Friday, September 26, 2008

An Update to Free Technology For Teachers

Readers who follow me on Twitter may be aware that I've been tinkering with some different blog designs and plug-ins. You haven't noticed them yet because I've been testing on a "dummy blog." In the coming weeks you will see some changes like categorized resource lists and a slightly different color scheme.

Today, I installed the Outbrain ratings widget. It is basically a way for readers to rate each blog entry. The rating system is not why I installed it though. In the near future Outbrain is releasing a blog recommendation widget which will point you to related topics within Free Technology For Teachers and on other blogs. My hope is that adding this widget will bring exposure not only to content that I've previously written, but also to the content created by other bloggers on the same topics.

Teaching the US Civil War

Yesterday, Dianne Krause posted on her blog a great resource for finding US Civil War lesson ideas and resources. Teaching the Civil War with Technology is a blog and a wiki full of technology resources and ideas for teaching the US Civil War.

In my own research yesterday, I found a very interesting map resource about the US Civil War. The Georgia Institute of Technology has compiled an impressive collection of GIS files depicting Civil War battlefields.

Applications for Education
The Georgia Institute of Technology's collection of GIS files depicting Civil War battlefields could be a great instructional resource. By examining these files students can analyze the strategies of the Union and Confederate armies based on geography.

Picking a Web Resource for Your Class

There are so many new web resources made available to teachers and students everyday that it is impossible to even try to use all of them in a classroom. There so many options available to the teacher that wants to integrate technology into his or her classroom that we must devise criteria for choosing which web resources we are actually going to introduce to students. There are four requirements for any web resource that I introduce to students.

1. Any web resource that I introduce to students must help the students meet the objectives of my curriculum. This may seem obvious, but it's an important consideration for a technology junky like me. Often I get excited about a new web resource and think it will be a fun and exciting new tool for my students, but I have to slow down and ask myself, "will this help my students meet the objectives of the curriculum?" If the answer is no then, as much as I might not want to, I have to move on to something else.

2. Cross-browser functionality. Any web resource that I introduce to students needs to look and function the same regardless of the web browser that my students use. Today, most new websites do perform the same across all web browsers, but occasionally I do run across a new site that doesn't meet this standard.

3. Long-term stability and reliability. If a new web resource is still in the beta phase of development I tend to do quite a bit of research in the tech blog-o-sphere to try to get a sense of how stable the company is and the likelihood of it emerging from beta to become a stable product. This is an important consideration because I don't want to introduce a web resource to my students only to have it either disappear or completely change in six months.

4. Advertisement placement and advertisement content. The producers of many free web resources rely on advertising revenue to stay in business. I don't have a problem with advertising per se, but I won't use a website with students if there is poorly placed advertising or potentially offensive advertising. Poorly placed advertising is advertising that distracts students from the utility of a website. Examples of this could be advertising that is above "the jump" or "the fold," advertising that is inserted into the text of page, or pop-up advertising. Websites that have advertisements with potentially objectionable content do not get used in my classroom.

Those are my basic requirements for any web resource that I introduce to my students. What are your requirements for a web resource to meet in order to be introduced to your students?