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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Moodify.Me

My student Josh is one of the the developers of a new social networking service called Moodify.me . As Josh describes it, “It’s a site similar to Twitter but is based around peoples’ moods.” It integrates well with Twitter and Facebook, enabling you to update your mood and send the update as a status update.

Josh is exceptionally gifted with web applications, coding, and computers in general. He has already had a great deal of success with his work, and I know he has a bright future. Please check out Moodify.me and feel free to friend me .

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Teachers and Facebook

Several colleagues at work and I had a discussion today about whether it is acceptable to be friends with students on Facebook. I held the minority opinion that it was fine, but my colleagues’ fear is that being friends with students will potentially expose teachers to illegal or just plain stupid behavior on the part of students. What is the legal responsibility of a teacher who sees a photo of a student drinking on Facebook? I think it’s a murky area that hasn’t been tested well, and until a precedent-setting case is tried, I’m not sure there’s a clear answer. I do think that each teacher needs to decide paramaters for Facebook use.

I personally do not request friendship from students. If they connect with me on Facebook, I want it to be their choice. I personally feel that requesting friendship from students could put them in an awkward position: might they feel compelled to accept because you’re their teacher? What if they really don’t want to open their Facebook lives to you? On the other hand, if a student requests friendship with me, I accept. I do not reject some students and accept others. I don’t think that’s fair. Until they graduate, any student on my friends list can only see a limited profile.

One positive aspect of using Facebook is that nothing else is as quick in terms of communicating with students. I have often asked students to get together on Facebook and study or to spread a message I want to make sure they get. Because I am not friends with students who don’t request it, I can’t use it as a reliable method to contact all of my students. I created a Facebook page, and they can become fans of that page without being my friend, but again, it’s not something I feel comfortable requiring.

I think teachers need to be intelligent and remember that anything that is posted on Facebook should be something the teacher is comfortable sharing in a major newspaper or a billboard over the major city interstate highway. If it’s not, then don’t post it. Teachers can and have been fired over injudicious Facebook postings. I do not write about anything I think my students, parents, co-workers, or administrators would find objectionable, nor do I post pictures of the same.

We do have some way to go in terms of educating our students to behave as if Facebook were public. I personally don’t look at their pictures or profiles, even if they have given me that access, but they should understand that other people will.

Instructions for limiting your Facebook profile (these instructions came directly from Facebook Help files):

  1. Login and click the “Create” link that appears beneath the filters on the left side of your home page or your Friends page. Or, click the “Create New List” button from the “All Friends” tab of the Friends page.
  2. Type the title of your list and hit enter. I use the title “Students.”
  3. Add friends to the list by typing their names into the “Add to List” field or selecting them from the list.
  4. Select “Save List” to store your changes.
  5. Mouse over “Settings” in the upper right hand corner.
  6. A drop-down menu will appear. Click on “Privacy Settings.
  7. Click on “Profile.”
  8. For each area of your profile that you want to limit, click the drop-down menu.
  9. Select “Edit Custom Settings,” which will open a field for Except these people.” Adding a friend or Friend List name here will hide the information in question from these people when they view your profile.
  10. Select your “Students” list if you want to prevent them from seeing that part of your profile.

I think this Facebook group has some smart guidelines.

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A Quick Update

Being department chair coupled with starting graduate school hasn’t been good for my blog, but I feel great about what I’m doing and learning.  I had an excellent start to the school year.  My Hero with a Thousand Faces elective class is going very well.  We’re reading The Iliad together right now.  My British literature classes are going well; we wrapped up summer reading and start Beowulf in earnest this week and the next.  My ninth grade class is full of hard workers.

I am connecting with fellow students in my program at Virginia Tech through Facebook, and that has added a whole new dimension to my use of social networking.  One of my classmates set up a study group for us, and it has been helpful.  For instance, I found out who among our group is taking more than the first three hours our program of study recommends.  I needed financial aid, and I had to go at least half time, so I had to add a fourth three-hour class.  It was good to know who is taking the class.  I was using Excel for an assignment in that class last week, and I had to call my dad for a little bit of help (I’m weak with Excel).  This week, a classmate mentioned she was having some trouble with making the chart in Excel.  I was all ready to share what I’d learned, but it turned out she used a different program and made it work.  It’s easy to feel disconnected from fellow classmates when you’re studying online, and Facebook has been great for connecting and feeling at least a little bit like I’m part of a class.

I’ve been doing well with my assignments so far.  The level of challenge has been mixed, but I understand that much of it is intended to be introductory material.  Perhaps program designers needed to think about where most people are in their level of computer knowledge.  I am a bit concerned that one of my classes is a little dated in the era of Web 2.0, but I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve completed a few more lessons.

I am in love with my new MacBook.  I took advantage of the free iPod with rebate promotion, and I also now have an iPod for the very first time ever, and I love it, too.  It’s an iPod Touch.  I am not sure I will go back to a PC after the Betsy iBook and now this MacBook.  I am really glad that I was able to get the computer — never would have happened in a million years if not for financial aid.  I have to say our Federal Student Aid program is really excellent; I was able to go to undergrad and now attend grad school when there is no way I’d ever have been able to do either without financial aid.  I think it’s great that we offer that opportunity to students.

So, I’ll try to update soon with content and the like.  Stay tuned!

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Students 2.0

I was thrilled today when my 9th grade students told me they created a study group on Facebook to keep up with work in my class and help each other as they study Romeo and Juliet. When they told me, they were almost sheepish, as if they were afraid they were doing something wrong. I told them it was an excellent use of Facebook, as far as I was concerned. I do wish the students would make use of the commenting aspect of the blog I’ve set up for study purposes, but I am glad they are making use of social networking in such a positive way.

I have asked them to memorize Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech, too. Unable to find a complete version of the speech online that they could hear, they created a YouTube video in which one the students reads the speech. Their thinking was that they could play the video and recite along with it. I decided it was an excellent idea. I recorded myself reading the speech in mp3 format so they can download it to their mp3 players and practice on the go. If you are curious, here it is, but don’t laugh at my voice:

Download link

I’m really excited to see my students refute the naysayers and use technology like Facebook and YouTube in such positive and helpful ways. The fact is that if we do teach students how to use these tools for such purposes, they will. I use YouTube in my classroom all the time. Facebook is blocked at school, and I understand why, but I am excited that they use the site at home for schoolwork in addition to socializing.

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