Thursday, January 21, 2010

Volunteer Spot - Schedule Volunteers

Volunteer Spot is a free scheduling service that teachers, coaches, and others and use to coordinate volunteers. Volunteer Spot gives you the ability to post calendars and sign-up sheets online. When potential volunteers visitor your calendar they can see the days and times at which volunteers are needed. When the quota for volunteers for a particular time or day is reached, Volunteer Spot won't allow any more sign-ups.

Applications for Education

Volunteer Spot could be a significant improvement over trying to keep track of emails from parents. You could also coordinate sign-ups with a wiki or similar tool, but getting parents to use Volunteer Spot is probably much easier than trying to convince a whole class worth of parents to join a wiki.

If Volunteer Spot is more than you need in a sign-up application, you may want to look at SignApp Now.

Update: Just received this great news via a comment from Michael Walter.
After using it for only 3 days, parents in my school are raving about it. It made scheduling a diverse group of volunteers incredibly easy, mostly because they scheduled themselves. Parents were in love with the easy interface, and the email reminders, the only thing I was worried about, were a BIG hit. Going to try and get this expanded beyond just my library helpers, and bring it to my next collegiate circle to share.
Michael, thanks for sharing your experience with us!

I originally learned about Volunteer Spot on iLearn Technology which is a fantastic blog to visit if you're looking for resources for elementary school settings.

Skribit - Gather Suggestions and Questions

Skribit is a neat little blog widget that allows your visitors to make suggestions and ask questions. The main purpose of Skribit is to ask your readers what they would like to you write about.

Getting started with Skribit is easy, just create an account, customize the look of your widget, and copy the embed code into your blog's template. You can select the option to allow anonymous input from visitors or require users to register. You can also choose how many suggestions of questions to have displayed in your widget. Your Skribit account gives you place to keep track of suggestions from your readers.

The video below provides a nice introduction to Skribit.

Skribit was featured on Mashable earlier today and you can read more about the analytics features of Skribit in that article.

Applications for Education
I've just embedded Skribit into my course blog as a place for my students to ask questions. I'll try using Skribit as a tool for collecting informal feedback from students. The feedback I gather may be useful for determining which topics I might need to spend more class time on.

Here's what Skribit looks like in my course blog.

Using Screen Captures to Enhance Instructions

The other day I was helping a colleague set-up a blog to use with her class. She wanted to be sure that kids knew how to comment on posts so she was writing out step-by-step directions. Watching her gave me an opportunity to show her Jing. Jing is a free tool that anyone can use to create notated screen captures as well as video screencasts. Jing enables you to take a picture of part of your screen or all of your screen. Once you've captured the area you want in your picture, you can type on it, draw arrows on it, and highlight sections of text within it.

To use Jing you must download and install the free software for your Mac or PC. Once it's installed, launch it and it runs in the background until you need it. You'll know that Jing is ready for you to use because you will notice an orange ball in one of the top corners of your screen. It takes up very little screen real estate and is ready to use whenever you need it. The image below is an example of a screen capture I created with Jing.

You can also use Jing to record a video of your screen. Simply select the area of your screen that you would like to show, click the record button and begin talking. Jing will capture everything you say and do for up to five minutes. A free Jing account allows you to store your videos and screen captures. For $15/year you can upgrade to a "pro" version which will allow you to resize videos and share them directly to YouTube.

Although Jing is good for creating video screencasts, I actually prefer ScreenToaster for making video screencasts. ScreenToaster is a free, web-based, service for recording your voice and the actions on your screen. Just as with Jing, you can specify how much your screen you want to capture. I prefer ScreenToaster for making video screencasts because I can instantly upload to YouTube as well as have immediate access to the embed code for my videos which I then place in my blog.

Applications for Education
Jing, ScreenToaster, and products like them are very useful for enhancing written instructions that may have to give to students to show them how to do something like comment on your blog. Words work well for giving directions, but just as in any how-to manual, images can make all of the difference between confusion and clarity. This is particularly true if you have some struggling readers who might otherwise be confused by trying to follow written directions.

I've found Jing to be very useful when I'm giving directions in a professional development workshop. Posting annotated screenshots to a wiki gives every participant a reference for later use. I've especially found this to be true when teaching about Google Earth because there are some many things for first time users to explore that they sometimes get confused and need a reference of the basics. That is why I used Jing to create all of screen images found in Google Earth Across the Curriculum.

Ten Features of Google Chrome

Yesterday, while I was giving an impromptu presentation about Google tools, I used Chrome as my browser while projecting my screen. At one point I opened a new tab which, of course, showed the eight most recent websites I had opened. That prompted a colleague of mine to ask "how'd you do that?" That question gave me a chance to talk about Chrome for a couple of minutes.

I've been using Chrome more and more over the last few months. For a few of the things that I do, Chrome is an improvement over Firefox. The speed of browsing and the handling of PDFs are probably the two features that stand-out the most for me. There are other handy features too. The video below highlights ten of those features. Although the video is a year old and there are more features now, it is still a good primer for people who have never tried Chrome.

For a short overview of Chrome you can watch this video.