Writely - Write Collaboratively Online (for free!)

Writely announced today on its blog that they had been bought by Google. Writely is described as “the web word processor.” All in your web browser, you can create new documents, give them tags, share them out with other people to co-author documents and more. You can upload Word documents, download the document to any computer, make it publicly viewable on the web, post it to your blog, see all the previous revisions, or e-mail directly to it, and then it has all the major word-processing functions plus more: formatting, color, tables, images, links, save to Word format, OpenOffice format, RTF, get the document’s RSS feed. In terms of features, Writely is chock-full.

For educators, it is a fantastic tool for collaborative writing. Think a group of students working on a paper or document. The teacher or students create the original document, and then give editing privileges to everyone in the group. Whenever a change is made, it is documented as to who made the change. You can watch the evolution of the document, leave comments for one another and keep moving forward. For a bigger project, like a student novella, it could be a continuing process of adding work, revising and editing past work, with all the history documented and stored.

From a school level, I could see the administrative team working on a letter home to families which goes on Writely. Then, each administrator works on the document on their own time, adding, deleting, refining, until a final document was agreed upon. Thing of the time saved – no meetings with 5 people reviewing the smallest word choice in each paragraph. Just keep writing until it’s right for you.

Technorati Tags: education, free, future, Google, iRows, Office, online, teachers, teaching, web, web2.0, wiki, Writely

Some might say Writely is a glorified wiki. In some ways it is, but they have taken the ease of use and the value of word-processing and joined it with a wiki. For the average user who doesn’t want to bother with wiki formatting, and just wants to write, Writely is it. Unfortunately, the Google purchase means a temporary delay in signups. In the mean time, head to their signup page, and put your e-mail address. They will send you a note when they reopen signups. I am guessing you will just use your Google username once that happens.

For another post: Google’s may be farther behind in the web-based Office suite everyone suspects they are making. Maybe Writely will be their word-processor. The folks at iRows (free, web-based, shareable spreadsheets) may be gobbled up next.

Naysayers Are More Important Than Your Supporters

One of the foremost educational change experts out there is Michael Fullan. His book The New Meaning of Educational Change gives fantastic insight into what it takes to make change in a school.

One of the most important points for educational technologists to take from it is how to deal with “naysayers.” All ed tech’s probably know about naysayers, those people who just refuse to try out new things. Fullan says that you have to listen to them: 1) either they are right (and you are wrong), or 2) they are going to derail what you are trying to do with their conversations with others.

I think a lot of educational technologists run for those teachers who wait with open arms. Sometimes, it is important to run to the naysayers, turn them to your side (see Fullan), then you have even more teachers to work with.

next post: why great ideas usually can’t catch on

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Education and Web 2.0

In case you haven’t noticed, the world wide web has changed substantially in the last few years. I am not talking about the number of websites, as those have been increasing since the web started. I am talking about two major facors: Blogs and the Web 2.0 movement – the 2.0 is referring to a new generation of websites, those the act less like standard websites, and more like programs on your computer. Try the example that lets you drag items into a box on the page. This was not possible a couple years back.

What does this new web mean for educators? Here is how it has impacted my life:

  • We use the free, open source blog software WordPress to power a Digital Poetry blog and our Parents’ Association website. We let them post entries in a remote WordPress site, then using the automatically generated RSS feed, we publish onto our school’s Intranet. We control the look and feel, the parents control the content. Great symbiosis.
  • We use AirSet, a free portal for blogging, calendaring, communicating, sharing links and more. The site allows you to give certain people access to certain parts of your group. We use the group calendaring feature to power our intranet calendar. Once again, just pull out an auto-generated RSS feed, style it, and pop it on your website. No longer necessary for the webmaster to update the calendar. Empower your end users.
    • AirSet also has a free synchronization tool that works with Microsoft Outlook. I have it sync my calendars and contacts each night so that I can update either from AirSet or Outlook. I will explain what I do with the calendar RSS feed on that private calendar later.
  • 30boxes – I have been evaluating as many web calendars as I can get my hands on, and this one is hands down the best. Create a free account, and type right into the box at the top of the page, “Building Learning Communities July 17-20 (Weston, Massachusetts)” and 30boxes automatically figures out what you are saying, and adds it to the calendar. Amazing! Then choose what friends are allowed to see what parts of your calendar. You can also tag events. I use school, personal, professional and others. You can then pull RSS feeds out based on tags, or pull out the whole calendar. You can also sync to iCal on the Mac, or export to CSV for Microsoft Outlook. If you have a website, use their HTML badge creator to make a nifty calendar piece for your website.
  • Right now for me, Protopage, self-described as, “Free Personal Start Pages,” is the granddaddy of them all. Head to Protopage and click the link at the top right to start your own page. You can add whatever you want to a page, to-do lists, RSS feeds (click to add 21apples to your Protopage), an e-mail checker (great feature), weather, links and more. I have a few different pages, one for work, one for personal, etc. On my personal page, I pull weather, personal e-mail, and my personal calendar (30boxes) all from feeds. I also use their sticky notes as to-do lists. On my school page, I pull school e-mail, the school’s Airset calendar, the Parents’ Association feed, and my Airset calendar (sync’d from my Outlook calendar) via RSS feed. Now I really do have 1 starting page which lets me see my calendar, my new e-mail, my to-do list and more. No need to go around checking all the different information systems I use. I can quickly pull up my page from any web browser, and check all relevant info.

Lots of information to parse I realize, but try out some of the websites, you won’t be disappointed. If you have any other great ones to add, please leave a comment with a link.

Technorati Tags: 30boxes, AirSet, Apple, blog, education, future, open source, Protopage, resources, review, software, web, web2.0, WordPress

Student E-Mails with Teachers

I came across a post Email and the Student-Teacher Relationship by Professor Tyler Williams that discusses a New York Times article on students e-mailing teachers (you have to pay to read the whole thing). The professors in the article are highly critical of the informal language and conversation used by students. This is a tough question for me. Do we encourage students to communicate with us (teachers) in a way that is natural for them, or a way that is natural for us? When they move on to be bosses in their own world, will e-mail look the same as we expect it to?

My aunt from England e-mails me very formal e-mails with proper salutations, signatures and punctuation. While my 22 year old brother is all lower case, “U for “you,” and “R” for “are.” Is one more valid? Is one more professional? Definitely a difference, but not sure how substantial it is. Should professors be ok with receiving any e-mail that is intelligible, or does format matter? I think many would argue that verbal communication has standards and so must electronic communication.

I think part of the problem is that students have been able to converse freely with each other for years, and have developed a common language that their professors are unaware of. The only way to create a language that we are all comfortable with, is to all be speaking to each other. I think the best answer is students and teachers must being e-mailing, IM’ing, blogging, etc together at a much younger age. Grade school sounds about right to me. Then, teachers can help guide and create a “formal” language system that all are comfortable with. As long as teachers remain outsiders to social-networking, blogging, IM’ing, e-mailing and other conversation areas, the language will be that which the students create. Once that happens, don’t try complaining to students to change…you were left behind.

My favorite awful quotation from the article is from a professor who makes students reply to his e-mail answers with a “thank you”: “One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back,” Professor Worley said.Less powerful person? Intentionally creating greater power dynamics seems like a perfect way to knock real collaboration out the window.

The Spectrum at the University of Buffalo has student-perspective on the Times article that was critical, but pretty well founded I thought.

Technorati Tags: article, college, e-mail, education, media, teaching

Even John Stewart is on MySpace

MySpace is getting more attention than ever. First it was the students, then it was the educational technologists (1, 2, 3), then the cyber-safety teams (1, 2), then the newspapers (1, 2, 3) and now onto The Daily Show with John Stewart (link to video). On their Trendspotting segment, Demetri covers MySpace from a satirical perspective. A nice change of page from the serious and stern looks we have been getting from the mainstream media.

No one has covered an educational social-networking use that I have seen yet. Anyone have some postive articles we could read?

Technorati Tags: article, blog, education, Google, Google, John Stewart, literacy, media, MySpace, resources, review, safety, The Daily Show, web


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Free Wikis for Schools

I have been experimenting with a wiki for this site, and have really been impressed with Wikispaces as an option. My main problem is I don’t think I have the content for this blog, and a wiki. Most of my wiki contributions these days are to the School Computing Wiki which I highly recommend to any educators out there.

I just saw an announcement that Wikispaces is offering free wiki hosting for K-12 teachers/schools. They provide a great service, and the price couldn’t be better. They allow public or private wikis, which is important to many schools for student privacy. Set up an account and try it, it’s free.

Over the last few months, some of the most gratifying feedback we’ve received has been from teachers telling us how valuable Wikispaces has been to them. Some of the teachers we’ve been talking to are clearly pretty special. They would do great things with or without online tools but it’s also clear that we can help.

At Wikispaces we believe in simple tools that are easy to adopt and use. Teachers have been telling us that there is great value in tools that allow students to easily work together and contribute to class. And they love tools that help them monitor and interact with students as they work.

Teachers are important and we want to help them. That’s why we’re making Wikispaces free, and advertising free, for use in K-12 education.

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New Media in Education 2006

I am blogging from the New Media in Education 2006 conference sponsored by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning.

I have attended two workshops so far, “Blogging” and “Podcasting.” The blogging workshop was pretty cursory, and showed Blogger as a tool to publish your blog. They showed a couple of examples of what Columbia faculty members were doing with blogs including a popular mathematics blog, Not Even Wrong about string theory.

The podcasting workshop went into a little more detail, and was run by Steve Savera from Apple. As much as I love Apple products (I am writing from my Powerbook now), Apple seems to be growing more and more with each new product. They have QuickTime or GarageBand to edit your audio files, their new iLife suite for distributing the podcasts, .Mac to host your website/podcasts, and finally the iPods to listen to the podcasts. Is it me, or is Apple taking Microsoft’s approach and selling everything?

I will publish a list of all the resources I collect here today. Some very smart presenters and some very interesting technologies. Besides the resources, they are giving us educational examples being used here at Columbia. While they are higher-ed, they are quite helpful. I will share those as well.

Technorati Tags: .mac, Apple, college, conference, education, garage band, ilife, ipod, media, software, teaching

Outsource Your Homework

Fascinating article today in the Wall Street Journal talking about computer science students in colleges outsourcing their programming assignments to Eastern Europe and India. Is this phenomena all that new though? Even in analog-only times some students have paid others to do homework. Even now, some people pay tutors to do students’ homework.

I have been doing a lot of thinking on plagiarism education recently. I want to make sure we hold students accountable only for what we have made clear and what we have taught them to be ethical and appropriate. For instance, if we don’t teach what plagiarism is and isn’t, how can we make sure students aren’t simply confused when we think they are cheating.

Many teachers give the “don’t cheat shpiel” at the beginning of the year, but is that really enough? Is a 50-page guidebook too much? What is just right when it comes to educating students on academic dishonesty?

Some quick searching found the following:

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Educational Blogger (and more) Conference

Exciting news comes out of a post from Will Richardson asking about a lower education blogger conference in response to the proposed Higher Ed BlogCon. A group of K-12 edubloggers has rallied around the idea, and a website and wiki have been formed. Please consider applying to present at this conference or “attending” (it will be an online conference).

You can also join the Edublogger Community group at upcoming.org. Upcoming.org (a Yahoo! company) provides community event calendaring, with nice RSS feeds and easy integration into your website.

Technorati Tags: college, conference, education, puppy, Shifted Learning, teaching, university, upcoming.org, web, wiki

In Your Facebook.com

The New York Times has an article covering Facebook.com use on college campuses. In the article, a senior at George Washington University accuses campus police of snooping out his party by reading Facebook postings, and then showing up to bust the party. The students came up with a creative retaliation: post messages about a “beer blast” party all over Friendster. The police certainly showed up, and found a party with cakes and cookies all covered with the word beer, but no actual beer.

The article also pointed out that the University of New Mexico banned access to Facebook in October. This was startling to me. A university blocking access to a social-networking website? Universities are supposed to be places where students can explore the widest range of thoughts on literature, philosophy, science, mathematics, and yes, websites. It is one thing for a K-12 school to filter, but I can’t believe that higher education specialists came to that decision. The university apparently cited student safety as the rationale behind the decision.

As educators, we must realize that the only safety filtering gives us is personal safety. It provides a legal barrier at best, letting community members know that we do not facilitate student access to these websites. I don’t feel however, that it does anything to reduce use of these websites. The article shows that U. of New Mexico students simply found ways to work around the filters. Did the university actually protect student safety with its actions? Probably not. (note: U. of New Mexico plans to remove the filter next semester)

What can we do to protect student safety? We are educators, let’s use our most powerful tool: education. We must let student learn about the impact of their words, photos and actions. They are accountable, and will be forever. A comment left on Facebook is not the same as a comment passed in the hallway. Online commentary is here to stay forever. We must make this a reality for students, and then turn Facebook and the like into positive communities.

There were some tremendously powerful quotations from university educators. My favorites:

“It’s a fantastic tool for building community,” says Anita Farrington-Brathwaite, assistant dean for freshmen at New York University. “In a school like ours that doesn’t have an enclosed campus, it really gives people a way to find each other and connect.”
Harvard’s president, Lawrence H. Summers, gave kudos to Facebook in the opening lines of his address to freshmen in September, saying he had been browsing the site to get to know everyone. (This is certainly far ahead of where Mr. Summers last was spotted)
As part of freshman orientation at Rollins College in Florida, student coordinators will create Facebook groups for campus organizations like the Rollins Outdoor Club. “We cannot deny the impact of Facebook, but we believe that it’s the responsibility of the institution to find ways to create the most positive communities,” says Roger Casey, dean of faculty. “These communities can be positive or negative.”
“Facebook is part of an evolving dialogue,” he says. “One of the things that’s most fascinating about it is how it illuminates the changing nature of public and private identity. This is new ground on every level. What people in positions of power have to realize is that people my age have a completely different attitude about what is fair game.”—Mr. Stoneman of George Washington

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