Tag Archives: Tools

Basic Functions of a Social Media Tool

Most education technologists will argue that our work is not about the tools, but about what the tools will allow educators and learners to do. Social media tools in particular, are so versatile they can be used for almost any purpose, from sharing your PhD experiences to learning about Maths or hearing a Nobel Peace prize winner speak.

However, very often it is the tool that becomes the obstacle. Yet another account to set up. Yet more functions to figure out. And there’s always more tools after that…It can be discouraging.

But there’s a cheat. You don’t always have to start from scratch. Most social media tools have some basic functions in common, that you are already familiar with and can always look for. Knowing those basic functions, and identifying them quickly, can speed up your ability to assess a social media tool for your practice. Once you’ve isolated the basic functions of a new tool, you can focus on exploring its special functions.

Providing cheat sheets is an essential part of  my work with academic staff (see the Moodle Tool Guide evidence) ;-). I like to make learning easier, for educators and learners. I created a diagram a few years ago on those basic functions, to aid me and  I’ve updated it now with examples from Facebook and Twitter, and posted it on Flickr. I hope you find it useful too.

Basic Functions of a Social Media Tool

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Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers

A few weeks ago, a Social Media Cheat Sheet was doing the round. A nice visualization of the pro’s & cons of each social media channel, but with a business/marketing focus. I thought I should do one for social media use in education. However for most of the teachers I work with, our Moodle (EIT Online) is still their primary online teaching environment. So instead I set out to create this poster size guide for teachers, allowing them to compare the functionality and pedagogical advantages of some standard Moodle tools, adding a column to indicate how tricky the tool is to set up.

Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers (icon)

Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers

Hope you find it useful. Would appreciate your feedback.

Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers (PDF)

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Reply: Google Wave in a Sentence

I’ve been on Google Wave for less than 48 hours and a longer blog post is brewing. However I did just want to respond to a post by Mark Smithers today in which he described Google Wave in a Sentence as:

Google Wave is a tool that allows asynchronous communication (similar to email or discussion boards), semi-synchronous communications (similar to Twitter or FriendFeed) and synchronous communications (similar to instant messaging) all wrapped up with wiki-like capabilities for collaboration.

After only 48 hrs experience, really only abt 4 hours of actually poking about,  I am tempted to agree with his assessment that students and teachers could use Waves as collaboration spaces. However, I’d like to see the file sharing capabilities first. This is switched off at the moment.

I’m less impressed with some of the mass waves with 300+ participants – they feel very chaotic. Mark calls them standing waves – I wonder if tsunamis is more apt? The Educators Directory Wave is a prime example. Everyone is talking (literally over each other as this is possible in a Wave), threads are difficult to discern, it’s hard to recognise individual contributions and the whole thing is liberally sprinkled with polls and maps. I wasn’t surprised when at about 4pm Google Wave warned me that this wave was about to explode.

So, after the initial 48 hours, here is my Google Wave description in a sentence:

Google Wave is like a wiki done by amateurs, a text chat with 120 participants and a discussion forum without a facilitator, all rolled into one.

I’m sure this will improve as we get the hang of making waves…

If you want to get in touch and improve with me, I’m nz.catspyjamas [at] googlewave.com

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Gateway Tools for Teachers

This is a post about teaching teachers tools. I know, I know, of course the adoption of educational technology should be driven by possible enhancements in teaching & learning, not by the ‘shininess’ of new tools. But in my experience, there is a group of teachers for who certain tools can work like a gateway drug:  e-learning gateway tools.

If you are a technology integrator, e-learning trainer, ed tech staff developer, pay attention:  introducing these gateway tools can give you some ‘easy wins’ – even better, these teachers can become your most ardent e-learning champions.

Not everyone’s a geek

For those of us who consider ourselves ‘connected’, trialling a new tool or technology comes as natural as breathing. Here are just 2 likely scenarios:

  1. We know the learning activity we want to create. We find one or several tools that will facilitate that activity. These are tools we already know, or discover through our PLN. We test them and pick the one best suited to achieve our learning need.
  2. We encounter a tool, again probably through our PLN, and consider how it can be used in a learning activity. We then either create the activity or store it for future reference.

This week several colleagues and Kim Cofino’s Tips for Technology Integrators post reminded me off the realism of our workplace. Newsflash: not everyone’s a geek like us.

About 65% of of my role as e-learning advisor is e-learning staff development (including pedagogy, Moodle training, instructional design, really everything but the kitchen sink).  Very rarely do I get to work with the innovators & early adopters – those who will play, experiment, tinker, and make tools do cartwheels to see how they can be used for teaching & learning . I chat to them over morning coffee (and via Twitter, Facebook and their blogs), but they don’t need my support. I tend to work with academic staff, managers and allied staff,  in the early & late majority.

A graph of Everett Rogers Technology Adoption Lifecycle model. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

A graph of Everett Rogers Technology Adoption Lifecycle model. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

The Understandably Cynical

In my experience, there is a subset of teachers in that early/late majority category, that we can call the Understandably Cynical.

  1. They are committed to their students’ learning experience,
  2. They are satisfied with their current teaching approach but do experiment with new techniques,
  3. Their computer & digital literacy is low to medium,
  4. The addition of technology in their daily work mix , eg email, has not made their work easier or faster,
  5. Their time is precious, split between teaching, research and a life,
  6. They perceive time spent online establishing social networks or  ‘playing’ with new tools, as wasted,
  7. They don’t want to burden students with new tools unnecessarily,
  8. They appreciate their privacy.

In short, they are great teachers, whatever they are doing is already working, they’re open to new ideas, they’re busy and past experiences with technology have been a hindrance, not a benefit to them.  They are Understandably Cynical.

For this group of teachers, I’ve found that providing them with gateway tools can start them adding the use of technology to their teaching arsenal.

What are gateway tools?

Gateway tools are like gateway drugs – they open the door to the serious stuff.

Characteristics of an e-learning gateway tool:

  1. Solves a problem (eg size or access)
  2. Builds on existing collections
  3. Saves time
  4. Is easy to use
  5. Is immediately useful in the classroom
  6. Has passive social functionality
  7. Can be the start of a teacher’s PLN – although the previous characteristics may fire a teacher’s engine, this is the turbo boost.

Examples of gateway tools

Here are two examples of gateway tools, Slideshare & Delicious.


1. Solves a problem – makes PowerPoint files smaller and easily accessible from anywhere, freeing a teacher from the localised shared drive.

2. Builds on existing collections – you can use PowerPoints files you already have.

3. Saves time – a search on Slideshare can provide you with inspiration for your own lecture or lesson, or even provide you with a complete lesson structure.

4. Is easy to use – to make use of Slideshare resources, takes no more than simple search skills. Uploading your own resources is akin to attaching a file to an email.

5. Is immediately useful in the classroom – once a presentation is uploaded, it can be accessed in the classroom during the lesson and remains available for access & download for students later.

6. Has passive social functionality – unlike some other Web2.0/social media tools, Slideshare does not require you to be socially active,  invest in building a network or give out too much personal information, for it to be useful.

7. Can be the start of a teacher’s PLN – although Slideshare does not require social activity, it will expose teachers to other teachers/experts who share their interest. Those friend requests can be hard to deny…


1. Solves a problem (eg size or access) – many people still save their bookmarks in the browser on their computer. This means when you leave your desk to go teach in a classroom, you don’t have access to those bookmarks. Storing bookmarks online lets you use them wherever you have internet access.

2. Builds on existing collections – it’s easy to import your existing bookmarks into delicious.
3. Saves time – using delicious & it’s useful tags & description function, can really speed up how fast you can refind ‘that one’ site. No more roaming through endless folders. Install the delicious buttons and bookmark new sites with one click.

4. Is easy to use – as stated, the delicious buttons turn it into a 1-click system. And to make use of other people’s bookmarks, takes no more than simple search skills.

5. Is immediately useful in the classroom – you now have all your bookmarks in not just one classroom, but in every room you teach in. And that makes you a lot more flexible. A student asks a question? Mmm, I’m sure I bookmarked a site that had an interesting take on that…

6. Has passive social functionality – like Slideshare, Delicious does not require you to be socially active, invest in building a network or give out too much personal information, for it to be useful. You can’t even upload a profile picture.

7. Can be the start of a teacher’s PLN – again, although Delicious does not require social activity, you can’t help but run into useful resources shared by its many users. And once you find a user who shares links about your interests, you may want to find out what else they are sharing, on their blog, on Twitter, or elsewhere…

I’ve had moderate success introducing teachers to the tools above. If you have had success introducing teachers or colleagues to other e-learning gateway tools, I’d love to hear about it.

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Wordle Fun

Friday evening, Project Runway on tv, lappie on the couch. Time to play.

Had some fun with Wordle. After playing with TweetStats yesterday, wanted to get those tags and use them in Wordle. Unfortunately they weren’t weighted. So result is a bit bland but still fun.

Wordle is set up to link with del.icio.us and because it does weight those tags, the result is much more impressive!

Embedding in a blog post requires a little editing of embed code – need to take out all the spaces.

Could be used to introduce a topic in class? As result of a discussion thread?

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Sending thank-you notes & hidden VPD

One my objectives for 2008 is to provide the conditions for a community of practice around e-learning to grow on our campus. We have many excellent examples of e-learning in the classroom and online, but so far haven’t really had a platform for sharing that knowledge & experience.

First things first, obviously sharing “knowledge, methods, stories, cases, tools, documents” as described by Wenger is impossible if staff members don’t even know about each other’s existence. So we’ve set about establishing the needed connections. Monthly e-Learning Lunches began in the middle of 2007 and have a growing and loyal attendance (yay!). I’m also trying to introduce practitioners to each other just-in-time. Recently I invited one of our Business & Computing lecturers, to demonstrate her online course to a group of lecturers who are just making the first steps in putting their courses online. I say demonstrate, but what I really wanted was for her to show off, because she & her colleague really challenged themselves, always focusing on keeping the course flexible, project-based and learner-centred. The course looks great, and the demonstration was much appreciated by the lecturers.

Unfortunately, I got so busy that shock, horror, I forgot to thank Kim properly. About to send her a thank-you note, I reconsidered, a. it’s kinda lo-tech and b. doesn’t match my tactics this year. I’ve been getting excited about the concept of viral professional development as described by Jennifer Jones (aka injenuity) as I see VPD as a factor in the creation & maintenance of our community of practice. So starting today instead of notes, e-cards or chocolate fish (very popular in New Zealand) to say thank you, I will instead undertake a little hidden VPD and share a cool tool, neat resource or activity idea that I know matches what they are working on.

Here’s my thank-you for Kim, created in Sketchcast explaining my limited understanding of the concept of a critical path. (Note: a little glitch, I could only get Sketchcast to record audio in Internet Explorer, not Firefox.)

[kml_flashembed movie="http://sketchcast.com/swf/player.swf?id=nqu1K2g" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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Trans-Tasman Tokbox

JoMcLeay just blogged about our Trans-Tasman collaboration this evening. Much happier experience for the Aussies than for Amanda S and myself on the Kiwi side. By Twitter invitation from Sue Tap aka sujokat, we played with Tokbox, a free online videoconferencing system, which doesn’t require an account for those invited, just gives you a url to share. Should be easy-peasy.

Unfortunately it kept echoing, even with echo regulation on, sometimes hearing yourself back a minute and a half later. And the others’ volumes kept alternating between crystal clear and deathly whispers. Predictably bad when people were talking at the same time. We concurred that Tokbox could really use a chat function, to exchange advice about improving settings when sound is off. Now we were polluting the twitter-stream (sorry tweets). As the Aussies were chatting happily, Amanda and I left early.

Simon B said”different – random strangers on a video call”. To me being on Tokbox tonight was reminiscent of when you were 11 and your parents took you to an acquaintance’s house on a Saturday evening. You’d be introduced to their children and expected to just get on with it. Like then, there were some initial moments of just staring at each other. Then a little bit of shy laughter, followed by more staring. But once you discovered your shared interest (Lego back then, now Ed Tech – still playing with toys) the ice was broken and you felt totally comfortable with the others, to the point that you were happy to make a fool of yourself.

Lo-tech note for high-tech communication

Very lo-tech communication

I’d be up for trying out some more tools across the Tasman. Tools Tuesday anyone?

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Tools/Sites/Extensions I use

A little late but I decided to join the TechCrunch exercise.

This is a list of tools, sites and extensions I currently use two or more times per week. And next year around this time (and if I remember) I’ll post another list and compare the two. It should make an interesting experiment.

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How Twitter helps me find neat tools…

Twitter entered my online life in Nov 2007 as part of a course in emerging learning environments. My workgroup wanted to pick a ‘really out there social networking tool that you would not think of using in education’ and take it for a spin. And we chose Twitter because how educational can answering the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters really be?

Well it turns out that not only is it educational, it is addictive. How? In a variety of ways. For instance by helping me find neat tools as today I discovered 3 new tools and Adobe AIR in the space of an hour.

Continue reading

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