Photo by Mika Ueno
One of the hardest things about being a “connected” teacher these days is keeping track of all the seemingly endless information bombarding you via twitter, facebook, RSS feeds, and blogs. Developing a system to organize and manage all of the useful information I come across daily is an ever evolving process. I think every connected teacher has their own system, and I thought it might be useful to outline my own and to discuss some of the cool discoveries I’ve made in the past six months.
Of all of the tools I’ve adopted this year,Evernote is by far my favorite. I use Evernote to catalog and keep track of my lesson plans, readings, documents, as well as all of the useful articles and ideas I come across during regular twitter chats and via rss feeds. The ease with which I can save, organize, clip from the web, and search through documents and notes has made it my go to tool for all my teaching and many of my organizational needs. I really can’t say enough about how amazing Evernote is and I know I have just begun to scratch the surface of what this tool can do. Right now, I am enjoying using an IFTTT recipe that allows me to move articles of interest from my feedly and flipboard accounts right into an Evernote notebook. IFTTT is a web based application that allows you to create recipes to make your applications and programs work for you. For example, you can create a recipe that allows you to send starred email directly to a special folder in your evernote. Again, this is an application I have just started playing with but the potential is limitless and it is definitely worth checking out if you are looking to save yourself a few steps.
The 23 Things course and my desire to keep track of my favorites on twitter made me take a closer look Diigo this summer. I’ve had an account for a few years and frankly haven’t utilized it very much. I know I am quite late to the diigo party as many of the members of my PLN already use it extensively much in the same way that I use the evernote webclipper . What I learned by going back to Diigo is that it has become so much more than just a social bookmarking tool. They have added the ability to annotate and highlight texts both from your computer and using the web highlighter for Ipads or the chrome extension both of which are great tools. Diigo is a great tool, but for now I will just keep using it to catalog my twitter favorites before moving the best of them into my Evernote folders. I think Diigo is great, don’t get me wrong, but for me right now it is a place just to keep track of things to look back at later and then either pitch or save.
Obviously finding great resources and information on the web is wonderful and truly has made me a better teacher and a far more informed human being, but sharing what you find is a vital part of being a connected educator hence this blog and my absolute love of twitter. One of the coolest curating tools I’ve used this year is Learni.st which functions a bit like Pinterest for teachers. With an bookmarklet that allows you to put things right into vertical and visually appealing boards you create and Ipad/Iphone Apps, it is a very easy tool to use and one that I have come to rely on especially for curating for my PLN. Check out my learn.ist board on twitter for teachers for a good example.
So for now basically that is my system. I rely extensively on Evernote and use a variety of other tools to help me keep track of all the amazing things that come across my screens every day, and I use twitter, this blog, and learni.st to share my learning. I am always adapting and updating this system and would love to hear other ideas and learn what works best for you!
Here are some free web 2.0 tools I’ve discovered or just gotten more proficient with because of our 23 things class.
1.Bubbl.us– is a cool concept mapping tool that allows you to brainstorm, visually outline ideas, and has some easy to use shortcuts that make the processes simple. I have used Inspiration with visual students in the past, but you have to pay, and bubbl.us is free. I will definitely turn my kids onto this tool especially when we begin the research project this fall.
2. Haiku Deck– A wonderful presentation creation app that is free and visually beautiful. I have seen some really terrific presentations from ISTE and on twitter. This is a tool I will definitely use this year and teach my students.
3. Timetoast- Since xtimeline no longer seems to work well, perhaps we will use timetoast this year instead. Although you cannot create collaborative timelines, students can create individual timelines and then put them on our class blog. The interface is really easy to use and I can see the utility of this tool for group and individual projects in the upcoming year.
4. Voicethread– A great tool that allows you to record voice comments to videos, pictures or documents. There are so many possibilities for this tool. You could use it to give feedback to students, have them give feedback to each other, or create a narrative for a picture or video. The possibilities are endless and this is the tool I am probably most exited about using this year. I think my ESL students will love using it to practice their spoken English and interact with each other. I think we may use it this year with our WPA poster project in American Studies.
5. Weebly– Our school has used Weebly in several classes, and this year we will go back to having students create a website based on an artifact from Special Collections at the University of Virginia. We did this two years ago and it went really well, but we had to rely on google sites and they just aren’t as slick as what students can create with Weebly. I am also going to have my ESL History students creating sites based on famous Supreme Court cases as a way to introduce them to the constitution and the Judicial Branch of government.
Great Places to Find More Tools:
Dirt– “This wiki collects information about tools and resources that can help scholars (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) conduct research more efficiently or creatively. Whether you need software to help you manage citations, author a multimedia work, or analyze texts, Digital Research Tools will help you find what you’re looking for. We provide a directory of tools organized by research activity, as well as reviews of select tools in which we not only describe the tool’s features, but also explore how it might be employed most effectively by researchers.”
Webtools4utouse Wiki – A great site with a terrific layout that provides you with great tools to do everything from screen casting to pod casting, web sharing, and curating. I will be spending a great deal of time exploring this site in the coming weeks.
I am currently taking an online class offered by k12learning20 based on the 23 things program to introduce teachers to different Web 2.0 resources. Although I am already fairly fluent in many of these tools, I am very much looking forward to expanding my skill base. Our Thing 3 assignment requires us to complete a blog post on the meaning of teaching in a Web 2.0 world which is fortuitous because the questions presented have been bouncing around in my brain for a while now. This post is just the first part of what I am thinking of as a series examining my experience teaching in a web 2.0 world and the continuing relevance of the traditional tools of teachers.
First of all, I believe in technology and I believe that every teacher has not only the opportunity, but more the obligation to become fluent in the latest tools of the trade. My teaching has improved as a result of the resources and ideas I have gotten from twitter chats, my experience at edcamprva, and other professional development opportunities. Our American Studies class is very techie, and so is pretty much every class I teach. We use a variety of web 2.0 tools and our students have benefited from our increased knowledge.
All that said, I have to say that I think we are overestimating the impact of web 2.0 tools. Sure they are great and readily available, many for free even, but a good tool will never replace a good teacher and too much of the language bouncing around the educational world seems to suggest otherwise. I also worry about how quickly the standby tools of the trade i.e. lecture or even the idea of the teacher as the expert are so quickly dismissed as 20th or 19th century ideas that are some how no longer relevant in today’s 21st century world. I disagree. I think that every teacher has a toolbox of things they do well some are cutting edge and some are older than any of us. The goal of education especially in the humanities classroom is to teach students to think critically, develop a level of cultural literacy, and frankly be able to retell the stories/histories that make up our curriculum and give each story their own slant. Web 2.0 tools definitely can help with that process, but so can great lectures, in depth reading, and other tools that have been around centuries. Furthermore, I refuse to believe that we live in a world where knowledge no longer matters.
I also believe that we have an obligation to our students to be fluent in their world and their world is certainly increasingly a web 2.0 world full of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr to just name a few. We, as teachers and really as people sharing the world with the generation of digital natives, should also understand and be able to participate in this world.
So what is the meaning of web 2.0 in the world of education? My answer: The tools available to us in the Web 2.0 world are what we make of them. It is a world we need to own and share with our students, but not rely on to the exclusivity of all the other tools in the box. I’ll be writing on much of this in more detail in the coming weeks.
I’ve already written about my newfound love for twitter, and why I think it is the best free tool for teachers seeking professional development out there. In the past two weeks, I have taken my engagement to the next level and participated in four twitter chats, two #sschats, one #21stedchat, and one #engchat. A twitter chat for those who don’t know takes place at a set time and all participants use a hashtag to follow and continue the conversation. It is an amazing way to connect with educators from all over the world who come together to share resources, explore challenges, and ask questions.
The experience of following and engaging in a twitter chat is invigorating. I found myself constantly bookmarking, emailing links, and retweeting or favoriting resources and ideas from fellow participants. #sschat is particularly lively and active, and I picked up many tips and resources for our American Studies course and about teaching in general. Two weeks ago the topic was Evernote and Livebinder. I already use livebinder extensively and was able to both contribute tips for newbies and learn a great deal from educators far more proficient than I am. I already had Evernote on my ipad, but I had only experimented a bit with it. This chat really got me thinking about transitioning to Evernote, and for the past two weeks I have used it exclusively to create and archive lesson plans, keep track of handouts and readings, and manage my bookmarks. I’ll discuss the benefits of Evernote later in a post. Suffice it to say, I am now hooked and this chat has already had a significant impact on my teaching and given me a new mechanism to keep track of everything in my teaching and personal life. Pretty cool!
This week the topic of #sschat was Women’s History, and I again gained valuable resources and exchanged ideas with insightful and engaging educators. I am sure the quality of different chats varies, but I am definitely hooked on the ones I have tried so far. I highly recommend trying a chat out or viewing the archives of past chats.
If you want to find out more about how to find chats to serve your purposes or for some guidance on how to use twitter and engage in twitter chats, please check out the board I made on Learn.ist where I compiled the best advice I could find and a directory of hashtags and twitter chats.
I hope you will try out a chat. I’d love to hear which ones you have found most valuable. Who knows maybe I’ll even see you there.