in Productivity

90% digital, or 12 ways my teaching ecosystem is evolving.

I’m looking forward to the new academic year. Having said that, I’m not hugely excited about the Web 2.0 tools I’ll be using next year – and I believe that’s a good thing. It shows that such tools have become part of my teaching ecosystem. As I read recently, “The music is not in the piano.” (i.e. it is but a tool, just like technology)

The only reason my teaching ecosystem isn’t 100% digital is because of outside influences: documents from colleagues and marking student books. It’s part of my aim for my E-Learning Staff Tutor position to put more digital tools in the hands of colleagues. I’ll be using the new elearnr site to help with that. :-)

This week I came across Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008. It’s made up of a large number of educators’ top 10 lists of elearning tools. I haven’t tried to stick to 10 in what follows – it’s just a list of what I’m going to be using (in order of what I’ll be using most!) :-D

1. Google Calendar

I’ve been using Google Calendar for a couple of years now for my day-to-day planning (see here and here). Although it takes around half an hour to enter your timetable initially, you can then set this to repeat until a certain date (i.e. the end of the academic year).

I use a ‘double-star system’ (see screenshot below). Before a lesson has been planned it has two asterisk after it. Removing one star means that I’ve entered the title and lesson objective (and homework, if applicable). Removing the second star means that the lesson is fully planned.

After the lesson, if there’s anything I need to remember for the next lesson with the class, I just add it to the comments section.

Obviously things like meetings, parents evenings can be entered ad-hoc. As you can access Google Calendar via mobile phone as well, it means I’ve got my day-to-day planning everywhere. :-)

2. Attendance/Homework checkers

I run a two-laptop classroom. I’ve got my school-provided laptop at the front of my classroom running the interactive whiteboard (a SMARTboard) and my netbook (an MSI Wind-like Advent 4211 now running Mac OSX) is for everything else.

Whilst I could use Google Spreadsheets for my attendance registers, there’s two reasons I don’t. First of all it just doesn’t update very quickly, being web-based. Second, I’ve got to have a register – even if Internet access goes down at school. So I use Microsoft Excel with some conditional formatting goodness that I blogged about ages ago.

3. Google Docs

I’d be the first to hold my hand up and say that I’m a last-minute planner. What I do in the next lesson with a class depends very much upon what happened in the previous. Students have different questions and things can go off at a tangent. That’s not to say I don’t medium-term plan, however!

For my medium-term planning I use Google Docs. Nothing fancy, just a table with columns for lesson title, objective and possible content. The great thing about this is that I don’t have to remember to back it up and I can drop in links to any online resources quickly and easily. I do about a half-term at a time, having worked out before how much I need to cover to get everything done within the year. :-p

4. Evernote

You’re not going to believe this but my school still doesn’t use email as the primary method of contact between members of staff. Hard to believe, I know! Consequently, I’m overwhelmed by a deluge of paper. To counteract this, I started taking a photograph of the documents using the camera in my Nokia N95. The trouble was that organizing these images was difficult and time-consuming. In the end, I just gave up.

Then I was invited to take part in the private beta for Evernote. This program is available cross-platform and is now out of beta, so it’s available to everyone. It takes the image you’ve taken and transferred to your laptop (e.g. via Bluetooth) and recognises the words – even when they’re hand-written! You can add tags to the photos and they’re automatically (securely) synced with your account on their server. That means they’re available wherever you’ve got an Internet connection.

Evernote’s a great system no matter what phone/digital camera/laptop combo you’ve got, but if you’ve got an iPhone, you really do need to download it from the App Store!

5. Google Presentations

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for still using Powerpoint. After all, I’m training colleagues to use software such as SMART Notebook when I rarely use it myself. The truth is, Powerpoint is compatible, flexible, and has great clipart.

The problem comes when you want to get a Powerpoint online. Say that you’ve drawn on top of a diagram and want to make it accessible for students outside the classroom. In the past I’ve had to use OpenOffice to convert it into Flash, upload it to my website, and then create an HTML page in which to embed it.

Not any more. Now I just upload it to Google Docs and it’s transformed into a Google Presentation. This can then be easily embedded into a blog, wiki or website. Marvellous! :-)

6. Google Sites

I used a self-hosted installation of WordPress for a couple of years successfully at learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk. That’s the place I direct students to in order to access homework activities and resources to aid their learning. At the end of last academic year, however, I switched over to Google Sites. My version actually comes as part of Google Apps Education Edition, but there’s no advantage in this other than the ability to customise the domain name.

I’ve found it really useful and reliable. Because it’s hosted by Google, I’ve never experienced any downtime and, of course, it’s not blocked by the school network’s proxy. You can edit things in a straightforward, easy-to-use manner. The built-in navigation features make it simple for students to navigate. Embedding objects is easy – I could ask for any more! :-D

7. Twitter

I’m disappointed that Twitter, the micro social-networking service, has made the decision to stop the ability to receive SMS updates when you receive direct messages or replies. It means that I’m unlikely to use it with my GCSE students this time around.

To neglect to add it to my list, however, would be misleading. I’ll still be using it both in and out of school in a professional development capacity. I can’t imagine being connected only via blogs now (as in the early days of the edublogosphere). Twitter and other real-time tools make professional development fun!

8. Edublogs

With my last cohort of GCSE History students I installed WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) edition at mrbelshaw.co.uk. Whilst it worked fine and the students took to it well, the system took some configuring and was a bit of a nightmare when I transferred web hosting companies.

This year, I’m going to be using Edublogs. It, after all, is a giant installation of WPMU, but they host it for you, make hundreds of themes available and there’s added values with wiki and forum integration (to name but two). It should cut down on hassle. I track what students are up to via the RSS feed for the blog entries and comments. :-)

9. Google Earth

It’s fair to say that I use Google Earth a lot. In fact, when I had to teach Geography to a Year 8 Set 4 class last academic year, I think I used it every lesson! It’s also of great use in history as it’s so much more than a mapping application; the ‘layers’ and ability to create tours add huge amounts of value.

I’ll be using it next academic year, as I have in previous years, to plot the route of Hannibal’s march with elephants on Rome, doing a flyover tour of Engladn in 1066, building up the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a lot more. I’ve shared some of the resources I’ve created for Google Earth over at the historyshareforum.

10. Simple English Wikipedia

Although I’ve threatened to do it a couple of times before, this academic year is going to be the time when I carry through my plan. I want students to be creators and contribute to the Internet. In Years 10 and 11 whilst they’re doing their GCSEs, I get them to blog. But what about in Key Stage 3?

I’m going to get them to add to the Simple English Wikipedia. This lesser-known sibling of Wikipedia is for children and foreign language students. Every page on the main Wikipedia site (potentially) has a similar page on the Simple version. The trouble is that the Simple version doesn’t have as much content – I want to rectify that by getting my students to edit that.

The main problem with this is that they can’t do it at school. I’m sure it the same with most educational institutions: our IP address is banned from editing do to ‘vandalism’ of Wikipedia by a minority of immature students. So, I’ll get them to do it at home and look at the revision history of the page for proof! I’ll let you know how it goes… :-p

11. bubbl.us

I’m a big fan of mindmaps. Although I’m not convinced that bubbl.us creates mindmaps in the true sense of the term they are, at least, very useful brainstorms. If you haven’t given online, collaborative mindmapping/brainstorming a try with your students, I’d suggest you try.

Due to a re-organization of the core subjects at our school, students only get to choose two options for GCSE. This has the knock-on effect of meaning they have 4 lessons to cover content that previously was covered easily in 3. I’m going to spend that fourth lesson with them in the library or an ICT suite blogging, brainstorming/mindmapping, and more…

12. Posterous

I came across Posterous during the summer holiday (see this post). You couldn’t really ask for a blogging service to be made much simpler. All you do is email post@posterous.com and it intelligently sorts out what you’ve sent (including attachments) and displays them appropriately. At last I can say to staff that if they know how to email they can set up their own class blog!

If you read my previous post on Posterous, you’ll see that I feel the killer feature will be themes. They’re adding features all the time, it being a new service, and if they add this ability before the start of the academic year (1st September for me) then I’ll seriously consider using them with students too. It might seem shallow, but I’ve found that teenagers like to create an identity online, and the ability to make their site different from their friend’s is important to them.

Finally, I’ll be charting my progress and adding resources to help colleagues as part of my E-Learning Staff Tutor role over at elearnr. Do visit there often and/or subscribe to the RSS feed. :-D

(Image credit: Personal Ecosystem by activeside @ Flickr)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

If you liked this post, you might want to subscribe to my newsletter and explore my ebooks!

  • http://www.hodges.edublogs.org Mark hodges

    Another excelent run down. I really like the google calender use. I am going to really try this year to get students involved with creating their own learning and collaborating with each other. Wikispaces seemed to be a hit with my students last year, so i am trying to build on that. Some of the other sites/ apps i have used are blogged about at http://www.hodges.edublogs.org
    Thanks. (Looking forward to elearnr developing).

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Thanks Mark – and for the link. I did start using Wikispaces with my previous GCSE History class (http://gcsehistory.wikispaces.com) but for some reason there were problems with the ‘session cookie’ via the schools proxy server that never got resolved… :-(

  • http://www.hodges.edublogs.org Mark hodges

    Another excelent run down. I really like the google calender use. I am going to really try this year to get students involved with creating their own learning and collaborating with each other. Wikispaces seemed to be a hit with my students last year, so i am trying to build on that. Some of the other sites/ apps i have used are blogged about at http://www.hodges.edublogs.org Thanks. (Looking forward to elearnr developing).

  • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

    Thanks Mark – and for the link. I did start using Wikispaces with my previous GCSE History class (http://gcsehistory.wikispaces.com) but for some reason there were problems with the 'session cookie' via the schools proxy server that never got resolved… :-(

  • http://classroomtech.org.uk Tim Dolan

    Hi Doug. I have been reading your blog for a while now and have found it very useful. Thank you for your ideas.
    In reference to planning electronically like you do with Google calendar. I use a program called Teachers Personal Information Manager (http://www.csfsoftware.co.uk/TPIM_info.htm) for planning and for keeping registers, marks etc. I have just written about it on my website (http://classroomtech.org.uk).

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Glad you enjoy reading my humble efforts, Tim! Thanks for the link, I’ll be
      sure to check it out. Have you tried Google Calendar for planning or do you
      just love what you use already too much?

      • http://classroomtech.org.uk Tim Dolan

        I haven’t tried Google Calendar for planning, although your posts have made me think about it. The convienience of having my planning, registers and marking together is addictive though.

  • http://classroomtech.org.uk Tim Dolan

    Hi Doug. I have been reading your blog for a while now and have found it very useful. Thank you for your ideas. In reference to planning electronically like you do with Google calendar. I use a program called Teachers Personal Information Manager (http://www.csfsoftware.co.uk/TPIM_info.htm) for planning and for keeping registers, marks etc. I have just written about it on my website (http://classroomtech.org.uk).

  • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

    Glad you enjoy reading my humble efforts, Tim! Thanks for the link, I'll besure to check it out. Have you tried Google Calendar for planning or do youjust love what you use already too much?

  • http://classroomtech.org.uk Tim Dolan

    I haven't tried Google Calendar for planning, although your posts have made me think about it. The convienience of having my planning, registers and marking together is addictive though.

  • http://c4lpt.co.uk Jane Hart

    Doug, Can I add your Top 10 list to those at my website ?

    Jane Hart

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Jane, of course! Perhaps you’d like to collapse Google Docs, Google Sites &
      Google Presentations? You could just call them Google Apps… :-)

  • http://c4lpt.co.uk Jane Hart

    Doug, Can I add your Top 10 list to those at my website ?Jane Hart

  • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

    Jane, of course! Perhaps you'd like to collapse Google Docs, Google Sites &Google Presentations? You could just call them Google Apps… :-)

  • http://www.mrstucke.com mrstucke

    How are you finding Evernote is going when populated with lots of notes? I’ve been playing around with it a little and it is impressive. I’m tempted to buy a pro account and scan all the day to day clutter into it, do you think it’s worth it? (I can see me using up the free upload quota pretty quickly).
    Cheers, Dan

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Having just bought an iPhone (again!) I can see me getting an Evernote Pro
      account too. The iPhone app. makes it even easier to use. :-)

      Lots of notes not a problem – keyword searching and tagging!

      • http://www.mrstucke.com mrstucke

        Yeah it is good, although the camera is not great at focussing on paper at close range as you need to in order to capture text. Thinking of getting in the habit of scanning everything that passes through my inbox each night.

  • http://themasterplan.edublogs.org mrstucke

    How are you finding Evernote is going when populated with lots of notes? I've been playing around with it a little and it is impressive. I'm tempted to buy a pro account and scan all the day to day clutter into it, do you think it's worth it? (I can see me using up the free upload quota pretty quickly).Cheers, Dan

  • http://themasterplan.edublogs.org mrstucke

    Yeah it is good, although the camera is not great at focussing on paper at close range as you need to in order to capture text. Thinking of getting in the habit of scanning everything that passes through my inbox each night.

  • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

    Having just bought an iPhone (again!) I can see me getting an Evernote Proaccount too. The iPhone app. makes it even easier to use. :-)Lots of notes not a problem – keyword searching and tagging!

  • http://c4lpt.co.uk Jane Hart

    Doug, Your Top 10 Tools list is now online at http://c4lpt.co.uk/recommended/dougbelshaw.html Let me know if there's anything you want to change.Jane

  • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

    Thanks Jane!

  • http://fiendishlyclever.com/ fiendishlyclever

    Thanks for the useful tips. I finally decided to give planning on Google calendar a shot but found the description field fiddly to work with (and not visible when you want to see it). I am blogging my findings – perhaps I’m more of a perfectionist than you are :-) Maybe as Google calendar advances I’ll come back and try it out again.

  • http://www.fiendishlyclever.com fiendishlyclever

    Thanks for the useful tips. I finally decided to give planning on Google calendar a shot but found the description field fiddly to work with (and not visible when you want to see it). I am blogging my findings – perhaps I'm more of a perfectionist than you are :-) Maybe as Google calendar advances I'll come back and try it out again.

  • Mark Hodges

    Been using the google calendar to plan and this has been really great! Spent about 15 minutes setting it up, and since the TT has changed in the first term it is so easy to change. So easy to go back and see what you did a few weeks ago. Highly recommend it.
    Evernote is fantastic, and it is free!! I have set up notebooks which are keeping resources for teaching and it is so simple to use. Download it now!!

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Mark, really glad that those web apps work for you. That’s the power
      of sharing – you find so much cool new stuff! :-)

  • Mark Hodges

    Been using the google calendar to plan and this has been really great! Spent about 15 minutes setting it up, and since the TT has changed in the first term it is so easy to change. So easy to go back and see what you did a few weeks ago. Highly recommend it.Evernote is fantastic, and it is free!! I have set up notebooks which are keeping resources for teaching and it is so simple to use. Download it now!!

  • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

    Mark, really glad that those web apps work for you. That's the powerof sharing – you find so much cool new stuff! :-)

  • Pingback: Recent Links Tagged With "teaching" - JabberTags

  • http://appelt.net Ralf

    Hi Dough,
    I’d like to know how you used twitter for education.
    Greetings from Hamburg,
    Ralf

  • http://appelt.net Ralf

    Hi Dough,I'd like to know how you used twitter for education.Greetings from Hamburg,Ralf

  • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

    Hi Ralf,I discussed 3 scenarios for using Twitter with students here: http://teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk/index.php/2007/…That was a while ago – these days I'd recommend http://edmodo.com or http://www.yammer.com, but if you're determined to use Twitter (and I did, for a while with success in places), then Tom Barrett's got some thoughtful reflections: http://tbarrett.edublogs.org/2008/03/29/twitter