Reviewing new tools – Buzzword

Buzzword app

It was through twitter this morning that Ewan McIntosh pointed to a new web-based word processor – Buzzword. Move over Google docs, there is now competition! I played around with it for a while and was impressed by a few of its features which are improvements over Google docs – the tables, for example, really rock! Easier to use than a wiki or google docs and much cleaner look. Apparently, the word processor is flash-based, not html, which makes it a little less messy. I could not get the application to import docs or images, but others on the network had no problems, so it could have been my connection. Another small criticism I had was that there was no apparent way to insert html links.

I think the important point here about Buzzwords is that it shows that there will be an increasingly wider choice of web-based collaborative tools to use (and hopefully they will remain free!). With greater choices comes the competitive drive to create better, more facile, and lighter (on bandwidth) tools.

The number of web-based, easy-to-use tools that permit collaboration between many users is growing steadily. When I was in the classroom last year, my students used a number of the tools to facilitate their projects and assignments. While my school permitted wikispaces to be open to anyone on campus, I did not have the same luck with google docs. There was a concern about bandwidth if many users were working on docs collaboratively. I am wondering if that concern is justified. It will be interesting to see if buzzword faces the same hurdles. I would like to test its use of bandwidth sometime.

One of the first things I check out when using new applications – whether web-based or not – is what file types the app will import and export. This is critically important when designing or creating resources that need to be available cross-platform and in a ubiquitous computing setting.

In my new position at LEARN, I have been creating resources and tools to support the learning and evaluation situations and activities that are hosted on our site for the use of Qu├ębec teachers. As well, I have created several conference presentations in the last few months. Because of this, I have had to work with new applications and software. Oh yeah, and I moved from a PC to a mac, so I have become very sensitive about cross-platform apps.

Some of the new apps I am using:

Final Cut Express – pretty powerful, even if not pro version! It only runs on a mac, but more importantly, it exports to a variety of file types – wmv (imports this as well), flash, ipod, as well as .mov.

Omnigraffle – also exports to jpg, html, pdf and a variety of image file types. One has to go pro to export as a visio file type (which is handy to me because my colleague has visio and offered to help with some of my visuals!) Beware Leopard users! There was serious bug in omnigraffle that causes you to lose the data of a file when you export! Be sure to check out the Beta version so you don’t lose your data when you upgrade to Leopard!

Keynote (from iWork ’08) – this version really rocks because it will export to ppt, flash, html, ipod, .mov and will import PowerPoints. Can we expect PowerPoint to do the same? I think not. Also the graphics and design of keynote is just plain elegant – much sweeter-looking than ppt. I especially like using this app when I am working with a visual resource or tool because I can export to so many different file types and permit some flash animation if I would like that in my tool.
Web-based Apps:

Google docs – exports as Word doc, html, pdf, OpenOffice, rtf and txt as well as its own Presentation slideshow mode

Wikispaces - does not currently export – but here is my workaround – send to printer, copy and paste onto a word processor doc and then save as you like (see google doc)

And for all those file types that cannot be converted within their own applications, there is always zamzar – free online conversion tool. Zamzar also will convert youtube videos as standalones. So, if you are like me, you will download the youtube video if the place where you want to show it off does not have reliable Internet access.

An educator I recently shared zamzar with was very concerned about this ability to convert documents so easily because of copyright and plagiarism issues. We are now very capable of taking something online and claiming it as our own work. It is the evil flip side of a web that permits user-generated content so easily. To me, this speaks of a GREAT NEED to change our teaching practices. Why are we giving assignments that can be so easily found on the Internet? The assignments and learning situations we give our students should challenge them to create (or re-create) information in meaningful ways that demonstrate their learning. A powerful way to get students to understand the value of intellectual property is to have them create their own IPs and share it on the web. Am I being too naive about this issue?

Life on the Grid

Sharon's twitter

Every once in a while in the last month, I would experience a twinge or two of guilt for not dedicatedly blogging my thoughts, experiences, and reflections. There was a part of me that was resistant to the idea for some reason and I needed time to think that through. Certainly part of it was that I was incredibly busy with other tasks and quite overwhelmed even, with catching up, and staying on top. I was even struggling with the notion of who or what I was blogging for – me? others? anyone??

It only came to me the other day how very active I had been in the network “on the grid” during this month. I certainly had ample opportunity to share my voice and participate in many conversations – usually live or almost live. Besides having the privilege of webcasting with the Women of Web 2 every week, I also hosted on the K12 Online final event – When Night Falls for two hours of the 24 hour event. I lurked a lot in twitter and chimed in my thoughts, ideas and resources on many occasions. Many other educators have been using UStream (free video broadcasting service) to broadcast their conference presentations and I have joined in on many such times with that. And, of course, I skype chat daily with a number of educators from around the world about educational stuff. Even this morning, it is just past 8 AM and I have already chatted with an Australian teacher, Graham Wegner, about his global project and how he can show it off to parents tomorrow night, and an Israeli educator, my good friend Reuven, about information literacy. I shared a few resources with a colleague here in Quebec. Just another typical day.

I realize many people have been saying it as well, but I am amazed at how twitter has become a tool for really fantastic professional networking and support. I now have something like over 150 followers – an interesting variety of educators from around the world. Quite often, daily now, a few of us will throw out a request or a question. And there always seems to be a few of us that can almost immediately provide some aid or answers. Sometimes the discussion gets moved to a skype chat or conference to facilitate the aid that is needed or to extend the conversation. We share blog posts and other resources.

Yesterday was a particularly busy day for me on the grid. While working on the design of some curricula, I noticed that Dean Shareski put out a request for some of us to skype in to his grade 5 class in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan so the students could experience a sense of the global network as they work on this new project, Find a Story, Map a Story. Dean videoskyped me into the classroom and I had a lovely conversation with his students for a few minutes. He went on to invite 9 others in as well over the course of the next hour. A very effective way of showing off the power of these tools and the global network! I twittered my experience and within an hour, Derek Wenmoth picked it up and blogged about the project, inviting New Zealand teachers to look into it. In a few hours, the project went really global! Later in the morning, I noticed a twitter with a link to a live UStreamed student conference of grade 6 students in New Jersey on the topic of global warming. For a little while, I tuned in, joined in the chatroom and asked the students questions about their research and what changes in their own lives they were making as a result of their research projects.

Later yesterday, I had conversations with three colleagues who are not yet part of these networks but who work closely with educational technology. When I shared some of these experiences and tools with them, they were astounded. Then I realized that maybe I should be blogging about these experiences, because while twitter is great, it is still limiting the audience. Also, for my own professional development, it is important to chronicle my experiences and thoughts over time so I can see my own growth. A lesson I tried to pass on in one of my K12 Online presentations this year, but need to live up to!
Below I will note some new resources that I would also like to pass on:

LEARN – Expressions (one of the pages I am now responsible for in my new job)

Julie Lindsay’s awesome slideshow on wikis in education

Google’s SketchUp lessons for Autistic Children

Michael Wesch’s new youtube video “Information R/evolution”

Jeff Utecht’s UStream presentations on web 2.0 tools in Kuala Lampur

Teach Collaborative Revision with Google Docs

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