Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Reliability of web info

A recent article on eSchool News Online discusses concerns of educators about the reliability of web information. (See “Reliability of web challenges educators.”) The article raises valid points but does not discuss some options that are available to educators.

Students and adults are using web based information for research, often to the point where traditional paper based resources are not used very often. I know that I am guilty of this, if guilty is the right word.

I tend to use traditional resources, but the online versions. In our district we subscribe to eLibrary, which provides us with full text articles from hundreds of periodicals, newspapers and books. This includes Newsweek, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and UPI. They also have an online dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, almanac and atlas. Other publications like TimeSports IllustratedUS News & World ReportNational GeographicGrolier’s OnlineCNN, and CNN Student News are also available online. In North Dakota we have access to many other resources such as Medline & ERIC through the Online Dakota Information NetworkAmazon is even allowing you to Search Inside the Book for certain terms or facts. And the Gutenberg Project provides the full text of many classical books that are out of copyright as well as many other resources that are in the public domain.

We just need to make sure that students (and adults) understand what are considered reliable resources. I remember when a presenter gave each person in the room a book from their personal library and gave us five minutes to prepare a summary. Some were fiction, some were reference books, some were non-fiction, some were textbooks and others were biographies. In most cases the person responsible for the summary of the book listed the publisher, the original and latest publication dates, the author and their credentials, and other facts to support the credibility of the book. How often do we ask students to do this with their sources?

Teachers can also prepare lists of web sites that students could use and make them available on a handout or web site or through a resource like FurliKeepBookmarks or I am currently using Furl to bookmark my recent finds, and then they are organized into our curriculum links and thematic linksWebQuests are often used to define a problem and provide resources to research the problem without “wandering” around the Internet.

We have a district wide subscription to netTrekker, a service that hand picks web sites for educational purposes and also correlates them to state standards.

Another tool that is useful in handling the amount of information found on the web is Grokker. This organizes search results into categories and displays the results in a graphical Venn diagram that allows teachers and students to “drill down” to essential information.
I don’t feel that using the Internet for research is something to be concerned about. There is a lot of great reference materials on the net that is easy for students and adults to access. We just need to make sure that we make people aware that they have to be careful about the resources they use and also help guide them to the “good stuff.”

Professional Development Resource

A recent e-mail from eSchoolNews had the subject line “Answers for all of your software questions” and promotes a new addition to theirProfessional Development Resource Center. This new addition that they are promoting is Atomic Learning.

If you have not seen this resource, you should check it out. There is an offer for a free trial and you might have some time to check it out over the holidays.
We have been using Atomic Learning in our district for over five years and keep expanding its use each year. It is a way to provide staff development 24/7, often to teachers who can’t fit scheduled workshops into their schedule.

Atomic Learning was started by a group of technology coordinators in the Minnesota area who wanted to help teachers and students learn to use software that is used in schools. For each software program they put together short video clips, usually 60 to 90 seconds long, each showing one topic such as inserting a picture into an iMovie, adjusting the color tone of a photo in Photoshop Elements, etc. And they made them available over the web.

They now have over 12,000 clips that cover Macintosh and Windows software programs such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, InDesign, AppleWorks, MS Word, MS Access, Excel, iMovie, MovieMaker 2, Dreamweaver, Flash, and Powerpoint.

They also have tutorials on school specific software such as Graph Club, eZedia QTI, Kid Pix, Inspiration, netTrekker, Media Blender, TimeLiner, and Geometer’s Sketchpad. Check out the entire list ofsoftware titles they support on their web site.

I use this resource when I want to quickly learn a new software program (eZedia QTI, MovieMaker 2, Garage Band). And they are continually adding new resources – I plan to go through their Photoshop Elements 3 tutorials over the holiday break.

I teach an online course in Advanced Web Site Design for our local university. I have my students use the Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash and Photoshop Elements tutorials from Atomic Learning. Each semester the students rate these tutorials as the best resource they had – better than the Dreamweaver Bible (the required text) and Internet resources I provide them.

If you like this type of resource for software, you should also check Their tutorials are aimed more at the business user and the subscription cost is more expensive, but the tutorials are very well done. We have subscribed to for two people, myself and our graphic designer, and have found it very helpful.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Video resources for the classroom

One of this weeks top stories on the eSchool News web site is aboutroyalty-free videos available to schools through Discovery Education’s united streaming. This is a great resource, allowing teachers to access educational videos “on demand.”

I have been in education long enough to remember ordering science films from our “state film library” each spring and making lesson plans based on when they would arive in the mail. The films arrived on 16mm film reals and had to be returned within a few days of arrival.
Now, using unitedstreaming, a teacher could bring up a video clip dealing with earthquakes, volcanos or rainforests within minutes of a “teachable moment.”

In case you are not aware of this, one school in each “non-participating” public school district can obtain a free subscription to unitedstreaming. A 30 day free trial is also available to any teacher who wants to check it out.

We obtained the free subscription for one of our middle schools and since then have expanded this to four elementary schools. My hope is to get all our schools using this resource.

My browser of choice – Firefox

On the eSchool News web site one of the top news stories is aboutFirefox: the new browser contender.
Three reasons given for the current interest in this browser are security, tabs and similarity in Mac and Windows versions. These are three good reasons to make the switch (which I did several months ago). All our new installations include Firefox as our primary browser, even though we still install Explorer and Safari.

There are several other reasons to switch to Firefox. It seems to be faster in most situations. You can place several bookmarks in a folder in the toolbar and open them all up into seperate tabs at one time – a nice way to start out the day opening those sites you check daily.

Firefox also has support for RSS feeds, allowing you to monitor blogs and news sources (including the eSchool News RSS feed) through your “favorites” or bookmarks. All you have to do is mouse over the bookmark and get the top news stories or recent posts to show up in an extended window.

Firefox is a stripped down version of the Mozilla Suite, without the e-mail, newsgroup, chat and web design features. If you want a mail program to run on your Windows machine instead of Outlook, check out Thunderbird. (I still use OS X Mail on my Macs but made the switch on my Windows machine.) Reasons to make this switch include speed, ease of blocking pop-ups site by site, and security (mainly from viruses). It also has a feature that allows you to save a search as a mail folder, and any time you click on that folder the search will be executed and the matching e-mail messages will be displayed. Firefox also allows you to monitor RSS feeds.

A new calendar application, Sunbird, is currently being developed, with the target being users of Firefox and Thunderbird.