Thursday, May 31, 2007

Using Text Messaging in the Classroom

I think my cell phone, or more aptly, my Blackberry is attached to my body. It's the one thing I have with me 24-7. Yes, I practically sleep with it. And no, the person on the other side of the bed doesn't think too kindly of my Blackberry beeping in the middle of the night. But I can't help it. I feel disconnected without it. It's my connection to the outside world.

I was wondering if others felt the same way about their cell phones as I do. Mostly I wondered about my students. People are always saying that our students are tech savvy, digital natives, socially connected on the web. Well, I don't see it. In my online class this summer, only half of my students gave me a cell phone number when I asked for one. Is it possible they don't all have cell phones? And when I introduced the TextMarks widget to them on the course blog, not one was interested. However, I just discovered I have two subscribers! Yeah!

A TextMark is a keyword you select that people can text message to 41411 and receive a custom response from you. Users can also subscribe to your TextMark to get updates and alerts.

Below is an example of the widget:

The widget allows for people to type in their cellphone to subscribe to my TextMark. The widget also shows the latest update. The way I'd planned to use text messaging in this class was a way to update students 1-2 daily about new posts to the class blog and other class announcements. For instance, we just had a horrible start to our summer session because Blackboard was not working properly. Students couldn't get in to see what was going on in the class. To keep students on task, I started putting content on the course blog. Once I got a good chunk of stuff on there, I'd add a TextMark alert saying it was now available on the blog. I also sent a TextMark alert saying when Bb was going down and when it was going to back up.

Another good use for this service is to alert students to a particularly good discussion that could use some more input. And if students are subscribed, how can they forget about your class when they're getting daily texts? Just one or two; I don't want to be annoying. :-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

7 and 1/2 Lifelong Learning Habits

I just read, or shall I say viewed, the presentation on 7 1/2 Habits of Highly Successful Lifelong Learners from The Public Library of & Mecklenburg County. The habits are listed below:
Habit 1: Begin with the end in mind
Habit 2: Accept responsibility for your own learning
Habit 3: View problems as challenges
Habit 4: Have confidence in yourself as a competent, effective learner
Habit 5: Create your own learning toolbox
Habit 6: Use technology to your advantage
Habit 7: Teach/mentor others
Habit 7 1/2: Play!
This is a good list, and I feel as if I practice most of these habits. The hardest one for me though is the first one: Begin with the end in mind. I usually don't have a clear goal when I set out to learn, especially when it's dealing with technology. I usually just want to jump to the play part. I don't really care where it's going to take me. I waste a lot of time this way. If something is fun, then I try to think of ways I could actually use it for some goal. The goal comes at the end.

As for the easiest habit, that's a toss up. Two through seven are a no brainer for me. It's just part of who I am, but I'll single out Habit 6: Use technology to your advantage. I've got a ton of ways I use technology to my advantage, from something as simple as email on my phone to GPS in my shoe. I'm wired, and it has simplified my life and my job.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mind Mapping with mindmeister

I'm a visual learner, so I love the idea of mind mapping for generating ideas during the pre-writing phase of writing. I also stress brainstorming in groups with my students. We begin each essay with a group session where I start a topic on the white board in the classroom, and students are encouraged to add their own "circles" to the mind map we create. It always ends up as a scribbled mess of colored markers on the board, but there are always some good ideas buried in there.

I teach in computer classrooms, so I started looking for a new Web 2.0 tool that I could possibly use to replace our, shall I say, "old school" method. I found several, but I really like mindmeister for it simplicity and ease of use. And in true Web 2.0 fashion, it's great for sharing and collaborating with "friends." Here's the blurb from the mindmeister website:

MindMeister brings the concept of mind mapping to the web, using its facilities for real-time collaboration to allow truly global brainstorming sessions.

Users can create, manage and share mind maps online and access them anytime, from anywhere. In brainstorming mode, fellow MindMeisters from around the world (or just in different rooms) can simultaneously work on the same mind map - and see each other's changes as they happen. Using integrated Skype calls, they can throw around new ideas and put them down on "paper" at the same time.

What I like best is the ability to mind map in real time with other users. Changes appear instantly in color coded fashion, so you can see who is making the changes. As an instructor, I can just sit back and watch the map develop as students independently add their own ideas.

Well, it's summer now, so I don't have any "friends" to test this out with, so I created a mind map in mindmeister on my own. I'm mapping all the web tools I'm using to teach my ENG101 Online course this summer. Here's what my map looks like. It allows for you to export in jpg.
Isn't that cool? I like the little icons you can add to the map. You can also publish your maps for others to see online. I published my map:

I can't wait to use this with my students. It's free if you only plan to use it sparingly, but if you become a heavy user, it's $50 for the year. If I didn't do a good enough job of explaining mindmeister for you, check out their screencast demo online.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Web 2.0 Ideas for Educators

Well, I finally got a chance to finish reading's

100+ Web 2.0 Ideas for Educators: A Guide to RSS and More

icon for podpress 100+ Web 2.0 Ideas for Educators: Download
Download your copy today, and get reading. There's some great stuff in there, especially if you are a beginner. It is geared towards an introduction to RSS, but carries on a bit further into topics such as tagging, social bookmarking, wikis and more.

Better Group Discussions with Grouptivity

I discovered a new Web 2.0 tool about a month ago while I was mindlessly wandering the web. I do a lot of group discussion via the web with my students because I truly believe that given the time to think through a response and the opportunity to proofread and rewrite, students can offer up some decent asynchronous discussion. The problem has always been that students don't always take the time to go back and finish the discussion. I can always get them there to participate initially, but getting them to come back to respond again is difficult. When I asked students about this, they say, "When I go back to respond, there's not anything there to respond to." Ah, I hate that too. You keep checking and checking, and you never know when someone else has responded to your post. After a while, you just give up.

I started using LiveJournal with students to help with this problem. LJ is a blogging service and not a discussion board, but it works great in that capacity. What LiveJournal does that other blogs don't is it allows for you create a community of users. We all signed up for blogs, and I added all my students to my community, thus creating a community page where everyone's posts show up together. Students can then read selective posts and add comments to them, creating a discussion. Here's the best part. When someone responds to your post, you get an email that allows for you to respond back right in the email. This eliminates the need to check back to see if anyone has responded to you, and it eliminates the step of having to go back to the blog. All responses composed in email messages get posted on the blog and get delivered via email.

Great, but LJ is not so easy to use, and if you only have a few discussion that you want students to participate in, why set up a bunch of blogs? That's were Grouptivity comes in. Grouptivity combines email and discussion groups at one place to provide a collaborative platform that can fuel online discussions by allowing you to discussion webpages, photos and videos. Here's a short blurb about the site from StartupSquad.
Using Grouptivity you can easily create your discussion message, add questions you want to ask, and send out the email either to groups created by you or individual people. Users receiving the discussion email don’t need to register at Grouptivity in order to reply to your message. They can just click to reply when they receive your message and they will be taken to a form where they can respond, post, and chat with others. All responses from your users keep getting updated at the topic page on your Grouptivity account. Grouptivity also enables you to continue further discussion with select users which will not be visible to others. From the topic page you can easily add and remove recipients, modify group list settings/reminder date, export the messages to a excel file, and get RSS feed for the messages in the topic. One of really nice features I found at Grouptivity is that besides exchanging messages for a topic, you can also have discussions for each topic, which makes your communication and collaboration much more effective. Another good feature is that you can run a report to get the initial message, aggregated responses, and discussion details, all on one page.
I've set up several discussions that I plan to use with my online students this summer, so I'll be back to talk more about Grouptivity and how it works with students. I really think this is what I've been looking for in terms of group discussions in my classes. We'll see. In the mean time, go ahead, try it out:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Maricopa's 20th Annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference

I am scheduled to participate in the MCLI event "Maricopa's 20th Annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference" which takes place May 15, 2007 8:30am - 3:00pm at Paradise Valley Community College. You can find the latest update on this event at:

So today I went over to PVCC to check out the room that I will be presenting in on Tuesday. I met with Linda Lawson who was gracious enough to not only show me the room be also give me a tour of their computer commons area. They have a very sweet set-up over there. I was literally drooling over their Mac lab, which had about 35 new iMacs. I think they were 17"- very nice. Whenever I see new technology, my mind always starts racing and all these great ideas pop into my head. If I had access to a lab like that, I would:
  • create a project for students to create propaganda videos using iMovie
  • have students create video introductions of themselves using the iSight Camera
  • create a project for students to create podcasts for their unit theme topics using Garageband.

    Okay, so that is just a few of my ideas. It will never happen because I'm at SMC, and SMC doesn't believe in Mac. It's a shame.

    So my session is at 11:30 on Tuesday. Hope to see you there.
    Session 4: Getting Started with Podcasting Presented by Alisa Cooper (South Mountain Community College)

    This workshop will be hands on with faculty leaving with a short published podcast. Participants will record a short audio clip using audacity, which will then be exported to mp3, uploaded to a server, and turned into a podcast by creating a post on a group blog. We will also learn how to subscribe to that podcast. Participants can later duplicate the process using their own resources.