Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bringing it all together with iGoogle

In my last few posts, I have explained some of the benefits to using various Google apps in the classroom: Google Docs, Google Calendar, Blogger, and Google Reader. I'm hoping it has become a little more clear why more and more schools are embracing these apps.

In August, Maryland joined Oregon, Iowa, and Colorado to adopt Google Apps for Education on the state level. Every public and private school district, as well as public and private colleges/universities in those states will now be using Google apps in their schools! Many other school districts around the globe have also "Gone Google" on their own. I do predict that my own district will go to cloud computing in the next five years if not sooner.

As great as all of these apps are, it can be tough to keep everything organized. This is where iGoogle comes in! This personalized Google homepage allows you to add many different "gadgets" and rearrange them so you can access all of your important information quickly and easily. You can also add a theme to the page, letting your personality come through. The video below gives a quick tutorial on how this would look.


As you can see in the video, you can add all sorts of information ranging from horoscopes and sport scores to news headlines and the weather. The key gadgets I recommend adding are all of those Google tools: Gmail (to see if you have email), Google Reader (to see if you have new blog posts to read) , and Google Calendar (to see what's coming up in the next few days). The image below is a screen shot of my iGoogle page. 

As you can tell, I am obviously a Steelers fan! Also, you will notice my Google Calendar and Google Reader to the right. I just finished reading everything so it tells me I have nothing new to read. I also have the Google News gadget which gives me a nice selection of headlines. I usually have my Gmail gadget right at the top, but I moved it for the screen shot for privacy reasons. What you can't see is that I have numerous other gadgets when I scroll down (listed to the left) that give me more science/technology headlines as well as some bargain websites.

 My Recommendations

I feel strongly that everyone should set iGoogle to be their "homepage". In other words, when I open up my web browser of choice, it automatically goes to iGoogle. I know of many people who use a default Google search screen or maybe the website of their school for their home page, and it's just not an efficient way of gathering information online.

Ideas for Using iGoogle

Ditch the desk calendar
  • There is no need to have a paper calendar taking up space on your teacher desk when you have a laptop. Whenever you go online, you can see upcoming events on your Google Calendar gadget. 
Encourage students to use iGoogle to keep themselves organized with school
  • Even if you have a team Google Calendar online, students must still go to the website to look at the calendar. This takes effort. With an iGoogle homepage, the calendar is there staring them in the face each time they go online (which as we know, is quite often).
  • Students can change gadgets as needed throughout the year for different units or projects.
Increase communication and collaboration among students
  • iGoogle (and Gmail) has a built-in chat feature. Students can chat with each other and collaborate over homework assignments. 
  • If teachers are online and make themselves visible to their students, students could chat with them as well with questions they may have.   
Additional Resources

iGoogle in the Classroom (pdf)
iGoogle YouTube Tutorial

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blog on Blogger

The term Web 2.0 was first used in 1999 by Darcy DiNucci in her "Fragmented Future" article, but it did not become popular until 2004 when O'Reilly Media hosted the world' first Web 2.0 Conference. In the early phases of the World Wide Web, the user experience was very one-directional. We visited websites and read information. There was no opportunity for most people to write information unless they were skilled with HTML coding and web design. This era is now known as Web 1.0

Web 2.0 can also be referred to as the Read/Write Web. The Internet today is very different than it was ten years. Now, it is very easy for anyone to both read and write information online. This can be done in numerous ways ranging from Twitter and Facebook to commenting on news websites. Nothing quite says "read/write" like blogging though. Blogs (or weblogs) are similar to a website that is created and maintained by an individual or small group of people. These blogs typically have a focused topic and audience in mind and can be on just about anything ranging from scrapbooking to video games to education.

In order to be considered a true blog though, it must be a Web 2.0 experience. Others can "follow" or "subscribe" to blogs, post comments, and can share posts via Facebook, Twitter, or email to friends. Instead of a static blog, it becomes more of a community where information gets shared back and forth numerous ways. As the author of a blog, you should provide links throughout your posts so your readers can follow those links and get more information.

There are many popular blogging platforms out there aimed at teachers and students including Edublogs and 21Classes, but I choose to use Google's Blogger site. All three of these options have their differences, and I suggest you explore all three. Edublogs and 21Classes are probably the better options if you plan on having students set up their own individual blogs. Both of those sites have free basic plans with upgradeable options. I choose Blogger because it's very intuitive for me and, being part of Google, is easily integrated into my other Google apps such as Google Docs.

Ideas for blogging

Establish a reflective teacher blog.
  • This is the intention for this blog. I will be reflecting about my practices and use of technology throughout the school year.
Create a class blog. 
  • The blog can be used as a class/team website with posted homework and curriculum links. 
  • Many teachers who are not tech savvy use blogs in this manner. Students can reply to your posts or students can even be allowed to create their own posts. 
  • You can have different pages for different subjects or links. It is relatively easy to embed pictures, videos, or even a Google Calendar. 
Have students use blogs as e-portfolios.  
  • There is a growing trend in education to have students create online portfolios of their work throughout the year using blogs, websites, Google Apps, or some other presentation format. 
  • This is a great way of using technology to build upon formative assessments and something I am considering for the future!
Create a blog for a specific project.
  • Set up the blog for a particular science project or maybe an ELA book students will be reading. 
  • Students can then post their results or analyze the theme of the book via blog posts. The best part about this is that other students can then read and comment on the writing of their peers.

Some other resources

Ten ways to use your Edublog to teach. 

2009 Edublog Awards
Has some excellent examples of teachers using blogs in the classroom

Getting Started with Edublogs

How-To Video: Creating a classroom blog with 21 Classes

How-To Video: How to create a classroom blog with Blogger