Top Tools for Learning (at the present moment)

For six years now, Jane Hart has annually compiled the Top 100 Tools for Learning.  She does this by crowdsourcing the list and having learning professionals in the field provide their top ten tools.  One can submit their top ten tools via Twitter or Facebook or a survey.  The 2011 list has had over 160,000 views on her website and over 560,000 views on  Slideshare.  I have been submitting my top tools over the past few years, and both my list and hers continue to evolve.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ontario_wanderer/3496185271/My top ten tools this year are:

1.  WordPress – a blogging platform that I use and suggest to my students.  I am increasingly seeing WordPress as a potential learning management system that is more open than Blackboard, Angel or D2L.

2.  Google Reader – my main aggregator for feeds from news sites, journals, and blogs.    It seems like RSS is losing steam (or simply disappearing off websites), so not sure how much longer I’ll be using this.

3.  Diigo – my social bookmarking platform.  I continue to use it heavily for personal use, but have been using it less instructionally, primarily again because RSS has become problematic.

4.  Twitter – My social networking platform of choice to maintain loose connections with my personal learning network.

5. Tweetdeck – a useful desktop application for managing tweets.

6.  Netvibes – I have used both Google Sites and Netvibes to aggregate student blogs for classes, and my preference is Netvibes, both aesthetically and for ease of use.

7. Facebook – Where the students are…though I have used it more for maintaining connections with past students than for learning with present students.  I plan to play with Facebook group pages for my class this coming year.

8. Camtasia – still very useful for creating short screencasts for my classes.  I tend to point students to Screenr as a free alternative.

9.  Prezi – I have shifted from PowerPoint to Prezi this year and may never go back!  I like the creativity that Prezi allows.  I still use Presentation Zen to guide my Prezi production.

10.  Dropbox – my file service on the cloud.

I stated up front that these are my top tools for learning “at the present moment” – but I do see shifts occurring in the next year.  I think this is the first year that I have not listed my learning management system (Blackboard) in my top ten, which is pretty telling on its own.  My home institution has moved to Google Apps for email and productivity, so potentially I will shift from using Dropbox to Google Drive, which folds in another favorite tool of mine, Google Docs.  As we all move to more open platforms and mobile friendly applications, some of the above will evolve as well.  I did not list smartphones or tablets in my top ten, but I am increasingly aware of how well my tools work (or do not work) on mobile devices.

Thank you, Jane, for continuing to provide this service and for pushing our thinking about the tools we use for learning!

{Photo Credit: Ontario Wanderer}

 

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Reflections on Faculty Academy 2010 – Part One

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For the third year in a row, I had the opportunity to attend the University of Mary Washington‘s annual Faculty Academy with my colleagues Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl.  This was the fifteenth year in which UMW faculty have shared their creative ways of using technology in teaching and learning.  It has been interesting to watch FA evolve over the past three years.  It has gotten smaller but more intimate.  Bud Deihl noted today that it has shifted from faculty evangelizing about technology to more of a demonstration of how creatively their students have used technology in the learning process.  I saw a good deal of that, but I also saw faculty generating conversation around both their ideas and their concerns.  In other words, it was a very healthy discussion about teaching and learning with technology.

With so much packed in to two days, I suspect I should do this reflection in two parts.  Somewhat arbitrarily, I will stick to day one and day two.  So here are reflections on day one.

The very first session was a panel discussion with Steve Greenlaw, Janet Asper, Teresa Coffman, and Marie McAllister on “Is Course Design Only for Online Courses?”.  The genesis of this session was Joshua Kim’s Inside Higher Ed post on “The Primacy of Course Design.” Kim listed 8 fundamentals for solid learning design, and noted:

“Fully online courses, and programs, have the advantage that the LMS is the only classroom available. Online faculty are willing to go through a course design methodology as part of their compensation for preparing to teach online.”

The question looming for this panel – are not these same fundamentals necessary in face-to-face instruction?  Their answers appeared to be “maybe.”  They seemed to all recognize that Kim’s fundamentals are “good,” but they went back and forth on how explicit they were in their teaching.  One noted that her winging it was possible because of her years of experience.  Another noted that she would like to be more explicit, but that took time – time she did not have.  It was noted that there were good online courses and bad, just as there were good f2f classes and bad.  Design is part of the mix, but as Jeff tweeted to me, teaching practice and interactivity are as important if not more so as design, whether online or in a classroom.  I liked Steve’s closing point that his design was based on “how will class time be used” to achieve learning objectives rather than focusing on the content or the technology.

As usual, UMW FA 2010 brought in some wonderful keynote speakers.  The first was Siva Vaidhyanathan of the University of Virginia, who spoke on the Googlization of Higher Education.

Siva is currently finalizing a book on Google, and noted how hard that project was, as Google continued to change and morph.  His talk focused less on Google per se than it did on an emerging culture in which Google is embraced by both faculty and students.  He stated that in the rush to adopt new technologies, we in higher education should not reject centuries of wisdom in the educational process.  There were some interesting comparisons between the corporate Google and institutions of higher education.  He suggested that universities had sprung from monasteries, which were essentially big piracy machines copying others’ work!  Google’s founders were children of academicians whose culture mimics in many ways the academy (with many members coming straight from academia).

Siva argued against the findings of two recent books: Jeff JarvisWhat Would Google Do? and Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U.  While higher education definitely needs updating, Siva saw it as wrong to simply throw out the educational process in favor of just-in-time self-development.

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Siva spent most of his talk on the googlization of students, research, and education.  He noted the huge shift by institutions towards cloud computing, GMail for students, Google Scholar, use of Google Docs and Google Reader, and asked the question – do faculty and students understand the vast data mining going on behind their use of these Google systems?  I would opinion that the answer is no…including in many ways myself.  He asked for a show of hands of who present (and it was a fairly tech savvy group present at Faculty Academy) had taken the time to modify their settings in Google regarding privacy?  Out of the room, maybe 3%-5%.  So if the Google default is the maximum vacuuming of data, are there issues with that?  Of course, Google is not the only one – Facebook has been in the news lately regarding its own data mining and privacy settings, with the default again being wide open (See danah boyd’s reflective piece on Facebook and “radical tranparency” (a rant)).  Like danah, Siva saw Facebook as out of control compared to Google.  Just look at this graphic from FastCompany on Facebook’s privacy settings! (Click here for enlarged view)

FB_privacysettings3Much to think about…and it raises questions for those of us in faculty development as to how to address these questions.

Equally thoughtful was Mike Caulfield’s session on Learning in an Age of Just-In-Time Instruction.  Mike’s abstract stated:

People with no IT background installing complicated computer systems in a single afternoon. Amateur chess players beating both grandmasters and supercomputers using off the shelf software. Your spouse cooking a meal like a master chef — without any formal training. Coworkers communicating to someone across the world in a language they are just encountering for the first time. This is not science fiction — it is the average person’s life today, in 2010. Just-in-time instruction is the hidden revolution that has already radically changed how we live.
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Mike started by suggesting that higher education was marked by the banker model of instruction, where people come to IHE’s to bank and save knowledge that they might need in the future, when they can call on that knowledge and withdraw it.  His abstract and talk gave examples of how the web has flipped this model so that people can  search for needed information and train themselves as they need that training. Mike had the room research how much electricity we would need to cut to equal the carbon savings if we switched to a vegetarian diet.  It was fascinating to see how the different tables came to similar answers…with little questioning of the veracity of the websites we used (back to Siva’s talk).  On Twitter, there was an interesting side conversation by those not present on whether we would want our doctors using just-in-time instruction…and some agreement that – YES, we want our doctors using the web to stay current in the fast changing medical world.  Mike suggested that the liberal arts are about discerning truth…and that remains relevant in a world of informal learning.

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A side comment by Tom Woodward nearly brought tears to my eyes.

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The day (for me) ended at a session led by Julie Meloni, a newly minted Ph.D. from Washington State University.  Her session was on the basics of Twitter, though it did not get into instructional uses to the degree to which I desired.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear her discussion about the grammar and rhetoric of Twitter – themes she continued the next day in her keynote.  She did introduce me to Twapper Keeper – a neat tool for archiving tweets.

Energy running out, so will complete this post and come back to reflect on day two.

{Photo Credits: Martha Burtis, psd, Dan Nosowitz}

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Web Collaboration


This Saturday, I will be doing some guest lecturing in our Fast Track Executive MBA “mini-camp” here at VCU.  They have asked me to demonstrate “collaborative software.”  I am looking forward to this session, but the language they have used demonstrates how the world is evolving.  We really do not use “software” anymore for collaboration – it is now done on the web.

I was struck by this in reviewing a post today from Read-Write-Web entitled “Back to School: 10 Great Web Apps for College Students“:

1.  Evernote

2. Google Notebook

3.  Google Docs

4.  Zoho

5.  Zotero

6.  EasyBib

7.  Google Calendar

8.  Remember the Milk

9.  Rate My Professors

10.  Meebo

Evernote and Google Notebook are listed as note taking applications.  Google Docs and Zoho are online office suites.  Zotero and EasyBib help build bibliographies.  Google Calendar and RTM help keep students organized.  Rate My Professors helps pick the right class (debatable…but the students do use it!).  And Meebo is an instant messaging app for staying in touch.

The list above generated quite a few comments, with some suggesting the addition of some favorites of mine, including Jott (even though it costs) and Facebook.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

In my presentation to the Executive MBA students, I plan to do some quick polling to get a sense of what they currently use, and then suggest some quick tools built around Google applications.  From Google Sites to Google Docs to Google Calendars, and of course, Google Reader, MBA students (and students in general) have a rich variety of web tools that can enhance their collaborative work and build networks for the future.

Image via CrunchBase, source unknown

So, building off the question Frederic Lardinois asked in his RWW posting, what am I missing?  What tools would you suggest to Executive MBA students to bring their collaboration into the Web 2.0 arena?

Photo Credit: www.CentralDesktop.com

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