1. Moodle – This course management system remains ‘top dog’ for me because it seems to do everything. I haven’t fully explored Moodle at this point, but I am currently ‘piloting’ the use of one within my school board and it’s going extremely well. It’s going so well that I feel bad for others who are looking for a class website solution because the option is only available to me at the moment. It’s possible that we may move in the direction of having Moodle available for all teachers in the board after the piloting period. Honestly, if you can think of something that you want it to be able to do, it can probably do it!
2. Weebly—This website platform has got to be the next best class website or blogging solution. There are paid options that give you more control over your site; however, there is a free option which is excellent for a new or average user. A teacher can create a website or blog and make the site private to only those who are invited, so the teacher can allow students (and parents if desired) to view or use the site depending on the settings made by the teacher. Since it’s a site creation platform and not a class management system, it does not have the functionality of Moodle; however, if you’re not looking for a class management system, I believe this is the most user friendly platform. It has rich features and a drag and drop interface. Now, really, what can be easier than that?
3. Posterous—I had heard of this Web 2.0 application before I attended the O.S.S.T.F. Tools & Toys Technology Conference in Toronto this past week, but I had not examined or used it. It’s really quite neat how this application functions. First, the user makes a blogging site by creating a username and password, and providing the email address that will be used in conjunction with this site. Once logged in, the user can create a blog (or multiple blogs for different purposes). Each blog is assigned a unique Posterous Web address. When you want to post to your Posterous blog, you send it an email! The subject line becomes your blog entry headline. The text becomes your written entry. If you want to include images or audio, you simply attach it to the email. If you want to include an embedded flash video (i.e. YouTube), include the html link in the email. If desired, you can connect your Posterous site to several social networks or blogs. For instance, you may want to create a blog on Blogger where all of your postings will be sent so that you have a ‘cloud’ backup of your entries. [A cloud is a backup storage space that is not on your computer or device; it is out in cyberspace.] Posterous does not have a backup option, so it is conceivable that you could lose your postings if Posterous ever experiences a loss of data. Another example would be having your new entry automatically tweeted to your followers. If parents use Twitter (or Facebook), they may like this option because they can receive new information through whatever platform they actually use.
Using a Posterous site for a one-time school event is a great idea. Parents and students can be invited to take pictures on their mobile devices and then email them to the Posterous site that’s been created for that event. Anyone can go to the link and view the pictures during or after the event.
A Posterous blog/website could be used in the following ways:
- a class blog for the year,
- a class blog for a particular topic,
- a school/class announcement board,
- a site to keep new teaching ideas, or
- a site to collect pictures for a school event (which encourages student and parent participation).
4. Audacity—This program is freely shared on the Web. Anyone can download and use this audio editing program. In teaching students about not violating copyright, the teacher can have them create original music by mashing and mixing the music that they currently own. Creating a mash up or using the editing functions to create new music from a song that is not their own is considered original and not a violation of copyright. As well, this program is ideal for creating audio podcasts. Creating podcasts that can be posted to a blog would be an excellent, innovative assignment for students which get them to use another mode of communication that is not print-based. Having audio available on a website is considered an inclusive action to meet the needs of those who cannot read the text due to visual impairment, reading difficulties or having another first language.
There are two other programs that I have used to create short audio recordings that do not have background sounds and music. Audacity allows you to build layers of sound and edit quite specifically; however, if you are only interested in recording voice in under five minutes you may be interested in using Audio Boo or Cinch Cast. Both are Web 2.0 applications that have interactive, social elements since you can make personal connections within the site and listen to each other’s recordings. Each requires you to register to the site to use their tool for free. You have the option of sending notifications to your major social networks to announce your podcast. Although you cannot download the audio recording, you can embed it in a website.
5. Premier Literacy Tools—This toolkit for literacy is the best that I’ve ever seen for meeting the needs of ALL students. The company, which is based in Nova Scotia, has a very friendly approach to licensing their product. TheY license the product for entire schools or entire school board instead of for individual students. Their competitors sell similar products that have a hefty price tag for each student user. In comparison, the Premier tools are much less expensive and help to reduce the IEP stigma since the tools are available for all students. I encourage you to check it out for yourself on their site www.readingmadeeasy.ca or www.readingmadeez.com (US). I have summed up several functions of the tools that were presented to me at the technology conference mentioned above.
List of tools:
- Text Reader – can adjust speed and voice; can highlight text area, cut/paste into reader or simply point at what you want to hear read aloud; can use more than one voice if the student gets unfocused so that the voice changes periodically to draw attention to the most important information
- Flash Reader—only one on the market; select the selection to read (as in text reader); works with the Adobe Flash collection of books, Flash textbooks, and online Flash items
- Auto Summarization—using weighted language model and not the Queen’s English model; the reading selection must be a minimum of 1500 words long; simply highlight and hit ctrl+F6; can be done with any document that is the minimum length; GREAT for Literacy Test demonstration
- Dictionaries—English/French talking dictionaries; if word is spelled incorrectly the dictionary uses auditory to ask, “Did you mean?” and gives options until it’s the right word; it uses word association/interlinking
- Translator—English to French, French to English and Spanish to English; conceptual translator…not literal
- Text-to-MP3—turn any text into an MP3 file **AMAZING**; students can write and then turn it into an audio file; teacher can take lengthy text, divide it into segments and create audio files of the reading
- PDF Builder
- PDF Equalizer—[many new digital texts are PDF and other tools can’t read them] highlight and read; reads graphics; returns to where you left off when last reading
- Talking Checkbook
- Talking Calculator
- Text Cloner
- Magnify It
- Predictor Pro
- Note Maker – can highlight text, images, etc. to copy/paste into a new document as a study note; can add notes to a text; when reading a digital textbook, it always opens the next time where you left off
- Web Grabber—save a Web page as a PDF and view later
6. Bitstrips—An online comic creating application that can be used for free or with more functionality by subscription. ATTENTION ALL ONTARIO TEACHERS – Your Ministry of Education has bought a license for all Ontario schools to use an educator’s version of Bitstrips. Go to the registration link where you will have to input your information regarding where you teach; you must create your account using your school board email for this to work. Each teacher gets a private space for their class(es) where the students (and the teacher) designs their own avatars. Currently there are more than 2.5 million cartoons that have been created by Ontario students, and 85% of Ontario’s schools are using this web application in the classroom in all grades – Kindergarten to grade 12. There is a function for students to comment on each other’s work. The teacher can moderate the comments or not. Students can have the ability to flag what they believe are inappropriate comments (or comics) which can then be a teachable moment for the class or the individual students involved. There are numerous classroom and assignment applications for the creation of comics. For example, have them retell a portion of a story, continue a story, write a new story, tell a joke, add a visual to a presentation, create a time-line, explain a process, and the list goes on and on! Jesse Brown, one of the keynote speakers at the technology conference, is the co-creator of Bitstrips. He believes that the site encourages interactivity and creativity which are important in our modern society. I believe that this program empowers students in the classroom because it is a differentiated learning tool that allows students to demonstrate a strength that is not rooted in writing ability.
7. iPad—I have not attended any presentation on this new technology, but it cannot be ignored as it is the fastest selling piece of technology EVER! It’s become an icon in our culture. It has countless educational applications in every subject, and Apps for this device are in constant development! I didn’t place this item as number one because it has a price tag that is still unaffordable in education. They are more expensive than desktop computers which have more functionality, so I believe they must come done in price to be universally useful in the classroom. Those who do use them point out that they do not replace a laptop or computer, but they do serve a different function. The highly visual nature of the iPad and the intuitive functionality are positive aspects for all users. The portability of this product is one of the very best features which will make learning possible 24/7.
8. Video Resources Online—First, this list is quite excellent as a general list (not specific to English): 100 Best YouTube Videos for Teachers. Next, iTunes U is available through the iTunes Store. There is a section of university lectures from all over North America that are free. These are actual university professors delivering their lectures in many different disciplines. Using these lectures could enhance your lesson, offer enrichment to more advanced students, or give senior students a lecture experience before going to university. Also, YoutubeEDU has a huge growing database of educational videos. There are numerous instructional type videos in all subjects. Again, these may enhance your lesson by giving more visual stimulation to an audience that needs it for engagement. Finally, Khan Academy has 2000+ searchable videos useful to education. These resources were suggested by Marc Saltzman, a Canadian ‘new technology’ expert columnist who reviews new tech gadgets and resources. You may remember him from the tech report that is played at the beginning of every film in a major Canadian theatre (phrase?).
After attending the OSSTF Tools & Toys Technology Conference in Toronto, Ontario on October 28-29, 2010, my colleague, Allison Timmins, and I created this Weebly Site to report on our professional development experience.