Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fun and Interesting Websites

I probably should have come up with this during the summer, but here is a Filamentality Hotlist of fun and interesting websites:

I posted the address in the Professional Development Hotlinks area in the right hand column, just for easy access. This has sites for travel (getting refunds on airline tickets, or Europe on the cheap), shopping (bargains and coupons), tech tools (need a fix?), entertainment (what's a good TV program?) recipes (want to know a secret recipe?) and other things that make the Internet so much fun to have around. If I find more I'll add to it, but it isn't all about academia...sometimes you just need some entertainment. Of course, Websites come and go, but these are all 'hot' today.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Commentary: Sotir: Apple iPhone Fever

OK. I admit it. I have iPhone fever and I don't care who knows it. I spend a lot of my day prowling through the Web, looking for the newest and the best and the most exciting technologies and sites. So is it any wonder that I may have crossed paths with the reviews of the newest 'gotta have it' a few dozen times? Of course, being in education, you always have to justify the hype. Sure it's cool, but what can it offer? With the latest streaming towards podcasting, I think quite a bit. This is a such an exciting time for education. Not only is technology out there, it really is the current generation that is shaping its future. This is the world of today, and for those who are not afraid to try it, a maiden voyage into the world of tomorrow.

Think back to the carpel tunnel days of taking endless lecture notes in class. Using technology, you can now walk into a classroom equipped with a Smart Screen (rear projection of course, front loaded LCD projection is so last century). You walk up to the computer and take out the PowerPoint that you have stored on the keydrive hanging from your keychain. Pop that into the USB and get going. Now, a good instructor will tell the students not to bother with taking notes...that only takes the concentration away from the subject and inhibits interaction. The Smart Screen lets you annotate the PowerPoint on the screen, and you can simply print out the notes for students afterwards. Of course, it would be better to upload the notes to your Portal so that students can access and download them 24/7. Did I forget to mention that the video camera was running throughout the class? A simple upload to a source like YouTube can create a podcast that students can play over as many times as they wish.

So what does this have to do with the glitzy glam of an iPhone? Well of course those podcasts can be viewed on an iPod, any browser equipped cell phone, computer or MP3 player. But you, the technology inspired instructor, can't wait to do it on your very own iPhone. Or is that the voices in my head again? It's the fever, I tell you. I made it through the Blackberry fever of the 00's, but this one may be the ONE. Until the next 'gotta have it' comes out.

Update 7/27/07: I have succumbed to the fever: Oh yes, it is as cool as it looks, and inspires phone envy wherever one goes. It is different enough that strangers tend to come up to you and ask, 'can I touch it?' Amazing. Are there issues?
Oh yes. I'm sure that subsequent versions will fix things like memory and battery life. The touch keyboard takes time to get used to, but the Apple promise of about a week to get used to it seems about right. And it is much easier than other text messaging phones.

But it also employs one of the best subliminal marketing ploys I've seen in a long time. Sure, the commercials are enticing, but the best marketing comes with every SMS text and email message sent via the iPhone: a subtle line which says: 'This message is sent from my iPhone.' It's really hard to avoid the subsequent "YOU have an iPhone???" Oh yes, they are good. And it seems to be working quite well.

There are blogs and chat sites dedicated solely to the iPhone. It isn't often that a tech gadget takes the world by storm. Yes, the original sales estimates were over-inflated, and the problems understated. But it is an instrument of change, and that never ceases to fascinate. And in education, its promise is as big as its hype. Hopefully, there are enough cutting edge educators to make that promise a reality.

8/6/07 Update: I've had the phone long enough to feel that I can make an honest assessment of the product. It's well-made and intuitive, and even the text messaging is nicer on a qwerty keyboard. It took me about a week to learn how to use the keyboard efficiently, but now it is quite easy to use. The phone also got used to me, and it is interesting how well it anticipates words and corrects typing errors. As a funny note, I have a friend who feels the comment 'sent from my iPhone' is, in his words, 'snippy'. I sent him back a message and whenever I started to type 'sni' it typed in 'snippy' for me. Now THAT is a snippy attitude.

The camera could be easier to use, and a little zoom wouldn't hurt, but the photos are very clear, and the 'camera roll' feature which allows you to quickly flip through your photos is great. The photo at the top of the article was shot on the iPhone in poor lighting, but it is still quite clear. I really like how easily it allows you to adjust the text size on Web sites, so thanks, Apple, for realizing that not all users will have 20/20 vision. I'm not sure why You Tube has to have its own icon, but it's interesting. Many people have commented on the clarity of the videos. The maps function has saved me at least a half dozen times from going astray while driving. I can figure out the technologies, but still can't usually find my way from here to there without assistance. GPS (which I have on my old phone) would have been nice, although the satellite view is fun. SMS texting is much easier than on other phones, and having a thread of the messages is a nice feature. I can also now press an icon and instantly know the current time anywhere in the world so that's, well, it's
nice to know, I suppose.
Phoning is simple and the voice quality is quite good. Voice recognition (which I also have on my old cell) would be nice on this one. I love that I can read all my email with one touch of an icon, and that when a new message comes in, a small 'dink' sound is heard. If I am waiting for an email, this is really a lot more efficient than constantly checking to see if it has arrived. Deleting messages is a breeze as well. And of course, having a built in iPod is wonderful. However, you can only use the Apple earbuds, and the sound could be better. Battery life could also be longer, but given the amazing features built into this phone, is not a surprise at all. Overall, it's an Apple, and true to the company philosophy, it is easy to learn and use.
I have to say that I've always been fascinated by cell phone functions, whatever model. I always want to know all it can do. I realized that I am probably in the minority. when, as a joke, I mentioned to a group of people that I would do a workshop on how to use all the features of a cell phone. 17 people asked me when I would be doing the workshop, and when could they sign up. Hmmmm, this just might be a new business venture...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Commentary: Sotir: Blogs and Wikis

I've read more than a few articles lately about the 'death' of Blogs and Wikis as communcative tools. New technologies and applications come out literally daily, and it certainly is hard to keep up with them all. I don't see the Blogs and Wikis leaving us anytime soon. Widgets and small apps such as Blogarithm or Site Meter make them easy to use and track. Adding a post is as easy as writing an email. I love to try out new apps...the Babel Fish Translator is interesting, and so are Cluster Maps. You can get feedback using tools like Survey Monkey or Poll Daddy. Most Blogs and Wikis have a defined purpose, and are easier to track updates with RSS feeds.

And as for use...this tiny little academic Blog has been read in over 1000 cities and educational institutions in the U. S., and all 50 states. It's also been read in 92 countries, and over 600 cities around the world. I started out using the Internet before the WWW, using BBS or Bulletin Board System to post pages. Sure, you needed to know things like FTP File Transfer, and it took a while before you got your words uploaded, but the promise of being able to quickly share information across town or around the world was there. It's just easier now. A LOT easier.

Are there more changes on the horizon? Of course, and I can't wait to try them out. I've talked about the iPhone (as have more than a few others), and noted its positives and negatives. Subsequent generations will be better, and easier. Most of the flaws will be corrected. But back when I used BBS, could I have ever imagined the ability to see pages on a 2" by 4" handheld device, without a cord or cable in sight? Could I have imagined podcasting lessons for students that can fit inside a shirt pocket? Could I have imagined Interactive White Boards, LCD projectors, or Portals? The world is spinning more rapidly, but those of us with imagination are holding on tightly. It's worth waiting for, and just as exciting as it is frustrating. I'm ready...are you?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New Technologies: Writing Quizzes and Test on an iPod

McGraw-Hill Higher Education Delivers Interactive Learning for iPod

NEW YORK, July 9 /PRNewswire/ — College instructors now have the capability to quickly access millions of questions and deliver them in the form of student quizzes via iPod. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, a premier provider of print and digital teaching and learning solutions for the post- secondary and higher education markets, is the first major educational publisher to offer college-level content for the iQuiz game application, recently launched by Apple and designed for iPod. iQuiz is available from the iTunes Store for $.99 and works with all fifth generation iPods.
Any instructor who uses McGraw-Hill Higher Education's EZ Test Online program can create and deliver multiple-choice or true/false quiz questions using iQuiz for iPod. EZ Test Online combines high quality content with the ability to prepare and deliver tests to students in a variety of ways. To set up and deliver a quiz to students via iPod, instructors simply press the iQuiz button in EZ Test Online to export a quiz ready for use with iQuiz. Once students download the quiz into their iPod, they can use the interactive iQuiz to practice and learn the content specific for their course. Students can quickly self-assess and receive their quiz scores instantly.

EZ Test Online may be used with McGraw-Hill textbooks, which are available in hundreds of academic courses. It gives instructors access to hundreds of textbook question banks and millions of questions when creating their tests and quizzes. When tests are created and delivered with EZ Test Online, each one is immediately scored, saving instructors valuable time and allowing them to quickly give test feedback to students.
Instructors can register for EZ Test Online by visiting

The ubiquitous iPod can be used as a tool for students to take practice tests and quizzes, or even actual tests.

ABE/GED, ESL: Ways to get Started Writing Women's Perspective

This is a lesson plan to get students started with writing. There are pre-writing exercises, and writing prompts.