Ten Technology Integration Apps

I regularly see blog posts sharing 10, 50, 100 apps for educators, and I haven’t written one before mainly because it seems to be well-trodden ground, but last night I decided perhaps it couldn’t hurt to share my list. After all, these other blog posts still regularly introduce me to apps I’ve never heard of, so perhaps a few of you haven’t heard of any of these apps either. I use all of these apps to help me with my role as a technology integration specialist working with colleagues both online and off and with students.

  1. Twitter. Seems like an obvious one perhaps, and I am probably not sharing anything you haven’t heard of, but I love to use Twitter to see what other folks are talking about, what apps they’ve found, and to bookmark links (more on that in a moment). I talk with other folks in my field and also keep up with what is going on in the world of books. I follow along with #engchat discussions on the Mondays when I have time and the topic at hand is something that intrigues me. I often also use the hashtag #edtech if I want something I tweet to catch the eye of educational technology folks, but as far as I know, they don’t have a regular chat set up.
  2. Diigo. I was an early adopter of Firefox, and early on it was kind of buggy and kept losing my bookmarks. I liked pretty much everything else about it, so I decided to search for bookmarking alternatives. Back then, the major player was Delicious. Then Diigo came along. It’s a wonderful service. Teachers can have added features for free. I can set up Diigo to automatically post my saved links to my blog either twice a day, daily, or weekly. I can also connect my Twitter account to Diigo so that any tweets I favorite will automatically be saved links in my Diigo account. This has become my preferred method of saving links because most of the good things I bookmark I find via Twitter. Diigo also has groups. You can share bookmarks with a class of students and give them access to share bookmarks, too, so that everyone is contributing to the pool of resources, and you can also create groups for colleagues. I regularly share Diigo bookmarks with folks on the English Companion Ning because we have a Diigo group. You can also tweet links as you save them. Also, Diigo has browser extensions you can use to easily save bookmarks. I can also have Diigo sync with my Delicious account so that I don’t have to add bookmarks in two places, and folks who subscribed to my Delicious bookmarks can still see my new bookmarks.
  3. LiveBinders. I have not begun to tap the potential of LiveBinders, but it’s a tool I’m excited about. LiveBinders is the digital equivalent of the three-ring notebook. You can save resources and organize them. Links you save will be a collection of pages instead of lists of links, which can give you a better idea of what is in the resource collections. You can use them to go paperless or create your own digital textbooks. You don’t need to know anything about coding to use them. You can also upload your own files like documents, presentations, and interactive whiteboard files. You can essentially create a collection of resources on virtually any topic. An added bonus: LiveBinders shares their favorite collections on Twitter, so if you follow them, you’ll regularly come across great collections of resources.
  4. Evernote. Evernote is one of those tools I wish had been around when I was in high school and college. Of course there wasn’t really such a thing as the Internet back then, but I digress. Evernote is a great note-taking tool. You can clip web pages and save them. You can create online notebooks that sync with your iPhone, iPad, or Android apps so you have your notebooks wherever you go. You can also use tags to make your notes easy to find and collect your notes in notebooks (different ones for each subject or topic). Evernote also connects with a series of other apps you can get in their “Trunk,” their version of an app store. The Trunk has so many cool apps that work with Evernote that it would be hard to begin to discuss them, and perhaps that is fodder for another blog post. You can use Evernote as a web app or download it on your Mac, PC, or mobile device and sync it across all your devices.
  5. Dropbox. I don’t carry around flash drives anymore because I can save everything in my Dropbox. Users have access to their Dropboxes via Mac, PC, the Dropbox website, and mobile apps. Like Evernote, Dropbox syncs across devices. The amount of storage space is generous, and you can obtain more space with referrals or you can purchase it. You can also associate Dropbox with other apps (similar to Evernote’s Trunk). One of my favorites is DropItTo.Me, which I use to collect student work digitally. They can upload their work to my Dropbox without having access to any of the other content. You can also easily share documents with others via Dropbox without having email them attachments. I shamelessly used my referral link here, but if you do sign up for an account using that link, both of us get extra space.
  6. Mac’s Dictionary app. Sorry PC folks, but you are missing out on a great app. Mac’s native Dictionary app has been in my dock since I have had my Mac, and as a matter of fact, just yesterday, I was teaching my students with Macs how to use this app. We are talking about word choice, and all of you English teachers have read an essay in which it was clear a student looked up a word in a thesaurus and used it without making sure they understood what the word meant, leading to unintended and often humorous consequences. I showed them that this app allows them to look up a word in the thesaurus, and all the synonyms are hyperlinked, which allows you to click on the synonyms and see the dictionary definition so you can be sure you know what the word means. On a related note, I was pleased to discover that Merriam-Webster’s dictionary app is now free for iPhone/iPad with ads. You can get a premium version with no ads for $3.99. Ads don’t bother me much. A few of the students in my class whipped out their phones and downloaded that app yesterday when I brought that up in class. The Merriam-Webster app has a hyperlinked list of synonyms after the word definitions. Dictionary apps like these should be seamless parts of our workflow now because they add the hyperlink functionality to the traditional dictionary.
  7. iCal and Google Calendar. I group these apps together because I use them together. I sync my Google Calendars with my iCal app, which also syncs with my iPhone’s calendar. I find that copying and pasting events is much easier in iCal, so I created my teaching schedule (we have a weird rotating schedule at my school) using iCal, but I add appointment slots to my calendar using Google Calendar. Folks can sign up for time to meet with me, which ensures they have my full attention for one-on-one training. I wouldn’t know where I was supposed to be at any given time without these two apps working in sync with one another. Google Calendars can also be shared so that folks can collaborate.
  8. Things. Things is not free, but I like it. It’s a good to-do app that I used all through grad school to keep track of due dates. Most recently, I set up a project using Things to keep track of all the things I need to do as part of my relocation to Massachusetts. As I think of more things, I add them to my to-do list. Things also has an iPhone/iPad app that syncs over wireless with Things on my Mac. Everyone probably has their favorite to-do app, and different apps work for different folks, but Things works for my own particular workflow. Things makes sure I do what I need to do when I need to do it, and it feels great to check items off that list.
  9. Wix. Wix is a great website builder that has flash and HTML 5 templates, many of them free. I think it would be great for creating student portfolios. It has a drag-and-drop user interface. You can use it for free, but premium accounts allow you to use Wix on your own domain, eliminate ads, and also come with unlimited bandwidth, extra storage, Google Analytics site stats, and other goodies (depending on the premium level you choose).
  10. WordPress. I have been using WordPress for years after trying other platforms such as Movable Type and Blogger. WordPress is great. You can install it in a flash, and you can add plugins that give you more options. For instance, I have plugins that automatically post my blog posts to Twitter so my Twitter followers know when I’ve updated, and I also have a plugin that helps me find great Creative Commons-licensed images on Flickr to use in my posts. The sky is the limit with WordPress. In fact, I recently learned from Wes Fryer via Twitter that WordPress powers nearly 15% of the world’s top million websites. In fact, 22% of new active domains are using WordPress. Students and faculty can both use it to blog or manage content on their websites.

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Blogging Tools: Beyond Content Management

ToolboxIf you have a blog and have already chosen a platform (if need help with this, click here or here), this post might just make some aspects of your blog richer for you and your readers.

  1. Apture
    Apture works with any publishing platform, and it’s easy to install. It allows you to make your site more interactive. For instance, you can embed popup links to Wikipedia articles and Amazon merchandise. This site uses Apture. What do you think?
  2. Delicious or Diigo
    You can share your links with readers by programming your Delicious or Diigo account to post links to your blog. Although I have my Diigo links in the sidebar, many readers who only read my posts via RSS might not see them, so I decided to start posting them to the blog. I hope the links will prove helpful and interesting. You can find instructions for posting links via Diigo here and for Delicious here (you’ll need to be logged in to your Diigo or Delicious account).
  3. Share What You’re Reading
    Many reading social networks have widgets you can embed in your website. For instance, I am a fan of Goodreads and have a widget on the left that displays the last few books I’ve read along with my starred rating of that book. However, other networks like Shelfari have similar widgets. I also have a plugin called Now Reading, which only works with WordPress, that displays what I’m currently reading in the sidebar.
  4. coComment
    It’s easy to leave a comment and forget to check back to see if you have a response, but coComment can help you keep track of the comments you leave and the responses you receive. If you use Firefox, you can download a browser extension that will make using coComment even easier.
  5. Photo Dropper
    If you use WordPress, Photo Dropper is a plugin that allows you to easily find Flickr photos with Creative Commons licenses to share in your posts.
  6. Twitter
    Many ways of integrating Twitter with your blog exist. I use a WordPress plugin called Twitter Tools that is flexible. It allows users create blog posts from my tweets (I choose not to), display tweets in my sidebar (which I do), and notify via Twitter when I update my blog (which I also do). Twitter also has instructions for badges and widgets. TwiTip has gathered together some resources for other Twitter badges.
  7. iPhone Apps
    If you like to blog about iPhone apps or make recommendations for the same, you might find AppsFire‘s widget fun. It enables you to create a javascript widget to display the apps of your choice.
  8. Feedburner
    Google’s Feedburner gives you more control over and information about your RSS feeds. You can find out how many subscribers you have, what RSS reader they use, and the Feedburner Feedsmith plugin for WordPress will help you integrate your Feedburner feed seamlessly.

If you have a favorite blog tool, please share it in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: StevenBrisson

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Engagement

I created a Diigo group for my students some time ago, but it wasn’t until Monday, when we had a snow day (weird that we’ve had 70° weather in the same week as a snowstorm) that I invited all my students to join.  The lack of response has been deafening.  I understand to a degree.  It’s one more tool, one more crazy thing Ms. Huff wants us to do, blah, blah, blah, don’t see the point.  One the one hand, I hate that I have to make use of these tools a requirement to convince students to use them.  I am not going to make the Diigo group a requirement the way I did commenting on my blog.  However, I have noticed something.  Those students who do engage with the tools I provide — whether it’s watching videos I share on the classroom blog, using Diigo, commenting on the blog, listening to recommended podcasts, or even reading suggested links — tend to do better in class.  Why?  Simple.  The tools help.  Reading, viewing, listening, engaging — all these tools help my students learn the material in more depth or in more ways.  Learning more leads to better understanding.  Better understanding leads to higher grades.  I prefer to leave it for my students to come to this realization, but when/if they do, I wonder what will happen when I have full engagement.

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Language Arts Toolbox

I created this presentation a couple of years ago when I was taking a Schools Attuned course. If I remember right, it was part of the course somehow. Feel free to use it if you feel it will help your students. I plan to post it to the class blog at the beginning of the school year so students can look at it at home.

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