Oct 112008

My Year 10 class took a well-deserved break today to have some fun with Flickr and the Big Huge Labs Motivator tool. The initial part of the lesson covered copyright issues and Creative Commons, then we got to work with the Motivator tool to create some posters on the theme of urban morphology. No particular reason – just some gratuitous creativity.

Here’s some examples:

Oct 262007

Introducing Google Apps

Google Apps offers a way for students and teachers to communicate and share ideas easily. Of course you can share documents by email, but the reality is likely to be that students own computers with different platforms and software versions. Wikis are great for collaborative web pages, but a Google Apps community offers more privacy and is easy to set up. ICT managers at school may balk at first – the idea of students having a second email account and possibly access to IM Chat, may raise hackles. But we’re here to encourage students to collaborate, to improve peer assessment and assessment for learning and the tools provided by Google are in many cases superior to those offered by a VLE. They are also free!

Imagine then the possibilities…

It’s a weekend and your class is at home, from where they can access your learning community via a web page. Logging into their personalized area, they find their online documents as well as their email. The teacher has shared a basic revision guide with the whole class. Individual students can modify the guide, adding their own contributions to create a collaborative resource. The teacher can check the revisions to see which student’s have contributed.

Student A is finishing a piece of coursework. She shares it with her teacher who makes some annotations in a different colour. Both teacher and student are working on the document simultaneously even though student A has a PC, and the teacher a Mac.

Student B has lost his homework diary. He receives an SMS text from the online Calendar mentioning the deadline is for the following day. He cancels his engagements and stays up half the night finishing your homework!

Student C has produced a brilliant expose of the limitations of the Hoyt model. With her permission you share it with those students who need a little inspiration.

Student D is working on an assignment. He passes it to student C, his critical friend who provides a little input. He then shares it with the teacher. The teacher notes that student D has worked hard but also takes the time to commend the diligence of the critical friend, whose contributions can be seen on the page revisions history.

Student E loses their folder. However their coursework is safely stored online.

Student F does some brilliant research on Fair Trade. He shares his work with the teacher who publishes it as a web page. Student F notices the teacher is online, so contacts him via IM, and makes some corrections.

Setting up Google Apps

Starting from scratch, the first step is to visit the Google Apps homepage and sign up for a new account. At this point you can opt to register a domain name through Google. It costs £4.70 per year and avoids you having to worry about configuring your existing email accounts. I recommend this option! Once your new domain is ready you can sign into your Google Apps account dashboard and start building your community.

dash The dashboard

I began by creating a single test account. Once you are ready to set up accounts for a class it’s easiest to create a bulk list of user names. This can be simply done using a spreadsheet, saved as a .csv file and uploaded to Google Apps.

Your users will need to be able to access the learning community. I used Google Pages to create a web site for my new domain. The homepage contains links to other pages and learning resources as well as a Google Calendar for homework deadlines. It also contains the link to the individual user’s start page.

home A web page for a learning community

The start page is where the individual user can log into the community and can be wholly or partly customizable by the students. Here is the start page for my community. I have opted to create a lockable section with a link to their email and Google Docs as well as a small section for announcements and news.

start The start page for the community

The final stage would be to apply for an upgrade to the Education Edition of Google Apps, which will increase the opportunities for support, though you don’t get any extra features over the standard version. (Compare versions here)

Working with the learning community

The community is now up and running. Students have their own email address and Google account. They can create and share Google documents presentations and spreadsheets and communicate via email and IM chat (although this feature is suspended at the moment.) I can keep a copy of documents sent to me for assessment and share examples of particularly good work, or resources produced collaboratively by other members of the class. I can enter homework deadlines into my own Google Calendar which then appear immediately on the calendar on my home page. (Students can subscribe to this calendar and can even opt to receive emails or SMS alerts for homework deadlines!) I find it easier to give written feedback by typing directly into their documents and I think the students prefer this method of marking. The Google Apps community doesn’t provide full access to the many other useful Google tools, for example My Maps and Picasa. To access these resources a separate Google account is required, however students could easily sign up using their community email address. At this point, vast horizons of possibility open up, which extend of course, far beyond the realms of Google. I’ve always preferred Flickr over Picasa for example, and it would be good to see students exploring and selecting web 2.0 tools on their own.

What about the VLE?

At some point in the next few months our school will adopt a VLE. I don’t want to set up a system that will work in direct opposition, though I’m mindful of the limitations of the VLE implementations I’ve seen. I’m concerned that many VLEs seem to be little more than electronic filing cabinets linked to robotic assessment practices. Few commercial VLEs seem to truly promote a constructivist approach to learning, and I’m hopeful that teachers at my school will be able to use the best online tools for the purpose rather than being required to use less effective tools that are part of the VLE. Shared calendars and blogging tools are key examples. I see my learning community working alongside the VLE, neither replacing nor competing with it. The VLE will host the school website, user and assessment data and shared documents. The Google Apps community serves to encourage effective communication, assessment and collaborative practices while avoiding platform and software incompatibilities.


 ICT, Office applications, Teaching resources  Comments Off on Slideshare
Oct 282006

Thanks to Tony Cassidy for news of Slideshare, an application that allows you to share presentation files with students who may not have PowerPoint installed on their PCs. Here’s an example:

[Slideshare presentation now removed]

This presentation, and a similar one can be seen at my Slideshare space

Sep 092006

Can it get any better? Well now that EditGrid supports charts in the latest version, I’m unable to think of any improvements. The legendary Valery35 has continued to push the possibilities with KML and his recent spreadsheet examples can plot point and line information in Google Maps/Earth as well as graphics in Google Earth (although to be honest it’s all getting a bit hard for me to follow)

Aug 232006

Thanks to Geography 2.0: Virtual Globes for news that excellent online spreadsheet EditGrid now has an official add-on that supports the creation of KML for spreadsheet data. This means that spreadsheet data can be displayed on a Google Map or Google Earth.

Online spreadsheets lend themselves to all sorts of collaborative projects, whether sharing weather data, fieldwork measurements or any other kind of spatially located information. EditGrid is very student-friendly and intuitive to work with, as the following demonstration shows.
I have created a open spreadsheet which is dynamically illustrated below (i.e it will update when the data set is edited.)

Online Spreadsheet by user/juicygeography.

Feel free to edit and contribute to the spreadsheet, click the “done” button and observe the changes in the map below. I would be interested in ideas for potential projects. Note that the spreadsheet requires longitude and latitude in decimal format. Here is an online converter. Many online maps, such as Multimap will output coordinates as decimal degrees to save the hassle.

The spreadsheet can also be seen in Google Earth.
google earth link
Click here for the file.

Note that you’ll need to refresh the network link once loaded in Google Earth in order to see any changes to the spreadsheet. (Right-click on the folder and choose ‘refresh’)
I wonder how long it will be before Google Spreadsheets adds similar functionality? There are other free online spreadsheets, for example IRows which offers a chart function. EditGrid remains my favourite for several reasons. It’s very easy to use, there are several options for exporting the data and publishing to web pages. Judging by the EditGrid blog there’s lots more features to come soon, including charts (yay!) EditGrid is open source, free to use and a triumph for the developers.

Jan 112006

It’s possible to run a Google Earth file from within PowerPoint. I use Office XP, so the procedure could be different on other versions, but is quite straight forward.
Save a Google Earth .kmz file on your computer and insert it as an object. When the Insert Object dialogue pops up choose Create From File and browse for the selected file. In PowerPoint, right click the new object and choose Action Settings. In the new dialogue, select Object Action and Activate Contents. Finally you might want to improve the visual appeal of the Object, which can be done using Format Object.

Thats it. Now you can fly out of PowerPoints!