Posts tagged tools
This posted about two weeks ago at YouTube. Ocean data, imagery and 3D objects now included in Google Earth.
This evening, I was bouncing through my Google Reader checking for a few feeds I haven’t caught up on in a while , and specifically, I wanted to move the GeekDad blog from Wired further up my list of feeds and catch up a little bit. It’s one I typically read for personal enjoyment, but tonight I noticed something that had my mind jumping with educational possibilities – at home with my kids or in formal learning environments.
Initially, I stumbled across an interesting post about Legos. One pointed to a post at Gizmodo with a video tour through LEGO’s “Secret Vault” that contains almost every LEGO set ever released – unopened and unused. It was an interesting trip down memory lane ;-)
Then I came across GeekDad’s post about the LEGO Digital Designer. That jump will tell you more, but in short, the Digital Designer (a free download as far as I can tell) makes it possible to design your own LEGO bricks and/or use the collection of over 700 bricks to design and build to your heart’s content. But, that’s not really the cool part. Once you have finished your build, the software will generate a parts list to create a custom kit to purchase – thus allowing you to then receive your custom set and build with real LEGO’s the same thing you built with the digital designer.
I can imagine really entertaining, authentic, creative, problem solving possibilities all the way up through undergraduate classrooms (a great, fun introduction to architecture?) Definitely worth a look.
This morning/afternoon I attended a workshop that demonstrated a variety of Teaching Tools for Second Life. I absolutely appreciated the workshop and those involved in making it happen: the host institution, the faculty moderator and the facilitator. It’s these kinds of activities that make Second Life of keen interest to educators; there’s simply not another technology that brings everyone into a common workspace like Second Life does.
With that said, as an instructional designer and technologist, I have several significant pedagogical issues with the tools that were demonstrated. Each of the tools I saw demonstrated have, in my opinion, little to no useful place in Second Life. Worse yet, I believe they may actually be counterproductive to the development of quality learning experiences in Second Life. I think this is at the core of the “quality use of Second Life” question. My opinion may be perceived as being too harsh, but I’ll explain.
I don’t want to refer to the tools specifically because I do not want to denigrate the individual tools or the individual who created them; the developer is a fantastic educator for whom I hav ea great deal of professional respect. What I do want to do is to discourage the transfer of traditional assessments and learning tools into a virtual environment which has much greater capabilities and potential.
By and large, our classrooms are much more limited than the real world; it’s not easy or in many cases possible at all for learners to perform a skill in the classroom in the same manner they would perform the same skill in a real-life situation outside of the classroom. For example, in a business entrepreneurship class, it’s not possible to have learners engage the process of actually starting a business; that requires too many actions and resources that lie beyond the capabilities of the classroom. So, we cover the concepts and processes in as much detail and in as innovative ways as possible afforded by textbooks, new media, interactive technologies, classroom activities and the online environment. We then use an assessment instrument of some sort that hopefully provides a valid and reliable estimate of how learners would actually perform if they were to in fact start a business. So, out of necessity, we resort to tools that estimate how a learner would perform in the real world – in an authentic environment once they’ve left the classroom.
The virtual environment, in contrast, creates a unique opportunity to abandon the estimates and the not-so-reasonable-facsimiles of performing real world skills in a real world, authentic environment. In the case of the business entrepreneurship class, it IS possible for learners to actually start a business within a virtual environment, Second Life in particular. They can conduct market research within an actual, living market; they can fabricate actual prototypes of a product; they can bootstrap the business or seek funding for the startup; they can have actual customers purchasing products. Given enough time, they can engage every phase of the business startup process. As an instructional designer, the transfer of classroom tools and assessments that estimate how learners will perform in the real world to the virtual environment is, at best, incongruous, and at worst, counterproductive. They do not belong.
But wait . . . many will say, “We have to have some sort of assessment?!” Right, but I argue that the manner in which we assess learners needs to change; we need to take advantage of the affordances of the new environment. BUT for now, I’ll concede that argument, for argument’s sake. Even if we MUST conduct traditional, exam-type assessment, I ask, “Why do we have to do that within the virtual environment when we already have internet-based tools that do the same thing and perhaps do it much better than any currently-available tool in the virtual space?” Any learner that can access a virtual environment can also access any web-based learning management system that is guaranteed to have an integrated assessment tool. The two environments aren’t and shouldn’t be mutually exclusive; even if we want to teach a class entirely through a virtual environment, that doesn’t mean that ALL activities have to occur within that space. In fact, it’s MUCH more efficient to use both environments; we should leverage the particular strengths of each application.
If that’s not enough, one of the other participants commented, “We need to keep this as simple as possible; many of our students are not strong computer users.” We know that’s true; even strong computer users engage a learning curve within Second Life. Even if there’s disagreement about my arguments above, should we not still leverage the assessment capabilities of LMS’ rather than developing less reliable and more clunky tools to do the same thing in Second Life? for the sake of our learners?
I have NO idea what the origin of the name may be, but Xpanity.com offers an interesting new browser add-on. It’s currently in Beta and issuing delayed invites to those who submit their email address. Once I receive my invite, am able to install and experiment with it, I’ll add more details to this blog post.
What is it?
The Xpanity Suite currently contains two applications: LiveChat and SharedBoard. In short, I think it’s “birds-of-a-feather-sessions meet Web2.0.” According to the website . . .
Xpanity LiveChat, “allows you to see the other browsers currently on the same web page as you are viewing. It provides you with the opportunity to interact with them on all levels. You can do all this anonymously. There is no need to register or provide any of your private information.”
Xpanity SharedBoard, “for each web page on the Internet . . . provides a Shared board for permanent comments that can be viewed by all Xpanity users.”
How does it work?
More on this once I’m able to install and use the application. Generally, clicking on an Xpanity button on your toolbar activates the Xpanity browser extension which enables participation in LiveChat with other users or on the persistent SharedBoard
What’s cool about it?
With Xpanity installed, every website seems to have an interactive component. It’s no longer incumbent upon a website to offer a chat tool; users with Xpanity visiting the same website can chat with one another regardless of the sites capabilities or available tools.
Of course, it’s dependent upon a broad volume of users actually adopting the technology, but assuming that requirement is met, Xpanity dramatically increases my ability to network and communicate with others of similar interests. What used to be invisible – other users accessing the same website at the same time as I am – now becomes visible and interactive.
I’m wondering if this may not be an influential Web2.0 application; consider the characteristics of it. It provides a contextualized browsing and micro-blogging experience. Rather than posting a link to Twitter or sharing it via Facebook to engage a social network regarding a specific site, Xpanity constructs a social network around a specific page or site.
How can it be used in the classroom?
Just off the top of my head, without having yet been able to install or use the application, I can imagine several applications.
Shared browsing. If not familiar with it, shared browsing is a tool which enables a group of users to view the actual browser on a facilitator’s desktop – ostensibly as the topic of a discussion or part of a training session. Although not as cohesive a solution, Xpanity may offer a substitute for shared browsing tools seen in other collaboration tools that support group discussion. As long as a user has Xpanity installed and knows which site to visit at a given time, it serves the same function.
Contextualized discussions. Rather than visiting a website and documenting thoughts in a course discussion board, learners can post their thoughts on a particular website to the Xpanity SharedBoard for the URL. Those comments are persistent which means there’s a lasting record of discussions by which participation can be measured, and the learners and the class as a whole engage the larger web-browsing community regarding that site. That leverages the community and encourages participation by others – much like public blogs and wikis do.
I originally stumbled across Xpanity at Jane’s e-Learning Pick of the Day
I start with Firefox. It’s all about the extensions, add-ons, and plug-ins. IE will never see the light of day on my machine again.
The image above highlights alot of these tools; I’m going to list them in order of preference and personal importance.
delicious Bookmarks fully integrates my delicious bookmarks with Firefox. If not familiar with it, this add-on is different from the browser buttons that delicious provides. Essentially, the Firefox bookmark tool is replaced entirely by delicious; when I click “Bookmarks” in Firefox, a sidebar comes up with my delicious bookmarks – cached and updated direclty from my delicious account.
Zotero Research Manager. An indispensable tool for anyone doing research of any sort – from grade school to graduate student.
Better Gmail combines a number of smaller extensions to enhance Gmail including: new skins, showing disk usage as a progress bar, attachment icons, built-in TinyURL support, adding a Google Reader “Feeds” link to the sidebar (very important for me!), and a number of others. Now includes support for Google’s domain applications.
Twitbin. A tool I should have found much earlier; an extension that adds a sidebar window within the browser. The sidebar displays the most recent tweets from friends and allows you to post an update. With this tool, I finally see the functionality and usefulness of Twitter. I wish I could post tweets for a specific group though.
Twitterbar. The small green plus sign in the address bar shown in the image above is the twitterbar; it posts the current URL as a “currently browsing . . .” update to twitter account.
Favicon Picker enables the toolbar of small icons; it’s the normal links toolbar with the text removed. Plus, rather than the standard default icon, I can add a favicon to identify the shortuct. Using Favicon from Pics, a free online tool, I can create my own favicons for this toolbar.
Add to VodPod. Not an extension per se; it’s a shortcut on my links toolbar. See the previous VodPod post for details. The shortcut allows quick capture of online video to my various Pods.
Better GReader doesn’t have a ton of features, but it does have “Smart Subscribe” which automatically detects an RSS feed on a page and displays a link in the upper right corner of the browser content window which allows quick subscriptions to feeds; if I’m already subscribed to the feed on the page, a checkmark appears over the link.
Facebook Toolbar adds a toolbar to better integrate Facebook usage into the browser. It provides quick links to all areas of Facebook, a share link, and a search bar.
coComment tracks comments submitted to other websites; can be tracked as a separate blog and inserted into existing blog as a widget.
There’s a few others I have installed and enabled but have not, as of yet, used extensively: Firebug, Firefox Universal Uploader, GButts, Google Gears, and UnPlug.
There’s a number of extensions I’ve experimented with but disabled simply because I don’t use them frequently enough: AddThis, ChatZilla, Clipmarks (I use Zotero), Cooliris Previews, original deli.icio.us, Diigo Toolbar, DOM Inspector, FireFTP, Google Notebook, Googlepedia, Me.dium, Notefish, Sage, ScribeFire, StumbleUpon, Web Developer, and Wizz RSS News Reader.
What is it?
VoiceThread allows users to upload and then orally comment on photos. The site tour: “What’s a VoiceThread anyway?” provides a decent overview and demo of the application.
How does it work?
Users upload pictures that are added to the flash media player; different permissions can be set to allow the VoiceThread to be public or private and the opportunity to add audio can be limited to specific users. Once created, users may add audio to narrate/annotate each individual picture. The VoiceThread can be linked to on the VoiceThread site or downloaded for inclusion in a different site.
What’s cool about it?
– VoiceThreads may be left open for other users and friends to comment on the image; this enables interesting collaborative and learning community applications of the technology.
– VoiceThreads may be saved and shared, in Flash video format, on any website. This allows portability to personal websites.
How can it be used in the classroom?
Nearly every discipline can benefit from this technology by simply soliciting learner reactions to digital images and photographs.
In an American History course, what instructional and learning value could come of having each learner in the course record their personal reactions to the images in this VoiceThread? What if learners were asked to record their thoughts once prior to in-class discussion or reading assignments and then again after learning more about how World War II ended? How many learners knew of Japan’s interest in surrender; does awareness of that not-widely covered historical fact have a significant impact on learner reactions?
In a literature course, would learner’s recording impromptu reactions to poetry-related imagery add value to their understanding of a poem? Could a group of learners potentially collaboratively create an artistic oral performance describing that imagery?
—— Additional Thought 4/10/2007 ——
How did I not describe the potential for language instruction? Using instructor-specified graphics, learners could create personal VoiceThreads in which they tell a story about each image. Alternatively, an instructor could create a VoiceThread of 2-3 images; for each image, the instructor begins a story. Learners then follow suit by each adding several thoughts or ideas to collaboratively develop a longer story about each image; individuals could be assessed on their speaking skills and whether their contribution fits within the context of the story already created by classmates.
I first noticed VoiceThread via Dean Shareski’s blog, Ideas & Thoughts from an EdTech
I rarely cross-post information or simply post an entry pointing to another Blog; I typically mark those articles as shared news, so they appear in that feed. However, I need to make an exception in this case.
Angela Thomas posted a list of resources compiled and posted to the SLED listserv by Ed Lamoureux. I think I’ve mentioned many of these resources before, or at least, I’ve marked them as shared news, so they’ve appeared in the sidebar of this blog. I did simply want to flag that post by Angela and email by Ed as a valuable resource.
If my avatar already needs a personal time management and calendaring tool, then he certainly needs a laptop also, correct? A discussion on the SLED listserv caught my eye; Beth was talking about having had an in-world laptop created for her students.
From these laptops, students can email ANYONE (in or out of SL), access WebCT (or any CMS), go to our class blog, class wiki, flickr, Google,etc (there are like 20 links). He can custom design each laptop with your links and with your school logo. The laptops can be any color. He will place the vendor wherever you want it, as well, so students can purchase the laptops right on your land.
Following several emails from other list’ers expressing interest, Beth offered a demo, and since I was teaching that night, she even offered to meet up in-world to demonstrate this tool, and the scripter even dropped in for a visit. It’s a very nice tool with several interesting features that I want to highlight and discuss followed by a few details about the background on and availability of the laptops and a few thoughts for the Real Life Education (RLE) community.
There’s two basic functions of the laptop; clicking on the screen accesses web-based links which the instructor has selected to be included in the learner’s “library” of resources, and clicking on the keyboard makes available several interesting communication tools. In this particular instance, the links accessible from the laptop’s screen included several college-specific websites like the home page and the WebCT portal, a number of news sources, and Web 2.0 tools used by the course. The communication tools include the ability to send email from inside SL to other in-world addresses or web-based email; I was able to send email FROM my avatar to my regular gmail account! And, it’s possible to receive emails in-world only; sending emails directly to the avatar laptop! Not only that, it’s possible to access the in-world laptop via the web, without logging on to SL. Via the web-interface, it’s possible to send and receive emails from the Av-laptop, and the av-laptop will even tell you who is nearby in-world, without you having logged in to SL! It’s definitely a useful tool with interesting educational applications, including the ability to post an external blog entry via email from in-world.
The $100L Laptop Program anyone?
A couple of issues and ideas. . .
Currently, the laptops are not open source; if you want to customize the laptops or add content, you must contact the developer. That’s not an entirely bad thing, and Neo doesn’t charge a great deal for the laptops per student (about $5US ~ $1000L). And, he clearly does excellent work; as soon as I’m able to get back in-world, I’ll post a slurl to his storefront. With that said, there’s a definitive need, I think, for the education community to develop an open source version of this tool that relies on customizable and dynamically updated data, or for others who have created in-world computers to develop an educationally-centered tool priced as low as possible ($200-$300L ~ $1US).
Second, the in-world laptop I saw in the demo is based upon the SL Pear Computer platform and tools. The Pear Computer store is available in world at Porcupine (196, 31, 147). The store and their blog may be of interest: http://sl-pear.blogspot.com/
Finally, other SLED List’ers contributed other ideas and questions of interest. Intellagirl asked if the laptops could be automatically updated with new content and suggested a “binder” of sorts. Previously, she’s used a collection of notecards with links and information that were based upon the originals she possessed. By creating the dependent set of notecards, it’s possible for an instructor to update their copy which then cascades to each of the learner copies.
The Real Life Education (RLE) Community in Second Life will be tragically and ironically fragmented if we continue our current “scheduling” and “calendar-itis” habits. In short, SL offers an in-world search feature to help residents find events in which they’re interested; the problem, to me, is that RLE Groups are not using the feature. Instead, they are creating their own web-based calendars in services all over the web. Second Life CAN bring us together, but if we continue to fragment the information that facilitates our meeting, networking and collaborating, we’re limiting ourselves as a community. That’s both tragic and ironic, especially since there’s a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
In the past week, I’ve diligently watched and searched the SL global events listing, and the RLE events are few and far between. At the same time, I have also been watching blogs and other feeds via a news reader and have noticed a good 10-15 RLE events that have occurred or will be occurring in the near future. If we do not, as a community, make an effort to use the in-world events tool, two things will occur to inhibit the collaborative growth of RLE in SL.
First, educators trying SL for the first time will find a virtual world that seems to severely lack RLE content and opportunities. If new educators dropping in-world for the first time stick around more than a few days, what are they going to use to search for RLE events? They’re going to use the in-world events calendar, and what are they going to find when searching for RLE events? Nothing appealing. As of this moment, there are 92 events in the education category scheduled as much as a month into the future: February 27. ONLY TWO of those are RLE. New educators will leave if they find only prim building and BDSM in SL on the list of “educational events.” The wonderful events available in Google Calendars spread across thirty different blogs are absolutely useless in that regard.
Second, educators that are intent on sticking around and learning and finding as much as they can – like myself – will be incredibly frustrated with searching the web seven times over
to find the scores of web-based calendars that have or will be created. At the very least, if RLE events are not scheduled via SL’s integrated tools, our ability to network and collaborate will be artificially and unnecessarily constrained.
The most frustrating issue for me, currently, is that Linden Labs facilitates the use of BOTH in-world and web-based calendars, but the RLE Community is not using the available tools. If you want a web-based calendar of just your events to put on your website, it’s possible to schedule those events in-world and have a web-based calendar generated automagically. And, by doing the manual entry in-world, residents searching there will be guaranteed to find your event. Here’s the process:
- Create your events in Second Life originally; when you do, use some sort of a unique identifier for your group: a combination of letters and/or numbers that don’t occur naturally in language.
- That information will be ported automatically, as are all Second Life events, to Eventful.com.
- With an account at Eventful.com, you can create a personal or a group calendar that will automatically add public events scheduled via the website based upon the keywords you specify. “What” is your unique identifier, and “Where” is Second Life. Violin! You have a dynamic, automatically updated web-based calendar for all of your in-world events.
- Not good enough? Don’t like the Eventful.com interface or features? A google hack? (yeah, I know… me too). Go to your Google Calendars and Add Other Calendar and point it to the iCal format/feed of your Eventful calendar. ! You now have a Google calendar that is also dynamic and automatically updated as you add or modify events in-world. You can then use the RSS/iCal feeds for the calendar as well as the embedded HTML code for putting the Google Calendar into your website.
Try it and see. I created a TUi – Second Life calendar at Eventful calendar which automagically adds events with “TUi” in the title (what) and occurring in Second Life (where). I then created the TUi Calendar from my Google account by pointing to the iCal format of the Eventful calendar which enabled a Google-style web-based calendar and the ability to embed that HTML Google calendar into a website (see below). I didn’t have to go that far, however; I could have just used the Eventful embedding feature. Second Life CAN bring us together, but if we continue to fragment the information that allows us to come together, we’re limiting ourselves as a community. That’s both tragic and ironic.
I spent an hour or so last night tinkering with LSL (Linden Scripting Language); I’ve done enough novice to low-intermediate level programming that I was able to work with LSL well enough to create a small object/script designed to be used as a Center 2 HUD. Slurlicious combines SLURL and del.icio.us to allow SL’ers to share their current in-world location via their del.icio.us bookmarks.
When attached to the Center 2 HUD, the image above appears above the SL resident’s avatar. When clicked, the Slurlicious HUD will open the SL’ers personal post to del.icio.us page to allow them to bookmark a SLURL representing their current in-world location. The URL and page title information are already populated with the slurl and the region’s name.
I’m hoping this will be a tool useful for educators. At the very least, I wanted an easy way to share my landmarks with colleagues beyond the in-world features I’ve identified thus far into my six weeks of SL experience. So, if you visit, http://del.icio.us/cmduke/slurleducation, you’ll find all of the educational locations I have in my landmark inventory (of course, I also have that feed rolling on this blog site as well). If you subscribe to the feed for that page, you’ll be notified through the feed every time I landmark a new educational, in-world location along with the notes I add to describe that location.
If you’d like a copy of Slurlicious, I’m trying to find a location in-world where Slurlicious can be placed for retrieval; currently, I’m handing out copies. It is freely available with a note that donations to Topher Zwiers are appreciated (since they will help support my SL habit;-).
If you’d like to share your landmarks via delicious by way of Slurlicious, consider tagging all of your slurls in delicious with slurlicious, slurl and slurl(insert category). I’ll be tagging all of my slurls that way to allow for users to find any slurl tagged via slurlicious and then find subcategories of locations in-world. I’m sincerely hoping other educators will use Slurlicious as a way of sharing locations, so if you would like to join us, post the URL of your del.icio.us account as a comment to this post. Happy Slurling!