Don’t be afraid ~ give me Google Apps

It was really fun to read Head in the Clouds from friend and ICT integrator Michael, who works in a large secondary school here in Sydney. I always enjoyed visitng Michael, and admired the sensible way that he adopts Web 2.0 and cloud computing in great ways to support the learning of the students at his school.

Michael says:

Over the past few days, it’s been very hard to contain my excitement over Google’s recent moves to add all the applications from standard Google accounts to Google Apps for Education. While the core suite of applications – Mail, Docs and Calendar – are extremely useful and have put my school on the Web 2.0 map, I’ve been so disappointed that other Google apps like Reader, Picasa and Blogger have been off-limits for so long.

Sure, students can create their own Google accounts, you say? Having worked with frustrated teachers and students who all-too-easily forget usernames and passwords, I’ve really come to appreciate the ability to control accounts as the school administrator and have kids quickly online and using the tools they need to get ahead.

Now when all of my students log in, they get immediate access to an incredibly powerful set of Web 2.0 applications without the need to enter a single name or additional password! Exploring these is going to take some time, but it’s great to know they’re there for anyone to use.

As a technology expert/administrator, Michael  see this the use of these Web 2.0 Google tools as providing a level playing field for all teachers and students.

I also use Google Apps to power my own learning and my work with my PLN (though not at school).  Just last evening the invincible Teacherman79, popped up in my Gtalk, to chat briefly about some stuff he is preparing for a College class he is teaching in Virtual WorldsJeff is a middle school gifted and talented teacher in Montana, and he just wanted someone to run a ‘critical friend’s’ eye over  a handout he was preparing to facilitate kids  choosing  their  OWN way of learning pathway.

You guessed it – he shared his Google Doc with me, and within minutes we were editing that document together ~ and enjoying working! Realtime collaboration is very powerful.

Just one tiny example from me!

In case you didn’t know, here are some of the most interesting features of the new version of Google documents:

  • Real time collaboration: See updates from other collaborators as they edit the document.
  • Higher-quality imports: More consistent imports from your desktop into Google Docs.
  • Chat with other collaborators: As you make your edits, you can chat with other document editors about the changes, from within the document.
  • Ruler: Google documents have a ruler for setting margins, indentations, and tab stops.

There is  so much that teachers and students can do using Google tools these days to collaborate within their classrooms, and beyond their classrooms.

Too easy!

Now, if only more technology experts/adminstrators would take the view that Michael does ~ adapting to  and adopting cloud computing ~  instead of locking down machines and networks to proprietory systems and software within a walled garden.

Metaweb adds Semantic search value!

Google has  acquired Metaweb, which indexes things or “entities” in the world.

In a video explaining what they do, Metaweb talks about how the internet is not just words and for search to be the most relevant, it should be able to determine the context of the search term.

Last year PC World authors even called Google’s approach to search “aging” and talked about the search giant’s strategic moves to revamp its algorithms using semantic search.

via Perfect Search

Scaffolding information pathways – easy as?

Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Conference,  Bridging the Gap, was held in Stockholm, Sweden, June 29th – July 3rd 2009. the conference  focused on the best available evidence to improve library and information practice in all types of libraries.

Papers and Poster Sessions are available for download.

I was particularly interested in the presentation by JoAnne Witt (Australia) – Scaffolding students to an academic standard of information literacy. Download presentation

Questions looked at included:

  • What effect did the library training have on student selection and referencing of sources?
    Were students using “library sources”?
  • Did the mode of delivery matter?
  • Which changes to the program resulted in improvements?
  • Were students using ‘library sources’?

The research covers issues related to use of Google vs Databases -of great interest to schools. This research shows what they did to scaffold learning and improve learning outcomes.

Cuil could be the cool new way to search

CNN reports that an ex-Google team is attempting to take on the Giant with the release of their new search tool named Cuil (pronounced cool, after a character named Finn McCuill in Celtic folklore). Reports to date are not bursting with enthusiasm  – but I think that this just might be worth keeping an eye on for now.

Rather than trying to mimic Google’s method of ranking the quantity and quality of links to Web sites, Cuil’s technology drills into the actual content of a page. And Cuil’s results will be presented in a more magazine-like format instead of just a vertical stack of Web links. Cuil’s results are displayed with more photos spread horizontally across the page and include sidebars that can be clicked on to learn more about topics related to the original search request.

While criticism is easy, it is also important to remember what Google looked like in the beginning – which after all wasn’t all that long ago. I remember when AltaVista was king! and when this new search tool called Google arrived.

So what will become of Cuil?  For now, I like the fact that as soon as you enter a search term, some suggestions come up immediately to refine the term.

Just because Google has become synonymous with search, I like that an exGoogle team is building this tool, because I do think that what Google teams do is creative, imaginative and robust. If they got disenchanted, then they may be just be the developers of the next generation of search tools – or they may not 🙂  time will tell.

I am not sure how good the data being retrieved is.  My usual test of ‘pedagogy’ and ‘information literacy’ produced results that I was happy with, thought very different from Google’s results on the same topic.

I love the Explore by Category option – not a new idea, but it sits beautifully on the page to help prompt thinking and therefore searching!  This is guiding my students rather than sitting them in front of a screen full of millions of links.

Cuil claims not to rely on superficial popularity metrics, but searches for and ranks pages based on their content and relevance.

When we find a page with your keywords, we stay on that page and analyze the rest of its content, its concepts, their inter-relationships and the page’s coherency.

Oh, and it has a ‘safe search’ button – good for making kids take responsibility for their search options.

Plus I can add Cuil to my Firefox search box!

This is new. I’m going to watch this one.  PS. Phil Bradely didn’t give Cuil a wrap up – but I’m thinking we need to see how this develops before making our final judgement.

Lively Google (second) life – don’t miss this!

Have been saying for some time now that our online experiences are going to become more and more 3D. Yes, we need to explore all the options – which is why we are looking at Teen Second life as a co-curricular learning experience for our students ‘in world’ at Skoolaborate. Another option for our Year 7 students will be Quest Atlantis. But kids will get into anything that is going, so I am going to watch this closely!

Like the beginnings of the web, when we first learnt about ‘www’ searching, and visual interfaces, it is time for us now to turn our educators thoughts towards emerging 3D environments. No, we can’t put it off any longer! There are many options of course, but the most recent entry into this from Google Labs (for PC only at this stage) is Google Lively.

Second Life requires users to download and install a separate “client” software package that taps into the online world. Lively also requires a download and installation–Windows only for now–but then people can use Internet Explorer or Firefox to enter the virtual world.

Integration with the ordinary Internet takes several forms. For one thing, you can pipe in content hosted elsewhere on the Internet, including photos or videos. For another, you can embed your Lively area into your blog or, using widgets Google has written, on MySpace and Facebook Web pages. And you can e-mail your friends a normal Web address to get them to join. You can set up you own online spaces–rooms, grassy meadows, desert islands, and you can change the clothing or form of your avatar. And of course you can chat, do backflips, or whatever takes your fancy. Check out the rooms, apparel and accessories at the product catalogue. Read more about it from Ars Technicha (the art of technology).

Guardian Tech says:

At the moment, Lively doesn’t support user-generated content, so you’re stuck with whatever is available in the Google catalogue (click the “Shop for more” button),,,,,it’s another step in Google’s plan to achieve world domination…..

There are already a couple of systems like this around, such as Pelican Crossing, SceneCaster, Imvu, Meez and RocketOn (still in a closed alpha). But Google, like Microsoft, can use its market power to get Lively in front of a lot more eyeballs.

So, is this an important part of Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information”? Or is it just a cheap knock-off that will be binned by Christmas?

This is definitley another 3D thing to check out. Truth is, if it is a Google product, students will grab it and play with it, as they did with Sketch-up and Maps. Watch out world!

Stuff in the big smoke!

Oh yeh, San Franciso was covered in a haze of smoke the whole time that we were there, and our asthma played up! and we all got sick with some kind of virus leading to much swapping of lozenges, tablets and more. One of our party had to head for the doctor by the time we got to San Antonio. Why am I telling you this? Because we are soooo busy, and having such a great time, that I just haven’t kept up with all the blogging.

So since others are reporting on our tour I thought I would throw in a plug for ACCE – who through Tony Brandenburg as our tour leader, is hosting this first Study tour to NECC. The Australian Council for Computers in Education is our national peak body representing technology educators in schools here in Australia. It is not a group I personally have had any involvement with so far. But this tour has given me the opportunity to meet many of the key people active in the group – and for me I am wondering why I didn’t know such a fantastic and inspirational group of people? I have mentioned before how I believe we should have stronger relationships between groups – if only to draw on the strength and knowledge of the ‘best’ between them. If Australians are going to promote education more effectively, we have to work with and through the amazing talents of people such as those I have been touring with on the road to NECC.

Bottom line? This Study tour and the opportunities it is presenting are awesome, and the best professional learning experience I have had in my teaching career! Thank you ACCE.

Actually, there is too much to report, and not time to report it! However, I have to note that the opportunity to visit Orace, Apple and Google was just fantastic. Yes, there are many tours that visit these places, but it was a first for ACCE and we are the inaugural group to see how worthwhile (or not) it is to include these in a tour. It was particuarly interesting to hear the story from each of these companies. Oracle delivered a particularly interactive session engaging us in a discussion about education futures, as well as showing us what Oracle is doing through the Oracle foundation. Good news for us is that there is likely to be an Australian/New Zealand version of the ThinkQuest competition – making this a fantastic addition for our schools. I am hopeful that ACCE will partner with Oracle to deliver this opportunity.

The Apple briefing included a little of the Apple dream – and their version of how to change education. Awesom stuff again, though if you are not already an Apple user or familiar with Apple products, then an opportunity missed to do an expose of the innovative capacities of Apple products. No access to an Applie iPhone for us yet either! It’s worth noting that some of the tour group are using Applie iPhoto devices. They are just amazing the way they connect to the Internet and allow regular twitter updates. I felt like a dinosaur without one!

Finally, the Google plex was totally different – just the way we have all read about it. The presentation about Google appls wasn’t particularly inspiring, but we did learn a few useful things about implementation of Google tools in schools, particularly the flexibility of the education pack and it’s solution for productivity tools. We learnt of the Department of Education’s decision to migrate email to Google services for the State system of schools – and cheered at that decision!

This day of the tour was a highlight for sure. Oracle was awesome; Apple was amazing; and Google was sensational. The food at Google was amazing too – and stationed everywhere. The decore was …. well sooooo Google. If you are following along some of the pics of the tour, you will notice the little animal friend that freatures in so many pics. That is for the mini-legends, as our famous Al Upton is on tour with us too!

Gmail hacks, tips and tricks

Oh, I like this one!

I use Gmail, for lots of reasons – all related to my online professional work, and as an alternative to my work email. Integrates so well with lots of things – in my case, especially well with Google Calendar, Talk and Docs.

Here’s an extensive and very useful list of Gmail Tips, Tricks and Hacks. There are many for your to explore. Lots are new to me …… and my favourite for its simplicity and value in managing my subscriptions is the one below. Sweet!

11. Mute a conversation

Ever found yourself subscribed to a mailing list and the current conversation has nothing to do with you? If you don’t want to unsubscribe, you can easily stop the friendly spam with the Gmail mute function. Select a message in the thread and hit the m key to auto-archive all incoming messages in the conversation. The thread will stay muted until you unmute it; it will also un-mute itself if your address appears in the To or CC box.

Photo: Gmail mailbox