Friday, April 30, 2010

Potential creep factor: high!

Have you seen Spokeo yet?  It's a new "white pages" that searches Facebook, marketing lists and other sites to fill in a shocking amount of information on people, everything from address and phone number, to personal wealth and number of people living in your household. 

I didn't find it all that accurate for my results (it says, for example, I've only partially finished college, and I have three degrees; moreover, the address it has for me is YEARS out of date); when I typed in numerous friends, it couldn't find 75% of the names (it told me there are 0 "Stoddars" in the US.  Yeah, right.)

So I'm unimpressed on that level.

But I must say, if they start working to improve results, the potential creepy skin factor on this is pretty high.  It proffers WAY more information on me than I want to the average person...or ANY person accessing.

This definitely bears watching!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tagxedo: Wordle, only more so

Tagxedo does Wordle one better, allowing users to apply shapes to their word clouds.  Here, I've put the Gettysburg Address into a dove shape (the quotation balloon shape didn't look very good).  It includes all the usual tools for designing your cloud--color, orientation, etc.

In addition, Tagxedo has kind of a cool feature when it's online.  Hover your pointer over a word, and it "pops up," highlighted.  Good for concept discussion.  In its current Beta version, it even allows you to upload your own shape, though it looks like that will become a pro feature eventually.

Make the Move...

I think Ning just saved EdWeb.   Not that it needed saving; however, eSchool News reported yesterday that Ning plans to move to a fee-based profit model, which poses a problem for many teachers who have created content-rich sites for their classroom.

Moving to EdWeb might just be the solution, as Ning says they will offer a 10 week grace period  for users to shift content.  No word yet as to what those fees will be, however.

One benefit:  EdWeb was created by and for educators.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This is insanely imporant

Jamie Oliver is doing amazing things for kids and schools.  As someone who, quite frankly, has struggled with weight her entire life, I can speak personally to the importance of teaching good nutritional habits EARLY.   Jamie will take this petition to Washington, where he will attempt to address our nation's appalling record on nutrition in schools (remember "ketchup is a vegetable"?) with people who can actually do something about it.  Sign now.

The End of Books...

Will Richardson makes an interesting case for the use of eReaders ala Kindle over physical books. It's a compelling argument (be sure to read the comments), and I'm even more convinced that I want an iPad.

While there is a case to be made (and I and others have made it) that iPads in schools create a problem in that they are consumption based, let's face it: a large part of learning is STILL about consuming material, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. There is even some evidence (from a tweet by @dianadell) that the current emphasis on discovery-based learning may be misguided. As always with education, I think good teachers use a mixture of pedagogical methods.

Anyway, the ability to share textual annotations around, say, a reading of Gatsby could have a fairly profound impact on class dicussions and students' understanding of the text, allowing for greater nuance in interpretation.  It would also make it easier to MODEL active reading--something that's very difficult for students.

It would be interesting to do a comparative study of two classes reading the same text, one with physical books, the other using Kindle and sharing notes. With everything else the same, would the Kindle students show a deeper understanding of the text? 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Set Music Free

I am always on a never-ending quest to find open access content for use in video projects.  Thanks to a post I LM-NET, on another topic, someone sent me a link to Musopen.

This site hosts music from the likes of the US Marine Band and your local high school.  Most of the selections are classical, all are downloadable and free.  Performance quality varies (as you can imagine), but, hey.  It's free!

I still like Freeplaymusic best (it organizes music by mood, for one thing!), but options are good!

Going to ISTE?

A bit of unabashed self-promotion here!

If you're attending ISTE, consider enrolling in my full-day workshop on documentaries.  It should be fun! (That's the plan, anyway!)  I'm a firm believer in "give me something I can do in class tomorrow," so long with the theory and background, you'll receive lots of practical, hands-on experience with filming, editing and the ins-and-outs of teaching the process!

Register here, and sign up for "Lights, Camera, Take Action!"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is it just me?

I must be in a mood today or something.

Is anyone else out there disturbed by all the buzz that districts are jumping on the iPad bandwagon as a cheap alternative to computers? That would be a disaster.  And it strikes me as just more evidence that the powers that be are clueless about technology.  The iPad is the latest glitzy toy that screams "Hey, we use technology!  We're 21st Century!"  It's also (at least at this early stage in its career) the complete antithesis of what education is--or should be--all about.

Ed. tech is all about empowering students to interact with their learning, to aggregate sources, mash them up and create something totally new and personal. They become active participants in the conversation, integrating their learning in ways meaningful to them, then producing real content that adds to the ongoing dialogue.

Educationally speaking, the iPad is sooo19th century. It's about passive learning.  Bells and whistles and flashy videos, but it's student as sponge.  Forgive my bluntness, but it's for teachers who refuse to change old habits;  flashing an iPad in the class allows them to imply they're current, without actually having to transform their pedagogy.  Gradgrind would love them.

I had high hopes that adding the iWork suite, which I love, would allow for basic productivity.  But I had a tweet from Wes Fryer in my feed the other day, and Keynote wouldn't work with links, wouldn't play video he had on the iPad, was basically worthless as a presentation tool.  One hopes Apple will improve this, but I doubt it's going to add much more productivity to the iPad, if only to avoid cutting into its computer market.

Do I want one?  You bet!  It's going to be great for taking books to Mongolia. If I had to choose between that and my laptop, however, the laptop would win hands down because of everything it allows me to do.

If you're district is even considering this, start protesting frequently and vociferously!

Whining to Win Friends and Influence People

I've been thinking a lot about advocacy lately.

Who hasn't, really, with the library community in crisis mode over the downpour of pink slips across the country. Except I suspect I'm not on the same page as the majority of school librarians: We're whining too much.

I almost blogged about this a couple months ago when the ALA was up in arms because Obama's Race to the Top program didn't include specific funding for libraries. This reaction smacked to me of the tea-party set, who wax eloquent about the perils of socialized medicine, then threaten bodily harm to anyone who touches their Medicare. Everyone knows there are limited funds to go around, that their needs to be cuts...just not to my particular program.

Don't get me wrong. I am utterly, deeply convinced of the profound contributions library media specialists to schools and to students. I abhor the entrenched notion that we are book jockeys with a degree and an utterly replacable luxury.

But I also think we brought this on ourselves.

Library schools have touted advocacy for years now, if not decades--to little avail if current events are anything to judge by.  Look at any ALA website or catalog, and you'll find a plethora of materials shouting out the library...the importance of the library...the impact of the library.  Excuse me?  I thought it was about the kids?
 Looking at the ALA's Frontline Advocacy for School Libraries page, I ran across this telling phrase:
It’s important that you share the value of your impact as well as the value of your library media center’s impact on student success. 
"As well as..." our impact on students?  Since when did students become secondary to what we do?
Similarly, the ALSC's Issues and Advocacy page starts with the following:
It's more important than ever for youth be able to advocate effectively on behalf of libraries (emphasis mine).

Houston, we have a problem.

Somewhere along the line, I think we confused advocacy with PR.  I've only been in the library for three years, but the one true thing I've learned is this:  REAL advocacy is bloody hard work.  Real advocacy--the knowing every teacher, what they're doing,  how I can make that easier, better, faster-- takes an incredible amount of time, persistence, and sheer cussedness. REAL advocacy--knowing the students, knowing their projects, teaching (often one-on-one) how to run a search rather than doing it for them (which would be infinitely easier and faster) takes more time and patience than I have some days.

You have to be a diplomat.  One of our 10th grade teachers offered his history class the option of NOT coming to me (as all the other classes do) for  search lessons.  Of course, having spent two weeks with me in 9th grade, they now think they can do it on their own.  So now I'm offering daily tutorials to students struggling to find fifteen sources, of which seven have to be primary.  They would rather NOT come to me, because it's more work than just finding the top hits on Google; thus I coddle and encourage and make it all seem fun.  Or try to.

You have to be patient. My first year here, I thought I would have the students and faculty whipped into shape by the end of the year, that I would move the library from a social lounge to a hub of active, engaged learning in mere months.   Three years later, I'm a quarter of the way there.

I could go on, but the point of all this is that none of this has anything to do with circulation stats or monthly updates to admin or that end of the year "state of the library" report I spend ages on, but (I suspect) nobody actually reads.

What it does have to do with is  the sheer hard work of knowing my students, knowing my faculty.  As I tell them both:  My job is to make your job easier.

You want to see some change?  Quit with the PR already.  Just do your job.

UPDATE:  Ha!  And here I thought I was all frontline and edgy on this!  A similar post on School Library Monthly   I love the Gail Dickinson quote.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A New Twist on Digital Storytelling...

Google, as usual, made quite an impression with its unusual Superbowl ad, showing how search (and Google!) are integral to our lives.

The ad caught on, inspiring both imitations and this great parody that actually made me laugh out loud.

Google has now created an online tool to create your own "Search Story." Isn't that a great idea for one of those fun, end-of-the-year assignments we're always looking for the last week or two of school? I think I'm even going to sponsor a library contest and show the top five at our MediaFest.

I think one judging category will be demonstrating the search skills I teach during the year.

Once you click on the story creator, a pop-up menu offers tips for anyone struggling for ideas. I'm going to make one this week, and I'll post it when it's finished.

Story on!

Monday, April 12, 2010

New in Google Docs!

Google Docs just got a lot cooler! Today, Google announced some big changes in the way Docs works. Most significantly, I think, the ability to see real time collaborative edits--no more having to save a file repeatedly in order to see changes. This is HUGE when several students are editing the same document simultaneously. Before, students could be editing the same sentence, without knowing. Now, changes appear in each document as they're made. Way to go, Google!

Docs also provides a collaborative drawing tool to create flow charts, diagrams, etc. which can then be imported into a document or presentation.

Not all accounts are updated yet (mine, for instance!), but Google tends to roll these things out in waves (pun intended...) If your account doesn't reflect the changes yet, sigh and be patient....

In the meantime, here's a video description of the changes.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Creative Commons : Spectrum of Rights

A nice, easily understandable explanation of the Creative Commons. And who doesn't like cartoons?!

FIlm Editing Basics

A handout I created for my Film Studies students. It covers the basics of film editing styles and techniques. Feel free to download and use!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

iCyte: Better than Diigo?

I just discovered iCyte today. Similar to Diigo, iCyte allows users to bookmark sites, highlight useful text, and write comments. I introduced my students to Diigo this year as a way or organizing and keeping track of their online researching.

I must say, iCyte offers a smoother, more intuitive interface. Like Diigo, it's a browser add-on, but instead of a clunky line of tools across the width of your browser, it's a nifty little button next to the URL window. You can either open a side window showing your bookmark history, or click to create a new bookmark.

Creating a new bookmark pops up a window that allows you to tag the site and add a note. You can also highlight sections of the text that will appear when you go directly to the library. Very cool, and much easier than Diigo. Better yet, unlike Diigo the tools worked seamlessly when I tried them with databases. With Diigo, we had to figure out a rather convoluted work-around.

You can create several different projects, and your bookmarks can be either public or private...and shared, of course!

On the website, log in to "My View," choose your project, and you'll see the tags, the highlighted sections and your notes. Like Diigo, you can't organize sites into folders, but this is a great opportunity to teach students the value of tagging frequently and prolifically. If David Weinberger is right, hierarchical folders and files are 20th century thinking, and tagging is where it's at for findability!

Best of all, you don't have to look at all those annoying sticky notes on websites when Diigo is turned on!