Thursday, March 3, 2011 - Build Your Own Discussion Forum

There are plenty of services on the web that you can use to create your own private or public discussion forum (click here or here for some I've previously reviewed). But takes the prize for easiest name and url to remember. Not only is the name easy to remember, it's easy to create your forum with

Once you've registered on creating your forum is a straight-forward, two minute process. To create a forum just sign-in and click "start a forum." From there you can start a conversation, which calls "Gabs." You can also post events, pages, and files. In your forum management tab you can choose to make your forum private or public. Also in the management tab is the option to grab an embed code to place your forum's gab stream in your website or blog.

Applications for Education could be useful for creating online book clubs for your school, providing a public place for parents to interact with administration, or for a student council to interact with its constituents.

Touch Screen Fun With the Lenovo ThinkCentre m90z

Late last year I was contacted by some folks representing Lenovo with a request to review one of their products. I get requests like that quite often and until now I've rejected them all. But I made an exception this time because not only were they going to send one of their ThinkCentre all in one touch screen computers to me to use, they're also going to send one to one of you to keep. Details will be coming soon about how you can win one.

I've put Lenovo's official video overview of the ThinkCentre below. The overview includes many of the key tech specs.

The first thing I noticed about Lenovo ThinkCentre m90z when it arrived at my house ten days ago was "this thing is huge!" With a 23" screen it's bigger than all of the televisions I've owned except one. In fact, it's so big it has been occupying the kitchen table in my house until we can figure out a better place for it. All of this screen real estate is great for my productivity. I've been using it for all of my blogging when I've been home. I can run Firefox windows and Chrome windows side-by-side on the screen. (If you're wondering why I would do that it's because I have two different Google accounts that I often use at the same time for blog-related tasks).

There's more to the screen than it's size. The sensitivity of the touch screen is excellent. In fact, one of our cats walked by it today while I was using Art Pad and his tail made a line on the Art Pad. I was using Art Pad because I'm a big fan of Dan Roam's Back of the Napkin strategies for outlining and solving problems with simple sketches. I've always done that on paper because I can't manipulate a mouse or track pad quickly enough to capture my sketched thoughts. Drawing on the screen with my finger or a soft plastic pointer allowed me to sketch just as quickly and coherently as I do with a pencil and paper. And by creating those sketches on my computer I can save them all there too.

Of course, I had to test out Google Earth on the Lenovo ThinkCentre m90z. It's a blast zooming in and out and exploring with just a touch of the screen. You can see it in action in my video below.

There are some other edubloggers participating in the same Lenovo promotion and you might be interested in what they're saying about the ThinkCentre m90z. Here's what Miguel Guhlin is saying about it. Here's a video post that Ben Rimes put together. Here's what Kathy Schrock has written about it.

And just so the disclosures is abundantly clear, Lenovo gave me this computer and will be giving one to one of you too.

Open Library Read and Borrow Books Online

The Open Library is a part of the Internet Archive. The Open Library is a collection of more than one million free ebook titles. The collection is cataloged by a community of volunteer online librarians. The ebooks in the Open Library can be read online, downloaded to your computer, read on Kindle and other ereader devices, and embedded into other sites. Some of the ebooks, like Treasure Island, can also be listened to through the Open Library.

Applications for Education
Much like Google Books, the Open Library could be a great place to find free copies of classic literature that you want to use in your classroom. The Open Library could also be a good place for students to find books that they want to read on their own. The audio option, while very electronic sounding, could be helpful if you cannot locate any other audio copies of the book you desire.

Update: shortly after I wrote this post, Open Library posted this message on their blog indicating that they are in the midst of a data center migration and that the site might not be fully functional for a day or two.

How to Back Up a Gmail Account

Last week Google experienced a glitch with Gmail that caused some users' inboxes to be deleted. Google says that they're working on restoring those inboxes, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen. If you're at all concerned about having something like that happen to you, you should consider backing up your Gmail account. In the video below Cnet's Jessica Dolcourt explains three ways that you can back up your Gmail inbox. Of the three methods she introduces, Backupify is the most appealing to me because I can use that service to backup Google Sites, Google Contacts, Google Docs, and Gmail.

Applications for Education
If you're using Google Sites for a classroom or course website, Backupify is a service that you should give a good look. This is especially true if you're using Google Sites as a digital portfolio of student work. If the day ever comes that your or your students' content is accidentally deleted you could avoid disaster by having it backed up.

On a related note, if you're using Blogger, Edublogs, or WordPress and want to back up the content, follow the directions I posted in December 2010.