Monday, December 31, 2007

Teaching, Blogs, and Kwout

I took time to read a book during this Christmas vacation. I haven't, however, read the education blogs from which I learn so much as consistently as usual. So, tonight was catch-up time! Here's three entries that I think you'll find interesting.

Miguel Guhlin
recently posted a link to Clay Burell’s blog entry about three movies by Barry Bachenheimer. Three numbers—180, 1620, and 42—say a lot about teaching and learning today. Miguel Guhlin is correct… these are “videos to watch.”
Video #1: 180
Video #2: 1620
Video #3: 42

Blogs have been around for ten years. Vicki Davis mentioned in a recent blog entry that National Public Radio has published a series of stories about blogging. The stories discuss blogging tools, the history of blogging, their impact on business, and microblogging.

Scott McLeod and Tim Lauer both posted information about Kwout. This tool allows you to take a screenshot of a web page and then select a specific area of the page. The section you cut out becomes an image with active hyperlinks which you can post to a web site or to Flickr or Tumblr.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tag Clouds by TagCrowd

I read recently on David Warlick’s blog about TagCrowd, a web-based application for creating tag clouds... visual representations of word frequencies.

Warlick tested TagCrowd by applying it to speeches from the presidential debates at I tried it on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address. I also tested my last few blog entries (as one unit) and my vita.

How do we use this tool in the classroom? I like Warlick’s idea of comparing speeches of the presidential candidates. I think it would also be interesting to compare authors who have written books in the same genre or in the same time period… or maybe in different time periods. I plan to compare President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address with the one he delivers in 2008. Could students benefit from comparing their own writing over a period of time? Or just one instance of their writing? Would TagCrowd be a useful tool for teachers to use as they look at their students’ writing?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Using Wikispaces and PBwiki

Last week I shared an article which is a good introduction to using wikis in the classroom. I also provided a link to an interview with teacher Victoria Davis who uses wikis with her students and Adam Frey of Wikispaces. This week I’ll share some of my experiences using wikis in the classroom.

Two wiki providers that provide free wikis for K12 educators are PBwiki and Wikispaces. I used Wikispaces with my classes this past semester and I plan to use PBwiki next semester. Then I will compare the two to determine which best serves the needs of my students and myself.

I’ve played with wikis myself; but, I had not previously integrated them as a required component for my students. This past semester I used Wikispaces with my Instructional Technology
classes. The students are required to create electronic portfolios which showcase their skills and strategies for integrating technology into the teaching and learning processes. A wiki seemed like a good medium to use because it’s easy for the students to read and write to it and it’s structured for organizing by content rather than chronology.

My students did not have previous experience using wikis, so I led them through the process of registering for their own spaces and through several procedures which they would need to know to create their pages and content. A couple weeks later we added more skills to their repertoire. Next semester—Spring 2008—I’ll guide them through all the necessary procedures in one class. This Fall I created a sample electronic portfolio for my students to view for ideas. I’ve already modified it for next semester.

Using a wiki for an electronic portfolio does not take advantage of a wiki’s collaborative benefits. Next semester, we shall use wikis for both purposes. We’ll start with a wiki—probably in the first class—and an assignment which requires collaboration. Having a combination of traditional and non-traditional students in classes makes collaboration sometimes quite challenging. The wikis should help! Later in the semester we will start using the wikis to build our electronic portfolios.

The students easily learned how to use the wikis… and they enjoyed working with them. The only challenge was that when they first created a new page, they didn’t see it anywhere! So early lessons next semester will have to include creating new pages from within the navigation area as well as managing their spaces so they can see the pages they’ve created.

In Wikispaces, only the Basic plan is free for university students. Consequently, our wikis have ads on them. In K12 schools, however, the Basic Plus plan is free. Thus, K12 students and teachers can have ad-free wikis.

Wikispaces provides three options for space visibility. Spaces can be public, meaning that everyone can view and edit your pages. Or they can be protected, meaning that everyone can view them, but only space members can edit them. Both of these options are free… with ads, of course. The third option (Plus) is that the spaces can be private, meaning that only space members can view and edit them. This option has the advantage of being ad-free, but it costs $5 per month… unless you’re a K12 user. In that case, it’s free. Wikispaces’ goal is to give away 100,000 free K12 Plus wikis. So far, they’ve given more than 50,000 free Plus wikis to K12 teachers. Both Basic and Plus plans have 2 gb of storage.

Wikispaces provides a variety of tutorials and instructions for using their wikis. They have their own tours in addition to linking to others such as the TeachersFirst Wiki Walk-Through. Just follow the links as you explore the Wikispaces site. You’ll find many ideas for using wikis in education, including advice for introducing them to your students (and their parents) as well as reasons to use wikis in your classes.

PBwiki provides instructions, videos, and white papers for learning about wikis, for using them, and for creating them. A wiki workshop which teaches how to use PBwiki is available at Atomic Learning (subscription required except for the first video). PBwiki has both public and private wikis. There are no advertisements… period. The free version has 10 mb of storage. I’ve made a PBwiki version of my sample electronic portfolio. I like the fact that I can use colored text; however, the layout does not seem as clean as I would like it to be.

At this point, I’m more comfortable using Wikispaces than I am using PBwiki. However, that may be because I’ve used Wikispaces for a longer period of time. I will use PBwiki for my class this next semester… and then evaluate which wiki provider is more useful for my students.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Using Wikis in the Classroom

Have you started using wikis yet? For yourself? For your students? This week’s Tech Tip is an introduction to the use of wikis in the classroom. Next week we will go into more detail.

For Teachers New to Wikis

This article--by Joe Moxley,
MC Morgan, Matt Barton, and Donna Hanak--
is a good introduction to using wikis in the classroom. It begins with a description of what a wiki is and of some of its characteristics. Suggestions for using wikis with students are shared. The article concludes with a discussion of some obstacles that may show up.

Users may read and also write on web pages called wikis. You do not need to know HTML or use other software to create web pages when you have access to a wiki. You can determine which individuals have the rights to read a wiki and who has the rights to write to a wiki. They provide opportunities for collaborative work, with each new edit replacing the old, but with a history of edits automatically maintained. Having the chance to view previous edits is useful whether you are a single individual working with a wiki or if you and a group are working together on a project.

Students can use wikis to write, to debate, to share resources, to maintain a journal, to collaborate, to support projects. Some classroom procedures you may want to implement are having students sign the pages they write or edit, assigning roles such as one student having the responsibility to watch over the wiki pages so there are no bad edits.

Students may be hesitant about writing in public. And it may take a while for them to become accustomed to editing, both their editing others’ work and others’ editing their work. Because wikis are designed for writing, some other features may not be as flexible as users might like.

Wikis in Education: An Interview with Victoria Davis and Adam Frey

Steve Hargadon of hosts this very interesting interview (August 24, 2006) with teacher Victoria Davis and Adam Frey of Wikispaces in which they talk about using wikis in the classroom. Davis shares how she and her students use wikis and the feedback she receives from her students. Both interviewees discuss the role of wikis now and in the future. The interview concludes with questions from the audience and answers from Davis and Frey.

Two wiki providers that provide free wikis for K12 educators are PBwiki and Wikispaces. I used Wikispaces with my class this semester and I plan to use PBwiki next semester. Then I will compare the two to determine which best serves the needs of my students and myself. Next week I will share about Wikispaces and my class’ experience with it this semester.

Wiki Poster by Alan Levine at
CC license at
Attribution: Some rights reserved.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

LunaPic Online Photo Editor

I found another free, web-based photo editor that has a large number of tools for modifying photos. LunaPic Online Photo Editor (formerly called MyTheme Photo Editor) works well with MyTheme, MySpace, FaceBook, and Xanga; however, it also will save images in GIF, JPG, PNG, BMP, or MPG (movie) formats on your computer for whatever uses you have in mind.

With LunaPic you can crop, resize, or rotate an image. Drawing and text tools allow you to work directly on the image. The border tool can choose a variety of textures. A blemish remover tool facilitates touch-ups. A variety of speech bubbles are available.

Tools are provided to change the image to black-and-white, sepiatone, or color tint. Others help sharpen or adjust brightness or color saturation. Of course, a red-eye reduction tool is available.

LunaPic seems to specialize in effects. Take your choice: blend two images, Polaroid picture, photo spread, cartoon, Andy Warhol effect, bubbles effect, charcoal, pencil sketch, coloring book, and many others.

Many animation tools are also provided. Options are old movies, reflecting water, rainbow, sparkles, pouring rain, floating hearts, lightning, fire, and others.

This photo was taken at a nearby county fair this past summer by Rick Keller. I decided to try LunaPic using this picture of a horse.

The first tool I tried was the photo spread. Well, that’s a fun tool. What else can I do...

Next I played with borders, speech bubbles, and the text tool. I always did think that horse looked like he wanted to ask something!

So far the tools are easy to use and the results look good. It will be interesting and fun to try some of the other tools. I think there will be some good opportunities to use LunaPic for both personal and professional work. And students will enjoy being creative with their photos and using them in digital storytelling and other projects.