Sunday, October 22, 2006

Google Docs

Joanna asked what I thought of Google Docs. I have to admit that I really find it hard to make myself use it. I have always disliked the big Microsoft conglomeration of tools that can be accessed through one simple log-in. I feel the same way about Google. I am not convinced that I wan't them controlling my online life any more than I wanted Microsoft to do it.

I am planning to really look seriously at ZohoWriter and ThinkFree and any other smaller word processors I can find before I try to sue one with my students. It seems like there are new tools out there on an almost daily basis.

The only problem is that all these little companies are hoping to go the route of Writely and be gobbled up by some big company someday. I don't think you can pick one of these and expect to use them forever. I guess you might have to be happy if you can make it through to the end of the semester before you have to look for a replacement.

My presentation

Well, I went to the conference prepared for anything -- and it was a good idea. We couldn't find a computer lab that we could actually use, so I was either going to borrow a LCD projector or just going to have people gather around my laptop to see the presentation that is below. It ended up, though, that we found a lab we could use and we worked from this outline. We didn't get through all of it, of course, but I tried to address their main concerns, which seemed to center around publishing student work. All in all, it went well.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I can't keep up!

Things are changing so fast that I officially can't keep up! I was preparing a presentation for tomorrow on technology and writing for the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project. We weren't sure if I would be doing it in a computer lab where the participants would sit at their own computers and follow along as I did things or if I would need to do it as a PowerPoint presentation, so I prepared a PowerPoint to use in case I don't have Internet access.

I got it all done -- and then Writely officially became Google Docs. So I updated the URLs and made other little changes.

Then I heard that I will probably have Internet access, so I had to figure out the best way to cover all the same ground as I had in my PowerPoint (actually, OpenOffice Impress) presentation. I decided the easiest way would probably to put it all in a wiki. So I finally sat down and more or less figured out how to work with wikis. So now I have the links and everything there.

Then I read some posts to a literacy list I subscribe to, and I heard about Quick Topic, which allows you to add a discussion board to a website. So I set one up for the presentation to allow participants to introduce themselves and express their questions and interests. So if, as it now looks, each participant will have access to a computer, they will be able to post their introduction and tell what they hope to get from the presentation. After reading these, I will be able to shape the direction of the presentation. Of course, if no one expresses interest in or curiosity about anything, I can always go back to the prepared information.

I am almost afraid to check my Bloglines account again until after tomorrow morning because I don't want to get any more great ideas for my presentation! But I can't believe how much I have learned this week as I seriously began to put all this together!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A good question

Nathan posted a great comment on my previous post and asked a good question:
If we take away the "because it's convenient for the teacher" criterion, what else -- besides blog-or-not -- goes up for negotiation?

Any thoughts?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Rethinking blogging... again

Joanna posted a response to my reflection on the semester that got me thinking. She said that she had decided not to blog with her students now since there are so many other options out there, like Writely.

I wonder if there isn't some wisdom in that. Blogging is, at its best anyway, a personal endeavor as the result of a personal commitment. Who was is it a year or so ago who said that blogging shouldn't be something students had to do but rather something they did because they wanted to? Is that true?

I wonder what it would be like, if it would be possible to offer students a variety of outlets for their work and let them choose the one(s) they wanted to use. If a student wanted to blog, he could. If he only wanted to post inside Moodle, he could. If another wanted to use Writely, she could. Would there be any value in that? I know it would be a nightmare to try to evaluate student work if it were spread over too many different repositories - unless you have as few students as I do. But would there be value in allowing students that kind of freedom?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Write to My Blog

Joanna blogged about Write to My Blog and, being totally captivated by neat little applications and websites, I had to try it.

A while back I had written that I didn't think I would have a reason to type something up outside my blog and then post it to the blog, but I think it might have value.  Let's see how this works! 

Reflection on the semester so far

This semester has been the most interesting one I have had for awhile. The main reason for this, I think, is the fact that we decided to make the ESL courses "blended", with have the class hours done face to face and the other half done online using Moodle. I have been really fascinated by the use of technology in my classes for several years now, so this has been an exciting step.

So far it seems to be working quite well. My students seem to think they are being overworked, but they always had that opinion. What I see is that they are becoming more responsible for themselves and their learning. The transition hasn't always been easy, but for the most part it hasn't been bad.

Even before decided to put the classes online, I had decided not to use blogs with my students this semester. I wrote about that here. I am very glad that I made that decision. I have used Moodle's forum feature extensively with both my reading and my writing students. (That's like BlackBoard's Discussion Board, for those who don't know.) It has taken time, but they are learning to reply to each others' posts. They are having discussions that, increasingly, don't involve me. I am so excited by this fact that I am thinking about incorporating blogs again in the spring. Part of it, I know, is that my doing the work of putting the classes on Moodle, I have spent more time thinking on creating good assignments. That was part of the problem before; my assignments weren't quite right considering the responses I was hoping to get. Now my assignments lend themselves more to discussion. I have not made any definite decisions about this yet, of course, but I see it as a distinct possibility. I just need to think more about what I think they would gain by blogging rather than using a forum. I want to be clear about the reasons for switching before I do it.

So all in all, I am pretty happy with how things are going. The students also seem to be happy. We are off to a good start.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Work space

Kathy Sierra's post on the importance of the space in which we work got me thinking. I looked around my office and was appalled! But then I said, "Well, you don't spend that much time here, so maybe it's OK." And then I thought about where I usually work when I am at home. Not much better. Between the two places, I spend a considerable amount of time each day working in less than inspiring surroundings.

Then I thought back to where we lived before Katrina, a dilapidated old house with a great front porch overlooking the river. Now there was a place to work! It was so peaceful and inspiring and yet so full of life at the same time that I think I actually could get more done in less time.

The question, of course, is what am I going to do about this. Kathy went out and bought an old Airstream and converted it into her office. It looks beautiful. But that doesn't seem to be in the cards for me. I think I really need to do something, though.