School’s out Friday

George Couras sent our a tweet this week to this Google Chrome video. It’s the embodiment of what the Web allows; the crowdsourcing of material inspired by someone who has the ability to inspire and motivate people to create content. In this case it’s Lady Gaga, someone who understands that you don’t need record companies to spend millions of dollars promoting your material now. If you’re smart, you engage your audience, you talk to them through channels of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and you make them feel like they matter to you. Your fans feel like they have a personal connection to you, and they promote your product and make you a superstar in the process. Lady Gaga gets this. So does Justin Beiber, and Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. If you’re an aspiring musician, you better start understanding how social media works, because if you’re going to make it big, you need to find and talk to your audience, and get them to do the promotion that record companies did in the past.

How clever of Google to link with Lady Gaga to promote their products. They are a company working very hard right now to crowdsource users to promote Google+, their new social network going up against the monolith that is Facebook. I wrote a post earlier this week talking of how I don’t think I can manage another social network. It took all of two days for me to succumb to the lure of Google+.

Pathetic, isn’t it.

I still don’t think there is room in my life for another social network, but I have to say there are some things about Google+ that I do like. The circles feature, where you group people into categories, is something I like. You can post content in your stream to specific circles and I like the perceived element of control that appears to come with that. I tried out Google Hangouts with a group including Joyce Valenza, Judy O’Connell, Cathy Jo Nelson, Linda Nitsche, Rob Darrow and Chris Betcher the other morning(see screenshot below). It worked really seamlessly. We could all see and hear one another – there was very little lag and you could conduct a conversation just like you were hanging out with this group in any social setting. No-one had to pick up the microphone like you do in Elluminate; it was a much more natural experience. There are so many possibilities here for education. If you can create circles for specific groups of students, you eliminate the problems that come with sharing content across all of your social groupings. Can you imagine end of year revision before VCE exams taking place in a Google hangout? I can. At the moment, there is no ability to upload a presentation or share a screen, and it’s limited to 10 people. If they work on it though, this presents a real challenge to a company like Blackboard that recently acquired Elluminate.


Thank goodness Google released Google+ while we are on school holidays here in Australia. It’s given me a bit of room to play. Next Wednesday, I leave for Port Douglas with my family on a much needed holiday. While I have no doubt I will check into my networks, I intend to do the right thing by my husband and kids and focus on them. There may not even be a School’s out Friday posting next week!

(And just for a bit of sheer indulgence, take a look at Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera singing ‘Moves like Jagger’, my favourite song right now.)

Have a great weekend. I’ll try not to play too much with Google+!

How many networks can a regular person maintain?

I think I fall into the category of regular person.

Married, two kids, full time job.

So, as a regular person, just how many social networks can I maintain?

In my case, not many. In fact, I’d say I can only really manage one effectively.

At the moment, the network I maintain is Twitter. Aside from this blog, it’s where I share my thinking and try and spread what I learn to others. It’s where I learn from others. It’s where I spend quite a bit of time, much to the chagrin of my family on more than the odd occasion. And it’s not what I’d describe as a social network, I use it for professional learning. (but really, the lines are blurring there – professional is becoming social. Let’s face it, I spend quite a bit of time there.)

So, when Google announced their new social network, Google+, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down with excitement. When Google Buzz was announced, I was super keen to get on the bus. But the gloss of the new has worn off. I don’t have a Google+ invite, and nor do I want one just yet. I’m happy for everyone else to figure out how it works (thanks Doug Peterson : )), and save me all the time and commitment I’d need to put into working out the kinks. If I find a large number of my network moving to the space, then I expect I’ll move there too. It’s the nature of networks; you move to where the people you interact with are.

I don’t know how I’ll manage if Twitter and Google+ co-exist and they both are significant. I really can’t afford to spend any more time online. If I do, then I think my husband will seriously consider shutting down internet access to our home. If they integrate, then I stand a chance.

What about you? Are you able to successfully maintain more than one social/professional network? Did Google+ fill you with elation, or dread?

Helping students with current issues research

One of the things I really do appreciate in my school is the willingness of our English teachers to recognise the skill set of Teacher-Librarians. Over the last few weeks my staff and I have worked closely with Year 11 and 12 teachers and students, and have shared information about how best to utilise Library online resources and the internet to help them with research on a current issue for VCE Oral Presentations.

Today I ran a session with our Yr 10 students to help them begin a persuasive essay task. We covered similar ground to that run through with the Year 11 and 12 students in recent weeks, and I’m hoping it will hold them in good stead as they tackle the research needed to formulate a strong argument for a persuasive essay. I thought I’d run through some of the things I covered, and hope some of you out there might find it useful.

1. Echo online – newspaper indexes and media issues outlines.
This is a truly invaluable resource for Victorian students. A Victorian school subscription to the Echo Education Services site is $355.00. In my opinion, it’s the best $355.00 we spend all year. I’m not sure if other States use it too, but the work done here in the media issues outlines part of the database is extraordinary. The lady who does the work is a VCE English teacher, and she trawls the daily newspapers looking for what might be the current issues that a VCE English student would want to explore for their oral presentation or language analysis task. When she’s identified an issue, she puts together an outline that includes background information, arguments for, arguments against and further implications. She also provides pages of web links and documents and links to the newspaper articles she has used to provide her outlines of whatever the issue in question is. It’s incredibly helpful, particularly for those students who just can’t figure out how you would go about analysing an issue. It gives them an entry point and the confidence they need to explore the source material to form conclusions for themselves.

The other part of this database is the newspaper index. Students can enter their search term and results are provided for relevant articles published in our daily papers. These results aren’t hyperlinked; the students would either have to source the original print copy or search a newspaper database to find the article. I point my students to Newsbank.

2. Newsbank This is a database where students can search Australian newspapers. They have to be conscious of the search terms they use, and often need to refine their search to pull in the content they need. One of the disadvantages of the site is that it provides the text of the articles only. None of the pictorial detail that often accompanies a newspaper article is available, and the text can look pretty dry to a 15 year old. We made a decision this year to stop archiving 6 months of back issues of newspapers, largely because we have noticed a decline in the demand for use, the fact that it involves a large amount of dedicated staff time doing this work, and the understanding that our move into a new building meant we were looking towards the future of collection development rather than what we could see as a process from the past. For this reason, we have subscribed to digital archives (true to print eg: as they appear in the printed version of the paper) of daily newspapers.

3. Digital subscriptions to newspapers (true to print eg: as they appear in the printed version of the paper). We have a 5 user concurrent subscription to ‘The Age’ archive and a license for 50 users to access the ‘Herald-Sun‘ and ‘The Australian‘. They come at considerable cost, and it’s not easy for students to get access. We have to share the common user name and password to all staff and students for the 5 user concurrent license to ‘The Age’. This means 5 users at a time can access the site and another user will have to wait until someone logs out to get access. With the 50 user license for the Herald Sun, we have to register individual emails to each license. This means we have had to use staff emails, and we share these with students with the common password so they can get access. It isn’t ideal. I don’t think our newspaper industry has really got their act together at this stage to accomodate the needs of schools. As more schools take up options like this I’m hoping they will come up with a more user friendly method to gain access.

4. The Age Education Resource Centre  Every week, in its Monday edition, The Age publishes ‘Issues in the News‘. They analyse a current issue and write their copy for a secondary school audience. It’s a great resource, and contains links to source material used to compile their summation. You can access their archive of issues they have covered

5. Google News – One of the reasons many of our students are not accessing print newspapers is because they are searching for newspaper content online through Google. I always find it interesting that students are surprised to realise a search engine like Google has many parts, and they need to look to the toolbar at the top of the screen to find these options. They seem to have eyes only for the search box in the centre of the screen! We’ve been introducing our students to Google News and showing them that they can search for newspaper articles from other countries to assist them in gaining perspectives from other cultures. We’ve also focused on the advanced search function and showing students how they can narrow a search using some of the parameters there.

6. Google Realtime search I suspect many people are unaware of Google’s Realtime search option. You can use Realtime search to do exactly what it says – search in real time. What you are accessing are Twitter feeds about the search term you’ve entered. The great thing about Twitter is that many people are sharing links about topics that are issues in the news. It’s there where you will find up to date (real time!) coverage of an event. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it can be the most invaluable source of information. If you don’t have an account and a network of fabulous contacts, then this is a good option for trying to find out what people are saying and sharing about topics of interest to you. Try it for yourself and see what I mean.

 

7. TED: ideas worth spreading Many of our students are required to put together oral presentations for their English course of study. I’ve read many times that speaking in public is one of the highest ranked fears of many people. You can often tell that as you watch some students sweat it out beforehand and stumble through oral presentations. They need to see people speaking in front of audiences and take note of effective techniques that can hold the interest of a group of people. The TED site is the perfect vehicle for getting students to analyse what makes for an effective presentation. The bonus is, the talks are so interesting and inspiring, they are bound to learn many other things in the process. I used the start of Eli Pariser’s talk about the ‘filter bubble’ and it certainly sparked a lot of interest. Students are concerned about what big corporations like Google are doing with their data, and many students asked how his name was spelt so they could watch this presentation in full after class.

I’m happy to report, this presentation was met with a round of applause from the students, on more than one occasion. Issues research can be daunting for many a student, and they value being shown a way forward. If you have other resources you use that you find helpful for student use, please leave a comment and extend the learning for all of us. : )

10 minutes well spent

If you ever find yourself a spare ten minutes or so, you should do yourself a favour and check out the TED: Ideas worth spreading site. I do so on a regular basis, most often when I’m in bed browsing on my iPad before I head off to sleep. Last night I watched two very different stories being told, both of which led me to think, to contemplate, to reassess.

Watch both of them. They’re worth the investment. The first is the story of two very remarkable women, both marred by the tragedy of 9/11. They come from what some would see as opposing backgrounds, but they share the common thread of motherhood. Both have suffered, and both find comfort from the other. Their story is a lesson in tolerance, forgiveness and empathy for us all, and is one we should be sharing with the students we teach.

The other is a world apart, but it deals with something not apparent to all, but something that will definitely affect us all. Eli Pariser is the author of “The Filter Bubble,” and in this talk he explains how personalized search might be narrowing our worldview. Eli explains how web services that know what we like and direct results to us that meet our likes, are allowing us to get trapped in a “filter bubble.” The filter bubble prevents us from exposure to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Here’s another lesson for not just the adults in the room, our students need this kind of understanding if they are to become architects of their digital lives. After watching this, it’s apparent that personalised search, where organisations are making decisions about what we view, is dangerous territory indeed. Dangerous territory that can lead to lack of tolerance, an inability to forgive, and a decided lack of empathy. There’s the link you need to make these two talks some of the best learning that could take place in a classroom this week.

TED: Ideas worth spreading. Never a truer phrase was uttered. Spread away.

School’s out Friday

Did you notice the date? If you didn’t, and you happened to stumble over the above video contained on this page, then I think you might be attempting to compose your mail in a very kinesthetic way by now. You might also be wondering how they managed to collate a top 5 list of viral YouTube pictures from 2011.

Google have been up to their April Fool’s day tricks again, something they are noted for. Here’s my favourite from this year’s batch;

Here’s the job description, as outlined on one of Google’s job pages;

The role: Autocompleter

Are you passionate about helping people? Are you intuitive? Do you often feel like you know what your friends and family are thinking and can finish their thoughts before they can? Are you an incredibly fast Google searcher? Like, so fast that you can do 20 searches before your mom does 1?

Every day people start typing more than a billion searches on Google and expect Google to predict what they are looking for. In order to do this at scale, we need your help.

Google’s quality team is looking for talented, motivated, opinionated technologists to help us predict what users are looking for. If you’re eager to improve the search experience for millions of people and have a proven track record of excellence, this is a project for you!

As a Google Autocompleter, you’ll be expected to successfully guess a user’s intention as he or she starts typing instantly. In a fraction of a second, you’ll need to type in your prediction that will be added to the list of suggestions given by Google. Don’t worry, after a few million predictions you’ll grow the required reflexes.

Responsibilities:

  • Watch anonymized search queries as they come in to Google.
  • Predict and type completions based on your personal experience and intuition.
  • Suggest spelling corrections when relevant.
  • Keep updated with query trends and offer fresh suggestions.

Requirements:

  • Excellent knowledge of English and at least one other language.
  • Excellent knowledge of grammatical rules (e.g. parts of speech, parsing).
  • Understanding of the search engine space.
  • Proven web search experience.
  • Good typing skills (at least 32,000 WPM).
  • Willingness to travel (in order to provide local autocompletions) or relocate to obscure places like Nauru and Tuvalu to develop knowledge of local news and trends.
  • Certificate in psychic reading strongly preferred: palm, tarot, hypnosis, astrology, numerology, runes and/or auras.

If you want to see evidence of what they’ve done in past years, check out this About.com page where they’ve collected some of their efforts in years gone by.

I’m heading to Sydney over the weekend for the CCA-Educause Conference. Its focus is Higher Education, and I’m going to see what the thinking is so that I can gauge how we best prepare our students for the environments they will experience in their post secondary school life. There is a library strand for the conference, and I’ll be listening intently to discussions surrounding the future of libraries and the integration of ebooks and new devices.

I hope your weekend treats you well. Have fun. : )

 

Google Search Stories for classroom use

I worked with my school’s Humanities faculty this afternoon showing them some Web tools that they may like to use in their classes. They’ve had a lot of success with Glogster, and now feel like they need to look into different tools to help with demonstrating students’ understanding of the subject areas they are teaching. I’ve created a page on the wiki I use as a resource base and I shared that with them. We explored quite a few things they’d not seen such as Capzles Voicethread, timetoast, and Google Search Stories.

I’d never made a Google Search Story until this afternoon, and I found the experience incredibly easy, but enlightening too. While it’s no doubt a bit of marketing for the Google juggernaut, it could very well have a place in classrooms. The search story above deals with the recent crisis in Japan. All I had to do was go to the search story creator, type in the search terms I thought were applicable and select what kind of search I wanted for each search inquiry eg: web search, maps, news etc. It’s a way of highlighting that there are different kinds of searches you can do on Google- you aren’t limited to the home page search box. There’s the first lesson for our Google addicted students!

It got me, and the others in the group this afternoon, thinking about how it could be used in classrooms. Our International Studies teacher could see immediate application for current world events, as either something she created to hook the students in at the start of a lesson, or something they created to demonstrate their understanding of the timeline or complexity of an issue. We thought about books they’d read, and how they could tell a character’s journey via a search story. They are certainly fun to create and can be done easily within a lesson, even within ten minutes really.

The difficulty comes with uploading them to YouTube. I have an account so the process was very easy for me. All I needed to so was sign into my account from the search story creator and the video was uploaded for me. It was a very quick process. Both of my children have YouTube accounts, so if they were sitting in your classrooms you’d have no worries with them, but it’s not going to be the norm for the majority of our students. I also think we’d have a fair few parents who probably don’t want their children having an account. We were trying to work out how we’d overcome this and be able to use this in our classrooms. We thought we could create a school account on YouTube, and when it came to upload time, the teacher could input the school email and password for the account. We weren’t keen on sharing this with the students, just in case someone thought it ‘funny’ to upload something inappropriate under the school’s name. I’m not sure how we’ll proceed just yet, but I do think it’s worth following through with. If anyone reading this has any other ideas, please leave a comment and enlighten us!

It’s worth taking a look at the search stories site and looking at some of the videos there. Some are very clever, even touching, and all in 30 seconds or so. Take a look below and you’ll see what I mean.

School’s out Friday

Apologies for this one! I’m not a huge Twilight fan, but I have been watching it on television for the last hour and a half or so, and was struggling to find a video for this week’s School’s out Friday. Hence, the literal version of the Eclipse trailer. I promise I’ll try harder next week. : )

I’m a tad disappointed right now (alright, more than a tad I’ll admit!), having found out today that I wasn’t accepted into the Google Teacher Academy being held in Sydney in April. I thought I had a lot to offer, but Google obviously thinks otherwise! Henrietta Miller didn’t get in either, and has written a great post tonight about disappointment and it’s offshoot, resilience. I’ve got plenty of that in store, so I’ll move on and do what I do do best; share my knowledge with all of you through this blog. : )

Have a great weekend. Find some sunshine.

 

Google eBooks – game changer?

Watch this and you decide. Is this the game changer in the eBook market? I suspect it just might be. It looks like their apps for the iphone/ipad are only available in the US at this stage. There’s nothing about releasing to a wider market on the pages I was reading. Here’s the message I came across;

The latest Google eBooks are not available for sale in your location, yet…

Google is working with publishers around the world to let you buy the latest ebooks from top authors. In the meantime, you can still browse millions of free and public domain Google eBooks and read them effortlessly across your devices.

Take a read of their eBooks pages and see what they’re offering for yourself. Interesting times we are living in…

Google’s book to help us understand the Web.

Google have produced a very handy online book explaining how the Web works. 20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web provides explanations about Cloud Computing, HTML, Web apps,  browsers, privacy, and a number of other topics that many people would have no clue about. 

Most of us use the Web on a daily basis, but many people have no idea how it works or how they can read the information in an URL to determine the nature or validity of a site. The explanations in this book are simply stated, and easy to understand. As you’d expect, the book makes quite a few references to the Google Chrome browser, but that’s fair enough given that they’ve gone to the effort of producing the book and making it freely available for us to use.

We really owe it to ourselves to have a deeper understanding of the Web, especially as it becomes more and more pervasive in our lives. I’ll certainly be using this book with the students I teach.

Keeping in touch, the Words with Friends way.

I do love my iPhone. It’s changed the way I interact with the Web. I like the fact that I can easily check my work email and personal gmail accounts easily, and I can check in with Twitter via either the Tweetdeck or Twitter app. I can do a quick web search easily via my Google app (I prefer that to Safari) and I can check into this blog via the WordPress app. The Google Maps app has proved invaluable as I try and find my way around locations. Even though it’s slightly disconcerting knowing the satellites are tracking my every move, knowing that the blue circle has me heading in the right direction has given me peace of mind on many occasions. I can even check the developments happening with the Australian Curriculum via the new app released from ACARA. Sometimes I read downloads from Amazon using the Kindle app, and the other night I was watching the latest TED Talks when I was having trouble sleeping.

What I’m loving at the moment is an app called Words with Friends, which is a game of scrabble that can be played by people who’ve signed up to the site. It was introduced to me the other week by my friend Melanie who lives in New York. We had known each other online through our association with the international PLP cohort, and met when I was in New York in January this year. We shared some very fun times together and have remained in contact via Twitter and email. Melanie suggested that I download the Words with Friends app so that we could engage in a game of scrabble. Simple idea, but a lovely one. Because of our time zone difference, it’s not played at a frenetic pace, just once a day, but we can send messages to one another and know that we are doing something together, despite the physical distance that separates us.

I’m happy to let you know that Melanie is trouncing me right now, but I’m enjoying trying to figure out how to play my letters in the most strategic way possible. My competitive spirit and sheer desperation led to me search on Google for ‘scrabble help’. I discovered ‘Win every game‘, and it’s helped me score 40 points for my last move! Pssst… don’t tell Melanie!!