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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Google Chrome is Live

About midnight today, Google launched their new browser Google Chrome in beta.  It’s not available for Mac or Linux yet.  My husband uses a Windows desktop and downloaded it today, and he thinks he’s in love.  Here’s a video about some of Chrome’s features:

Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this Flash video.

I love Firefox.  I love it very much.  But if Google does for browsing what it did for search, I may be tempted to at least try it.  I’m pretty faithful to my pet technologies, but I’ve ditched Movable Type for WordPress and Netscape Navigator for Internet Explorer, and Internet Explorer for Firefox.  I’ll be interested to see how Firefox addresses this new competition.

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Google Chrome

ReadWriteWeb has an article about Google’s development of a new browser called Chrome.  I followed the link and I like these features:

  • It’s open source.
  • It will have a task manager so users can track memory usage.
  • The default homepage is a “speed dial” type feature with thumbnails of the most frequently visited Web pages.

I’m not sure I like the idea of tabs on the top instead of under the address bar, but that’s just because I’m used to Firefox.  And I love Firefox; I’m not sure I’d switch for these kinds of services, though Firefox can be a memory hog — it’s noticeable on the four-year-old desktop our family shares, but not on my new Mac or school computer.  Then again, I really related to this cartoon from XKCD:

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Zotero

I am often the last person to hear about the cool tools, but I don’t think I’ve seen Zotero mentioned in any other education blogs.

Zotero is a Firefox extension that helps “you collect, manage, and cite your research sources” within your browser.  Screencast tutorials at the Zotero site help you visualize what that means for your research.  I think students could potentially save a lot of time with Zotero.  It would be great for research papers.  I don’t know if I will need to write any scholarly papers for my ITMA program, but if so, I can see this extension can potentially save me a lot of time.

Zotero Screenshot

Zotero Screenshot

Zotero works for Firefox 2.0 or 3.0, Netscape Navigator 9.0, or Flock 0.9.1 for Windows, Mac, or Linux.  It is free and open source, and lots of good plugins can extend its capabilities with other software, such as Open Office, Microsoft Office, and WordPress.

My worry in using it with my own students is that it would be a learning curve for them.  As I have stated before elsewhere, it has not been my experience that students today are as tech savvy as we give them credit for, and many of them are not patient with tech tools either.

Everything I learned about technology, I learned because I sat down and played with it until I figured out how it worked, but my students do not always approach learning how to use new tools the same way.  I do have a few students I might recommend it to.

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YouTube is Blocked…

Carol recently left a comment regarding my UbD unit for Death of a Salesman. This unit utilizes several videos I found on YouTube in order to help students learn more about the concepts central to the unit; however, Carol says that one stumbling block she will encounter if she chooses to use this unit is that YouTube is blocked at her school.

I will spare you all a rant about the utter shortsightedness of blocking all of YouTube rather than educate students about using it properly and instead offer a suggestion for getting around this sticky problem.

I added an extension to Firefox called Better YouTube. Through this extension, I discovered a way to download videos from YouTube. If you have Firefox, consider using this extension. If you don’t use Firefox, or don’t want the extension, you can still download videos.

First, copy the URL of the video. Next, point your browser to one of many available tools to download vidoes. This one from TechCrunch is quite popular. Your downloaded video will be in flv format (.flv). You will need a program to play it. VLC is a popular program, but there are others. You can search for “flv players” and try different ones.

The problem as I see it is that any school that bans YouTube most likely will also not allow employees to download programs. If you have a flash drive, you can try downloading and installing the program on the flash drive. The movies will all fit on a flash drive or CD, too, as the largest one was about 90 MB when I downloaded in in FLV format (and it is about 45 minutes long).

Do readers have any suggestions for getting around YouTube bans so that the valuable videos that are blocked along with the inappropriate dreck can be accessed?

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