Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Sign of the Times...or of the Apocalypse?

You knew it was only a matter of time. Yes, Twitter has come to education. Or, more precisely, Twiducate.

In the interests of disclosure, I should admit I'm not a big fan of Twitter to begin with, and don't really get the point. Most tweets I've seen are pretty pointless. Even if they were educational, I already have more communication/collaboration tools at my disposal than I can keep track of, and getting students to check them regularly is a headache.

Pew studies show that only 8% of online teens use Twitter (my students roll their eyes when I mention it). So do we really need an education version?

Enough of my curmudgeonly rant. If you DO feel a burning desire, but find Twitter is blocked, or worry about the local porn queen trying to follow your students, Twiducate may be the answer, nor are tweets limited to 140 characters.

I would be very interested in hearing how others use this in their classes, or of possible library uses. Posting updates on new books or programs? Leave a comment and let me know!

Twiducate also allows teachers to select posts to remain at the top of the feed list, ostensibly allowing you to use the site as a discussion group or blog, posting the question, and seeing the replies below.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I've been working on upgrading my search knowledge. It's amazing how much search engines and tools have changed just in three years. I also upgraded my handout for students, which I'll add here. If you want a handout geared toward teachers rather than students, be sure to check out freetech4teachers.
Search Smart

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Screen Capture: With Editing!

Jing and ScreenToaster are great screen-capturing tools, but I find them pretty limiting, because you can't edit the video. Well, those days are over.

GoView (in Beta) is a free tool that allows you to record your screen with audio, then edit the resulting video. While the editing is pretty basic, you can remove the unwanted parts, and add titles. Perfect for student tutorials.

Unfortunately, the video is all online, hosted on the GoView site, so you won't end up with a file you can use, but it's easy enough to share the link.

Speaking of which, here's a link to their tutorial.

This should have been obvious...

So much for being the school tech guru!

Yesterday, I had to put together a pathfinder for the senior research paper in English. Usually, they are allowed to choose which author or book they want to study, but this year the entire class is doing Dracula. Of course, no one told me that...

So I suddenly have 30 students all doing their papers on the same book--and we have about 5 books that would be useful for them.

Fortunately, between JSTOR and the state databases, we could find quite a few articles, but they're required to have 5 sources, so I was worried they wouldn't be able to find enough relevant articles for their paper.

I always show them Google Books, but it suddenly occurred to me (duh!) to create a bookshelf for them on literary criticism of Dracula, vampires and gothic literature in general and just link to it on the pathfinder. Voila! It's great! You can take a look here.

Now if only someone would write a Google gadget that would show the shelf, a la Good Reads.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Another Reason to Kill the Textbook Industry

The rise of open source content over the last several years has created quite the debate about textbooks and their longevity...or lack thereof. California, along with Texas one of the largest purchases of textbooks, even created the Open Source Textbook Project, and thousands of teachers nationwide ignore textbooks in favor of online readings.

This article, from the New York Times Magazine, raises yet another reason to circumvent textbook industry in favor of varied online readings presenting a variety of views and opinions.

As often happens in Texas, the right-wing has yet again hi-jacked the educational process in favor of its, in my opinion, narrow agenda. Unfortunately, as goes Texas and their yearly purchase of 48 million textbooks, so goes a large portion of the textbook industry.

I'm not naive enough to think we can ever remove politics from education: universal education is, almost by definition, a political act. But surely it needn't be partisan? Whether you think Che Guevara was a freedom fighter or a terrorist, can you reasonably argue his importance to history?

Nor does the right have a monopoly on demagogues. I remember a case in Washington State several years ago when parents didn't want their child reading an assigned book. All they asked was that she be allowed to read something else; they didn't try to ban the book in the school or district. But the ACLU went to court to force the child to read the book. Ridiculous.

When I was teaching English, I actually made very little use of our textbooks, except for a few short stories or poems. I thought their approach to teaching writing prescriptive for such a fluid and recursive process.

The problem with textbooks is they tend to codify a particular interpretation of events as "The Truth." Especially the way students think--if it's in a textbook, it must be right. The recent decisions of the Texas school board rather disingenuously rewrite history from a white, male (Christian) perspective. That part of our history; it is not all of our history.

If, instead, we present students with a wide variety of readings from periodicals, books, etc., engaging them in a socratic discussion of ideas, they can then make their own, informed opinions.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what many idealogues fear.