Friday, January 24, 2014

A Quick Way to See If a Website Is Down For Others or Just You

Down - get it? 
A brief Twitter exchange that I had this afternoon with Mark Barnes reminded me of a handy site that I use on a fairly regular basis. Down For Everyone Or Just Me? will tell you if a site that you're trying to visit is down or not. To use the site just enter the name of a site into the search tool on Down For Everyone Or Just Me? and you will quickly get a yes or no answer.

Applications for Education
The next time you try a site in your classroom and the kids say to you, "it's not working" put the site's address into Down For Everyone Or Just Me? to see if the problem lies with the site or with your school's filters.

Get a Summary of Information About Sites in Google Search Results

Through Dan Russell's excellent Search ReSearch blog I learned that Google has recently added a potentially helpful new aspect to the search results page. Now when you view your search results page you will see the titles of some sites in gray text next to the URL. When you see that gray text click the little drop-down menu to see a brief summary about the owner of the site. For example, in the screenshot below you will see that when I clicked on the gray link next to Washington Post it opened a bit of information about the Washington Post.

Applications for Education
Right now the new summary tool doesn't appear next to every result. In my testing it seems to only appear next to large, well-known sites. In the future it could be a good tool for helping students understand who is behind a website and account for that in evaluating the quality of a site.

On a related note, your students can also find out who is behind a site by looking at the WHOIS information for a site. Students can run a WHOIS search using Go Daddy, Whois.net, or Whois-Search to see who has registered the domain. When there isn't a proxy in place it's easy to locate the contact information (email, phone, fax, mail) for the person or organization that registered the domain. In some cases the person or organization that registered the domain might have used a proxy to hide their contact information. If that is the case it can be hard to find the contact information. Likewise, a Whois search will not work for subdomains. An example of a blog on a subdomain is supermom.blogspot.com.

QuickCast Arrives in the Mac App Store

QuickCast is a free screencasting tool that I initially tried a few months ago. This week QuickCast became an official Mac app that you can download for free from the Mac App Store.

Like most screencasting apps QuickCast allows you to capture all or part of your screen while you talk. Your recordings can be saved directly to your computer and or shared online through the QuickCast website. Each of the recordings that you publish is assigned its own URL that you can share with anyone. Recordings can also be embedded into blog posts and webpages.

What makes QuickCast slightly different from other screencasting tools is that it provides options for adding short intro and outro text. If you want to include your face in your screencast, you can do that with QuickCast by just turning on your webcam before you start your recording. QuickCast can also be used to create animated GIFs.

Applications for Education
QuickCast is another option to add to your toolbox to access when you need to create a short instructional video for your students or colleagues. Creating screencasts can be a good way for students to practice giving clear and direct presentations of information. One of my former colleagues used to have her students create screencasts as means for practicing scripting and narrating while teaching their classmates about help aspects of software on their laptops.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Use Aurasma to Create Augmented Reality Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Activities

Aurasma is a free app for iPads, iPhones, and most Android devices. Using Aurasma you can create augmented reality layers, Aurasma calls them "auras," that pop-up when you scan objects with your phone or tablet.

This afternoon at the BETT Show I saw James Pollock give a nice presentation about Aurasma which I've been playing with for a couple of years. I like going to presentations like Mr. Pollock's because it gives me an opportunity to see how others are using the same apps that I love. One of the uses of Aurasma that he showed that I really liked was creating Aurasma auras that served as the jumping-off point for review activities. The demonstration that James Pollock gave was having students scan an explanatory diagram with their iPads. When they scan it an "aura" pops-up on their iPads. The aura has three boxes students can tap to indicate if they understand the content, don't understand it, or somewhat understand it. The students' choices send them to a new resource for either review or further challenge.

Watching what Mr. Pollock's students are doing with Aurasma prompted me to think about using multiple part Aurasma auras to create augmented reality choose-your-own-adventure challenges. Through the sharing of Aurasma auras your students could create a multiple part story about historical artifacts, landmarks, and models. Then as viewers of the story scan each item they can jump to different videos or webpages based on their choices in the auras. Watch the video below for a basic overview of the Aurasma aura creation process.

What a Cloakroom Can Teach Students About Web Search Strategies

I’m currently in London, England for the BETT Show and TeachMeet BETT 2014. As is the case with most flights going to Europe from the east coast of the U.S. my flight left in the evening and arrived in London in the middle of the morning. This meant that I was too early to check into my hotel. I knew this ahead of time and figured that I could probably check my luggage at the ExCel Conference Center where the BETT Show is being held. I wanted to confirm this ahead of time so I spent some time searching on the BETT and ExCel websites for “coat check,” “bag check,” “coat room,” and “bag storage” in the hopes of confirming my assumption. My searches were fruitless.

Eventually I confirmed my assumption about a baggage check when I stumbled upon a map of the conference center. In browsing around the map I discovered a “cloakroom.” When I hear “cloak” I instantly think of the Count Chocula character from the cereal boxes of the 1980’s (my mother never let us eat that kind of cereal despite our pleas). I never thought to use the word “cloak” in any of my searches for information about storing my jacket and small bag for the afternoon. Cloak is just not a regular part of my American vernacular.

I have no doubt that students sometimes run into roadblocks in their searches for the same reason that I didn’t find anything in my searches; we’re stuck in our own vernacular. Had I used a thesaurus when I got stuck, I probably would have found the word cloak and confirmed my assumptions about checking my luggage for the day. The lesson here is when your search has hit a roadblock, try a thesaurus to find words that might lead you to better search results.