Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tracking Polar Bears on Google Maps - And Polar Bear Lesson Plans

Bear Tracker is a feature of the Polar Bears International website. The Bear Tracker plots the travels of collared polar bears in Hudson Bay and the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska. You can view the travel paths of one or all of the bears on each map. The map also offers play the travel paths recorded over time.

Applications for Education
While not specifically tied to the Bear Tracker, Polar Bears International has some lesson plans for teaching about climate change, ecotourism, and conservation. You will also find links to a slideshow on Polar Bears and nice PDF about Polar Bears that contains an educational game. And if you would like to show videos of polar bears to your students, Explore.org has polar bear footage that you can watch here.

H/T to Google Maps Mania

How Free Education Services Stay in Business

Image Credit: loop_oh
One of the questions that I am asked on a fairly regular basis goes something like this, "how do these free services stay in business?" That question is often followed up with a question like this, "how do I know that the service will keep running?" Here are my answers to those questions.

How do these free services stay in business?
There are three basic ways that web-based companies fund their free services. The first two are fairly obvious, advertising and selling premium upgrades from a basic level of free service.

The third way is through venture capital investments. The idea there is a venture capital firm invests in the service in the hopes of turning a profit down the road. The investor sees a profit when the company sells out to a larger company (see Posterous selling out to Twitter for a recent example), the company starts turning a profit through premium service sales, the company starts turning a profit through ad revenue, the company offers an IPO (rare in education market) or a combination of all four options. See companies like MasteryConnect and Edmodo for examples of companies offering free services that have received large investments from venture capital firms. Click here for the MasteryConnect story and click here for the Edmodo investment story.

How do I know that the service will keep running?
The short answer is, I don't. But I do feel comfortable hazarding a guess based on the business model that a start-up is using. My feeling is that companies like MasteryConnect and Edmodo who have received millions in venture capital probably aren't going to squander it so quickly that they will be shutting down quickly. The concern there is selling out to a larger company that does or doesn't keep the service running.

Companies relying purely on ad revenue need to have a massive number of pageviews to be profitable. That's not to say that it cannot be done, it's just hard for a start-up to make it that way unless they experience viral growth.

Disclosure: MasteryConnect does advertise on this blog.

Better Editing Options Added to Meograph's 4D Storytelling Tools

Meograph is a free tool for creating four dimensional digital stories. I've been following and writing about the service since it launched because I think it really is a good tool for sharing stories. Using Meograph you can create a digital story that uses a timeline, a Google Map, images, videos, and your narration. This month Meograph added some editing tools to make it easier to produce your story.

Theses are the new editing options in Meograph:
  • Precision video selection: Video start/stop times are now text-editable to the decimal place, to get the exact clip you want.
  • Map drag-n-drop: Reposition map markers easily, to get the exact location you want.
  • Longer narration: Now record up to 20 seconds per moment, to get the exact voiceover you want.
Applications for Education
Meograph offers an education page on which they are featuring examples of using the service in education. I've embedded one of the samples below.

PortfolioGen - Create Teacher Portfolio Pages

PortfolioGen is a digital portfolio service that I reviewed last spring. At the time it was a good service but it didn't support video embeds. Yesterday, I received an email from PortfolioGen announcing that they now support videos in teachers' portfolio pages. In addition to displaying videos of their work teachers can write "about me" pages, highlight their certifications, upload documents, and link to other examples of their work. PortfolioGen pages have contact forms for potential employers to use to get in touch with teachers. Click here for an example of a PortfolioGen page.

Applications for Education
If you're an educator looking for a new job who doesn't have a digital portfolio yet, PortfolioGen provides an easy way to quickly create one. Even if you're applying for jobs that don't require digital portfolios, it is still a good idea to have an easily-accessible page that highlights your work.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Five Essential Google Drive Skills For Teachers

This school year I've worked with a few school districts that are using Google Apps for Education for the first time. A lot of what I have done with those school districts is help to get the teachers acclimated to using Google Drive. When I sat down to plan an upcoming Google Drive training session I thought about some of the essential Google Drive skills that teachers need in addition to creating documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. Here are five essential Google Drive skills that I think teachers and students need.

1. Open and Edit Word Files in Google Drive.
If you're just beginning to transition to Google Apps from Microsoft Word, the chances are good you will have old files that you want to bring into and work on in Google Drive. Click here for the detailed directions on how to do this.

2. Create PDFs in Google Drive. 
Sometimes you don't want a document to be easy to alter. Or you plan on printing it and want it as a PDF. Click here to learn how to create a PDF in Google Drive in three easy steps.

3. Use Google Documents Offline.
For those times when you don't have an Internet connection and you want to work on a document, having offline access enabled is the only way to go. Click here for directions on how to enable offline access to your Google Documents. 

4. Give Yourself More Room to Work in Google Documents.
If you're using a laptop that has a screen of 13" or less there will probably be times when you want more white-space to work in. This little trick will give you about another inch of viewable document.

5. Create and Organize Folders.
Do you want to have more organization in your Google Drive account? Then you need to know how to create folders and move files into them. The steps for creating folders and dragging files into them are outlined below. (Click the images to view them full size).

Step 1:

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Step 4: