know. I have to wonder if they would say the same things if instead of commenting on a blog, they were in a lecture hall discussing an issue or at a town hall meeting. I don’t think most people would. I would like to think that the majority of people out there are pretty decent folks. But for some reason, they sometimes act like they’re 9 and back on the school playground again. I fully support a Blogger Code of Conduct, and when it is developed, it will be implemented here (I already have policies regarding comments that I strictly adhere to).

Do I feel this is censorship? No. If that person wants to post what he said, he or she is free to do so. But I am free not to have it on my site that I pay money to maintain. I have no problem with someone who disagrees with me. I have a big problem with someone who can’t do it in a civil manner and then expects me to keep their inflammatory and abusive remarks online or else I’m “censoring” them.

By the way, I have installed a new spam plugin called Spam Karma. I want to warn you that until you build up karma through the plugin, your comments might not immediately post. It doesn’t mean they won’t appear — they will simply be moderated.

[tags]Blogger Code of Conduct, blogging, comments[/tags]


I changed my favicon. I just didn’t like the little apple anymore. For those of you who don’t know, favicons are those little icons that appear in the address bar or location bar in Firefox or Internet Explorer 7. Prior versions of IE won’t display them except in your Bookmars or Favorites. They will also appear in the tabs on Firefox or IE. Favicons are cute and fun, and they’re one of the things I initially liked about Firefox when I first started using it. It’s one way to make your site distinctive.

Favicons are not that difficult to create. They need to be pictures 16×16 pixels and saved in the .ico format. Most image software (Photoshop, MS Paint, etc.) won’t save files in that format, but an excellent free program called IrfanView will. The first step to creating a favicon is to find a picture you like and that you are allowed to use. Reduce its size to 16X16 pixels to see if it looks good. Many times it won’t. It’s hard to find pictures that will retain detail and resemble something when they’ve been reduced that small. Lots of favicons are simply letters.

After you have a favicon you like saved in the .ico format, you need to upload it to the root directory of your website. If you have a website run by Blogger, WordPress.com, Edublogs, Typepad, or some other hosted site format, you can’t change your favicon. You will notice that you have one — the site’s default favicon. If you own your own domain, however, changing your favicon should be fairly simple. Just upload it to your root directory, and all the pages should display it.

I made my favicon out of the image that appears in my bulleted lists. I thought it matched the template better, anyway. Some templates or themes come with favicons. Some web hosts also have a default favicon. For instance, I can always tell if a site is hosted by Bluehost because of the distinctive favicon with the blue squares. Of course, site owners can easily change this, but many of them do not.

Note: If you changed your favicon and can’t see it, you probably just need to empty your browser cache.  I won’t attempt to post instructions for doing this for everyone.  Here is a good tutorial that covers most of the bases.


What Can You Do with a Wiki?

When I gave my presentation about using blogs and wikis, one astute question a colleague asked was “why?” Why indeed? I don’t think educators should use wikis because it’s trendy. Educators have rightly been accused of dumping good educational practices in favor of trends before. Why should educators add one more thing to the already-full curriculum and take the time to learn and teach their students the technology?

Many answers probably exist to that question, but my reason for using wikis is that it enables students to connect with the world through their work. It makes classrooms flat and enables students across the world or across the country to work together on projects. When we English teachers have taught the writing process in the past, we have given lip service to the final step: publication. We tried to convince our students and ourselves that posting work on a bulletin board or hallway wall, or even in a literary magazine distributed to the students at school was publishing. Was it? I suppose in a narrow fashion, it was and is. But we have the technology to do so much more. Wikis and blogs enable students to truly complete that final step in the writing process and publish their work.

Once you are sold on the idea of using wikis, and it’s possible many of you aren’t there yet, the next question you might ask is what you can do with a wiki. What can you publish? Let me start with some examples of things my own students have done with wikis:

Keep in mind much of this was created because I was experimenting. My students were happy to follow along and see where it went. What you can do with a wiki is limited only by your imagination. Some ideas, admittedly oriented toward English, as that’s what I teach:

  • Create a literature circle where students can discuss a book they’re reading.
  • Book reports can go to a whole new level.
  • Online book discussions.
  • Writing portfolios.
  • Sharing links and information.
  • Reading journals.

If you know of a really cool wiki used for educational purposes, please share in the comments.

[tags]wikis, education[/tags]

Teachers and RSS

I would be willing to bet there are three teachers at my school who know what RSS is — the two IT‘s and me. My colleagues are intelligent, capable teachers, but like many teachers, they are neophytes when it comes to certain aspects of technology. As far as I know, I’m the only teacher blogger at my school. A few other teachers are beginning to use wikis after my presentation, but my wiki usage is most extensive. I’m not bragging; I have simply had more exposure to blogs and wikis than they have. I have been writing online, in some form or other, for nearly six years now.

Lorelle recently posted about RSS feeds via e-mail; she quoted a statistic from FeedBlitz which indicated that only 11% of web users use RSS aggregators (link). I’m not sure where this statistic comes from, as the most recent study I could find with a similar statistic dates to October 2005, which is ancient in ‘net terms (pdf). However, I think it is safe to say, judging by my personal experience, that lots of people use RSS, but don’t realize they are doing so. They use My Yahoo, My MSN, Google Personalized Homepages, or a similar homepage to collect their favorite websites, bookmarks, games, news sites, weather, and more. All of this is dependent on RSS.

When I gave my presentation on using blogs and wikis in classroom to the faculty at my school, our IT was giving a presentation on RSS. I was really excited because I think teachers can really benefit from using RSS aggregators. When I asked faculty members about his presentation (which, unfortunately, ran concurrently with mine, so I couldn’t attend it), they told me he told them about Google Personalized Homepages. They didn’t seem to have a clue what I meant when I mentioned RSS. It’s not his fault, as I’m sure he was measuring his audience and decided to do the most helpful thing he could for them.

I think teachers could save a lot of time if they used RSS aggregators to keep up with content on the web. Before I started using an RSS aggregator, I checked my favorite websites for updates every day, which can be time-consuming. As a result, I know that I followed fewer websites and probably missed out on some interesting information. An RSS aggregator allows you to gather all the websites you follow in one place, and it even tells you when they’ve been updated. News on Feeds has a list of web-based aggregators (same things as RSS aggregator, different term). I think the most popular aggregators on their list are Bloglines, Google Reader, and My Yahoo. Subscribing to an RSS feed using any one of these aggregators is really simple in Firefox: you simply click on the orange square in the right side of the location bar (address bar). You will be asked if you would like to use Bloglines, Google Reader, or My Yahoo to subscribe to the feed. You may need to login to your RSS aggregator if you haven’t already done so during your surfing session. In Internet Explorer 7, you will notice the same orange square near the address bar. If the website you are viewing has an RSS feed, you can subscribe to it using Microsoft’s feed reader. I don’t much like this option, as I think it’s a perfect demonstration of Microsoft’s propensity to make things more difficult for users who don’t want to use a Microsoft product to do something. My suggestion is to copy and paste the feed URL into your own favorite RSS aggregator, which is not as easy as Firefox.

When you login to your RSS aggregator, you can see a list of feeds you follow, and it will be easy to see any that have been updated with new stories or posts since you last logged in. My personal favorite feed reader is Bloglines. I have organized all the feeds I follow into folders labeled according to the types of blogs in that folder (for instance, Education is one of my folders). I don’t have to visit all 93 (!) feeds that I follow every day. I just visit Bloglines and look at the ones who have updated. Can you imagine how much time it would take to check 93 sites every day to see if they’ve been updated?

Most blogging software programs come bundled with RSS feeds, so you are probably publishing one, even if you don’t realize it. If you aren’t, you can easily create feeds for your blog or site by using Feedburner. I would suggest that you allow your users to read the full post or story in their feed reader. My husband won’t do this because he feels it cheats him out of website visits. I contend that if a user wants to visit your site to see the pretty template you made, then they will. If you force your reader to visit your site to finish reading what you’ve wrote, you might put some RSS readers off. Ultimately, it’s a decision you have to make, but you should ask yourself this question: Which is more important, accessibility to readers or hits on your website? If readers feel compelled to comment upon what you’ve written, they will visit your site to do so. I know how cool it is to see those high site statistics, but it’s also pretty cool to see the number of feed subscribers go up. One thing you know about your feed subscribers is that they are reading what you say. Visitors who Google something and wind up on your site, only to find the information they were looking for isn’t there (most likely because the majority of people don’t know how to search wisely) aren’t reading anything. Those site statistics can be misleading. In my opinion, what you really want to do is develop a loyal readership, and RSS feeds make that easier for some.

RSS also makes it really easy for you to find out what others are saying about your blog, business, or product. Technorati makes it easy for you to see if anyone new has linked to your site. Technorati runs on RSS. When you update your blog, you can use its tagging system to allow Technorati users who are looking for information to find your blog. For instance, at the bottom of this post, you will see one of my Technorati tags is “RSS.” This will enable Technorati users who are interested in reading about RSS to find this post easily. Of course, this will help you increase your readership, too.

RSS is a good thing. Try it out.

[tags]RSS, education, RSS aggregators, Bloglines, Technorati, My Yahoo, Google Reader, Feedburner, feeds[/tags]

Blog Hosting Services for Educators

In a previous post, I examined blogging software for educators. Most teachers will probably want to go with a blogging service, especially if they don’t have their own domain and would like to attach to a sort of community. Several good, free blogging services exist, and many of them are great for teachers.

If I didn’t have my own domain and wanted to blog either with or without my students, I would select Edublogs as my blogging service. Their service is geared toward teachers and students. They are free. They run on WordPress, and have a large variety of themes (templates) to choose from. Teachers who blog with Edublogs also receive a Wikispaces wiki bundled with their account. No advertising will appear on your account. You can upload pictures and embed videos. You have an easy WYSIWYG editor. The support forums are helpful. What I really like about Edublogs is that you are surrounded by a community of educators, which is not the case with some other blogging services. This means that surfing around the site should be safe for you and your students.

WordPress has a hosted blog service called WordPress.com. Many of your favorite teacher bloggers use it, including the Reflective Teacher, Jennifer Breaux, the ELAR Classroom, and A. Quiram. Quite a community has developed among WordPress users, whether they have installed the software on their own sites or use WordPress.com to host their blogs. WordPress.com blogs do not have as many features as blogs running on WordPress software, but they still have quite a few features, including 50 MB of storage space.

Arguably the most popular blogging service for educators and everyone else is Blogger. Blogger blogs are as easy as WordPress blogs to obtain. As a bonus, you can become part of the largest blogging community in the world. As I mentioned in my last post, you can use Blogger to post to your own domain. If you choose to host your blog with Blogger, your blog will appear on its Blogspot domain. Blogger has some nice features, including clean-looking templates, access to editing templates (the more HTML and CSS you know, the better), and makes it easy for you to display your profile, which can stand in for an About page. However, I have quite a few problems with Blogger. Now I get ready to make some education bloggers mad at me 🙂 . First of all, I hate Blogger’s commenting system. As the largest blog host, Blogger is surely the target of comment spammers, and Blogger’s solution to this is to offer Word Verification in the form of CAPTCHAs. I hate, hate, hate CAPTCHAs. I loathe them with a deep and abiding passion. I can’t always tell exactly what the “word” says, which means sometimes I have to enter comments more than once. I find this frustrating. Blogger’s comment system does not invite users to comment. Many Blogger users, such as EdWonk, have abandoned Blogger’s comment system in favor of Haloscan, which integrates nicely with a number of blogging systems. I also don’t like the fact that the comments pages on Blogger do not look like the blog’s template. Maybe this doesn’t matter to some, but I like some fluidity of theme. Haloscan can solve that problem easily, but I don’t think one should have to go outside of one’s blogging service in order to get a decent comments system. Another thing I really hate about Blogger is that navigation bar along the top. It’s very easy to wind up on a sex blog or other inappropriate blog simply by clicking the “Next Blog” button. Given what has happened to some teachers who didn’t know their way around a computer and wound up on porn sites, I think this is a dangerous window to possibly inappropriate sites. You just never know what that next blog is going to be. Unfortunately, many school networks have picked up on this unsavory aspect of Blogger and blocked it on their networks. Considering how many really good blogs are hosted by Blogger, I think this is a real shame, but it is something to consider when selecting a host. By the way, my husband tells me that you can either disable the navigation bar or select a template without one (which also disables searching your blog — a valuable feature for your users), but a random sampling of education blogs I checked all had the navigation bar on the top. Of course, you can always add Google “Search within this site” to your blog. I contend you shouldn’t have to just to get around a feature you don’t want or like.

WordPress.com and Blogger both allow users to associate multiple blogs with a single user name or profile, which is a nice feature if you have more than one blog (like me). I think most users of either service would find them similar. You can also switch between the two services without too much trouble.

Typepad is also popular with quite a few teachers, and I have to confess, I don’t understand why. A basic level blog (one user, one blog) costs $4.95 a month or $49.50 per year. When so many free blogging services exist, I am not sure why one would pay for Typepad. I personally think Typepad URL’s are somewhat clunky: username.typepad.com/blogname. Typepad runs on the same software as Movable Type, but one big bonus is that you don’t have to install it; Movable Type’s difficult installation is one of its biggest drawbacks. Typepad blogs look nice. You also don’t have to rebuild your pages when you make changes, which as far as I know is still necessary with Movable Type. Some bloggers who use Typepad, and therefore probably more inclined to share its good points, are Fred the Fish, Bud the Teacher (if you two hung out too much, you’d sound like mobsters!), K. Lehman, Liz Ditz, Shamash, NaniRolls, and Tim Frederick.

If you plan on sharing your education blog with students or parents, I would recommend steering clear of blog hosts such as LiveJournal, Xanga, MySpace, or Diaryland. These sites are blocked by school networks sometimes, but aside from that, they tend to be rather insular in nature. The user audience in many of these sites also tends to skew young. On the other hand, some teachers I know have made a real go of using one of these services. Laura Huertero has a great blog hosted by Xanga.

If you have an opinion to offer about a blogging service, feel free to share in the comments.

[tags]blogging, education, Blogger, WordPress.com, Typepad, Edublogs[/tags]

Blog Software for Educators

In my previous post, I examined several wikis/wiki services for educators, and I promised a post on blogs for educators.  I actually feel more well-versed in this particular topic, but I have some pretty strong opinions on the matter.

Just like wikis, blogs come in two main varieties: those you host on your own or your school’s domain, and those you host through a blogging service.  I will examine blog software in this post and blog hosting services in a subsequent post.

If you have your own domain or plan to use the school’s domain, I strongly recommend WordPress.  I currently use WordPress to host all of my blogs (I have quite a few).  WordPress has some beautiful “themes,” or templates, and a ton of great plugins (add-ons).  I think WordPress is the Firefox of blogging software.  I try not to wax poetic when extolling it’s many virtues, but it’s hard.  Other teacher bloggers who use WordPress include Robert Talbert, David Warlick, and Will Richardson (so that means I’m in good company, technologically speaking and otherwise).

I had to be converted to WordPress by my husband.  I used to use Movable Type.  Movable Type is OK, but it can’t touch WordPress in terms of ease of install.  Movable Type installation brings out a streak of blue language in me you’d never believe unless you heard it.  I always had problems upgrading, and their forums are most unhelpful.  If you have a free installation, they are absolutely disinterested in helping you with anything.  Also, you have to “rebuild” your blog when you make changes, which is more time consuming than making any changes on WordPress.  I wouldn’t recommend Movable Type to new users, mainly because it is difficult to install.  To quote Robert in my comments on Wikis for Educators, who believes that it’s important that “technology doesn’t get in the way of creating the content — and I guess that’s the ultimate litmus test for tech like this.”  One thing I don’t like about Movable Type is that commenters are strongly encouraged to register with Typekey in order to comment more quickly.  WordPress’s solution to handling new (and potentially abusive) commenters is to put their comments in moderation so they don’t appear on the site until approved.  Once a commenter’s comment has been approved once (assuming they give all the same information the next time they fill in the comment form) their comments will appear automatically for their subsequent comments.  I don’t know why Movable Type can’t do this, too.  I found that commenters on my site back when I had Movable Type by and large didn’t login to Typekey to comment, and I had to approve every single comment.  I thought this was a pain.  I haven’t found any education bloggers who use Movable Type (although quite a few use its blogging service, Typepad, which I will get to in a future post), but my friend Roger Darlington does, if you want to see what Movable Type looks like.

I have also tried a blog that ran on Radio UserLand.  I can’t speak to its ease or difficulty of installation, but I found it difficult to use, and so did my students.  Radio UserLand is NOT free; it costs $39.95 per year.  Given that WordPress and Movable Type are free, I can’t see why teachers would pay to use Radio UserLand.

If you really like Blogger, it’s possible to host it on your own domain.  You can use a custom domain, which is a fairly new feature enabling Blogger users to switch to their own domain nearly seamlessly.  You can also publish to your own domain using Blogger via FTP, but it looks like custom domains are an easier route.  Some education bloggers who use Blogger on their own domains are EduWonk and Hedgetoad.

Other software packages exist, but I’m not as familiar with them.  If you use one, feel free to leave your recommendation and information in the comments.

In my next post, I will examine blogging services, such as Edublogs, WordPress.com, Blogger, and Typepad.

[tags]education, blogging software, WordPress, Movable Type, Radio UserLand[/tags]

Wikis for Educators

I gave a presentation at the annual GISA conference that I duplicated (with some tweaking) for the faculty at my school on using blogs and wikis in the classroom. I’m not an expert when compared to the likes of Will Richardson or David Warlick, et. al., but I have tried a few things, and for what my opinion is worth, I’ll offer it.

One thing my colleagues have asked me is which wiki software or service to use. This question is difficult to answer because 1) I don’t have enough expertise regarding the different options available, and 2) it depends on the personal preferences and expertise of the teacher.

The first question a teacher should ask when trying to decide which wiki service or software to use is whether the teacher wants the wiki to be hosted on his/her own website or a school’s website or does not care if the wiki is hosted offsite. If you want to host the wiki yourself, you will probably want to find wiki software and upload it to your own site. Note: this will not work if you don’t have your own domain. If you have a teacher site hosted by Blogger, Typepad, or WordPress.com, you will not want to choose this option (unless, that is, you also have your own domain or want to use the school’s website).

Wikipedia runs off software called MediaWiki, which was originally written expressly for Wikipedia. I downloaded and installed MediaWiki for personal use, and I have to say that I found it cumbersome to work with and difficult to learn how to use. I didn’t find their help files or FAQ’s were much help, either. While I am not an expert, I’m not a newbie, either, and I imagine the average person would be frustrated by the learning curve and give up. On the other hand, it does have some nice features, and if you are considering putting a wiki on your own or a school website and want to talk to someone who has been successful with MediaWiki, you might try Bud Hunt (view his wiki).

Another good software application for wikis is DokuWiki. I’ve played with it a little, and it seems easier to use than MediaWiki. Educators at Woodward Academy have had success with it. You might want to check out their students’ work and see what you think. I e-mailed them to tell them how much I enjoyed their wiki, and they were very approachable and nice, so they might be willing to answer a few questions about their experience with DokuWiki.

Plenty more wiki software programs exist, but I have to ask commenters who are more familiar with those programs to share their expertise, as mine is somewhat limited. I am more familiar with wiki services, and if you are new to creating and using wikis, I would strongly recommend you start with a wiki service rather than download the software and put it on your own site unless you have a compelling reason for not doing so.

First of all, I think it is imperative that the service you select is free. Teachers have to pay for enough materials out of pocket, and I don’t think it’s right. Thankfully, plenty of free wiki services, also know as “wiki farms,” exist.

My friend the Reflective Teacher selected a Wikispaces wiki for our Never Forget Project. I like Wikispaces. If you register for an Edublog, a free Wikispaces wiki comes bundled with your account. Wikispaces has an easy WYSIWYG editor, but I have to admit that a few of the features are not intuitive. Case in point, when I wanted to add a piece of HTML code to our wiki so we could have a ClustrMap and see where our visitors were coming from, I had to poke around for a bit before figuring out how to do it. In my opinion, it should be as simple as pressing the edit button and pasting the HTML. A point in favor of Wikispaces is that it is really customizable. You can choose from a variety of themes or even create your own theme with colors of your choice. The video tutorials are excellent. Wikispaces has Google ads along the side of the wiki, which I suppose helps Wikispaces keep our wikis free, but I have to say that at times, I didn’t think the ads were appropriate. For instance, when I looked at the site just now, the first ad was aimed at teachers who have “disruptive students” and want to “eliminate misbehavior in [their] classroom[s].” How encouraging is that for a student user? Please understand, I’m not picking on TRT’s choice of wiki. I think it’s a good one. And I should add that another teacher pointed out that if I simply e-mail Adam at help@wikispaces.com, he will remove the ads, given that our site is for educational purposes. I assume this is true, as Wikispaces is currently offering 100,000 free wikis to K-12 teachers. These wikis have no ads and no usage limits. I think you should grab one of these while you can. You get 2 GB of storage with Wikispaces wikis. I had to grab one, just because the deal was way too good. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, as I’m pretty happy with my own current wiki host, PBwiki.

Many other educators, including myself, use PBwiki. PBwiki is also free. Users can choose from one of four themes. All of them are nice (well, I’m not crazy about “Bamboo,” but I like all the others), but this is a limitation if you want to go with a certain color scheme for any reason. One of the reasons I really like PBwiki is that my experience with their customer service has been great. Once when I was having trouble with my wiki, Ramit Sethi, the Vice President for Marketing actually fielded my e-mail personally and asked if he could call me to help me figure out a solution. He did, and we discovered that the problem was likely due to spyware on my computer. I don’t have a premium wiki, either. He did that for a non-paying customer, and that kind of service spoke volumes to me about their commitment to their customers. I have also found their tutorials and forum helpful. When I had a problem getting my students’ ClustrMap (I love those things) to show up properly on my site, it was another customer in the forum who showed me how to fix it. By the way, this is slightly off-topic, but when I told the folks at ClustrMap the solution I found, they upgraded me to ClustrMaps+ and listed me as a User of the Month for last January 2007. Educational wikis on PBwiki do not have ads! At one time, educational wikis did have ads, but they were fairly unobtrusive, and I never found them to be inappropriate. A small ad encouraging the user to upgrade to a premium wiki can still be found in the bottom right corner of of the wiki. PBwiki gives you 12.5 MB of storage, which is not as much as an educator wiki with Wikispaces. This could be an issue if you want to host a lot of files.

If you are a happy customer using another wiki software product or service, please share in the comments.

Coming soon: What about blogging software or services? Stay tuned…

[tags]education, wikis, Wikispaces, PBwiki, MediaWiki, DokuWiki[/tags]

Turnitin.com Accused of Copyright Infringement

Turnitin.com, the subscription service designed to help teachers root out plagiarism, has been sued by two high school students who believe the service’s archives of submitted work constitutes copyright infringement.

After the McLean school adopted the system, a group of offended students banded together and hired a lawyer to send Turnitin a letter in September 2006. The letter generated a strong response: Turnitin filed for a “declaratory judgment” from a federal judge in California, looking for a ruling that its service was legal. In that case, filed in early December, the company claimed once again that it was protected by the fair use exemption, and that it was actually protectng [sic] student copyrights. “Rather than infringing intellectual property rights, iParadigms is trying to protect copyright interests by students and other authors by preventing plagiarism of the very student papers that Turnitin receives,” the company wrote.

At the beginning of this school year, my department head charged me with checking into adopting Turnitin.com for our school’s use, but we never felt the principal was behind it, so we dropped it.  I have to say that their salesperson was really vigorous about signing us on once we contacted her.  She didn’t give up for several months!

My students write papers in class on computers, but nothing really prevents them from saving the documents to flash drives or e-mailing them to themselves to work on at home.  I think the only way to prevent plagiarism and be 100% sure you have the students’ own work is to require all essays to be handwritten in class.  In this day and age, that seems unreasonable and impractical.

[tags]Turnitin.com, plagiarism, copyright, writing instruction, education[/tags]