Monday, April 28, 2008

Am I Crazy to Start Another Blog?!

I haven't posted here for awhile and aside from the usual excuses about life being too busy, it's also because I've started a new blog.


As I mentioned in my last post, I was preparing for a talk that my colleague, Jodie, and I were going to do at the Virtual School Society conference in Vancouver entitled Get Your Google Glow On. We were focusing on how free on-line tools like Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Google Notebook can foster collaboration and enhance communication with colleagues and students.  (And no, Jodie and I are not employed or affiliated in any way with Google--we just love their stuff!)  Well the conference was last week and Jodie and I felt really good about how our presentation went. It was a small room, but it was packed and the talk seemed to be sparking some good dialogue.

The New Blog

To help support our conference talk and hopefully continue the discussion, I created a new blog on Blogger called Tech Pro-D Tools.  (Clearly I need to work on having a catchier title!)  I debated using this blog, Clarify Me, to support our talk; it was appealing to think of drawing new people into my blog.  However, I am doing a summer pro-d session, Blogging 101, where I'll be getting participants to set up a blog using Google's Blogger.  Blogger is such an easy interface to use when you are starting to blog (though it does not have the functionality of Edublogs / WordPress).  It just seemed to make sense to set up a separate blog for the conference talk and to support my summer pro-d session.

Blog Warming Party?

So here's your invitation to check out the new blog.   If you already use Google Docs, Calendar, and/or Notebook you'll hopefully find some useful tips and links.  If you don't but are curious, there's something there for you too!  Oh, and if you're wondering about the best blog warming gift--it's leaving a comment :-)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How Do You Get Your Google Glow On?

My colleague, Jodie, and I got an e-mail the other day from the organizers of the Virtual School Society's Annual Spring Conference saying that they did have room for us after all to give our presentation Get Your Google Glow On and could we still do it? Even though the conference is next week (not a lot of prep time), Jodie and I are good sports and said yes.

Image: google_logo by keso

Nervous About the Presentation
Yes, I've been teaching for awhile now, but for some reason I'm more comfortable talking to an auditorium of high school kids than I am speaking to a group of my peers. Added to that, the last time I did a presentation at a conference was when I was wrapping up my MSc in Biology about 13 years ago; hopefully distance learning educators are less ruthless than grad students and post-docs who are trying to make a name for themselves!

Collaboration & Communication
Jodie and I are presenting on some of the many on-line tools that Google offers. We're highlighting Google Notebook, Google Docs, and Google Calendar. The presentation is aimed at beginners who have not used these tools before. We're planning on focusing on how these tools can allow for increased collaboration and better communication.

How We Use The Tools
Since September we've been using Google Calendar to post relevant due dates, exam dates etc. We created a separate calendar for each grade and students can subscribe to their calendar or just view them on our website (see the grade 9 calendar here). I teach at a distributed learning school where many of our students are working asynchronously. The calendar 'deadlines' have been very helpful to let students know if they are on track to finishing their courses on time.

Jodie and I use Notebook to book mark sites we want to show the students in a particular unit. We've just been working on a series of lessons on hatching duck eggs; Jodie set up a notebook and shared it with me so that I could add links as well. I also use Notebook to organize the links for my Elluminate Live! sessions.

As for Google Docs, I've been preparing my Elluminate Live! lesson presentations using the Presentation tool. To demonstrate how to solve Applications of Math 10 questions I set up a spreadsheet in Google Docs and walked a student through the process on-line. We're also starting to get students to collaborate with each other using the Documents software.

How Do You Use These Google Tools?
Do you use any of these three Google tools with students or colleagues? If so, would you be willing to share how they have been effective for you? If so I'd love to hear from you!

Post Script
I'm posting this using the Blog Posting option in Flock. I'm curious as to how this will work out as I'm new to using Flock.

Added after posting--The Flock upload worked fairly well, except that none of my font formats were uploaded (italics and bold).

Blogged with the Flock Browser

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Look Ma, I'm on TV!

Fatty watching himself on TVLately I've been thinking about the following question; if I'm a visual learner, why do I have trouble with video? In the past month or so I've run into a lot more video on blogs. I'm not referring to people embedding YouTube videos or TED Talks. More and more people are including video entries and comments. Though I'm a visual learner, I'm finding that for a lot of content I'd rather text over video.

Here are some of the different uses of video I've seen on blogs (sans TED Talks and other formal presentations).

1. Video Comments: Not so long ago, Dean Shareski posted on Riffly, which allows people to leave video comments on your blog. It was neat to see and hear the people commenting, especially when they were people I've been reading on a regular basis. However, a number of commenters noted the downsides of video comments. In reply to Dean's post Sue Waters said, "it takes longer for you to take in the information from the spoken text because you can scan read with text" and Clay Burrel offered, "I’d rather have auto-transcription of voice-recognized audio. Who wants to have to watch a whole video comment to discover it wasn’t worth seeing? Or at least give us the fast-forward option."

Dean Shareski replied with, "I wonder if people had difficulty with the telephone when it was first introduced? Along with the cost, were there similar issues we now face with talking heads?" and later, "I wonder if many miscommunications I’ve seen on blog posts could have been cleared up had they used video." Dean's last point really resonates with me. I'm often putting in smiley faces to temper what I've written so that it doesn't come across as being too harsh. Others have 'LOL'-itis, presumabley for the same reason.

2. Video Posts: In March Stephen Downes did a follow-up post in video format (approx 16 minutes long) on his views on homeschooling. Some of Downes' views on homeschooling are seen as quite controversial. However, a number of the comments on this post mentioned the difficulties with the video format. For example, part of Jeremy Hiebert's response to the video was, "A spirited, reasoned response. I'll have to stew on it for a while, and maybe watch again before going too deep on a response. If you have your notes in digital form, would you mind posting them here as well? I think it's harder for me to follow and process the sequential nature of video." And from Dana Hanley, "Anyway, I'll respond in more depth tonight. Responding to video is a little more difficult.."

Charles Nelson posted a reply to Downes, and over half of what he wrote was about Downes' use of video: "his [Stephen Downes'] video made it clear to me that when using tools, we need to consider what they have to offer, how they can add to our message, and what we lose when using them." Nelson goes on to provide a good analysis of why he thought Downes' post failed and ends with, "This time requirement of viewing and understanding videos means that if they are to be used, they need to offer something that cannot be obtained in print only...". I highly recommend that if you are interested in the use and mis-use of video that you check out Nelson's full post here.

Of course there are others, like Gary Vaynerchuk who do video posts like this and this. I think that Vaynerchuk's video posts are successful in part because they are usually fairly brief (under 2 minutes) and have a single focus. Plus, he is so wired that it makes his message that much more intense.

3. Meet the Blogger: These are short video clips that bloggers post to build a rapport with their readers. An example of this is in Sarah Stewart's blog. She recently experimented with video and I felt like I got to know her a bit better seeing and hearing her. The key here is to keep the clip short. Which brings up another point; I'm a big fan of video skins (if that is the right term), that let you know how long a video is. Sometimes I don't have the time to watch a 15 minute video clip, so it is nice to know before I press play.

Perhaps in the future there will be ways of viewing videos that will allow us to easily scan and move backward and forward through the information. Or video coupled with text transcripts allowing you to scan the text and select the video when you find the part in which you are interested. Until that time, I'm going to have to really assess how I use video and how I ask my students to use video.

Having said all this, below is a brief (12 second) video hello from me. My goal; to create rapport with my readers and further establish my on-line identity. And no, my son never sits still ;-) A big thanks to Sue Waters and The Edublogger on info regarding embedding video on your blog! As a result I was able to modify the YouTube embed so that it did not include related videos, some of which were inappropriate.

What do you think about the use of video in blogs? Do you have some examples of successful video posts or comments? Or video formats that allow you scan, easily move back and forth, and/or bookmark video segments?Image: Fatty Watching Himself on TV by cloudzilla on Flickr. Creative Commons by attribution.