Tech Frustrations

I'm sitting here in pieces, and you're having delusions of grandeur!I hate it when I become dependent on a piece of technology and its creator decides to stop updating it. I feel kind of lost and directionless. I have been frustrated trying to find methods of keeping up with replies to comments I leave on blogs without subscribing to a bunch of comment RSS feeds that will clog up my feed reader. So as a result, I feel like I have just dropped out of the conversations I start. I used coComment‘s Firefox extension. It was great. Every time someone replied to a comment thread in which I had left a comment, the little coComment button turned orange. New comments! I could easily go check them and see if any of the replies were to me, and I could continue the discussion if they were. After Firefox 4.0 came out, coComment was broken. It’s been like that since March, and despite several comments in their help forums, no one representing coComment has said whether they intend to update the extension or let it die. And I can’t find an alternative. You know of one? If so, please, please tell me about it. Some folks allow you to subscribe to replies via email, but not everyone has that feature enabled on their blogs.

Another frustration: I used to use a WordPress plugin called Apture to add links to all kinds of content. I could click on a button in my post editor, and I could search for information on the Web using a variety of search engines and easily link to books on Amazon or Wikipedia articles. I thought it was great because it made writing posts a snap. Then Apture decided not enough people were using the plugin, and they pulled it. It didn’t even work if you already had it installed. I was not alone in my frustration on this one, but it looks like the folks at Apture felt that what users liked most was the Apture Highlights, which allow readers to highlight text and search right from your page without leaving it. Well, I don’t care because I can always open a new tab rather than leave a site. What I liked was the ability to easily create posts that had links to relevant material. I found a great Amazon plugin called WordPress Amazon Associate that enables me to easily link to books and other items for sale at Amazon the same way that Apture did, but there is not another plugin that does everything Apture did.

I think a lot of Delicious users had a similar panic attack when it was announced that Yahoo intended to “sunset” Delicious. After Chad Hurley and Steve Chen acquired Delicious, users had a reprieve from losing a social bookmarking service they loved (I had moved on to Diigo and cross-posted links at Delicious so that anyone subscribing to my Delicious bookmarks would still receive them).

It is anyone’s prerogative to take their toys and go home, I guess, but I just find it frustrating when I really enjoyed playing with those toys and can’t find any like them to have for my own. I also don’t know how to build them myself—which is a fixable problem, but a one that will not be fixed without a whole lot of work.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pinkpurse

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Reflection

Once in a Blue MoonI have been very absent from Twitter and from this blog lately. My education buddies might be wondering what happened to me. My reading buddies have seen me more often on my book blog. I have been retreating into some very fine reading lately. If you are looking for a good book, I have several to recommend.

The school year is winding down. We have two weeks before final exams. After that, graduation. Four former students came by to visit this week, and it was wonderful to see them. I am so proud of my students. They are doing such wonderful things.

Next year, as I move into the position of Technology Integration Specialist, some things will change for me. I will be teaching two English classes, but my primary responsibility will be in technology. The more I think about it, the more right it feels for me to do this. It seems like a case of the the circumstances lining up just right—I decided to pursue a master’s in tech and finished just as my school decided to focus on integrating technology more. I have had some weird, complicated feelings about the move. One would think that such a positive change wouldn’t introduce any sort of conflicted emotions, but I did wonder if I was making the right move for myself. I think I am making the right move for my school. I think trying to sort out how I feel about all of it has contributed to my silence online lately. Even though it is a good change, it is still a major change. Please be patient with me and my quiet little blog while I’m figuring it all out.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Kuzeytac

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QR Codes: Integrating Technology and Art

Canon 550d - Coloured PencilSome time back, I approached our art teacher with an idea for using QR Codes. We could video students talking about their work, upload the videos to YouTube, and create QR Codes that could be placed next to student art for the Fine Arts Showcase. The art show would then become interactive for anyone with a smart phone. She loved the idea, but I wasn’t sure whether she would have the time to pull it off this year. She and the students shot all the video, and she asked for help in creating the QR Codes. I went to her room and showed her how to edit clips in iMovie and upload to YouTube. Then I showed her how to create a QR Code. I only helped once, and she was off and running. Our drama teacher created a quilt with photographs and QR Codes, and she showed me a site where you can create color QR Codes. I didn’t realize you could print on fabric, but she showed me that, too. The quilt is wonderful, as was the students’ artwork. When the school publicized the art showcase, they made sure to recommend that smart phone users download a QR Code reader. I was told that the QR Codes were a big hit on the Fine Arts Showcase.

I’m not sure if you can see this video, as it’s on the Weber School’s Facebook page, but here is a link. The video includes several pictures of showcase attendees using their smart phones to view the material embedded in the QR Codes. Let me know if the video doesn’t work for you. We are on Passover break, so I won’t be able to ask about possibly uploading the video to YouTube or if it is OK to take pictures of the students’ artwork and post it here. You can, however, view the videos linked to the QR Codes on our art teacher’s YouTube channel.

Helping teachers integrate technology will be an important part of my work next year, and I was pleased with the outcome of this early experiment.

Creative Commons License photo credit: doug88888

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Technology Integration Specialist

NewspaperMy school will have a Technology Integration Specialist next year.

Me.

I was offered the position a few weeks ago and readily accepted, but I waited until the announcement was made to my colleagues at work before discussing it here.

I will still teach English part time (two classes), which I view as a good thing because I love teaching English and also will be able to stay fresh as a classroom teacher. The rest my day will be devoted to professional development in technology for my colleagues and team teaching or working with colleagues integrating technology into their lessons.

I have no plans to change my domain name to reflect my new role, but you might find more technology around here, and you can expect that I’ll broaden my focus to include subjects aside from English from time to time. I hope you’ll stick with me on this new journey.

Creative Commons License photo credit: just.Luc

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My Ongoing Search for the Perfect Twitter Client


I am growing increasingly frustrated with my Twitter client, but I can’t find one I like better. Here is what I need:

  • Mac compatibility.
  • A color scheme that isn’t too dark or too bright (both versions of the Tweetdeck theme are out as a result).
  • An unread messages count. Really I need this. It’s a deal-breaker, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Nambu despite being unhappy with their progress and development.
  • Multiple columns.
  • Notification of new tweets. I prefer Growl, but Air is OK.

Things I’d like to have:

  • Syncing across devices (an iPhone app, so my unread count is same on both).
  • Client rather than web-based (not a deal breaker—was checking out Hootsuite, but not a fan).

I wondered aloud to my husband a few minutes ago just how hard it would be to create a Twitter client that did what I wanted. I have never designed software before, but I am willing to learn. I have rolled up my sleeves and made myself learn HTML and Flash (though I can’t say I’m a proficient in Flash at all).

Out of curiosity—what would you want in a Twitter client?

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QR Codes

qrcodeWhat is a QR Code?

It’s a kind of bar code that encodes information in a square like the one you see to the left, which is a QR Code for this website. “QR” stands for “Quick Response.” You can learn more about these codes at Wikipedia.

How can I read them?

These codes can be read by cell phones, so you will need an application. I found a list of QR Readers here, and if you have an iPhone or an Android, you can search their app stores for QR Code Readers. I use an app called Red Laser (iTunes link) to read QR Codes.

What can you do with QR Codes?

I’ve been learning about them for a couple of months, and while I can’t claim I have an exhaustive list of ideas for how to use them, I have a few.

  1. Put them on handouts or make stickers for textbooks. Students can scan the codes to learn more information about any topic. You can embed links to any website. Yes, you can also include the URL, but the QR Code will allow students to scan the code and go directly to the site.
  2. Put them on displays and signs around the school so students can learn more. Example: A scholarship contest sign could have contact information or a link to the website embedded. Students can quickly scan the code, and take the information with them more easily and quickly.
  3. Put them next to student work in the hallways and link them to text that tells viewers more about the artist and the work. Sure, you can display a block of text, too, but you have more options with QR Codes (links to other media, etc.). For example, you could include a link to a video in which the student is interviewed about their work, which is harder to do with a bit of text on the wall.
  4. Add them to large maps. Students can scan them and be directed to Wikipedia articles or other websites where they can learn more about the area. For example, putting a QR Code on a map of Georgia next to Milledgeville could bring up a list of writers from that town. You could also link to GoogleMaps so students could zoom around and explore the area in more detail or to images of people or events in the area. Videos, too.
  5. Encode answers to the assignment so students can check their work when they’re done. Perhaps the extra step of decoding the QR Code will be enough for students to try it out first before checking.
  6. Use them in scavenger hunts. Students can be directed to different websites and complete different tasks.
  7. Have students use them to turn in work. It would be great for multimedia projects incorporating video, audio, blogs, and images.

Jeff Utecht also has some great ideas for using QR Codes. I love the idea he shares about putting QR Codes on books. Students can be directed to reviews. QR stickers on books might be a fun way of sharing an assignment, such as a literature circle role.

Check out this great LiveBinder on QR Codes.

I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to take images of QR Codes and see what will pop up. Which also means they can be used by students for more nefarious purposes, so you should be aware of them for that reason, too.

How can you make them?

Kaywa has a great QR Code generator. Give it a try.

What if you don’t have mobile devices, or what if they’re banned in your school?

qrcode

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#EngChat

TwitterI wanted to let everyone know that I will be hosting a discussion about integrating technology into the English curriculum on #engchat this Monday, August 30, from 7:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. EDT. For those of you who are unfamiliar with #engchat, it’s a regular forum on Twitter for English teachers to talk about various issues related to the teaching of English. For example, one past discussion centered around vocabulary instruction. Jim Burke has hosted a discussion on how we create community in the English classroom.

Honestly, I had to try Twitter myself before I could be convinced of its usefulness because it appears to be a giant, narcissistic time-suck from the outside; however, if you follow smart people talking about interesting things, it’s a great way to learn. If you haven’t tried Twitter before, following the discussion on #engchat might be a good introduction. Also, if you are interested in how we go about integrating technology in the English curriculum, I invite you to join us. English teachers sometimes get a bad rap as the dinosaurs who miss ditto machines and chalkboards. A commenter on a blog I used to contribute to once noted that English teachers are usually the most resistant to technology (actually, the problem was that my buddy Joe Scotese and I didn’t agree with what he said about it). Is that true? Is it fair? Why do people feel that way about us? English teachers are doing exciting things! I am so tired of hearing we teach like we just stepped out a time machine from the 1850′s.

In other news, I am more frustrated than I can express over the lack of time I seem to have to blog. Reflection here has become essential to my growth and well-being as an English teacher, and with school starting up, I’m exhausted every day. Between school and home duties yesterday, my day was 14 hours long. You know you’re tired when you can stop after the first chapter of The Hunger Games not because you’re not dying to see what happens next, but because even though you’re dying to see what happens, you’re too exhausted to read.

It’s about balance, and if I ever figure out how to do it, I will let you know my secret. Or else I will not let you know my secret unless you pay me. I’d make a mint.

Creative Commons License photo credit:  Mark Pannell

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ITMA Project Finished!

Finish lineI am very pleased to announce that my ITMA project is finished. I have turned it in and am just awaiting the feedback.

If you would like to check out the finished product, visit the wiki.

The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning is that I didn’t have to work on the project today because it was finished. I am hoping to enjoy the last couple of weeks of my summer and not work on anything.
Creative Commons License photo credit: ThisIsIt2

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My Favorite Tools

Day 79/365: ToolboxIf you’re looking to try out some tools to make teaching, sharing, discussing ideas, and planning easier, you might want to check out some of these tools.

Twitter

I you want to ask a quick question or have a conversation, there’s nothing as efficient as Twitter. It’s also a quick way to get the word out about blog posts or other projects. Many people have it running in the background using a client such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Nambu, or Seesmic. I was skeptical about Twitter until I tried it. I think it’s one of those things you will have to try out for yourself in order to see its potential. It can be as useful as the people you follow. I have a great personal learning network on Twitter.

Diigo

I first started using Delicious a few years ago because Firefox kept losing my bookmarks. I became so aggravated by this bug that I decided at least with Delicious, I could have my bookmarks with added benefit that they are available on any computer. A couple of years ago, I switched to Diigo for two reasons: 1) it has the added capabilities of annotation, groups, and easy integration with my blog; and 2) I can integrate it with my Delicious account, so there’s no need to leave any of my Delicious subscribers high and dry.

Firefox

Though Firefox is perhaps not the fastest browser, its array of plugins enable me to customize my browsing.

WordPress

I use WordPress to manage the content on all of my blogs. Elegant theme designs and plugins add functionality. I’ve tried Blogger and Movable Type, and I found WordPress superior to both.

iPhone

As the commercials proclaim, if you can think of something you want to do, there’s an app for that. My iPhone helps me manage my to-do list, my Diigo bookmarks, and my Goodreads account. I also have the complete works of Shakespeare and a great many other books in my pocket. I can keep track of gas expenses and find the cheapest gas nearby. I can manage my grocery list or look up first aid information. I can check TV listings, listen to music, or take pictures. The two most recent apps I downloaded enable me to create packing lists and see what’s down the road at the next few exits.

Evernote

I haven’t used Evernote very long, but I recently planned my entire trip to Salem using it, and I found it incredibly handy. You can clip and save websites and take notes. I am only beginning to explore Evernote’s capabilities. Be sure to check out their blog post on the Evernote trunk and see how a former student of mine uses Evernote.

Google Reader

Google Reader helps me keep up with all the blogs I read. I would never be able to keep track of my favorite blogs without it.

Facebook

Despite some bad press from what I believe are some poor decisions about privacy on the part of Facebook, I still use it to stay connected to my family and friends. Most of my friends and family are not on Twitter, but they are all pretty much on Facebook. It’s an easy way to share news, photos, and videos.

Wikispaces

I haven’t found another wiki service that’s friendlier to educators or easier to use than Wikispaces. I use it for all the wikis I create now.

Ning

I won’t use Ning for my classes anymore because of the changes to their pricing scheme, but I very much enjoy the English Companion Ning and the Making Curriculum Pop Ning as tools to help me share and learn.

What are your favorite tools?

Creative Commons License photo credit: fran.pregernik

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The Unquiet Library

The Unquiet Library, run by media specialist Buffy Hamilton at Creekview High School in Canton, GA., has a wonderful writeup in American Libraries.

The students are skeptical when the librarian says, “I want everyone to take out their cell phones and check to see if you can get reception in the library.” The young scholars hesitantly pull out their mobile devices unsure of what to make of this request. “Your assignment is to charge up your phones for class on Friday.” This wasn’t like any librarian they had met before.

Here’s how much of a library nerd I am: I teared up as I read the last paragraph. Good for you, Buffy! And for Creekview and its students and teachers.

Buffy does some amazing things. I’m so jealous of Creekview. Check out her online presence and enjoy learning from her:

An April morning in the Unquiet Library

Creative Commons License photo credit:  theunquietlibrary

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