My Current Top Tools

Jane Hart Top 100Jane Hart tweeted that her 8th annual survey of learning professionals was out for her Top Tools for Learning 2014.  I always find this list interesting and a great resource to share with my students.  I regularly use quite a number, and have at least played with all but 18 of the top hundred.  Last year’s list is available on her Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies website.  I have embedded her slideshow from last year here:

The last time I submitted my top ten tools to her survey was in 2012, so it was interesting to first develop my list for this year and submit it…and then go back and reflect on how this list might have changed from what I submitted in 2012.

My top toolsWhat is both interesting and maybe a little alarming for me is how little this list changed in the past two years.  The order is a little different, and Google Reader was replaced with Feedly…but the functionality is the same.  Facebook dropped off and the iPad was added.  Two years ago, I stated:

“…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.”

Well…two years have passed… and I have certainly moved beyond Blackboard.  I regularly use Google Drive and the associated docs…but continue to think and use Dropbox first.  Wherever I go these days, my iPad and iPhone are handy…which I use for note-taking, research, and photos.  In fact, the panorama feature of iPhone camera is another favorite.

Reflecting on the evolutionary changes occurring on the web, I think that I have moved beyond “tools” to practices.  I do have my second top ten list that I use almost as often as my top ten…

And two that were on last year’s list that look interesting and were introduced to me by students were Udutu and Trello.  I continue to check out tools…

…but it is the practices afforded by the open web that continue to excite me – not the tools.  (My grammar colleagues tell me “practice” has no plural…but my mind refuses to accept that…)

practiceBy practice, I mean working and learning in the open.  The web (and these tools) are no longer separate entities from my work / life experience.    I met with some colleagues this morning for coffee, and we were discussing the visit this week by Christina Engelbart of the Doug Engelbart Institute.  In many ways, the top 100 tools for learning simply provide evidence of what Doug Engelbart visualized as “augmenting human intellect.”  The tools have become as much a part of me as the clothes I wear…and as such, the use seems to have become second nature and unconscious.

That said, I still find value in Jane crowdsourcing the top tools.  Seeing what might surface provides new ways of thinking about teaching and learning in a digital age.  If you have not done so, join me in voting for your top tools…and let’s see what all of us develop together.

{Graphic: C4LPT, Allen Interactions}

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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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It Is the Journey, Not the Destination … Nor the Goat

Over the last four weeks, Jon Becker and I have facilitated a journey for our online students into the heretofore unknown world (for them) of Web 2.0.  Our students are all K-12 teachers from three different states in our Education Technology and School Leadership course.  After two weeks of typical “schoolroom” topical exploration and discussion, we gave them their first project:

Research one of the Top 100 Tools from Jane Hart‘s list and present your findings in a short multimedia tutorial presentation to the rest of your classmates.

26 students – 26 tools

In two weeks.

With no further guidance.

Two weeks ago, you might as well said:  Take this goat and cross this rickety bridge.  (Love this image!)

As one might imagine, during the past two weeks, these students stressed out over just how to do their projects.  One noted that she was ready to toss her computer through her window!  I suspect that several of them would have preferred carrying a goat over doing a web presentation!  At the start of the journey, very few of these students had any experience in web applications.

This weekend, 26 presentations had been uploaded into our class wiki.

Our students reviewed each others presentations and commented in our class discussion forums about what they learned themselves and what they learned from each other.  Many of the comments discussed their stresses in trying to figure out how to present online and how amazed they were that they overcame them and completed their projects on time.

My team mate Jeff Nugent passed me a relevant article this past weekend from Barbara McCombs and Donna Vakili, entitled “A Learning-Centered Framework for E-Learning.”  It noted that content has become so abundant as to make it a poor foundation on which to base an education system.  Rather, context and meaning are the important commodities today.  My students may have started their journey assuming that the tool they were studying was the critical element, but they ended realizing that it was the journey that was important.  One student noted:

“After reading these posts, it seems that we all agreed that using our tool was not the hard part of this assignment.  Perhaps Britt and John knew that when making this assignment…”

I collected their reflections and dumped them into Wordle to see what emerged:

A few things jumped out at me.

USE – Most felt that they would use these tools (and several presented by their classmates) in their teaching.

JING – Jing became the default method for presenting their respective tools to each other.  It was not the only method, however.  We also had some Camtasia screencasts, some YouTube videos, an iMovie clip, and one engaging seaturtle with Blabberize.

STUDENTS and LEARNING – while each of these graduate students approached their specific tool in unique ways, they all focused in on the educational implications of web applications.  Many stated this was eye-opening for them.

And finally, TIME – they recognized the time investments one must make to gain proficiency with these tools.

I found one student’s comment particularly revealing:

“I had been dreading the actual tutorial because the technology scared me to death!  Once I played around with Jing, and saw how easy it was, it wasn’t so bad after all.  I learned that I definitely have some fears when it comes to technology!  It made me wonder why I have them.  My students definitely don’t.  My 11 year old doesn’t.  They just dive in and play with it until they know it.  I wondered when I lost that in myself…”

Another lesson that several reflected on was how this project reflected the social nature of web learning. In keeping with the theme from this year’s EduCon, Jon and I had reinforced  the notion that all learning can and should be networked learning, and that they should therefore support one another as they developed their presentations.  They found this support one of the most valuable aspects of the project.

The McCombs/Vakili article noted that research “underlying the learner-centered principles confirms that learning is nonlinear, recursive, continuous, complex, relational, and natural in humans” (p. 1586).  The lessons learned by these students backs this up – messy at the time but rewarding when accomplished.

Four weeks ago, I told these students that they would freak out doing their projects, but that they would persevere and all complete their projects…and be amazed and proud of themselves.  This weekend, they saw that I was right.

26 different destinations, but one journey – and it was fun to go along for the ride!

{Photo Credit: Jungle Boy}

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