Monday, July 26, 2010

Evaluation of Learning Technology Tools

For a recent assignment, I had to explore and evaluate over 100 educational technology tools. If you are new to educational technology, many of these tools may be of interest to you. I am interested in hearing about your experiences with the tools listed in the “Top 100 Tools for Learning 2009” slideshow.

Web Quest Conquered

One of my new passions is collecting free educational technology tools to share incorporate into my lessons or just share with my peers and students. As a public school teacher, I do not have the convenience of asking my district to purchase every fee-based tool I find. Through collaboration with other educators, I have found that free online versions of almost every type of tool are available. By using free tools, I am able to easily add variety to my lessons and share tools with my students that they can access outside of classroom. (By the way, I am aware that this post is very long, but I honestly really enjoy talking about online tools!)

Top 100 Tools
Instead of examining the “Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008,” I examined the “Top 100 Tools for Learning 2009.” Since I was automatically redirected to this new slideshow, I expect that it was updated after this assignment was created. I know all 20 of the top tools and have used them within the past year in relation to education. Out of the top 60 tools, I have recently used or experimented with 49. Out of the top 100 tools, I knew 75. I would like to learn more about PBWorks, Elgg, NetVibes, Cirip, FreeMind, OpenOffice, Yammer, Bloglines, and Friend Feed. Honestly, I uninterested in spending time exploring the seventeen other tools that I did not know about, since they all charge fees. Since I use the following tools multiple times a day, my 5 favorites are Google Docs, Blogger, Delicious, Firefox, and Jing.

25 Tools
Upon examining the “25 Tools Every Learning Professionals Should Have in Their Toolbox,” I realized that my toolbox is already very full. I use tools in almost all of the 25 categories. The only categories that I do not have experience with are integrated social media platforms and course authorizing tools. First, I explored Elgg, the integrated social media platform, and was disappointed. I discovered that there is a downloadable opensource version of Elgg and a fee-based online version. I downloaded the opensource software, but I could not figure out how to run it. I quickly became frustrated and deleted it. I assume that I do not have the programming skills necessary to independently make this tool work. The fee-based version seemed more user-friendly, but I did not bother to create a trial account due to the fees. Next, I explored the course authorizing tools, Articulate and Lectora. Both tools are fee-based tools designed to help create online courses. I am a little unsure of the differences between these course management systems and the course authorizing tool Moodle. It appears that both types of tools create platforms to host and manage courses. Since Moodle is an opensource tool, it seems that is a more useful than fee-based course authorizing tools.

Social Bookmarking
Delicious is an online bookmarking tool. Within Delicious, users can save bookmarks labeled with descriptions and tags. By joining networks, users can view one another’s public bookmarks. I use a Delicious Firefox add-on, so I can add to and manage my bookmarks by just clicking a button. I have also created a large Delicious tagcloud on my classroom blog which enables my students and peers to easily access a group of my 500 bookmarks by clicking on a tag. My students are also beginning to use Delicious and a few of them have posted tagclouds on their blogs. Please view my Delicious tagcloud which is embedded within a page of my blog.

RSS Feeds
Google Reader is a service that aggregates selected RSS feeds into one scrolling list. Within Google Reader, the user can organize feeds, add notes, and share readings with others. Google Reader can also be combined with a Google Profile to generate a public RSS feed of all of the user’s shared readings. I use mostly Google Reader to quickly view updates on my students and other educators’ blogs. Recently, I discovered the Google Reader Play tool which I use to generate a slideshow of my subscriptions’ posts to use as a screensaver on my SMART Board. My Google Reader shared items can be viewed here.

Social Networking
Facebook is a social networking tool that enables users to share statuses, pictures, videos, links, notes, messages with friends and organizations. Additionally, Facebook integrates with outside applications to enable users to connect to their Facebook network and communication systems. I have used Facebook for the past few years to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues. I have even modified my privacy settings in order to “friend” some of my alumni students. Since Facebook is blocked on my campus, I do not use it to communicate with my current students. The public version of my Facbook profile is available here.

LinkedIn is a networking tool designed for professional communications. Within LinkedIn, users can create a profile filled with resume-style content. LinkedIn finds and suggests connections between users based on their employment and education histories. I created a LinkedIn account a few years ago, but quickly forgot about it when I discovered that very few of my friends had accounts. However, I just went back to revisit my account and discovered that I now have many possible connections. You may visit my simple LinkedIn account here.

Ning is a social networking tool that allows a creator to design a personalized social network. Within Ning, the user can create a profile and participate in collaboration through discussions, chats, and videos. I am a member of the Educator’s PLN on Ning. Through this network I can connect to other educators, many of whom are strong technology users. My profile page can be viewed here.

Photo Sharing
Flikr is a photo sharing tool. Users can upload photos and videos to their account and share them with members of their network and the public. Photos can also be tagged with content labels. Within Flikr, there is a section titled The Commons. In the commons, public photos are posted to be tagged and commented on. I just created my own Flikr account. I had viewed Fliker in the past, but I choose to share my photos on Facebook instead. However, I am interested in exploring the tagging features of Flikr. My new account can be viewed here.

Presentation Sharing
SlideShare provides users with a space to upload and share presentations and documents. These items can be shared by providing a link to the site or through embed codes. The site works with other networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. I created a SlideShare account a few months ago, but quickly abandoned it. Instead, I use Google Docs and Scribd to share my presentations. However, my account is available here.

PBWiki, which is now called PBWorks, is a tool that allows users to create and maintain wikis. Only the very basic version of this tool is available for free; most of the content on their site is aimed at persuading customers to pay a subscription fee. Like all wikis (most of which are completely free), PBWorks creates a page in which members can collaboratively edit and contribute to content. The idea of collaborative contribution to a website has evolved and is now available within most features of Google, such as Google Sites and Google Docs. I do not have a PBWorks account, but I have experimented with other free wiki sites.

Blogger is a blogging platform that allows users to post content that is displayed in through a scroll of time-stamped entries. Within a blog, a user can add additional pages and embed widgets from other sites. Readers can follow blogs to easily read updates in an RSS feed. My primary online method of communication with my students is my classroom blog. During the traditional school year, I post all assignments and other notifications daily. I also have created pages filled with communication tools and resources, such as shared Google Calendars. Additionally, my students and I maintain individual blogs which contain personal and academic posts. View a listing of my students’ blogs here. You may view my personal blog here.

iTunes U: Berkley iTunes U is one section of iTunes U, which is a collection of podcasts created for usage within education. In iTunesU, podcasts are created to represent a traditional college lecture series. The iTunes user can download and listen to the podcasts free of charge. I have not downloaded any of these podcasts. I am interested in exploring these lectures to find podcasts related to my curriculum to share with my students.

Google Search
On my first attempt to Google results for “best collaboration and learning tools,” I found a large quantity of resources from a few years ago. I’ve learning that technology tools are constantly improving, so I re-searched with “2010” added to my query. The first result was American Association of School Libraries’ list of Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning which contains a list of many more free online learning tools to explore.

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