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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tech Vocabulary

Big things happening in 3rd grade right now...we logged into Tarrier Apps for the first time last week! I have frequently mentioned to faculty the need to have a shared vocabulary when it comes to computer instruction, particularly with young children. With my youngest students the past few years, we have talked about the vocabulary of technology like it's learning another language. If I say the word "menu" to my kids, am I talking about ordering takeout? No! But if I casually throw this word into the beginning of a set of instructions (go to the Go menu and pull down to "Connect to Server") and they don't know what it means, I've lost them almost immediately. Five steps down the list of directions I have a few who remind me of this when they ask, "What do we do first?"

Now, each time we begin a new lesson, I keep a running list of vocabulary words on the board, and I try to refer to them every subsequent week to keep us all speaking the same language. Last week, for example, since it was our first time using Google Apps for Education, we spent a little time trying to understand what the "cloud" is. And we learned the meaning of the word "collaboration." These are big concepts when your 8 or 9, but we were ready for them because we had already learned other key words like username, password, login, docs. I walked the kids through a lesson in opening a shared doc, making a copy, renaming it, and sharing it back with me using very specific language, modeling the process for them, and checking for understanding (they all did it!). We actually got into the assignment a bit before I noticed the "Try the new look" button that showed up a few weeks ago in the Googleverse. I had not yet made the switch (I tried in Blogger, but quickly returned to the Classic view so I could finish what I was doing without getting lost). Since my students had never before seen the "old" look, I made a command decision to have us all start with the new one, and we all clicked over, oohing and aahing at how amazing it was and fancy the new red buttons looked. As I discussed with them the nature of this online environment, and Google's propensity to change things frequently to make improvements, I actually said this:

"This is all up in the cloud. And sometimes the Google cloud rains down some changes on us. We just have to absorb it and roll with it."
They actually understood me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Tech Support "Process" - Embedding Audio in Google Sites

XKCD Tech Support Cheat Sheet
This XKCD comic is funny because it's partly true, at least for me (I won't speak for others in my department). Sometimes when we tech support people hit a wall, we turn to Google for answers. It rarely disappoints. Here's the most recent example of my mish-mash support approach that worked out gloriously.

For quite some time now, we've had a number of teachers (and students) who want to embed audio clips in their Google Sites. For reasons none of us have been able to figure out, the super-helpful-built-in mp3 "gadgets" don't ever work. You can embed the player just fine, but it won't actually play your audio file. Grrrrr.....

Monday a colleague asked for help doing this very thing, and knowing I'd been stymied in the past trying to get it to work, I Googled "mp3 player gadget not working."  Good one, huh? About 95,100,000 results. I also tried "embedding mp3 in google sites." About 1,240,000 results.


Now, here's where my expertise* may have started kicking in, because I had tried some of the offered solutions before and had no success, so I sort of knew what I was looking for in the search results. I went on a little journey through some help forums, visited a few different sites with embeddable mp3 players, and read up on "ODEO" (the gadget Google provides) to find out what its problem was. It should have worked in Firefox, according to some, but we were using it in Firefox and IT WASN'T WORKING. Apparently, according to others, this is all to do with redirects and Google's tendency to give everything a mile-long URL. I stored that morsel for later, because I needed to know that. I ended up on a French site featuring something called "dewplayer," which, according to one forum, was the only player [a few] people could get working properly.

The first site we found was all written in Spanish. No sé. 
Alsacréations had directions in English. Oui!
Game on.


I quickly downloaded the .zip file and started following all the instructions about copying and pasting HTML code. I had already read elsewhere, and dewplayer confirmed, that the mp3 files we wanted to play on our pages had to first be uploaded to our websites. Huh? I wasn't sure I knew how to do this in Google sites. Mr. Scotlan, my first guinea pig in this grand experiment, had already tried uploading his files to Google Docs, but that wasn't close enough to the location of our embedded player, and I figured this was where all the redirect problems were coming from.  I knew we needed a URL for the file, so I read some more help forums....

Trying to make a long story a bit shorter, here's what I discovered, some by brilliant deduction (so modest) but most by trial and error:
  • On your Google site you need to create a page (it can be invisible) that is a "File Cabinet" to store your files. Both teachers I worked with created file cabinets called "mp3" because that's what they were planning to store there. Clever.
  • The mp3 files have to be named correctly for the code to recognize them--that's means NO SPACES in the file names. Become one with the underscore_.
  • The dewplayer.swf file has to be in the file cabinet too. Upload it there.
  • You need to be able to read HTML code to a slight degree to figure out where to stick your cursor for copying and pasting.
If you want help setting this all up, and you work at my school, I'm happy to come and help you. If you want to try it on your own, follow these steps:
  1. Visit http://www.alsacreations.fr/dewplayer-en and download the .zip file. There's lots of stuff in the .zip file, but you really only need the dewplayer.swf file.
  2. create a file cabinet page within your Google site
  3. keep the file cabinet page open in a separate tab (you'll need to copy the URL of its location)
  4. upload dewplayer.swf to your file cabinet
  5. open a tab with this .swf file open (you'll need to copy the URL of its location)
  6. upload your .mp3 files to your file cabinet
  7. Go to the page where you want to embed the audio file and get into "edit" mode. Click the HTML  button to see the code behind your page
  8. put your cursor where you want the file embedded and paste this:
<object type="application/x-shockwave-flash" data="dewplayer.swf" width="200" height="20" id="dewplayer" name="dewplayer">
<param name="movie" value="dewplayer.swf" />
<param name="flashvars" value="mp3=test.mp3" />
<param name="wmode" value="transparent" />
</object>

9.  In the two spots highlighted yellow, replace that text with the URL from step 5
10.  In the spot highlighted green, replace that text with the URL from step 3, but add a slash (/) and paste in the exact file name of the mp3 stored in your file cabinet.

Simple, right?

Actually, once we got it to work, it didn't seem so dificult. Step 10 was the trial and error part. But in that first moment when we clicked "play" and actually heard sounds we wanted coming out of our computers, there was a lot of high-fiving and YAHOOing.

Want to see it in action? Visit Rob Scotlan's music page or Julia Maeda's 7th grade homework page to check it out.

My favorite part of all this? I felt like we were actually doing the kind of problem-solving and personal learning that we wish for our students all the time. There was no real expert helping us. We figured it out ourselves! Is there more than one way to do this? Most definitely. But what we cobbled together worked, and that euphoria of actually hearing it work was something else. Mr. Scotlan and I did a little victory dance. Maeda Sensei and I shouldn't have been celebrating quite so boisterously while working in the library perhaps, but we couldn't help it. Our hard work didn't pay off in a grade, or a pay raise, or even recognition from a single other person (other than the two middle-schoolers looking at us sideways). Success was our reward, and it felt great.
_________________________________________
*I use this term in the loosest possible sense

Monday, October 17, 2011

My First Experience with Backchanneling

This post may be a futile exercise in stream-of-consciousness, and I'm fairly certain verb tense is all over the place...sorry about that.

Last week, an assortment of colleagues and I attended the PNAIS Fall Educators' Conference at Overlake in Redmond. Gorgeous campus, by the way, but that takes me off track...

The morning keynote speaker was Sal Khan, of Khan Academy fame. Months ago when he was announced as the keynote, I became quite excited to hear him speak in person, having followed the path of Khan Academy's rise with interest.  I have read in recent months quite a bit of negative feedback about the man and the program, so I was anxious to hear from him directly.  As he shared with us the story of how the Khan Academy came to be, I was actually struck by how humble he sounded....but again, I'm off track with my topic, so my assessment of Khan will have to wait.

follow me! @Ethics4ADW
I thought this conference (the first formal professional development conference I have attended in over three years) would give me a chance to experience, and perhaps participate in firsthand, the concept of "backchanneling" during the presentations. Backchannel, "the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks," gets a lot of press in educational technology circles, and many of the blogs I read talk about it all the time. Backchannel discussions can expand the conversation and allow others to participate while someone is speaking, sometimes providing follow up information, sometimes providing pushback to the speaker's message, or simply sharing favorite quotes in real time (helpful for folks who aren't so fortunate as to be there in person).  Sooooo...I pulled out my iPhone, opened up my Twitter feed, and did a search for the conference hashtag, #PNAIS11.

I realized within minutes that there was no way I could tweet anything and still listen at the same time. As I've mentioned before, I'm spectacularly bad at multi-tasking. And given that this was the first time I'd heard Sal Khan speak (other than videos), I wanted to listen without missing something, and I didn't really think I had anything worthwhile to contribute anyway. I kept the Twitter feed open, however, and refreshed it throughout his presentation to see what was happening on the backchannel.

What I witnessed, from my perspective, was a lot of negativity and skepticism. Having had a few days to digest all this, I have begun to wonder if I just see the innovative use of technology in education through some seriously rose-colored glasses and that maybe I'm not skeptical ENOUGH. However, much of what I was seeing in the backchannel seemed almost mean-spirited, as if Khan's whole presentation wasn't worth listening to. I'm all for pushback and questioning, but what does a tweet like "WTF is 5th grade math?" mean? How does that advance the conversation about meaningful teaching or educational reform? I did not hear Khan advocating for his program as a "replacement" for teachers, neither did I hear him tout himself as a great educator. He continuously made self-deprecating remarks, giving teachers credit for the idea of "flipping" the classroom, and promoting the use of his tutorial videos to allow for more one-on-one time interacting with kids during actual problem-solving time. "Using technology to humanize the classroom" was the theme here, not replacing teachers and teacher-student interactions with videos. I'm afraid I didn't understand from where all the negativity was coming.

At one point in his presentation, Sal was sharing how the tutorials first came to be posted online, which was someone suggesting to him, you should put these on YouTube. He said, "I finally got over the idea that it wasn't my idea," and started doing just that. The line got a big laugh (I personally thought it was cheekily honest), but I'm now wondering if people feel threatened by Khan Academy because it wasn't their idea? Again, Sal says the "flipped classroom" idea came directly from teachers, not him. The whole growth of Khan Academy, from a few tutorial videos he made for his cousins to a worldwide phenomenon, was neither his motivation nor his intention when he began the project. He presented it, as one of my colleagues stated quite clearly, as another tool for teachers to use if it's helpful, and Khan's team seems to be working awfully hard to make it as helpful as possible. I'm all for questioning pedagogy and doing what's best for your students, but it seemed to me that a lot of people were jumping on the Khan-bashing wagon without having any real experience with the platform, or judging its effectiveness for themselves.

In a moment of total self-reflection here, I'll share with you that I got pretty judgmental myself. Another speaker that day was Dr. Tae, the famous skateboarding physicist. He was tweeting throughout Khan's keynote, and I personally found some of his remarks to be rather snarky, considering this was a professional educators' conference. Reading his comments left me feeling like I didn't want to listen to anything he might have to say. I reacted pretty strongly, and did not, in fact, attend either of his presentations. Three days later, as I sit here trying to process all of this, it just hit me that I'm doing exactly what I disliked about the backchannel snarkiness...I'm missing the point (thanks Mike Gwaltney, I'm 'borrowing' your phrase). True, I have the tweets to backup my ethical consternation, but I don't know anything about Dr. Tae, so who am I to judge? I'm sure there was a context for his comments, but I didn't know what it was, and Twitter wasn't necessarily the medium through which to discover it.

Having now spent some time on Dr. Tae's site, watching HIS videos--particularly this one--I can understand his perspective about personalized learning and his view of the systemic problems with education today. I missed this entirely in the "WTF" tweet, naturally, and I still think that was unprofessional. I could learn something from Tae's perspective, however, the same way I learned something from Sal Khan. Perhaps what began as an exercise in frustration has turned me into a beacon of open-mindedness.

Doubt it. But maybe that will get me a laugh.

So how do I feel about backchannels today? First, I don't believe I have the requisite thumb speed to actually pull it off during a live presentation (perhaps things would have been different if I'd brought my laptop and whipped out my mad keyboarding skillz). Second, despite my original horrified reaction to the invisible discussion that was happening, it clearly was thought-provoking and I got much more out of the experience than I was originally willing to admit. I see some inherent conflict between the nature of Twitter's 140 character, rapid-fire nature and truly thoughtful reflection. If I had tweeted my emotional response last Friday, I would have missed the chance to step back and process what I learned that day. Still, I will try backchanneling again, and I won't make a sweeping judgment without more experience. There's always something new to learn!

One of my favorite ed-tech bloggers, Tom Whitby, shared his thoughts on the "Twitter effect" this summer at a conference at which he presented. I'd encourage you to read his post, and as always, pay attention to the comments.
I enjoy tweeting during conferences as it broadens and deepens my understanding of the speakers’ main points. Yes, and I fear naysayers’ comments when I present too. What is the etiquette related to this? My personal etiquette is to tweet if it broadens my understanding of the content/presentation, to give credit to the speaker for his/her comments, to document main points for later reflection and writing, and to question points/methods I might not agree with, rather than write a negative/condescending message. ~Maureen
I’d never considered the downsides of using a backchannel as a teacher or presenter. Twitter is such a public forum that it’s important for me to stay professional, generous, and helpful. Negativity, whether tweeted or spoken, adds no value to any conversation. If I read “@tomwhitby sucks” I’d be more apt to dismiss the tweeter than I would take that kind of comment seriously. ~Jenny
So, I didn't really get to my assessment of Khan Academy. I enjoyed the keynote presentation, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Having read a lot of criticism beforehand, I wasn't sure what to expect from the man, but I got more out of it than I thought I would, and certainly found Sal Khan's story inspiring. Particularly in a world where we know "fully 65% of grade school kids may end up doing work that hasn't been invented yet" (Cathy Davidson, "Education Needs a Digital Upgrade")  it was engaging to listen to someone who created a job for himself out of thin air. Add to that the fact that he loves what he's doing and finds great value in helping students all over the world, I think we got to see Ken Robinson's "Element" in action. I don't view myself as a "drinker of the koolaid" if I try out the videos and explore their use further. I know teachers at school that are using KA, still trying to assess its effectiveness. I haven't actually used it yet, as I don't have my own class of kids with which to try it. But I personally know a third and fifth grader who are about to be guinea pigs, and I could certainly bone up on my trigonometry. I'll let you know how it goes. If I am to criticize or praise KA, I want to know what I'm talking about.
____________________________

See the Twitter feed #PNAIS11 for yourself! Of course, the hashtag is still active, so I have also found these articles, posted post-conference and shared via Twitter.

Meeting Sal Khan - holisticdancingmonkey @ Cooperative Catalyst
Misunderstanding Sal Khan, and Missing the Point - Mike Gwaltney
Khan Academy: What's the Big Deal? - Matt Amaral @ Teach4Real

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Language of Cyberbullyiing

This morning I was watching the news and a story was featured about a nearby school district's efforts to address bullying with students in all grade levels.  Today all the kids are wearing orange to school as part of a national anti-bullying campaign. I truly hope they see something noticeably better as a result of this educational effort. I can't help but wonder, however, if it will actually be effective. The newscasters, at the end of the piece, commented, "Those kids really get it." While it's a lovely sentiment, and I don't mean to dwell negatively, the reality is that most kids "get it" when you talk to them about bullying and hurt feelings in general. They can say the words that we all want to hear. But do they recognize the behaviors in themselves? Does it stop them from being mean? Do they speak up, and not stand by, when they see someone being treated poorly? How do they react when you talk to them about real incidents in which they've been involved?

The "Make It Orange" campaign is a great idea, and awareness is always a necessary first step. I deeply appreciate that today's event is part of a larger instructional goal to teach social skills throughout the entire school year. I suspect it's THAT part of the program that's going to help make it more successful. And I hope that by taking the time to address it over the long term, teachers will find the language and activities that resonate with kids and allows a culture of kindness to flourish.

The following is cross posted (10/5/11) at Ethics 4 a Digital World
______________________________________________________________________


A few weeks ago, another teen suicide...another child bullied and tormented to the point where he thought he had no way out.

No more, please. NOT. ONE. MORE.

Last week, Microsoft researchers Alice Marwick and danah boyd published Bullying as True Drama: Why Cyberbullying Rhetoric Misses the Mark in the New York Times. Also, with their colleagues at the Social Media Collective, they published The Unintended Consequences of Cyberbullying Rhetoric complete with links to a research paper on teen "drama" in networked publics. First, let me say that we are so grateful to have this resource as we fine tune our talks with students and the activities or sessions that address digital citizenship. These are tough topics, and research has shown that few, if any, "anti-bullying" programs are having a noticeable effect. Why not? A notable quote:
For most teenagers, the language of bullying does not resonate. When teachers come in and give anti-bullying messages, it has little effect on most teens. Why? Because most teens are not willing to recognize themselves as a victim or as an aggressor. To do so would require them to recognize themselves as disempowered or abusive. (Marwick & boyd, 2011)
Honestly, what teen (or what person, for that matter) would want to acknowledge that they are powerless? Or hurtful to others? Especially in front of a group of peers?

Last year when we surveyed our students about their online behavior, we asked purposefully vague questions about getting in arguments or "messing with" someone online. We had already learned how quickly conversations shut down, or become distinctly uncomfortable, the moment the B word comes into play. A few weeks ago, we spent time with 11th and 8th grade students. We asked them ahead of time to share with us (anonymously) some "tech ethical" dilemmas they might have experienced, and then as we shared some scenarios with the groups, we asked students to try and "give advice" or offer suggestions as to how they might handle any of these situations. Not surprisingly, after our initial overview and introductions, the mood of the room palpably changed the moment we started talking about real behaviors, many of which could be classified as mean, hurtful, or aggressive. So...how do we realistically and effectively talk about this issue in a way that a) doesn't shut everybody down or b) leads kids to simply say what they think adults want to hear?

Well, as we suspected, and as the research now makes clear, language matters. The way adults talk about behavior is very different from the way teens talk about it. From the research paper's abstract:
While teenage conflict is nothing new, today's gossip, jokes, and arguments often play out through social media like Formspring, Twitter, and Facebook. Although adults often refer to these practices with the language of "bullying," teens are more likely to refer to the resultant skirmishes and their digital traces as "drama..." [This allows them to] retain agency - and save face - rather than positioning themselves in a victim narrative...Understanding how "drama" operates is necessary to recognize teens' own defenses against the realities of aggression, gossip, and bullying in networked publics. (Marwick & boyd, 2011)
So what, exactly, is the difference between drama and bullying? To adults, not much. To teens, however, there are clear distinctions. One girl cited in the study defines drama in a "bidirectional" manner, saying "there's two sides fighting back," whereas bullying is one-sided and directed. If you defend yourself, it's no longer bullying because you are now participating. "Unlike bullying, there are no victims in teens' model of drama. To avoid drama, teens are expected to simply refuse to participate, while it's assumed that they cannot avoid being bullied."

As I read through this research paper, I could hear the dialog of "drama" in my head, and I even remember students using the word when telling stories, as in, "oh that's just drama." Sam and I both knew that the language of cyberbullying wasn't getting through, that bullying was starting to get equated with tragedy. The more frequently stories appeared in the media about teens driven to desperate actions because of bullying, the more kids were able to say, "We don't see THAT kind of behavior online. THAT is really mean," as if true bullying had to end with a national news story. My questions to them became, then, "does bullying have to equal suicide? How did it get there? What were all the little behaviors along the way that, when added together, became something unmanageable and unbearable? When did it cross the line? Where is that line?" While this stream-of-consciousness reasoning made perfect sense to me, and connected the dots between bullying and drama in my mind, it still wasn't effective with the kids. Though I knew that on some level, or more accurately I could feel it, Alice Marwick and danah boyd's research now gives me the language to understand it more thoroughly. Labeling a series of text messages, Facebook updates, and rumors as drama allows a teen to "save face by minimizing the conflict's impact, rather than seeing [one]self as a victim."
Dismissing a conflict that’s really hurting their feelings as drama lets teenagers demonstrate that they don’t care about such petty concerns. They can save face while feeling superior to those tormenting them by dismissing them as desperate for attention. Or, if they’re the instigators, the word drama lets teenagers feel that they’re participating in something innocuous or even funny, rather than having to admit that they’ve hurt someone’s feelings. Drama allows them to distance themselves from painful situations. (NYT, 9/22/11)
Wow. I'm starting to feel like we all need advanced degrees in psychology to really get this. On a purely personal and emotional level, I remember how drama feels and completely understand a teen's reluctance to wear the mantle of victim or mean girl. Furthermore, I think this personal connection to the behaviors is what makes most adults so intolerant and/or dismissive. We write off these incidents as petty and ridiculous even more quickly as adults than we did as teens. "I survived, so can you" is one typical reaction, but it sends a message that we are unwilling to listen and acknowledge kids' feelings. How does that genuinely help our kids in the here and now? What opportunities for growth and learning are we missing? How do we build empathy and understanding?

One group receiving attention, by many anti-bullying programs, has been bystanders. Particularly if kids are unwilling to see themselves as bullies or victims, we can talk about what to do when you are the third part in this equation...the person watching it happen. "Don't stand by, stand up!" has become a new catchphrase, and Common Sense Media has added a 4th group to the mix of bullies, victims, and bystanders: UPstanders. I've noticed even CSM refers to cyberbullying as "online cruelty" in their lesson plans in an attempt to use language that kids understand and relate to. MTV's A Thin Line campaign has taken a similar approach. (see video above)

Is this all just semantics? Do the words we use really make a difference? Our experience shows that words matter. And when it comes to talking with our kids about their behavior, both online and in the real world, the more tools we have at our disposal the better. Though we were all teenagers once, our perspectives naturally change as we mature, and we can forget what it's like to be dealing with this stuff on a daily basis (or, sometimes we're just grateful to have the hard work of being a teenager behind us and we don't want to relive it). Lumping all this behavior into one convenient category and labeling it "bullying" is closing the door on meaningful conversation. Get kids talking and you may very well hear them describing behaviors most adults would recognize as bullying. But be aware of what that label may cost a teenager. It means feeling like a victim, or the bully. Marwick and boyd say, "They do not want to see themselves as victims or as aggressors, but as mature individuals navigating their world competently."

We have to find a way, and the language, to help them do that.


__________________________________________________________________
Marwick, Alice E. and boyd, danah, The Drama! Teen Conflict, Gossip, and Bullying in Networked Publics (September 12, 2011). A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society, September 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1926349

More resources cited in this post:
Bullying as True Drama, NYT 9/22/11
The Unintended Consequences of Cyberbullying Rhetoric, danah boyd | apophenia
Social Media Collective - "The Social Media Collective is a group of researchers at Microsoft Research New England, led by Dr. danah boyd. The collective consists primarily of social scientists and humanists looking to understand how social media is shaping and is shaped by society."
Stopcyberbullying.org
Common Sense Media
A Thin Line
Larry Magid's article, Cyberbullying Is a Serious Problem, but Is It an Epidemic? suggests "exaggeration can increase risk." Great advice in this article.
Should We Rethink Our Anti-Bullying Strategy?
Meredith Melnick, Time Online, 9/28/11

Monday, October 10, 2011

Where Your Feeds Can Take You

Whether it's RSS, Twitter, tumblr, Facebook, WHATEVER, your feeds have the power to take you on powerful journeys into your own learning.  Today, I took this trip:

This is a blog post from kindergarten teacher Matt Gomez in Texas.  He wrote it last year when he first launched a Facebook page for his class. The Facebook experiment was very successful on many fronts, parent engagement being primary among them. I would encourage you to read the post (and follow all the links!) as well as the comments left by others.

http://mattgomez.posterous.com/classroom-facebook-page-my-reasoning

Two weeks ago, he posted this:  http://mattgomez.posterous.com/the-end-of-facebook-in-my-class
My class Facebook page is shutting down this week. I was told that the district does not support it and thus must close it down. I knew this might happen, it was a risk I took in trying something so unknown without permission. I had prepared myself for this day. The page was very successful and I feel I met my goal of showing that there is more we can do to engage parents (see HERE) . Actually the success of the page is what led to its demise. The great teachers I work with also wanted to use the tool and parents began to ask why I was the only one using it. This made my principal need to address the situation and the final solution is closing it down. (Curious how I used Facebook in the class? Here are some examples)
My journey into Matt's world began when I read about it on George Couros' blog in a post entitled The Power to Kill Innovation (I added a few more RSS feeds this morning as I checked out my regulars...yikes, the list continues to grow).  The title of this post caught my eye, and I was quickly led into a thoughtful discussion of social media, its power, and its potential as a tool for learning. I loved reading Matt's posts about the types of things he could share with his kindergarten families via Facebook, and the screen shots he included let me SEE what he was talking about. I was so grateful for his willingness to share the experiment, including details about how to set it up to protect privacy, and then I was saddened to see it go, in what I view as a fear-based reaction to information that is no longer under anyone's control. Regardless of my personal opinion on the matter, however, I learned to look at this issue of social networking as an educational tool from a variety of perspectives: teachers, parents, administrators and other ed-tech specialists. There is great value for me in considering points of view I wouldn't have otherwise.

Honestly, I used to think following a series of links was a waste of my time, as I didn't really know where to start or where to finish. My earliest attempts to "surf the 'net" didn't really go anywhere, or perhaps I was just missing the big waves. :)  My RSS feeds, however, have changed all that. I frequently find my way to places I've never visited, but are now recommended by professional educators whose opinions I respect and trust.  There's never a shortage of inspiration out there! I'll share more of these journeys, in hopes that you might find a resource, or a particular writer, that inspires you as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Using Icon Images



This is just a cool thing I ran across a few years ago when I was working on developing my website, and I wanted to use the actual icons of applications for which I was writing tutorials....for example, earlier today I wrote about Apple's Mail application. Look at the pretty logo!
To get this gorgeous logo, or any others, here's the trick.
  1. Open your Applications folder and select the app with a single click
  2. Hit ⌘C to copy
  3. Open the Preview application
  4. Go to File > New from clipboard

What will open is the application's logo in multiple sizes for you to use as you see fit.  Here's the Mail.app as it appears in Preview:


I simply saved the icon as a PNG file (or you could choose JPG or GIF), and I now have a graphic I can use in documents, on websites, or in presentation software. Very handy!! I have saved a whole collection of these in an iPhoto album to use in lessons.

What can RSS do for you?


RSS icon from Merit World
LOTS, actually. Really Simple Syndication is just that, really simple.  It allows you to subscribe to resources and have them come to your inbox (or a reader of your choice--there are several to choose from) rather than you going in search of your favorite sites every day to see what's new.  The same way you can subscribe to a newspaper and have it delivered to your house, instead of driving to the nearest convenience store every day, RSS brings the news you want directly to you. It's brilliant.

Google Reader is one popular method of subscribing to RSS feeds, and CWA employees with Tarrier Apps accounts can use them to login to Reader and get started. For academic research purposes, I think there is a huge benefit to using Google Reader in the Tarrier Apps environment, especially with your students, and I will spend more time on that concept in a different blog post. For today, I'm sharing how I use Apple's Mail.app as an RSS reader. Because I use Mail all the time to manage 5 different email accounts*, and it's something I always have open, I like to keep my RSS feeds here.

First, in Mail's preferences, set the Default RSS Reader to Mail.

When you encounter the RSS symbol shown above on any website, clicking it will give you the option to subscribe to that site's content. Usually, there will be a number of options to choose from, but for Mail to handle your feeds, you'll want to look for the XML option. When you click it, Mail will open and a folder just for that site will appear in a space reserved for RSS feeds.  As you add more, you will find that they automatically get placed in alphabetical order. Here's a screen shot of my Mail inboxes and RSS feeds (they run off the screen because I currently subscribe to 44 feeds--added a new one since yesterday, yikes--I'd recommend starting with just a few):


A word of warning...there are times I open Mail to find that I have hundreds (!) of articles to catch up on. Do I read them all? Sometimes. More often, I scan through pretty quickly and pick out the best, which coincidentally, is a skill we need to be teaching our students as they sift through loads of information. My feeds are a mixture of professional blogs, personal interests, friends' published work, and even one that's just photographs tagged "inspirational." Sometimes I need those as a little pick me up. :)

Thomas Edison. Image from Piccsy
My RSS feeds have put me in touch with brilliant educators who encourage and challenge me to think in different directions and try new things. I have found innumerable technology resources and ideas for curricular integration. And I get parenting advice, photography tips, and comical laughs to boot. I would strongly encourage you to start with just a few feeds and see where it takes you. If you subscribe to something that doesn't turn out to be so great, delete the feed! There's no harm in trying something out.

To get you started, here are a few of my very favorites:
Please contact me if you would like some help setting up an RSS reader. It's a great start to building a PLN.

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*Using Mail for tarriers.org email
For my personal workflow, I keep First Class and Mail open simultaneously all day. We have shown many of you how to use Google Notifier to keep you aware of new email to your tarriers.org address. Some of you have opted to forward this email to First Class instead, so you don't miss anything. I prefer to keep the two separate, and while that might not be everyone's organizational method of choice, I find it much more convenient for me. Simply open Mail and then go to the Preferences.



Click on the "Accounts" tab, and then go to the + at the bottom to add a new account. Put in your tarriers.org email address IN FULL, and your password, and then follow the steps to complete your account, it's that simple!

Be aware that you do not have access to all the features of gmail using a 3rd party reader. For example, you cannot type in someone's name and have it auto-fill all the email addresses in our domain the way you can in the online interface. Still, if you're just looking for a way to stay on top of your emails, this is a great way to do quick read and replies.