Monday, April 14, 2008

Free Technology For Teachers: What is Important When Teaching With Technology

Yesterday, I visited the local chain bookstore to enjoy a cup of coffee and reserve a copy of John Gierach's new book, A Fool's Paradise. As I was browsing through the store I was struck by the number of books written about basic end user instructions for computers (Windows, Mac, and Linux). This led me to thinking about what is important when selecting technology to use as a teaching tool. When I'm selecting technology to use with students there are two things I ask myself, how long will it take to get an entire class using the technology? And will the students benefit from having been introduced to this technology? If I cannot get an entire class using a new technology in one meeting then that technology probably isn't appropriate for that class. Likewise if the technology I'm thinking of introducing doesn't help students learn the content then it's probably not appropriate for that class.

As Christopher Dawson pointed out today in My Kid Hates Linux, "He, like most other users, just wants the computer that works." If the end user needs a book to figure out the technology that's supposed to help him or her, how useful is that technology and how likely are they to try it again?

Free Technology For Teachers: Earth Day 2008 - Snapshots of Spring

Ron Kroetz, who produces Tech Teacher Live, shared couple of great resources and ideas on his most recent podcast. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies is conducting an essay and photography contest for the Earth Week 2008 (April 22-29). The contest is open to students in grades 5 through 8. The photos should reflect change in the students' local environment. Along with the photo submission students should submit a short essay addressing these questions:
1. What is the change taking place in your photograph?
2. What may be causing the change?
3. Was the change expected?
4. How might the change impact surrounding area, including people?
5. How might this picture look different in the future?

Applications for Education
As Ron suggests in his podcast this contest could provide lessons for students in English, Art, and Science. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies has a great educator and parent page providing lesson plans and reference materials for students.

Check out Tech Teacher Live for more great podcasts from Ron Kroetz.

Free Technology For Teachers: Youth Noise - Students Share their Views

Today, I discovered Youth Noise when I was looking for an avenue through which my Social Studies students could express and share their opinions on a variety of public policy issues. Youth Noise is a nice web 2.0 resource for high school students and teachers. Youth Noise allows users to create profiles, find information about current world events, and voice opinions on current issues.

Application for Education
Youth Noise incorporates a model students with which students are already familiar, social networking profile, into a platform for political expression. Students can create videos to speak out on just about any public opinion topic. Youth Noise hosts discussion forums and debates through which students can participate in discussion with their peers.

Free Technology For Teachers: CaptainU

CaptainU is a new website for high school soccer players hoping to play in college. CaptainU provides a forum for students to market themselves to college coaches and connect with other students hoping to play collegiate soccer, but aren't quite good enough to be recruited by top-tier programs. CaptainU provides students with a host of information about various colleges and their athletic departments.

Application for Education
CaptainU is a resource for guidance counselors, coaches, and athletic directors trying to help student athletes select a college. The information about academics and financial aid present student athletes with a realistic picture of their options. CaptainU is a free service unlike the numerous companies out there that essentially act as marketing agents for high school athletes.

Here is a video introduction to CaptainU's services.

A stroll through CaptainU - Player Edition from CaptainU on Vimeo.

Free Technology For Teachers: Qik - Recording and Hosting Videos From Your Phone

Qik is a new video service, still in beta, that allows users to stream video, record video, and share video directly from a cell phone to the Internet. Right now the service seems to work only with Nokia phones, but they are adding new phones all the time. Videos can be streamed and recording directly to a Qik account or to 3rd party applications like Twitter. Once the video is stored in a Qik account it can be shared or embedded into another website or service.

Applications for Education
Qik could be used by teachers and students to record presentations or film short videos by using the technology that almost every high school student and teacher carries with them. Rather than having to borrow a video camera teachers can use what is already at their disposal. Use the videos made with Qik to participate in video conversations like the Davos Question, Film Your Issue, or Global Student.

Here's the video from Robert Scoble that first tipped me off to the Qik service.

Joining the Conversation About Why Bloggers Blog

On April 10 Jon Becker started quite a ruckus in the blog-o-sphere about education bloggers and conversation participation with his blog post Reflections of a New-ish Blogger. It is with a bit of hesitation that I've decided to join this conversation. Mr. Becker wrote that he feels like he is on the outside listening in to closed conversation being conducted by a handful of well-known education bloggers. Mr. Becker says this because he has been blogging for three months and has only had a few comments left on his blog. Of course, he now has many more visits to his blog and comments because he seems to have struck a nerve with many bloggers. Part of my hesitation to even write about Mr. Becker's blog was because it seems to be just a complaint about not having a lot of blog traffic and by wording the complaint correctly he's increased his traffic immensely. (Prior to last Friday, I had never heard of Jon Becker) The complaint did start a conversation, but a lot of the conversation has nothing to do with education and a lot to do with the purpose of blogging.

Education blogs should be about education not about increasing blog traffic, visit Mashable, TechCrunch, or ReadWriteWeb to learn about increasing blog traffic. Yes, it's fun and an ego boost to see your visitor statistics increase, but that shouldn't be why a person blogs. As Seth Godin pointed out today, trying to make money from blogging is about as easy as trying to make money selling orchids. Sure, some people do it, but not many and even fewer get rich doing it. Case in point, this blog has consumed hours of my time, I have more than 10,000 unique page views, and I've made absolutely nothing. The purpose of blogging should be to provide your readers with something that has value to them and to you.

The value of this blog for most readers lies in finding free technology resources and finding quick, succinct thoughts about using free technology resources. This blog is not a place to find a large collection of my ramblings about education, plenty of people much more eloquent than me already do that. The value of this blog for me, and the reason I started it in the first place, is finding free resources that I and other teachers can use. I love exploring the web and writing this blog gives a purpose to my explorations. In an effort to continue to give this blog value to readers I try to refrain from sharing my ramblings and musings. That's not why I blog, but if that is why you blog then keep doing it because someone is listening, just don't get hung up on the number of comments or visitors you have. In time (a long time, years not months) if what you're writing is good, people will read it and share it.

And now... a Free Technology For Teachers: check out I'll be doing a write up of it in the next blog post.