Monday, April 30, 2007

What's a...Widget?


a generic term for the part of a graphical user interface that allows the user to interface with the application and operating system. Widgets display information and invite the user to act in a number of ways. Typical widgets include buttons, dialog boxes, pop-up windows, pull-down menus, icons, scroll bars, resizable window edges, progress indicators, selection boxes, windows, tear-off menus, menu bars, toggle switches and forms."
from Technology and Learning April 2007 edition

Want to put Sudoko on your Blog? Check out for more info and other interesting and useful widgets.

Authentic News for ESL/EFL Learners

Check out this great site for some comprehensive news selections for ESL learners. Author and Webmaster Sean Banville prepares some ready to use lessons based on breaking news stories. Several new stories are presented each week at different levels with wonderful links; stories can be downloadable in Word.doc + PDF formats and range from very current ones to those dating back to Nov. '04. News articles can be viewed chronologically or by specific themes, including: Business English, Environment, Health, Issues, Lifestyle, Famous People and Gossip, Technology, and World News. These selections include a great variety of pre-reading activities to enhance vocabulary and overall comprehension and discussion questions with answers included. Listening is also available. In addition, Mr. Banville offers a free sample (PDF) showing various parts of his book, "1,000 Ideas & Activities for Language Teachers." Free website with donations accepted. You will be quite impressed with how comprehensive this site is!

Thanks, Robin. I would use this in conjuction with:
Today's Front Pages
ESL Business News: A weekly podcast of international business news read in slow, clear English. Listen to the podcast and follow along in the accompanying script.
Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab

Also, from Wikibooks: This is a method for slowing the speed on computers of any spoken programs:

Speed Control (Variable-Speed Playback)
"Intermediate-level FL learners will undoubtedly find that many of the radio programs produced for domestic audiences use language that is simply too fast for good comprehension. While there is nothing one can do about this for normal broadcast radio, there are ways to control the speed of Internet radio.
Versions 9 and 10
Windows Media Player (WMP) for Windows XP includes a variable speed playback control for locally stored files in WMA, WMV, WM, MP3 or ASF format. Speed can be varied continuously from half (0.5) to twice (2.0) normal speed without changing the pitch of the audio (avoiding the “chipmunk effect”). (Users of WMP 9 should note that only slow (0.5), normal and fast (1.4) speeds can be selected from the Play command (Play > Play Speed). To set the playback speed anywhere between 0.5 and 2.0 (including negative speeds for backwards listening of some files!) go to View > Enhancements > Play Speed Settings.)
Although WMP speed control cannot be used for live or recorded (on-demand) streaming audio, some providers of FL Internet radio allow users to download their archived audio programs. Radio France Internationale, for example, allows users to download (“télécharger”) all of its recent news broadcasts in both RealPlayer and WPM format (go to
audiocarte). One can download the desired broadcast in WMP by clicking on the WMP icon (an arrowhead inside of a multicolored circle) and then play it back as slow as 0.5 using the WMP 9 player for Windows XP.
QuickTime Player version 7 and higher (free) for Macintosh and Windows also permits speed control on playback of MP3 and some other types of audio files as well as MP4 (video). To use this feature, go to Windows -> Show A/V Controls and move the slider anywhere from 1/2 to three times normal speed. The ability of QuickTime Player to vary the playback speed of MP3 and MP4 files means that it is possible to play any audio or video podcasts at a slower or faster speed than normal. By right-clicking on an audio or video podcast in iTunes and selecting "Show Song File," the selected file can be opened and played with QuickTime Player instead of with iTunes which does not provide speed control.
iTunes does not allow variable-speed playback. However, by right-clicking (control-click for Macintosh) on a desired track and selecting "Show Song File", it is easy to find the actual MP3 file. Then right-clicking on the file will allow you to play the file using Windows Media Player or QuickTime Player. On the Macintosh with OS X, it is possible to drage the file into the QuickTime Player icon if you have this on your task bar to play the file."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Commentary: Sotir: What, Now It's Web 3.0??? (Updated 4/30/2007)

All I can say is that I hope you were all paying attention when I noted that the WWW has been upgraded to Web 2.0. I say that because this morning I ran across an article in about Web 3.0. Basically, the concept is to create a 'semantic Web development environment and database that will make computers smarter.' According to Information Week, 'Semantic technology, which helps computers understand data better, is particularly useful when combining large data sets...A keyword search generally returns only documents that contain the queried keyword. A semantic search would return ones related to the specific meaning of the search term (i.e., military tank but not water tank), as well as those related to synonyms (i.e., armored vehicles). '
OK, I think I have effectively embraced the interactive/collaborative/participational/'we are the world' side of Web 2.0 but before I even feel totally comfortable with that ( BTW: my original Web 2.0 commentary has not even been archived yet), they start developing Web 3.0. Hey, I use the browser on my cell phone several times a day. I check my Blogs AND I can download the newest Podcasts off of my phone. I am there, baby. Oh yeah. Bleeding edge blah,blah,blah. But now Web 3.0 touts an effort to make computers even smarter. Uh,what about us? Who's working on making US smarter?

I don't know about you, but I have to go upgrade my memory chips and take an aspirin 4.0.

update: April 30, 2007: For a very comprehensive article on Web 2.0 with an educational bent, check out: The Web 2.0 'Pocket Dictionary' is especially good.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chat and Email in English

The English Maze allows students to find other English students worldwide to practice English skills. Students from any age (to 60+) can find online 'friends' to converse with, and can choose by occupation, country, age etc.

English Idioms and Proverbs

Meanings and examples of idioms and proverbs, with drawings by students to illustrate.

Diagramming Sentences

Do you ever wish you had a site that will help with diagramming sentences? Here it is~!

Using Microsoft Word

Modules for lessons on using Microsoft Word.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Commentary: Sotir: Mom Blogs

When major media freaked at the news last month that moms in droves were ditching TV morning shows in favor of mommy blogs, one group wasn't at all surprised – the mommy bloggers and readers themselves.
Because the reality behind the startling statistic – nearly 450,000 women TV viewers lost last season (a decline of about 10 percent) – is as up close and personal as your next-door neighbor. One reader of my blog captured this intimacy perfectly:
"I really see the blogging community, for moms, as an 'over the back fence' community. Our grandmothers would visit with other neighbors as they hung out the laundry, they would chat with the milkman maybe, or catch up at the butcher shop, but in modern times we live in a world of strangers. It really brings in a sense of community."
Christian Science Monitor: Moms help moms through blogs: By Barbara Curtis, Tue Apr 3

Why would anyone think this is a surprising statistic? Think about the age of the average new mom. In her twenties or early thirties, and if she didn't have technology at the moment of her birth, she had it by the time she went to grade school. Sure, its changed dramatically since that point, but while TV worked for the Boomer moms, this group needs more interaction, and venues such as I-Village and Blogs makes sense. Balancing work and kids and marriage means time is at a premium. Sitting down to watch a TV show, even with TIVO, is a major time commitment. The Internet is open and available 24/7. It's the middle of the night and your baby has colic? Get on the computer and the entire world will give you advice. Does it take a village? Yes, if it's a virtual one.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Commentary: New Tools: Citizendium

From TechLearning (

Wikipedia Rival Goes Live
Citizendium, a new, free, user-created online encyclopedia, is designed to avoid some of the pitfalls that have bedeviled Wikipedia. While anyone can read and edit Citizendium, they will have to use a real name to do so. Larry Sanger, one of the co-founders of Wikipedia, believes that anonymity contributes to some of Wikipedia's more publicized faults. The volunteer contributors to Citizendium are expected to provide their real names, have that identify confirmed and submit a short biography. And their contributions will be reviewed for accuracy by experts in given fields. Sanger originally conceived of Citizendium as a fork of Wikipedia. A fork copies everything in a given product and then goes off in its own direction. But he decided that it made more sense to start from scratch than to first mine the Wikipedia content for any potential "gold." Given the increased barriers to participation, it's likely to be some time, if ever, before Citizendium, approaches Wikipedia's three million member accounts. Citizendium currently has about 900 authors and 200 editors. Of its 1,100 articles, only 11 display the green check that indicates that it has been "approved" by editors.

A lot of the workshops and lectures I do on technology center around Blogs and Wikis and podcasts etc. The question 'how many know what a Wiki is?' is generally followed by blank stares, until I give them Wikipedia as a base. Ah yes, most have heard of Wikipedia, and many have used it. For several years now, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia ( has been drawing us into an interactive format for providing information. I tend to think that it epitomizes the Web 2.0 school of thought, where information is in constant flux and readers are more active participants.
Citizendium is the new kid on the block. Like everything else, it was inevitable that even the venerated Wikipedia would need a 2.0 type upgrade. To be fair, Wikipedia itself has evolved through its rather short life, but as with many things, there are inherent 'flaws', not the least being the relative anonymity of its authors. Citizendium takes on those flaws and ups the ante.
I see Wikipedia as more the free-spirited, few rules hippie-type, and Citizendium being its more matured boomer type brother. Viva revolution! Check it out:

Commentary: Words of Wisdom

Tech Learning Quotes of the Month
The annual SUN Worldwide Education and Research Conference was held in February in San Francisco, with this year's theme being Education 2.0: Education in the Participation Age. The following quotes are from a student panel addressing educators, business executives, and researchers.
"In the '00s, information is being recognized as more valuable than ever before, and we're exchanging information at a much higher level than the previous age group."—University of California Berkeley student Darian Shirazi, explaining why universities should not limit information access through filtering.
"When college kids go on the Internet, they're not browsing. They know what they're looking for."—Santa Clara University's Lori Ma on how students are going to Google and other Internet sites for initial research rather than the campus library.
Also in February in San Francisco was the 26th annual Teaching Reading and Learning Diversity Conference, sponsored by reading software company Don Johnston. More than 600 educators and research professionals shared innovations and insights relevant to all aspects of technology and literacy. Below are a few highlights:
"By the year 2020, intellectual property as we know it will not exist." Mike Hall, technology director for the State of Georgia, on one aspect of the future impact of digital content.
"They're tech savvy, but not for teaching."—Sheryl Abshire, administrative coordinator of technology at Calcasieu Parish School System, on the high turnover rate of first-and second-year teachers and the need for high-quality professional development.
"The only people ready to use all the technology all the time are the students."—Eugene, Oregon's Howard Elementary school principal Kim Finch, speaking of her school's "journey of digital infusion."
source: Technology and Learning Magazine

I am a sucker for good quotes, and these really made me stop and think. The first quote "In the '00s, information is being recognized as more valuable than ever before, and we're exchanging information at a much higher level than the previous age group."— refers to universities not limiting information access through filtering. That is a valid point. Much of the learning applied today is through information gathering, not just the information itself. Filters, while arguably necessary, often filter the good with the bad, limiting access.

The second quote "When college kids go on the Internet, they're not browsing. They know what they're looking for."— also drives home the same point. While the campus library is still a viable resource, it is the ability to access information from many sources that defines the education process of today. We have become 'googlized' with the availability of search sites growing exponentially. Tools such as Technorati( allow us to pull information from specific sources such as blogs, and give us the ability to further winnow down the information to the most relevant. And do the kids know how to search? By the time they get to the college level, yes. There is no way they can get through the amount of information available without developing that skill. However, with new technologies and search engines developing daily, that is a skill that requires constant upgrading to remain viable.

The quote on intellectual content: "By the year 2020, intellectual property as we know it will not exist."— also makes sense. Look at the number of top flight universities putting their intellectual content online, without cost. You can virtually 'attend' these institutions without leaving home. Streaming videos and podcasts give you access to the best professors, and even textbooks, long a bastion for intellectual content rights, are being made available online. It is no longer the information that is valuable, but rather the way the information is analyzed. As I have often said, merely having access to information is not the same as being able to use that information effectively. We were all bombarded with the phrase 'critical thinking skills' in the last part of the previous century, and that skill is even more necessary today. I think we have probably moved from 'critical thinking' to 'critical analysis', but the ability to sort through available information is indeed a critical skill.

"They're tech savvy, but not for teaching."—is unfortunately too true. Just having the tech skills does not mean you can use the skills appropriately to teach. What I see often in professional development is the lack of base understanding for using the skills being taught effectively. My sister-in-law is a teacher who wants to use technology in her classes, but is a late immigrant to the tech revolution. She said that often professional development programs sound like the 'wa wa wa' of the teacher from Charlie Brown. A lot of talk, but, without the base skills to put context into what she is supposed to be learning, it all flys over her head. Her base of knowledge is not appropriate to utilize the skill.

In addition to getting everyone on the same page prior to teaching a new skill or program, it is essential that the timing and experience coincides with actual use. Imagine learning how to use a computer without the computer in front of you. You see all that it can do, but with no actual hands-on use, the learning process is severely compromised. Professional development needs to be professionally developed as well. In some cases, it may be effective to give instructors a pre-test prior to the professional development program to determine the experience level of the audience. That survey may mean the difference between an effective PD program and a waste of time and resources.

I don't necessarily agree with the last quote "The only people ready to use all the technology all the time are the students."— Students are not all equally tech savvy either. It's true they are probably less afraid to use technology, but that does not equate with having the actual skill for using the technology. I think it is short-sighted to assume that we don't need to teach students how to use technology effectively. They may have been doing PowerPoint since the first grade, but that does not mean that they can create an effective PowerPoint presentation.

I can go to my high school and college-aged nephews and still make them say 'huh? what is that???' when I bring up the newest tech toys and tools. There is just too much out there. These are kids who were brought up on technology. Their father is an IT manager and their mother is a teacher. They can pull apart a computer with ease (and I often go to them to do just that), but it's hard to keep up with the newest technologies. That's when they come to their aunt. I think that today's kids are born cable ready, but that alone is not enough. I believe that the previous quote about new instructors being tech savvy, but not for teaching, bears this out. We need to re-design the curriculum from the students up to the instructors, without making assumptions on the way. Just as in any curriculum, skill levels tend to vary. We have to understand those differences, and learn to teach accordingly. As Aldous Huxley said, it is indeed 'a brave new world'.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tutor Workshop April 25 1-2:30

On Wednesday, April 25th I will be doing a workshop for Literacy tutors which will be a hands-on Computer Tech Workshop from 1-2:30 in the AELC. We will make arrangements for current students, but please do not schedule any tours during that time.