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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

10 Things You Can Do To Make Yourself an Ed Tech Star This Summer

Credit: Sunset from Longniddry Bents
Richard Webb
As I watch Twitter at this time of year I see a mix of sadness, relief, and excitement that the school year is ending for many teachers. The summer is a great time to tackle some of that personal learning that got pushed to the back burner during the school year. If one of your goals for the summer is to improve your knowledge and skills in educational technology, here are ten things that you can do to work toward that goal.

1. Create a framework for your use of educational technology. Use that framework for evaluating technology and how it will help you reach your instructional goals. My framework is discovery, discussion, and demonstration. Feel free to work from mine or start from scratch building a framework that works for you. On Twitter Paul Kelba suggested looking at the ISTE NETS Standards.Without a framework for thinking about using technology in education, you're just playing with geeky things.

2. Start a blog or revive a dormant blog. Create a schedule for writing and stick to it. If you only have time to write for an hour a week, that's fine but do it consistently. Writing will force you to think and reflect. Publish your writing even if you don't think it's perfect. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. You can always write an addendum to the original post.

3. Teach yourself yourself some new HTML or CSS writing skills. These skills can be very handy when you want to customize a blog template or build a webpage from scratch. Plus, it's a great feeling when you realize that you can type out functions that become beautiful (or at least serviceable) webpages. Codecademy has some good lessons for the first-time coder. The New Boston is a great YouTube channel for learning to code too.

4. Break things and try to put them back together again. That's how I learned to fix my old oil burner (in hindsight not the best strategy), put a rocking chair back together (mom never knew it was broken until now), and resize elements on my blog template. Test your new coding skills by setting up a dummy blog on Blogger or WordPress and mess around with things.

5. Learn how to self-host a WordPress blog or a Drupal site. Unless your school gives you server space to mess around on, you will have to shell-out some cash to do this ($5-20/month depending upon your hosting plan). In the last year since I started to do this for Android4Schools.com and some other projects that I'm working on, I have learned a ton about servers and domain management. Most hosting companies provide directions that will help you get started. The two companies that I have the most experience with are Bluehost ($130/yr) and MediaTemple ($200/yr). Of the two, I prefer MediaTemple because I have had a better customer service experience with them.

6. Get familiar with an OS that you don't normally use. If you use a Mac all the time try spending a week in the world of Windows (borrow a Windows computer for the week or use Windows Parallels). If you're a Blackberry addict try out an Android or iOS device for a bit. By doing this you will gain a better understanding of the devices that your students and colleagues may be using at home or have used before coming to your school.

7. Try a tablet-only weekend. I don't care if you choose an iPad or an Android tablet just pick one and try to use it as your only computer for a weekend or a week. Do this to get familiar with the apps you, your students, and colleagues will need in order to use tablets in lieu of laptops in a 1:1 environment. You'll also get familiar with the challenges of using a tablet as the only device. If your school isn't going to provide teachers and students with keyboards and other accessories, don't use them yourself during your tablet-only time.

8. Read some new-to-you books or ebooks about technology in education. I have some recommendations here.

9. Subscribe to some new-to-you blogs about technology and education. In no particular order these are some that I read TechCrunch, Read Write Web, David Warlick, Gary Stager, Scott McLeod, Lee Kolbert, Vicki Davis, all of the Google product blogs, Make Use Of, Larry Ferlazzo, Audrey Watters.

10. Follow and converse with some new people on Twitter. Not sure where to find new people to follow? I have three lists here, here, and here to get you started.

What would you add to this list? Please leave a suggestion in the comments. 

Buying a New Laptop Soon? Read This First

Make Use Of publishes a lot of useful free guides in PDF and ePub format. The latest guide that they've released is Buying Laptop Computers: Your 2012 Guide To Finding Laptop Deals. This guide is free for anyone to download. You do not have to register for anything, share it, or "like" it to get your copy. In other words, it's a no-strings-attached download.

Buying Laptop Computers is a good guide for anyone who is in the market for a new computer, but is especially good for consumers who don't consider themselves tech savvy. The guide does a guide job of succinctly and clearly explaining the key things that you should look for when shopping for a new laptop. One piece of advice that jumped out as I went through the guide was the reminder that you're buying the whole computer and not to get too hung up on one aspect of a laptop while ignoring other important aspects. For example, battery life is important but if it comes at the expense of a lower quality processor you might not be happy with your purchase a year down the road.

Applications for Education
High school graduation season is in full swing and many parents will be considering buying their graduates a laptop to take to university in the fall. If you're asked by a parent or student for advice about buying a laptop to take to university, consider telling them about the Buying Laptop Computers guide.

Shared Copy - Collaborate and Annotate on Any Webpage

Last night I Tweeted a link to three tools for marking and sharing websites. Nathan Hall replied with the suggestion of looking at Shared Copy. Shared Copy is a tool for bookmarking, annotating, and sharing webpages. Using Shared Copy you can save a page, draw on it, add comments to it in text boxes, and highlight parts of the page. If you others to look at your comments on the page, Shared Copy offers many ways to do that through social networks and through email.

Applications for Education
Shared Copy could be a good tool to use to provide students with feedback on design elements of their digital portfolios. You could also use Shared Copy to highlight and draw attention to a block of text that you want your students to read prior to a classroom discussion.

Ten Game Templates to use in MS Office

This morning I received an email from someone who had seen me present at the NCTIES Conference in March. The email shared some information about some free game templates produced by Dr. Jeff Ertzberger at UNC Wilmington. UNCW EdGames offers ten free templates for creating educational review games using PowerPoint and Excel. Each template is accompanied by a video tutorial to help you get started. (Turn down your volume before opening the videos because they're loud).

Applications for Education
These game templates aren't going to revolutionize your instruction, but they could be handy if you need to create some simple review games to use in your classroom.

Coding Practice with Instant Feedback

Mozilla Thimble App is a free tool that allows you to write and test HTML and instantly see how your new code will look on the web. On one side of your screen you will see your code and on the other side you will see how your code looks on the web. When you're ready to share your new code with the world just click "publish" to have a web address created for your page.

Applications for Education
Students who want to learn coding on their own would do well to use Mozilla Thimble App in conjunction with a resource like Codecademy. Codecademy will provide the lessons and Mozilla Thimble App will provide instant feedback on the code that the student writes.

H/T to Lifehacker.

Bitly Introduces New Bookmark Options

Bitly is the URL shortener that I have been using for years. It's simple to use, especially if you use the bookmarklet, allows you to customize URLs, and offers good statistics about use of your links. I like Bitly so much that I consider it one of the three browser tools all teachers should try.  Yesterday, Bitly introduced a slew of new options.

Bitly now offers a social bookmarking component that they are calling Bitmarks. Bitmarks are bookmarks that you save in your Bitly account. Your Bitmarks can be shared publicly or kept privately. Bitly offers an option for bundling bookmarks into one package that you can share with just one link. Bitly bundles are now collaborative too.

For iPhone users, Bitly has launched a new app that you can use to create and access bookmarks on the go.

Applications for Education
Bitly itself provides a good way to shorten links into URLs that are easy to distribute to students. Using the bundles option is a good way to direct students to a set of links that you want them to access for an assignment in your course.

Interactive Illimitably - Collaborative Drawing

Interactive Illimitably is a free collaborative drawing tool that I learned about through a comment on my post of 11 collaborative drawing tools.  Interactive Illimitably provides a place for you to create a room with a custom name in which you can draw and chat with others. To get started just select a chat font style, name your room, and specify if you want your room to allow drawing, chatting or both. To have people join your drawing and chatting room, just give them the link assigned to your room. While there is a registration option, you don't need to register to use the site.

Applications for Education
Interactive Illimitably could be used by students to collaborate on the creation of story webs. Students could also use the service to collaborate on the creation of diagrams to use in presentations that they give to their classmates.

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