Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hot off the Press...

Well the people at CommonCraft have released a brand new educational video so I thought I would do a quick post to share it with you. This time they tackle podcasting, which is a term many parents have heard before but maybe don't completely understand.

Podcasting has been used in schools for a number of years now. How they use it is limited only by your imagination. Teachers create podcasts of their lectures for students to use for review and study purposes, kids put together podcasts of class material to help cement concepts in their mind (and post them for other kids/parents to enjoy), teachers download continuing professional development lectures, and the list goes on. You can find a podcast on just about any subject that interests you, just a quick search should provide you with more than you'll ever have time to listen to. Just remember that you don't need an "i-pod" to listen, any portable media device will suffice, and if all else fails you can always listen/watch right from your computer.

Here are some places to start:

Storynory -- This is a collection of stories for children available for free download
Librivox -- This is another story collection but of novels that are read by volunteers
Parent magazine -- Collection of parenting information podcasts
Mediafly -- I am just starting to explore this site that allows you to collect all your podcasts in one spot and download them to your device -- it also has many recommendations of podcasts you may enjoy covering many subject areas. It is only in Beta so keep that in mind......

Well I hope you have fun exploring podcasts and as you use them personally or to entertain kids with stories on a long drive take a moment to think about all the ways this could be used in your child's classroom. I would love to hear all your ideas!!!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The many faces of Google

The first thing most people think of when they hear "Google" is search engine. Who could blame them, Google has to be one of the most used search engines on the internet, but Google has grown far beyond their search engine start. Since everyone knows Google I though it may be a great first stop in our exploration of Web 2.0. Let's take a look at what Google can do for you.

Maybe I'll just start with what Google already does for me. Google manages my email, allows me to chat online, stores my calendar, does my word processing, maintains this Blog, is my RSS reader, stores my pictures, hosts my web page (that's my real job -- blogging doesn't pay well), promotes my business, generates revenue from my website, and yes it does also search the internet very well. My home page is igoogle and from that one page I can see the weather forecast, my email inbox, CBC news (yes -- if you haven't figured it out yet I'm Canadian eh), my calendar, joke of the day (everyone needs a chuckle) and see the feeds from the couple of Blogs I follow the most. All in all a pretty sweet package.

I am going to pause here for a moment and let you know my assumption in writing this Blog is that my audience is all over the map -- some people have passed Googleland a long time ago and are off to a more exotic locale such as Ningville, Wikitown, or Bloggerton. That's fine, I won't be offended if you leave now. However there are some parents that have never left the comforts of their Web 1.0 home and Googleland is a good first place to visit. It's like Australia, sure there are a few strange animals and they drive on the opposite (not wrong) side of the road, but they speak english and have that "member of the commonwealth" sort of feel. Other than the accent (and a few other things like fabulous weather) you feel like you haven't left home. So for those of you "seasoned travelers" we'll catch you next time but for everyone else let's proceed...

Now I'm a 4-H'er from way back, for those of you who grew up rurally you know what that means -- for the rest it means I'm a "Learn to do by Doing" kind of gal. So the only way to really figure what this Google stuff is all about is to go sign up for an account. Yes I mean now -- go on -- I'll wait. There -- wasn't that easy?? You now have access to the full range of Google products. Calendars, Blogs, Pictures, Word Processor, the whole nine yards. The question is now that you have it -- what will you do with it??? Let me give you a few ideas.

First the Calendar. I have a great Calendar above the phone at my house -- nothing will ever replace it -- it is the schedule that rules our life. The problem is that life doesn't always happen when I have access to the calendar above my phone. Sometimes I'm at work and they ask me to cover an extra shift -- with my Google calendar and the internet I can look up easily that this will cause me to miss my daughters dental appointment and I can politely decline. Sometimes I even have to accommodate other people's schedules (like my husband). He can share his Google calendar with me and it helps me to avoid any scheduling conflicts. My 7 year old has her own shared Calendar that keeps track of hot lunch (Yay don't have to pack a lunch that day), spelling tests, sport practices and anything else that may impact our lives. The whole family is co-ordinated. Isn't that all a mom or dad really wants?

For those of you who belong to any group, whether it be parent council, skating, hockey, baseball, library etc etc Google documents may just be your favourite feature. Once again I must defer to the brilliant explanation by Commoncraft:


Imagine the possibilities when you are trying to edit a newsletter, registration form, fund raising letter, or any other document or presentation. Definitely a time saver.

Well once again I could go on and on but the best way is to just try. I know a web page may not be in your imminent future but co-ordinating sport schedule's with all of your friends to figure out how to get a child to where they need to be might be more realistic. Explore and have fun -- remember it's only Australia -- I wouldn't send you to Timbuktu on your first trip out!! One word of caution -- as anyone who has traveled will tell you -- this can be addictive. You'll soon be looking for the next adventure...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Where do we go from here and where exactly is here?

A friend asked me the other day where I was going with my Blog. To tell the truth I don't really have a route mapped out of where I'd like to go or even where I'd like to end up. Since I have chosen Web 2.0 tools as a topic there really is no end in sight because the map changes every day. But of course to find your way on any map...

you first have to know where you are and YOU just happen to be on my BLOG. Now I know it looks like a website, it acts like a website and it even has an address like a website but it really is a BLOG (trust me on this one Ok it will all be clear in a moment). I could get into a long narrative about what a Blog is and what makes it different than a website but these guys do it so much better --

Blogs are one of those Web 2.0 tools that I alluded to in my previous post. Why, as parents, would we care about Blogs? In short, we can harness the power of Blogs to make our lives easier. Let me give you an example:

Mary brings home a class newsletter. You do actually manage to retrieve it from the jaws of the backpack monster (an amazing feat in and of itself) and it is full of great information, important dates, websites to visit, and a map pinpointing the location of the Holy Grail. On your way to the calendar to record this vital information (after all the Holy Grail would fetch a price that would make your retirement spectacular) the phone rings, the baby spills her milk, someone comes to the door, and in that moment of mass confusion this wonderful newsletter is inadvertantly sent to the recycle bin. Suddenly all your retirement dreams are lost, and even worse you send Mary to school in a hideous plaid turtleneck sweater for picture day (which she will later recount to her therapist as the beginning of her "self-esteem issues"). Is there nothing that can be done to avoid such tragic outcomes? Let's take a look at what would have happened if Mary's teacher maintained a Blog.(like this one)....

Sometime during the morning, day or night when you routinely sit down uninterupted to check your email (ok this is maybe a bit of a stretch but work with me) you check your teacher's classroom Blog. All the important announcements are there, complete with a calendar of events and a google map pinpointing the Holy Grail (and retirement dreams). The information is always there in the same place, 24 hours a day, impervious to coffee spills, misplacement, or children carting it away to use as finger paint paper.

Sounds like heaven right??? What's that?? You have four kids?? You don't want to surf to 4 Blogs every day on the off chance there may be an announcement to read?? This is where a Blog teamed up with an RSS feed really begins to show it's worth. What's and RSS feed??? Once again the people at common craft can tell you far better than I can....

So really what's not to like?? You get updates from your child's teacher about all manner of things delivered straight to your reader and if you ever need to check back on anything the information is always there on the classroom Blog coffee and fingerpaint free.

There are Blogs out there that cover just about any subject you could imagine so even if your child's class doesn't have a Blog I encourage you to search for one that matches your interests. Experiment, get a reader account, subscribe to a blog -- subscribe to my Blog -- after all now that you know where "here" is you might as well follow along to the next stop.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Two Point Oh -- Oh my!!

Web 2.0, School 2.o, Classroom 2.0, Parent 2.0 --- Oh dear -- what is everyone talking about. To tell you the truth no-one seems to agree on one definition, especially for Web 2.0 so why not start at the beginning and make it up as we go along.

1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 2.65 -- This is the common way for software vendors to keep naming versions of the same program. Each time they do a fix or an update they need to designate a new number that reflects where the program is now. It is like when Susie leaves her therapists office she has now gone from Susie 2.14 to Susie 2.2!! So at it's very basic level Web 2.0 is the next "version" of the internet. Don't get me wrong -- it's not as if one day the "web overlord" came a did a massive upgrade of the whole World Wide Web. Things like that can't happen (or at least I think they can't) and there is no such thing as a "web overlord" (or at least I hope there isn't). It was a subtle change that happened due to some advances in programming that made it easier for ordinary people (like you and me) to actively participate and contribute to content on the internet. As the new possibilities and functionality started hitting the forefront, the term Web 2.0 was coined to describe this new "version" of the world wide web.

The question becomes what's the difference between Web 1.0 and 2.0? In my mind the three words that answer this best are interactive, social and collaborative. Where 1.0 was the teacher at the front of the class writing notes endlessly on the blackboard and lecturing(think Ben Stein -- in Ferris Bueller's Day Off), 2.0 is the cool teacher that invites you have discussions, do experiments, work as a group and get involved (think Ms. Frizzle of Magic School bus). If we look at a few of the applications of Web 2.0.............

we might get a better idea (or just terribly confused). Overwhelming isn't it. All these applications have one or more of these 3 qualities in common -- interactivity, socialization and collaboration.

Let's take a look at Flickr for our first example. In Web 1.0 there were sites to upload your photo's and send them off to the developer -- there may have even been some simple editing that could be done. In contrast at Flickr you can upload photos, decide who can view them, choose in what way they can be shared (via varying copyrights), tag them for content/location/theme, comment on your own and others photos. In other words you can INTERACT with your photos and others photos, SOCIALIZE with those who have similar interests (tags) as you, and COLLABORATE by tagging and organizing a huge database of photos that can act as a resource for people all over the world.

Probably the best example is the personal Web Page vs Facebook. There were some people who did manage to put up personal web pages in the early web. It was a bit tedious, required some technical know how and tended to consist of a few photo's and static text. There wasn't much chance for a visitor to your website to actually interact with you other than to send you an email from a link on your page. Well, if you have ever been on Facebook, I needn't go on. If you haven't there is an untold number of ways to INTERACT with fellow Facebookers, the whole concept is based on the fact that people want to SOCIALIZE with each other and, whether people realize or not, they are COLLABORATING to produce the content that is available on the internet. The makers of Facebook merely created the platform -- it is you, the end user, that is creating the information that makes up the site and makes the site successful. Makes the Facebook creator sound kind of lazy in a way -- doesn't it?

So what's the big deal?? The big deal for me personally is that all of this has made the internet a more enjoyable and useful place to be. It has become more than a place to do research and gather information. It has become a platform from which I can manage my schedule (Google calendar), connect with old friends (Facebook), write this column (Blogger), edit and create documents (Zoho), and even just listen to some tunes (MixWit). All of these things can be easily shared, published and edited with other people. I don't think I'm alone in my increased use of 2.0. Many of my fellow parents who really didn't have any use for the internet are now going online in impressive numbers. What can I say -- they prefer the Ms. Frizzle version of the net!! It engages people and connects people like never before and maybe that's what was really missing from Web 1.0 ---- people.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

At the beginning...

For reasons too complicated, too convoluted, and frankly too boring to bother explaining, I recently took an interest in the use of technology in schools, in particular elementary schools since my first child is in Grade 2. I have been reading articles, watching fantastic videos, playing with very cool Web 2.0 tools and in the process sending scads of excited emails to friends and family in an attempt to share this "new world" I had discovered. One of my friends (who I hadn't flooded with emails) suggested that I start a blog and in the spirit of experimenting with all that the Web has to offer I have decided to start Web 2.0 for Parents!!

At this point I am not sure what direction this Blog will take but my hope is to help other parents, like me, who may be a bit behind on "what the kids are doing" start to understand the basics of some of the most commonly used applications and why tech integration in the classroom is important. It is with that goal in mind that I'd like to share a video that was the beginning of this journey.

So put on your adventure shoes and take a peek at what's going on in Web 2.o!! Who knows we may even find some fun stuff along the way!!