Evernote & IdeaPaint

Came across this interesting combination today:
evernote ideapaint
A Boston-based company that sells “a patent-pending dry erase paint, transforms virtually any smooth surface into an erasable canvas, giving you the space you need to fully explore your big ideas. It’s more than a tool, it’s a catalyst for better results”.
One of my go-to apps for basically everything. It lets you create and store notes, but it does far more than that! It has become my central hub, where I create, store and share information. Every document, presentation, link … is stored in designated notebooks and even stacks for me to keep track of my entire life. Also in education, this tool comes in very handy. Not only to store all my personal school-data, but also for sharing information with students and even collaborating! Students can gather notes around a project or a class, take photos of the things we’ve discussed and create their own portfolio.
Analog & Digital
I found this a perfect example of the combination of traditional and digital education. Kids can get physical with the whiteboard, brainstorm, work together and take their project to the next level with all the digital tools at their disposal! Just love this…
The little video kept me thinking for a bit about how I could change my workflow in the classroom and how to engage students more. I’ve always been something of a gear head. I like to have proper materials when working on/with something. Also, I’m a strong believer that an agreeable and interesting workspace add to the proficiency of the people in it. An office with fresh, lively colors, nice interior and good tools to work with will create a better working environment than say a grey traditional cubicle. Same for the classroom (if not more so), where kids have to learn for 7 classes a day.
Would love to get a budget to design my own classroom to teach in. Out with those old brown desks and left-over chairs, in with IdeaPaint walls and desks, WiFi and students bringing their own technology to learn.

Scaling Down

less is moreI started 2014 with scaling down on the number of web 2.0 tools I use. I found that several of them were obsolete or redundant, so I decided to clean up! After a long time of trying out and tweaking, partly because I wanted to know their potential for use in the classroom, the sheer number of tools was getting a bit much for me. Sometimes it’s good to size down and just stick with the essentials, and that’s exactly what I did. Here’s what I stuck with:

  • Social Media: Twitter, LinkedIn
  • Social Bookmarking: Delicious, Flipboard, Zite
  • Blogging Platform: WordPress
  • Cloud Storage/Note-taking: Dropbox, Evernote

Tools I still need to clean up are my Facebook and Google account. My Facebook is essentially an empty account, just to hold on to those connections that just don’t exist on any other platform. However, I’m currently assessing the need for these lingering connections. I’m pretty sure, I’ll hit that kill switch pretty soon, as I’m finding out that I really don’t need to know what people had for breakfast or what games they are playing… My Google account is only still “alive” because I need it for my MSc. course. On graduation day, I’m saying goodbye to all things Google. Believe me when I say this is a hard thing to do!

I found scaling down to be somewhat difficult. A lot of tools were very handy, but I started to realize that a lot of their tasks could be done in other ways with other tools, hence the clean-up. Somehow, I feel relieved. Things feel more manageable now. I have the tools I like to work with on all my devices and know exactly where to find my stuff, making me far more efficient and focussed.

The Web 2.0 Classroom

We’re 10 weeks into the new school year. Time to do a small evaluation of the things I do in the classroom.

Class Blog

My class blog (“deklasvanlars.wordpress.com – Dutch) is growing steadily. I’m still providing extra information about the things we discuss and I’d like to think that slowly but surely students are picking up on that. They know they have this place online where they can go to. I still think that work needs to be done to get to where I want to be, but I’m heading in the right direction.

During the first 10 weeks I’ve updated my blog a couple of times in terms of adding more stuff to the website. For instance adding a calendar where the lesson subjects and assignments can be found. But also adding links to the students blogs. This way they can find each other on the list.

I’m hoping to achieve some sort of reflex with my students that they spontaneously reach for the information on the website when they have to work something out.

Twitter

My students are using twitter to inform me on their progress on assignments. As with the class blog, I’m hoping they will expand their use of this social network. I’m planning on offering them interesting followers etc. so their network can be more substantial. On the other hand, I realize that Twitter isn’t for everybody. By that I mean that some of my students will get the hang of it, other just won’t be interested in the medium. Which is just fine!

I glad that other teachers are picking up on Twitter as well! Some of my colleagues started using it with their students after a teacher training I provided in my school. They were curious about the potential and after our little chat were eager to try it out for themselves.

Bitly

I cannot say that much about this tool, simply because I haven’t worked with it extensively. Students have to collect links for an assignment due in May, but no other assignments were given to this point in time.

WordPress

It took some time, but I got my students blogging. Some of them weren’t as digital literate as I thought and needed more help constructing an “About me” page and new blog posts. However, the train is rolling and they have found their way. Due for the (near) future is to get other teachers blogging with their students as well. The student blogs are ready to use, my colleagues just have to find useful and creative digital assignments.

Class Blog Update

I started this school year using 2 blogs for my geography and computer science classes. For this endeavor I used the tool “Postach.io“. Although I still very much love the functionality they offer, I decided to switch to WordPress. The two main reasons for this being:

  • Students have to maintain their own WordPress blog in class, so me using another platform could prove challenging for them. Switching to WordPress for my class blog, will offer a more trusted environment.
  • Postach.io is a very cool product, however the limited themes and formatting possibilities sometimes get in the way of a “good” blogpost. I’d still recommend it to anyone looking for a simple way to share information online by means of Evernote though…

So, if you’d like to take a look at it, here it is:

http://deklasvanlars.wordpress.com (Dutch)

I’m also using Twitter in my classroom, my hashtag being:

#deklasvanlars (Dutch)

My Dojo’s (updated)

evernote postachioMy plan for the coming school year is to use these class blogs I call “Dojo’s” (cfr. CoderDojo). They are meant as an extra source of information. I’m still going to use the school LMS (although I’m still looking for ways out) but the Dojo’s are building on the mere course content displayed there. Explaining things we discussed in class, extra information on assignments, audio, video, infographics … Here they are (in Dutch):

  • GeoDojo (geography)
  • DigiDojo (ICT/Computer Science)

I started out using a WordPress blog for this project, but then changed to Postach.io. I already talked about this Evernote add-on to turn notes into blog posts here. Since I’m planning on using Evernote more extensively while preparing for class, I thought the link between the two could be very beneficial both for me and the students.

Hoping this will work out!

Bitly

bitly

I’ve been looking for a decent bookmark aggregator and tried out Diigo, Delicious even Pinterest. But none of them did the job like I wanted to. Recently I came across this new tool called “Bitly”. Mostly known for the URL shortening service, but they also let you collect bookmarks, sort them into different “bundles” (folders) and share them easily with your social network(s). I like using bitly because it’s very easy to collect and share bookmarks and it’s got a very appealing look.

I’m planing on using the service in geography class. Every year the students have to create a portfolio of recent geographical events that occur during the school year. I always had to carry a lot of paper home to correct and then back again. Not any more. From now on, my students will have to “bitmark” (bookmark) their links to recent articles about geography and only share the link to their designated bundle (folder) for the assignment.  Easy-peasy!

If you’re looking for a new way to collect the stuff you come across on the internet, you should definitely check this out.

Postach.io

postachioThought I’d mention this new (beta) tool that turns your Evernote notebook into a blog! I must admit, I’m crazy about these kind of add-ons and since I’m a vivid fan of Evernote, I had to try this one out.

Once you create an account, you just locate the notebook containing the notes you want to use as blogposts. All notes are considered drafts until you tag them with “published”. So no worries if your note/blogpost isn’t quite as you want it. Only a couple of bells and whistles to distract you from the main goal that is writing:

  • some themes
  • auto-sharing
  • disqus connection
  • optional use of markdown

A very simple, yet effective and elegant tool to create your own digital spot, without the hassle of setting-up and maintaining an elaborate blogging tool.

The fact that Evernote keeps on growing like this, with all these new tools and hacks, is something that appeals to my interest. Starting from the solid note-taking app that is Evernote, you can build from that to collect, write and share your stuff with the world.

Check this one out!

iPads in the Classroom part 6 – Teacher Training Sessions

ipad backI’ve been thinking about this aspect of our journey towards implementing tablets in our institute. Since I’m using my iPad for quite some time now, it’ll be probably up to me to provide the necessary training session for colleagues to let them start working with the device as well. I’m even considering to come together every week with a pilot group of teachers to start developing core skills in working with tablets. Ways of thinking, practicalities, sheer technical knowhow,… What I actually intend to achieve is to equip my colleagues with a digital literacy of their own, so they are armed with the necessary skills to do stuff on their own. Understanding their own device, working with essential software, learning how to connect with others, find, create and share content, it’ll all come to pass.

I did this in the past offering sessions about word-processing, spreadsheets, presentations, even our institutes LMS and off course the different web 2.0 tools I used in cross-curricular projects. I found that teachers were really happy that someone took the time to show them a couple of things in order to make their lives easier. A lot of colleagues had some difficulties to figure out these things on their own and had just given up. Taking on this chance to be guided along the software was compelling enough for a couple of teachers to give it another try. We discussed some handy tips and tricks and I tried to answer as much questions they had, mostly by trying to explain the workflow of the tool at hand. I find that discovering this flow of doing things is crucial in liking to work with computers. If the task at hand is constantly interrupted, the user doesn’t feel that using the device is improving their work.

It is precisely this aspect of digital literacy that I’m hoping to convey to my colleagues in the tablet project. I think if I can show them how to fluently use their tablet, they’ll be more willing to look for new things and are more likely to stumble upon things they like, themselves.

Providing a context where no questions are taboo, where they can try, fail and try again, will offer the best outcomes in our group. Making it a recurring item (once a week), is not meant as a hindering or stress factor, but is intended to offer a set time to try out things and learn from each other. I’ll take it upon me to show them around and offer some tools that I’ve come across, but another goal is for them to learn from each other and share these experiences within the group, enabling each individually to work out ways they can use apps in their own course.

Through my experience from the previous small but instructive sessions, I hope to bring the group together and share knowledge!

Blogging Stories “The Sequel”

Wordpress

I started blogging with my students again. This time 3 teachers are joining me! The assignment is the same in that the students have to create a story using a blogging platform to convey their writings, but also to give feedback on each other. The only difference is that I used a different platform to create the blog. I switched from Tumblr to WordPress because we had some difficulties last year when trying to give feedback to students who were already using Tumblr (had to do with primary and secondary blogs – see Tumblr Settings). I’ve had some great experiences using WordPress and felt that the students were competent enough to use this platform over the Tumblr experience. Another advantage was that the teachers could give comments without first creating an account (although I suggested they create a “school-e-mailaddress” to comment the different blogs while maintaining their privacy).

Like last year, I started with introducing the students to the WordPress-platform and showing them the basics in setting-up a blog. Then, the languages teachers gave their assignments and the students started blogging. One thing I noticed, was they had difficulty in finding each others blog, although we agreed upon using a specific method of creating the WordPress URL. Also, a couple of students showed a lack of digital literacy when figuring out different settings on their own. I thought about this and found that this can only be resolved if more teachers make good use of tools like blogs. This assignment may just be too small to have the desired effect on the students. Therefor I will be introducing next year students to blogging much earlier in the school year, so they have a platform to use even in other courses and create more of a portfolio than just a blog for this one assignment. To be continued…

Technology Enhanced Learning, in a Social Context, in the 21st Century

The TEL2 module of the SHU course “Technology Enhanced Learning, Innovation and Change” came to an end in January. We were required to write a paper in order to complete the module. Some time later I received my “Overall recommendation to Assessment Board” and gained a “Pass” on my work. Yes! Since I’m trying to share as much of my experiences on this website, I thought it might be useful to share this paper as well. You can find it here:

TEL2 Paper