20 April 2010

Thing 23: All Done?

Phew.  I've been working all night to try to finish my 23 Things, not just because I really wanted to meet the second deadline after I missed the first, and not just so I can check it off my neverending list of things to do, but because I also enjoyed it.  This truly has been one of the most rewarding professional development opportunities I've been afforded, and I'm so grateful.

Before I started 23 Things, I considered myself knowledgeable about the web and pretty comfortable searching for and finding what I needed from it, but not an expert.  I was so flabbergasted by how much I didn't know - and I don't mean for that to sound like a defeated or discouraged thing to say.  Rather, I quickly gained a more realistic vision of all the tools that are out there, and the way that content delivery has changed, and the kinds of literacy I needed to develop to take full advantage of them.

My favorite discovery was probably Google Reader.  My day just isn't complete now unless I get to follow up on the headlines that appear there for me each morning.  But as soon as I say that, I remember the Mash-ups thing and how cool I thought some of those were, even if they weren't as functional as the others.  My least favorite discovery is an easier call - LinkedIn.  Enough said.

The 23 Things program was perfectly structured for someone like me who is curious but has a busy schedule, who likes her independence but occasionally needs support.  I would love to do more of these over and over again.  But even if I don't have that opportunity, I'll be okay, because the whole process has been so rewarding that I think I could pursue more on my own.  Not only have I discovered a lot of new and practical tools, I feel so much more confident in my ability to figure technology things out by myself. 

Still, please offer more!

19 April 2010

Thing 22: Now I'm a Pro

I did Thing 22 a little out of order, and I've been doing it for a while, largely because my excitement about so many of the things has compelled me to share what I've learned with friends of mine who likewise consider themselves sort of techie in the classroom.  The biggest hit by far was the English Companion Ning, but Wordle was a close second.

My pupils were my husband and my best friend, both of whom are upper school English teachers.  (Dave, to be fair, doesn't integrate technology nearly as frequently as Amanda does.)  Both of them were happy to learn about the ning after I raved about a site that had such a strong collection of ideas and documents.  A couple of years ago, Dave and I got a professional development grant to work on an electronic resource that would provide links to articles, images, files and interactive activities that complemented the core texts we were teaching in the upper school English classes.  If we'd known about the EC Ning, it would have gone a lot faster.  I know both Dave and Amanda have found good stuff since joining the ning, and it's a good find.

Wordle also proved fun.  Dave shared it with his English department after I showed him how to, and he actually got to use his wordle in the classroom even before I did.  Amanda, who's a poet in addition to being a fabulous teacher, uploaded her most recent manuscript and we had some good conversations about the words and ideas that appeared large there - it was really a good opportunity for her to look at her own writing through a different lens, and that reiterated to me the potential it has for student writers.

Amanda's also responsible for my introduction to Wordnik, a site that allows users to create individual wordlists that others can comment on.  She's been successful using it in the classroom to supplant the boring vocabulary lists we both loathe.  I'm still not nearly as confident that it's user-friendly enough to facilitate easy classroom integration, but I've created my account and I'm checking it out.  Honestly, I checked it out a year or two ago, and found it a little frustrating, but having gone back to it, I'm more impressed, so I'm giving it another try.

Thing 21: Tweets Are Kinda Sweet

I was totally and completely infatuated with Twitter back in '08 for 4 whole weeks. At my old job, we all got accounts and made each other laugh in the faculty room by tweeting across the room. Then we all got bored, and stopped. Then I got a Facebook account, and I never thought to go back to it.

I think the novelty wore off for me when I started trying to use it more socially - the character limit was, well, limiting. And when I saw how much other sites (again, like Facebook) added to their interfaces, I started thinking of Twitter as the ugly, boring stepsister to far cooler and capable sites.

I might be over that now. I liked the way that one of the Project Term groups used Twitter instead of a blog to update family, friends and faculty back at school - that was actually the impetus for my re-creating a Twitter account. And having looked at a certain dinovan's tweets, I see also the possibility for tweeting on a certain subject, but not having it be my primary social media.  It seems best suited for quick points of information and reference, instead of conversation starting or more personal communication.

As an aside, I liked Note 2 on the assignment sheet - I've been lurking on Google Buzz trying to make sense of it and figure out if it's worth getting involved in.  I do have a few contacts who are giving it the college try, hoping, I think, to see it eclipse Facebook.  My own personal jury is still out.

Thing 20: Just Whelmed

Before I get started with the real meat of this post, let me say this: the funniest part of browsing Slideshare was absolutely seeing the thumbnails of the Powerpoints and recognizing how many of the design templates I've used in the past.  I was having all kinds of flashbacks to every presentation I've ever made for students and workshops and classes.

But I digress.  The thing is, I wanted to like Slideshare.  I really did.  I liked it in theory.  However, when push comes to shove, as far as my teaching goes, I really don't see too much of an advantage of putting a presentation up on Slideshare instead of just emailing it to those students or colleagues I need to share it with. 

After exploring a few Slideshares, I found myself disappointed.  Maybe if you could record audio to accompany the uploaded files, I thought, there would be some more value added, but without that, it's kind of boring.  In fact, I think Voicethread is more useful, even if it's a little more cumbersome to create the presentation.  I'm not kidding - I was so desperately wanting for there to be audio that I checked my speakers at least 8 times to make sure they weren't muted while I was looking at the presentations.

Still frustrated, I went back to the Slideshare that explains this whole thing and it found that you can include audio after all.  That left me with a whole different problem - why isn't anyone using it?  And why isn't searching for the Slidecasts that integrate audio easier?  The browse feature is pretty straightforward for the regular Slideshares, but much less user-friendly for the Slidecasts.

Ultimately, I didn't find anything too impressive on Slideshare.  I'm willing to admit that my frustration levels and initial disappointment might have rendered me a tough audience, but I didn't stumble upon anything great like I did on the Ning site, or get really excited about the application like I did with Voicethread, or immediately start generating ideas for lessons and projects like I did with wikis.  I'm sure for some people, this works - I see the value maybe for corporate types who want to ensure some kind of standardization of training and not share original files lest they be altered - but for me, emailing presentations is just peachy.  Not overwhelmed, not too underwhelmed...just whelmed.

But here's the first something I found that I thought was kind of interesting:

Thing 19: Podcasts = Love

How do I love thee, podcasts?  Let me count the ways:
  1. I love thee for thy convenience - there are a lot of radio broadcasts on NPR that I live and love to hear.  However, I'm not always actually in the car when they're on.  Podcasting has revolutionized the way I listen to these programs.  I subscribe to a number of them (including This American Life, which if you're not listening to, you're really, sorely missing out on), sync them on my iPod, and then I can listen at the gym, or in the car (even if they're not on the station), or even at home while I'm vacuuming or my husband's watching baseball.
  2. I love thee for thy entertainment value - Continuing in the same vein about my favorite NPR shows (not just This American Life, but also Car Talk and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me), I used to hate when I was slave to the radio and howling with laughter that I knew I'd have to retell and paraphrase whatever it was that made me so hysterical, and that I knew I wouldn't do it justice.  The new re-tell-ability (yes, I coined the phrase) is terrific, not just for giggles, but also because I've used a lot of them in class.
  3. I love thee for thy knowledge -  There are some fantastic podcasts that I've used in class, and legions more I need to look at for integration.  There are others I've used not to share with students but to deepen my own background about a text before I teach it.  Overall, I've been impressed by the quality of the humanities podcasts available through iTunes U, especially those created by museums and libraries. iTunes U, incidentally, also has what I think is the best directory system.  It's easy to search and provides just the right level of detail about the podcast.
  4. I love thee for thy cheapness - It's pretty cool that so many podcasts are free - I almost got carried away raving about how it's bringing knowledge to the people and breaking down some walls to information, but the truth is, you still need a computer to locate and hear the podcasts, so it's not nearly as proletariat as it could be, but it's a good start.

Thing 18: Writing on Wikis

So I feel very accomplished, having contributed for the very first time to a content-rich wiki.  Admittedly, my contributions were about my favorite books and restaurants, so not necessarily all that academic, but I do feel very powerful.  At the beginning of the 23 Things project, I thought a lot about how all kinds of Web 2.0 tools provide opportunities for self-publishing.  I had a long post about how that was both exciting and terrifying to me because I'm sensitive to and aware of how people might perceive me based on what I put out there in cyberspace.  What I didn't consider then, because I was imagining more of a forum for personal expression, is another concern about expertise - I'd be beyond mortified to publish content to an educational or informative wiki that turned out to be inaccurate or biased or incomplete.  I know enough to be skeptical of online sources and Wikipedia because of shared authorship, but every time I've contemplated how dubious it is, I've been thinking as a reader rather than a writer; now I have a whole new anxiety.

And at the same time that I'm a little embarrassed to admit how self-conscious I am about the possibility of making a mistake in something I post to wikis, I also secretly hope that everyone who posts to wikis considers that fear as much.  Already, however, I suspect that that's not the case; that's exactly why I iterate to students time and time again that Wikipedia is NOT a totally reliable source.  I'm stoked about the democratizing the exchange of ideas and information, but careless or deliberately misleading posters poison the well and undermine the whole project.

In either case, as I played with the ones I was referred to, I also kept thinking about classroom applications.  One that I keep thinking about is vocabulary.  I struggle every year with how to make vocabulary instruction relevant to students - I hate the idea of generating lists with definitions and passing them out before we read books.  For one thing, students have a wide range of vocabulary levels and don't all need the same words (or number of words) defined.  Secondly, I don't think it should be so passive for students - I think they should look up definitions and be involved in the research.  A vocabulary wiki could be a great idea - students could contribute the words they came across in their readings that were unfamiliar and share them in context, but also share links to definitions.  It would be a much more student-centered and student-owned list.  In the past, I've made students create their own vocabulary lists, but then I had to photocopy them and pass them out to share them with classmates if I wanted to quiz them on the complete list - this seems to be a better idea.  We'll see...

Thing 17: Wiki What What?

I've been dying to know more about wikis for a long time.  I've heard co-workers rave about how they're using wikis in classes, and I have classmates in my grad program who've taken courses that require them to make contributions to wikis, but I've never really played with them myself (save for one foray into wiki-world I'll explain in a moment).  But all that's different now - I've seen the light.  I enjoyed seeing the different wikis we were directed too, and I already have some ideas about how I might start integrating them in my classes.

My only real experience with wikis has been a kind of boring one.  My So Be Fit team has a wiki that consists of a chart that all our team members can enter our steps for the day.  It's simple and straightforward, but not so dynamic.  Functional, sure, but blah.  That's not at all the reaction I had to some of the wikis put together by different classes.  My eyes were opened by how much more engaging a wiki could be, and also to how many different kinds of applications they might have.  I love the way that a fifth grade class is using a wiki to invite responses to questions about what to do in the summer.  It is a simple project, but friendly, and I'm sure the students love seeing the suggestions that arrive daily.  The Small Stones wiki is super impressive!  It appears that a class has essentially created their own online textbook based on topics covered and work done in class.  They share ownership of it, and have successfully supplemented the course materials in a way that's useful not only to them, but to other students who study calculus.

I can easily see ways to use wikis in class.  I like the idea of having students collaborate on a sort of online coursepack that might provide historical or cultural background for the stories we're reading.  If we created different topics and students had to upload just one link or small piece for each of them, there would be a lot available to all of them by the end .  I also like the potential that wikis have for allowing collaboration even outside the classroom.  I teach three sections of American Literature that, because they meet at different times, feel as if they're three different classes.  Using a wiki to do some processing of course content would give students in the three sections an opportunity to engage in a dialogue or project with others who have the class at a different time, and I think that's very cool.

I used to wonder how wikis were different from blogs, but I see now how significant the shared authorship idea is, and the ability to allow visitors to actually alter content (instead of merely to comment upon it) is huge.  I'm a fan.

P.S. The Simpsons Wiki is just about the funnest thing I've ever seen on the web.  I plan to waste hours and hours poring through it.

Thing 16: Wacky Widgets

Forrest Gump said that life is like a box of chocolates because you never know what you're going to get, and I think that searching for widgets is also similarly unpredictable, or at least similarly varied.  Some of the widgets I looked at were fantastic - I could easily see how they could enrich the content on someone's page, especially if the blog had a specific focus.

On the Project Term blog for our biking trip, for example, we added a weather widget, so that visitors to the page could see what we were doing in Virginia and know instantly what kind of weather we were enjoying (and believe me, we were enjoying it).  I think there's a great opportunity for people keeping more personal blogs to use some of the picture widgets to stream photos from Flickr or Picassa so that they don't need to update and add individual images all the time.  A music blog would be made more interesting and interactive if a musical widget were added; the multimedia addition could provide real examples of the content that would otherwise be just talked about.  On my own blog, I chose the comments widget because I love seeing all the ways that people post, and I like that now I don't have to navigate to individual posts to see the messages and questions other people have left.  It's a good time saver.

However, I did see that a lot of the widgets that are out there are just plain stupid.  Sure, it's cute to have little fish swimming in a tank on your page, but so what?  I don't want to limit anyone's creativity, but I don't get the point of it.  Why link to games from your page?  Don't you want your visitors to stay and read what you've posted?  Maybe I'm being a little persnickety, or maybe I just have a different purpose in blogging than others do, but the sillier widgets seem just distracting - they don't add much value to the blog.  I feel like the other projects we've undertaken in the 23 Things have conditioned us to give preference to efficient and concise blogs, those that really embody the "less is more" spirit, and tons of the widgets I saw fly in the face of that.

Thing 15: Screencast-O-Matic

Screencasts are useful and fun, and ridiculously easy to make. I really couldn't believe how easy it was. I can see immediately how awesome these would be for computer and technology teachers who are constantly having to explain where to navigate a mouse or to open a folder inside a folder inside a folder...

I'm not actually overwhelmed though by the possibilities they have in my classroom. As a literature teacher, I tend to be much more interested in the products that are created on the web than I am in how they're created; screencasts seem like great ways to show a process, but I'm struggling to think of instances in which the process a student completes on her computer would be of interest for me.  I'll keep thinking about that one...

Still, I do think that the application is a good one - and I was impressed by how simple it was to make my screencast.  Here it is:

04 April 2010

Thing 14: Wow

Voicethread is pretty sweet. My mind is racing with ways I can use this in class.  Off the top of my head, I like it for topics I want to make sure students look at, but that aren't nearly important enough for class discussions, or when class ends on a Friday afternoon and I want students to weigh in on something quickly because I know they'll forget what they were thinking about by Monday morning.  I love it as a way to deal with students who might have to deal with absences (especially extended ones) or unexpected snow days if there's something that an email alone might not cover.  I love that it's interactive.  I love that different organizations and museums can create their own tutorials about things in their collections.  Did you see the New York Public Library's voicethread?  I also found a librarian's series of book talks.  The possibilities are endless...

I also really like that this might give teachers a way to reach students with different learning styles, who are more auditory than visual, and a great option for dealing with absences or school closings.  If a student misses a class, I usually just send her a copy of the Powerpoint (if one was used for notes or to guide discussions) and tell her to read it and check a classmate's notes if there's anything unclear.  I'm not sure that really works for everyone.  Honestly, I suspect a lot of students rely more heavily on the notes from a peer instead of the file anyway.  But if instead I uploaded individual slides and commented on them, to call attention to the extra important ideas, or to share some of the significant responses to questions, that could be a lot more useful.

I will say I had some technical trouble hearing my playback and embedding the file.  I was prompted at one point to make sure that no more than two tabs were open in my browser and thought that was a little annoying (who's ever online with only two tabs open?), but overall, my problems were minimal and the site seems pretty user-friendly.  I'll definitely be thinking more about how to integrate it in the future.

Without further ado, my first Voicethread:

Thing 13: My Very Good Friend, YouTube

Why did I start my post with this video? Two reasons. First, because I think it's pretty much the coolest thing on YouTube; and second, because it's a prime example of how I typically use YouTube - for things that are goofy and entertaining. I suppose in this particular instance, I could make the argument that were I a science teacher or robotics coach or something like that, this could have all kinds of practical and professional applications, but the truth is, in my English classes, it really doesn't. Most of the time I search visit YouTube, it's because I'm looking for a funny video or following a link that my brother or sister sent me. I don't think I'm alone on this one. I mean, haven't we all laughed at that kid coming home from the dentist? And the reel of sports mascots' bloopers? That's good stuff.

But I do see the possibilities for the classroom, and I take advantage whenever I can.  Just last week, I used a clip of a documentary about Louis Armstrong in my introduction to my Harlem Renaissance unit.  There are a lot of great videos that can fit into literature and history lessons available online.  I also like that so many students who've been assigned video projects post them to YouTube, and when they're good, I like to share them with students.  Sometimes I even share them when they're bad - it can be a great exercise to have students identify the factual errors in bad presentations.  This project, however, is a good one:

TeacherTube and SchoolTube are new to me, but they look like great resources.  I already lost a good half hour just checking some stuff out on it, and bookmarked them so I remember to return later on.  I'm very excited about some of that, but need to stay focused!

03 April 2010

Thing 12: A Few Reviews

Tada-list?  Seriously?  Lame.  I'm a listmaker, so I had to check this one out, but I'm totally unimpressed.  If I'm using it personally, without sharing it with anyone (and I'll get to that in a second), then I see zero advantage to having that list live on the web as opposed to on my desktop as a post-it note, or in my cell phone or even (gasp) on a piece of paper in my pocket, both of which are far more portable.  And sharing a personal to do list with others is just a silly idea.  I understand that the sharing feature is probably intended more for group projects between co-workers, classmates or teammates, but my sense is that if you're doing that level of online collaboration, then you probably want a site or application that allows for you to do more than just build and check-off a to do list; you want a site that would allow you to share documents and alter files and whatnot, like PBworks or Google Docs.  Tada-list would be sadly insufficient.  It might be kind of cool if there were ways to search other lists - like, for example, if I was going to visit Boston, and could search for lists of "Best Museums in Boston" or "Best Lobster Rolls in Boston" - but you can't, and anyway, I'd probably have more success using those titles as a bigger google search anyway.

Timetoast, on the other hand, is a-MAZ-ing.  I love it.  What a great, user-friendly way to create a visual representation of things.  I had fun browsing through other users' timelines and searching for things that other people created, and instantly started thinking of potential classroom applications:
  1. I could create timelines that represent the eras depicted in literature we're studying to provide historical context.  
  2. Students could create personal timelines instead of typical personal essays.
  3. Students could create timelines to summarize and highlight important events from stories we read.
These three ideas are the ones I'm most intrigued by, but I'm sure others will come to mind as I mull things over a little more.  As excited as I am about the opportunities provides, I'm immediately also wishing there were a few things that enhanced the site.  For example, can you imagine if you could share ownership of the timeline?  It would be awesome to have one timeline that all the students in my class could edit and contribute to.  I'd also be really excited if the site allowed you to mark favorite timelines or other users.  I can bookmark individual timelines (in Delicious, of course), but it would seem a little friendlier if I could do that through my account on Timetoast itself.  I'd also appreciate it if there were a little more info available in the summaries of each timeline that you see when you browse or search.  Details like the exact timespan or the number of events that are entered would help me filter through the timelines a little more effectively.  Improvements like these, in my humble opinion, would make this an even more awesome tool.  Still, it's totally worth checking out.

Weebly?  It's fine, I guess, if you want to create a more individualized blog.  Personally, I'm pretty happy with the blogger, and not yet at a point where I feel like I need to be playing with my blog on that level.  That said, if I do one day get to that point, it seemed like Weebly was pretty easy to use.

Wordle was interesting.  The idea of word webs that are created via an application is neat.  It might be a fresh way for students to review their own (and each others') essays.  I'm not sure I see tons of really interpretive, critical work that could be done on the site, but it is fun.  I uploaded the personal statement I wrote when I applied to my master's program and here's what it spit out:

Wordle: Personal Statement
Pretty cool, huh?  It might be challenging to think of really meaningful ways to integrate it in the classroom (instead of fluffier ones), but it's different, and certainly does hold some good possibilities. Look at this one - I entered the text from the first chapter of The Great Gatsby.  Seeing which words figure prominently in the chart could help clue students in to ideas and characters that might be important, if I shared this before they began reading.  Hmm... I like that.

Wordle: Chapter 1 of Gatsby

That's all for now - I want to check out more of the recommended sites, but I need to keep moving on my Things!

ADDENDUM: I was really proud of myself for that Gatsby idea, I'm not gonna lie.  So I feel, in the interest of full disclosure, that tonight, while I was searching the English Companion Ning, I found a post from someone who'd already created wordles for all nine of the chapters.  I still think the idea is good, but apparently, not all that original...

Thing 11: Social Bookmarking

What I love about Delicious is that it makes it easy to save and organize bookmarks so they're accessible from any computer.  I can tag different sites by course or text, and I like that things can be easily cross-referenced, as opposed to placed in just one folder. 

The sharing/social dimension of Delicious is great too, at least in theory.  I like the potential for a community of people with similar interests to collaborate in building a list of useful resources.  It might be a great way for students to assist each other in finding resources that help them make sense of units or texts we're covering in class (although as soon as I write that, I'm imagining all the sites they'd bookmark that I don't want them even looking at, like Sparknotes and Clifs Notes, etc.).  And it could certainly help me share info with colleagues as we're planning units.

But what I find extremely frustrating about the site is that it's hard to find that community without a lot of trial and error.  The public profiles don't provide a whole lot of information, so it's impossible to search "high school English teachers" and find people that way.  When I do come across a site that others have tagged, I don't know whether the users are students looking for essay ideas or teachers who think the material on the site is good for lesson planning.  I can start figuring out how reliable or credible I consider other users by looking at the whole list of their bookmarks, but I really wish that process was streamlined a bit. 

Furthermore, and it might make me seem like a nitpicker, but I hate that Delicious doesn't automatically open links in a new window. If you're doing a search for something, and you get a big list of things that might be relevant, isn't it common sense that you're going to check out more than one of the sites? I think having to use the back button is annoying, and that it's logical and useful in this context to facilitate easy comparison of sites by opening them in new windows. I recognize users do ultimately have control of this - I know to use the control button when I click on the link to arrange this for myself, but I think that should be the default.

So I like the bookmarking, but think the whole social part of the sharing is only mediocre.

02 April 2010

Thing 10: Mashups Are...

letter C DSC_0008_5 letter O letter L
I like mashups.  It's neat to see how different applications can talk to each other and combine forces to make something fun or useful.  I really liked this spelling one - it would be a fun way to create interesting titles or headings for posts or on e-invitations.  I was also kind of hypnotized by the Color Fields tool and spent a lot of time just looking at the images that showed up as I scrolled through different colors.

I think that one of my favorite websites is a mashup.  I use MapMyRun as a training tool to log my exercise and runs.  It allows me to map the routes around my neighborhood that I run regularly (or even just once) and not only does it give me a precise distance, it calculates my average rate of speed and calories burned if I enter how long it took me.  The mapping tool is really easy to use - it relies on MapQuest.  It's also able to import data from the Nike+ site that I use when I'm wearing my shoe sensor.  There's a calendar on which I can enter my runs as well as trips to the gym or days I play tennis.  It seems like this multi-functionality makes it a mashup. And a darn good one at that.

Those are my thoughts on mashups, but I'm not quite done with this post.  The English teacher in me can't ignore something - the guy from zdnet in the video misspelled the word Internet when he wrote it on the board!  (He forgot the second e.)  I recognize it was probably an oversight rather than an actual ignorance of the word's spelling, but I think that's kind of ridiculous.  Jeez.

01 April 2010

Thing 9: Fun with Flickr

I've had a Flickr account for a while, but honestly, I don't use it nearly as often as I thought I would when I first set it up.  I don't think that speaks to any problems with the site itself; it's really just a symptom of my overall laziness about organizing my photos.  I'm notoriously bad at keeping track of photos I take, and always have been.  I thought that going digital would make it easier for me to stay on top of everything, but alas, it hasn't.

Still, there's a lot I like about it.  I am diligent uploading photos when I want to share them with other people, and I think that's a real advantage to photo sharing sites.  It's certainly much easier to create the album and email a link to people than it is to attach individual photos, or to print them up and actually mail them.  I also appreciate that important photos (like those from my wedding) can be uploaded so I don't have to worry about losing the CD that they're on, or what would happen if my computer crashed.  There are also benefits I realize more as a viewer than sharer of photos - I have friends who upload lots of pictures of their kids to Flickr, and I like that I can then peruse them at my own leisure (as opposed to being ambushed with stacks of prints at lunch, happy hour or anywhere else when I'm really not all that interested).

I have an account on Photoworks as well, and have to say I prefer it.  It seems a little easier to do the dragging and dropping to place things in albums, and I like some of the products and projects you can create through the site.  In fact, when I got married, we had a photographer give us all the prints on CD, and I uploaded them all to Photoworks.  Then I was able to order the prints I wanted, and I also was able to make albums not just to email, but real ones - with pretty covers and captions and everything.  I was amazed by the options that were available, and loved how hands on it was.  Looking at the site now, it doesn't seem that they have that easy blog button that Flickr does, but in all other respects, they seem pretty similar. 

I'm a little wary of sending students to Flickr to search photos, for a few reasons.  The obvious is that there's all kinds of stuff on there that I don't necessarily want students to think I'm encouraging them to look at.  Additionally, the tags, captions and labels are only as reliable as the photographer or site user who uploaded them.  Just this week in my graduate class, a student used a picture she'd found online of an author in a presentation, and our professor pointed out that the picture was absolutely not of the author she was discussing.  Pretty embarrassing.  A lot of students, despite their internet savvy, aren't well-equipped to evaluate how credible a source is even when the identities of the webmasters are transparent; photo sharing sites, allow users to remain much more anonymous, so that evaluation is even more challenging.

Self-Portrait Taken at My Brother's Wedding, or Trying Out the Blog This Feature From Flickr

Originally uploaded by KarenEli22
It's a long photo title for a kind of generic shot of me and my husband. His arms are longer. He should have taken it.

30 March 2010

I Say Uncle

So, 23 Things, you've been good to me.  I love all you've shown me, and I feel like we've had some really good times together...wandering through cyberspace holding hands, discovering new territories, helping me become a better teacher... It's all been good. 

Still, you drain me of a lot of energy.  And I haven't been able to fully commit - all these other things in my life like my job, my friends, my husband, my exercise, they've gotten in my way!  So I'm sad tonight that I didn't make deadline #1.  Farewell, MP3 player.  Adieu.

But hear me loud and clear, 23 Things: I'm ready.  And come spring break, I will crush you.  No more Ms. Nice Chick.  I'm gonna whip through the rest of you and take no prisoners.  Because I will not miss deadline #2.  I like Somerset, and I like to win things. 

You've been warned.

25 March 2010

A Digression About Digressions

I'm practically at fever pitch trying to figure out how I'll finish all this while I'm also reading PT journals and proofreading output projects and grading essays and calculating averages and writing comments this weekend.  I realize I've got no one to blame but myself for having fallen behind in the things, but I think what I'm finding over and over is that the internet is cruel and addictive!  I come to my tablet with the best of intentions and get engrossed in one thing, but then I follow a link to something else that interests me.  And while I'm checking that site out, I find another link that beckons to me.  And then another, and another, and another, and suddenly I'm engaged in something that has nothing at all to do with a thing, but has been interesting.  Yikes.

Perhaps what I need most to find in this project is a way for my computer to monitor my browsing and keep me on task.  That sounds more Big Brother than Web 2.0, but it might help.

Thing 8: So 2007

I'm not gonna lie - I thought these customized start pages were a little underwhelming (not as underwhelming as Linkedin, but nothing is that boring).  I think that maybe I'm being unduly influenced by the fact that I realize they're not so cutting edge - I remember creating something similar on iGoogle years ago.  So this wasn't as innovative or new to me as some of the other tools and things we've been looking at.

Still, I checked them out, and did create my own Pageflakes start page.  I even made my own theme, and added a fun page, and really set it as my home page.  I'm just not sure I'll really use it much.  I know I recently gushed about how awesome it was to have all the blogs I follow and news sources I check in one spot, but for some reason, it quickly becomes overwhelming when there's also games and facebook and email and weather...  It was Walt Whitman who said "Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes" - I'm feeling him right now.

I can't put my finger on what makes this less appealing to me than Google Reader, but it is.  That said, I'll acknowledge there are a few things I like:
1. It's pretty.  I like my customized theme.
2. Being able to create separate pages is very convenient.  Dividing feeds for news from those for fun or for work is smart.
3. Some of the widgets are cool.

However, I also see some things I don't like:
1. The obnoxious, unmoveable ad space.
2.  I have some trouble actually getting the content (at least at school) - it simply won't download.  What's the point of setting all this up if it's not reliable? 
3. The reader function doesn't seem as user-friendly as Google's.  I just prefer the layout and sidebar menus there instead.

Final verdict is meh.

23 March 2010

Thing 7: Google Reader Rocks My World

Tonight, I fell in love...with Google reader.  It's awesome.  I love it so much I want to marry it.

That might be just a little over the top, but not much.  When I think of the time I can save by not navigating to each page individually, I get very excited thinking about how I'll use those extra minutes of my day (that might sound glib, but I really don't mean it to be).  Perhaps focusing on those minutes isn't the real way to show the value here.  Like the Blogger dashboard, it allows me to see who's updated recently (to save me the trouble of checking each page only to be disappointed), but at the same time it gives me the headlines from sites I can count on being updated.  All my news coming to me at the same time and in the same place that I can follow friends' blogs and work sites...heaven.  I resisted the urge to add (yet) the fun sites I check frequently - a healthy dose of shame precludes me from naming all the gossip sites I lurk - but after 23 Things is over, I think they'll be there too.

And Google Reader Play?  What a treat.  Such goodies there.  Did you see the happy meal?  Gross.

Obviously, the personal benefits are fabulous, but yes, I'm excited about the professional ones too.  I already subscribed to my ning, for example.  I'm wondering how I could use this with students though - how cool would it be to set up a home page like this that I could share with students?  So they could check out the updates that most interested them?  Hmmm... how to make that work...

I was surprised to see that some others in the project were underwhelmed by Google reader.  I think they're either nuts - no offense, of course - or just not people who surf as many sites as I do regularly.  Because to people who do a lot of searching, like me, it's crazy cool.

09 March 2010

Thing 6: The Ning Thing

I'll admit that at first I didn't really know what to make of nings.  On the one hand, I like the social networking framework - it is familiar to me, and helps establish the feel of a sort of grass roots online community.  One of the best examples of this I can think of is the pre-service and practicing teachers who formed a group to discuss literacy instruction within the Web 2.0 ning.  In a couple different classes I took during my certification work, I was asked to write letters to practicing teachers, and they responded, eventually.  The exercise was a very valuable one, but a bit frustrating as well - a professor assigned the letters to us in the class, we submitted it a week later, the letters were delivered shortly thereafter, we waited for teachers (admittedly, a very busy bunch) to write back and return their own letters to the professor, and waited again for our professors to distribute the letters to us.  By the time the cycle was complete, weeks had elapsed, and often, the questions asked were no longer relevant, pressing or interesting to us.  The accessibility and immediacy afforded by the online group is impressive, and makes the exchange that much more meaningful.

On the other hand, I also got the impression that the nings operate as little more than a fancy sort of meta-search engine, whose primary value is to connect people with similar interests so they can provide referrals to existing content.  Helpful referrals, sure, but I didn't see a whole lot of original content... 

UNTIL I found the English Companion Ning.  I'm in love.  Here's a group of people asking and answering the very questions I revisit over and over again in my career.  The original content is their dialogue, and it's helpful.  The site is organized well, and thus far I haven't found too many vacuous or vapid posters.  What I have found are some concrete ideas and suggestions for summer reading texts (something I'm struggling with at the moment) and cool lesson plan ideas for my Walt Whitman unit.

This might render an even bigger improvement to my life than my shiny new food processor.

20 February 2010

Thing 5: LinkedIn

I spent at least 10 minutes trying to come up with a witty title for this post, something funny and engaging that would grab readers' attention and make them smile as it conveyed how underwhelmed I was by LinkedIn.  Then suddenly I realized that perhaps a better testament to my feelings about the LinkedIn experience was to make the title as boring as possible.  Because that's what LinkedIn is - boring.

I don't get it.  I've looked at other job sites and think they're much better.  I can't really imagine using this to find a job when there are other sites and services that cater to educators and are frankly, better looking (the NAIS site in particular comes to mind).  I recognize that LinkedIn is supposed to be more than just a job seeking resources, that it's also supposed to be for networking and other things, but I really can't see how I would ever use this.  At all.  LinkedIn provides some suggestions from its help section, but not one of them seemed relevant or useful to me.

This is not my best post, but I am completely devoid of any emotional or intellectual response to LinkedIn.  Look for me to start using LinkedIn only in sarcastic and derisive ways.  In conversation, I might say "that's so LinkedIn" and what I'll mean is "that's so mind-numbingly dry, irrelevant and uninteresting."

Thing 4: Are Comments Conversations?

So I've been reading other blogs and commenting more than I ever have before.  In the past, I was more of a lurker (and I think someone else used that term, so I can't really claim it as my own, but I don't remember who), reading and thinking about other people's ideas, but not really responding to them in any official or public way.  Now, however, for lots of reasons, I'm excited to do that.  A big part of that change is knowing more about the bloggers whose pages I'm reading, and it's also significant that I'm reading blogs that say something to me and have real relevance in my life and work.  Of course, I'm also doing it because I have to for the project, but I found myself posting to blogs that aren't involved at all with 23 Things, so it's not entirely a mercenary impulse.

I liked Cool Cat Teacher's page about how to comment like a king or queen.  Some of what she said seemed very common sense to me, like linking to a page you write about in a post of your own, but some ideas were ones I hadn't thought about at all, like using a comment tracking service.  I haven't set that up yet, and I don't usually tag posts or comments, but I totally see the value in doing so.  I have to say, though, that I was more impressed by Sabah Karimi's page on how to write intelligent comments, perhaps because it was significantly more concise (which not surprisingly, is one of the things she advocates in good commenting).

What both pages stressed though, and what I find both fun and frustrating, is that it's the commenting that makes blogging most like an actual discussion, more of a dialogue.  And I see that to a certain point, but conversations tend to be more immediate.  While it's advantageous in certain situations, especially with those who don't know me or my discourse style or sense of humor well, to have time to mull over the exactly right way to phrase something and choose my words precisely, it also precludes some of the authenticity of a spoken conversation.  Spontaneous and genuine reactions are a part of the give and take that happens when people speak to one another face to face, for better and worse, and they're absent from carefully crafted comments.  And of course the catch-22 is that I don't really want to read comments or posts that aren't carefully crafted.  It's not just the artifice or pretense of a drafted, revised, polished response to a comment that bugs me or breaks down my sense of posting and commenting as conversation - it's also the time delay.  I'll admit that I'm disappointed when I don't see responses to things I've posted.  When I do see them left later, I've sometimes moved on from thinking about the subject of my post, and I don't pick up the conversation the way I would were I across the table from someone and it were happening in real time.

Still, I'll continue to comment, and see what kinds of sort-of-conversations there are to have.

07 February 2010

Really? Seriously?

I am connected to the internet ON AN AIRPLANE.  I had no idea this was possible.  After rejoicing (inwardly, lest my seatmates think I'm ridiculous), I began to then get resentful about all the other places one can't get wireless internet service.  I mean, if you can get it in the air itself, why not at every airport (and I'm talking specifically about you, George Bush Intercontinental)?  And every school?  And every home?  

I've read a bit about how far behind other industrialized countries, like South Korea, for example, the US is in terms of being more fully wired, and it's beginning to matter more and more to me.  Obviously, my primary or immediate concerns are selfish ones - I want to be able to connect whenever and wherever I need or want to.  That said, I'm also interested in the principle.  If Web 2.0 is all about deconstructing hierarchies and democratizing the internet, then it needs to be available to all.  I learned about a project in Chicago that was seeking to use grant money to wire neighborhoods in socio-economically disadvantaged communities and distributing computers to residents who completed a certain number of training hours.  It struck me that this was a beautiful idea, and an important one.  When we look at all the different ways that technology is revolutionizing the ways that we work, communicate, network, socialize, organize and distribute information, I think we lose sight of all those who are at risk of being left behind.

But I digress... I'm going to tackle some Things.

01 February 2010

Thing 3: Reflections on Reflections

So finally, I've had some time to read other blogs that were recommended by our project, or those that friends here at school have put up. I'm so amazed by the diversity of opinions on different subjects (especially regarding homework), but also by how much congruence there is between my own professional curiosities, interests and concerns and other people's.

That struck me especially when reading budtheteacher's What's "Print"? post. How murky the waters have gotten on that one! After years of trying to get students to broaden their understanding of texts to include works that aren't necessarily books with pages full of words, but also films, paintings, and webpages, I feel now as if I have come full circle and now need instead to remind them that books count too. Categorizing and labeling resources has become difficult, so much so that the 2009 MLA guidelines now require one to indicate the "Medium of Publication" - Print, Web, CD-ROM, DVD, Film, etc. - at the end of each work cited entry.

What's strange to me is the way that I have a split personality when it comes to my own feelings about texts and books and print. The genesis of the Kindle has challenged me to question my feelings about reading, or perhaps my feelings about what the experience of reading is. While I am totally comfortable with electronic texts for the classroom - I assign lots of reading that's available online, and distribute readings to my students as PDFs instead of on paper - I have struggled to embrace the Kindle as delivery for my pleasure reading. I resist it with passion and zeal usually reserved for some sort of religious proselytizing; as much as I can sit and stare at my screen to read the Hawthorne stories my American Literature students are reading, the idea of curling up and reading Richard Russo the same way is loathsome. I have yet to successfully evince or articulate the reasons why, but that's just the way it is for now. Do I associate computers and technology too stringently with work tasks? No, there are lots of other ways I use my tablet for recreational or social activities. Do I want a paper copy so I can mark it up and re-read sections at will? Not really; I rarely mark books I'm reading for fun, and recognize that I could do that just as easily on a Kindle or tablet anyway. I can't put my finger on it, but it's real to me.

The other blog that really gave me pause was Why I Don't Assign Homework. I don't want to belabor any points that have already been made - many other readers have already elucidated clear arguments for and against dy/dan's theses - but I do think that there are qualitative differences between subject areas that make it very difficult for me, as an English teacher, to fathom this. The homework my students receive involves reading and writing that couldn't possibly be completed entirely in class. When skill acquisition is the primary goal, I can see an argument for better, but not necessarily more, opportunities to practice; independent acquisition of content, on the other hand, warrants time out of the classroom being devoted to schoolwork. The separation of the students from the teacher in this situation is an important part of the means by which we help students develop a pro-active role in their education. And while my feelings about a lot of other things are mixed, I'm 100% sure that that is something I'm all for.

29 January 2010


I have a problem. I love this project, and now that I'm involved in it, it's a fabulous distraction. While I should be grading, or reading for class, or writing assignments, I can choose instead browse and read others' posts, contemplate my own, update my profile, and still convince myself I'm being productive.

I was so excited to get my first comments, and I'm eager to repay the favors - there's lots I want to say to so many people - but I need to grade first.

Soon, cyberfriends, soon...

25 January 2010

One Down, Twenty-Two to Go...

So I'm satisfied with the appearance of my blog, for now. I'll admit that I've tried on at least a dozen templates, and different color schemes for a few of them, and don't even get me started on how many different pictures I've tried out as my profile picture - I might try to log some of these hours in MTP as "independent photoshop exploration" since I had to crop out a LOT of other people just to get some good candidates.

And it did strike me that I might be dwelling on the superficial, and I'm not entirely proud of how much time and energy I spent on what might easily be considered the cosmetic aspects of my blog. But that said, I'm intensely aware of the fact that what I put out on the internet is me, and for better or worse, I'm a little bit of a freak about the details. Just as surely as I'd be horrified to find I'd made a spelling error in a post, I'd be mortified to realize there was broccoli in my teeth in the picture I'd chosen, or that the colors of my template seemed boring upon closer examination. People would see that, and draw conclusions about me based on the evidence before them - that's what I'd do, anyway.

That's what sometimes overwhelms me about Web 2.0. I'm eager to create and contribute and explore all kinds of different things, but also conscious of the breadcrumbs I leave behind as I do some of those things. I am a proud and frequent facebook user, and have a set of personal guidelines that allows me to be comfortable with what I post, what I allow others to post, whom I friend, and who has access to my page - but it took time and patience to figure all that out. My biggest anxiety is that I unwittingly make too public something that would better be kept private.

And paradoxically, I think that going public is the most exciting part of Web 2.0 as well. I am enthusiastic about entering a vast forum for exchanging ideas, sharing my thoughts and sensibilities, and I do intuitively understand that I will get more out of this if I really put out into the web universe what I need or want from it, and that's going to require some disclosure on my part.

23 January 2010


I was so excited to write about something yesterday and kept trying to find 5 minutes during the day for a short post, but didn't. Now I'm logged on, and can't think of a thing. It's totally gone. Boo to that.

21 January 2010

Getting Started

SO I'm not really so much a techie, but I'm embarking on this journey to learn more about the ways that web 2.0 can enrich the experiences my students and I have in our classroom. At least that's my primary goal - I suspect I'll find a lot that will be applicable to more personal and recreational activities too. We'll see...