Monday, February 13, 2012

A Last-Minute Valentine's Day Project

In case you forgot, tomorrow is Valentine's Day. If you need a quick way to send for your kids or students to send Valentine's Day greetings to family members, take a look at the Valentine's Day themes offered by Animoto. Have the kids grab a handful of family pictures and put them together with some cute text to form a video greeting that can be emailed to family members.

Applications for Education
Aside from possibly bailing you out for Valentine's Day, I've always liked using Animoto as a way to introduce some basic video creation methods to students and faculty. I often use Animoto at the beginning of my introductory workshops on classroom video projects because it gives first-timers a quick boost of confidence before we delve into more challenging video creation projects.

This Is What Bothers Me About Some Infographics

Warning: This started out as a short post and turned into a bit of a rant. This post is mostly intended as food for thought for edubloggers. 

Infographics are all over the web these days. Not a week passes without a new infographic making the rounds on blogs, on Twitter, Pinterest, or whatever social network is hot at the time. Have you wondered why there are so many infographics being produced? The answer is, they are generally great for SEO. Which leads me to the first thing that bothers me about some infographics.

My first problem with some infographics.
Many of the infographics that are circulating in the ed tech space are produced by websites with names like "Best Online Degrees." Why are those websites producing infographics? Because they rely on referral traffic a.k.a. affiliate fees to earn their money. Now, I'm all for websites and blogs making money (as I've stated before, the ads on this blog help me buy groceries), but go about it ethically. This is the problem I have with an infographic titled The Digital Classroom (Google it if you like, I'm not linking to it) that is making the rounds today. The Digital Classroom was produced by one of these "Best Online Universities" outfits.

Here's the ethics problem I have with these outfits. They only recommend programs that they can benefit from making referrals to. I tried out two of these "Best Online Universities" search/ recommendation sites today. In the first case I was only referred to one school despite the many variables that I tried. In the second case I was referred to the same three universities regardless of the search variables that I entered. I've included the screen shots of the process from my first trial.

Step One: Visit the site and select your search criteria. 

Step Two: View your search results. Notice that only one result is served. Enter your all of your contact data then get taken to step three. 

Step Three: Where you would expect to see something like, "thank you for providing all of your contact data so that we can call and email you twice a week for the next decade" you instead get taken to another search page that repeats the process you just completed.

I won't get into the problems these online degree search/recommendation sites pose to potential students because Dan Meyer explained it much better than I can. In fact, Dan Meyer's post Stop Linking to Top 100 Blog Lists is what got me thinking about the SEO tactics of online degree search sites. I'll let you consider points Dan raises on your own. 

My concern with the online degree search/recommendation sites that I've looked at, including the one that produced The Digital Classroom infographic that is popular today, is that they don't disclose their affiliations. Think about it this way, how would parents react if they found out that a high school guidance department was making college recommendations to students based on the fact that they would receive money for every student that enrolled at those colleges? Would you trust that guidance department? I wouldn't. Incidentally, this is why I disclose my affiliations when writing about or Tweeting about one of my advertiser's services or products.

My second problem with some infographics.
The other problem I have with some infographics is the quality, or lack thereof, of the information contained within them. I've previously written about this in my post Deconstructing Infographics

So should I link to, post, or use infographics?
There isn't a clear-cut answer to that question. I evaluate each infographic individually before I decide whether or not to share it on Free Technology for Teachers. I have posted plenty of infographics in the past and will continue to do so when they are produced by companies whose business practices don't raise red flags for me. 

Qwips - Record Audio Captions for Your Pictures

Qwips is a new service for recording and sharing short voice messages. To record a message with Qwips just sign-in, click record, and start talking. You can record a message up to thirty seconds in length. When your message is complete, Qwips provides a URL for sharing your message. That URL can be shared anywhere you like including as an image caption. See my image and caption below as an example.
Click to listen:
Applications for Education
Qwips could be used by students to create audio captions for pictures that they use in blog posts and webpages. Qwips could also be used by teachers to post short audio message reminders for students. For example, I could record a short "quiz on Tuesday" message and post it on my course blog for students.

H/T to David Kapuler.  

Language Adventures with Leo the Lobster and Friends

Building Language for Literacy offers three nice little language activities from Scholastic. The activities are designed for pre-K and Kindergarten students.

Leo Loves to Spell asks students to help a lobster named Leo identify the first letter of a series of spelling words arranged in a dozen categories. Reggie Loves to Rhyme features a rhinoceros that needs help identifying the words that rhyme with objects found in places like the home, the garden, and the supermarket. Nina the Naming Newt needs help identifying the objects that belong in places like the home, the store, and the firehouse.

Applications for Education
The three activities found in Building Language for Literacy can be used individually by students or as part of a group lesson. According to Scholastic the activities are optimized for use on interactive whiteboards.

I learned about these activities through Kelly Moore's Techie Kids blog.

Five YouTube Channels to Challenge High School Students

Next month, March 5th to be exact, the first MITx course will begin. The online course, Circuits and Electronics, will be offered for free and give students the opportunity to earn a certificate of content mastery through an online assessment. MITx is a promising program for students interested in the courses offered. The content mastery certificate opportunity takes open learning to the next step beyond simply watching lectures and accessing course hand-outs. Hopefully, we'll see more opportunities like it in the future. In the meantime you can take advantage of some great open course materials to enhance your own instruction.

Design a course using Open Learning Initiative resources.
The Open Learning Initiative offers free high-quality courses created by Carnegie Mellon University. There are courses available in Statistics, Engineering, Science, Economics, French, and more. All of the courses are open to anyone that wants to give the courses a try. Users can create an account to track their progress or users can just jump into the course materials without creating an account. In addition to offering open learning opportunities to students, the Open Learning Initiative provides instructors with course packages that they can use for free. To explore the free options offered to educators, request an OLI Instructor Account.

Five YouTube Channels to Supplement Your Classroom Instruction
Even without a formal assessment system in place, open university course materials can be a good supplement to your own instruction. While video lectures aren't the most exciting things for high school students to watch or listen to, they can provide some thought-provoking moments and information to go beyond standard high school offerings. Here are five YouTube channels that offer good instructional content for high school and college students.
MIT - Course Playlists
Stanford - Course Playlists
Yale - Course Playlists
Harvard University Playlists
The Open University Course Playlists

Explore Careers in Science on Science Buddies

A few years ago I wrote about using Science Buddies to find ideas for science fair projects and science lesson plans. This morning I revisited Science Buddies and found that there is now a section about careers in science. The Science Careers section offers overviews of dozens of careers in seven different areas of science. Each career profile provides an overview of what a person in that field does, links to interviews with people in that field, the minimum education requirements of the career, career growth potential, and salary information.

Applications for Education
The Science Buddies Science Careers page could be a good reference for guidance counselors to bookmark. Students who enjoy science, but aren't sure of the career opportunities in science, could benefit from researching some careers through the Science Buddies Science Careers page.

VidCaster - A Video Website Creator

VidCaster is a new service designed to give you a place to build your own video website. At its most basic free level, VidCaster is a dressed-up background for your YouTube video uploads. You can connect your YouTube account to your VidCaster account to display all or some of the videos that you have uploaded to YouTube.

VidCaster provides you with a nice selection of display templates as well as tool for creating categories of videos on your VidCaster site. You can take a look at my VidCaster site here. As you will see when you visit my VidCaster site, I was able to choose the url at which my site is located.

Applications for Education
To be clear, VidCaster is not a work-around for accessing YouTube behind a firewall. If your students have created a collection of videos in your classroom, VidCaster provides a nice way to display and share them outside of the YouTube ecosystem. I'm thinking that students who trying to showcase some of their video productions as part of an application to prospective colleges could benefit from the professional look of a VidCaster site.