Tag Archives: cool tools

Top 10 Learning Tools – 2012

Are you familiar with the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT) annual “Top 100 Tools for Learning” project? Led by Jane Hart, this is a collaborative effort in which learning professionals all over the world submit their top 10 tools for the year. This year more than 500 submissions were included.

I’ve contributed to the project over the last several years, but having missed the deadline for the latest list, I thought I’d go ahead and post my thoughts here. As a blogger, freelance instructional designer, and adjunct online instructor, these are the 10 tools that have been the most helpful to me over the past year (in no particular order):

  1. Google Search: What would we do without it? As a blogger I use Google to begin the research for almost every post I write. In the process I’ve become a student of analytics and changing algorithms. I recently completed Google’s open access Power Searching class and highly recommend it if you have the opportunity to enroll or use the posted resources.
  2. Blackboard: I love it and I hate it. Both the class I taught in the spring and another I assisted with this fall used Blackboard to deliver content to online students. While it’s not my favorite, I think an LMS at its most basic can provide a helpful hub for information and communication during an online class.
  3. Gmail: Email may be dead, but I sure am using it a lot these days to communicate with students, co-workers, and even to conduct asynchronous interviews for blog posts. I currently have more active accounts that I really want to count, and continue to be issued new ones with new contracts.
  4. Twitter:Perhaps my favorite on this list, I spend a lot of time on Twitter for a multitude of reasons: current events, industry news, network building, conference backchannels, keeping in touch with friends and colleagues, community-building and more. I also moderate a weekly chat focused on online learning and presented Twitter-related topics at several conferences this year.
  5. MS Word: Still my go-to for all things related to writing, I use Word to draft all posts here and at work, as well as for note-taking. Although I am using shared Google Docs more and more when collaboration is needed.
  6. Skype: I initiated Skype use this past year for virtual office hours with students and found several other groups asking me to join Skype meetings as well. I have also had a Skype phone number for the past several years and find it is more reliable (and has clearer reception) than my cell for work-related calls.
  7. WordPress: WordPress.com is home for this blog, and Inside Online Learning is powered by WordPress.org. One of the highlights of my year was presenting at WordCamp Miami in February and learning more about how to use WordPress from other speakers and participants representing a wide range of blog topics and web development skills.
  8. Google Chrome: As my favorite browser (although Firefox is a close second) Chrome has come a long way and just makes my work easier with a streamlined interface and great add-ons like Awesome Screenshot.
  9. Camtasia: Earlier this year I designed and developed an online course for CEUonestop (LinkedIn) which required screencasting. The Camtasia app was affordable and much more intuitive than I thought it would be, allowing me to quickly capture and edit resulting in a nice looking final product.
  10. Flickr: I continue to rely on the generosity of photographers providing use of their images with Creative Commons licenses. Flickr makes it easy to search for these via keyword and license type so that I can find items suitable for use in blog posts. I also try to add to the pool when I can.

Take a look at C4LPT’s final Top 100 list below, but don’t stop there. Go to the main page to explore more details about the submissions in the “Best of Breed” list and to see how this year’s tools compared to those submitted in 2011.

Image credit: (Top 10) iabusa, Flickr, CC:BY-SA

Top 10 Learning Tools – 2011

This is my third year of submitting my Top 10 Tools for Learning to Jane Hart’s annual project. Jane invites you to add your input as well:

If you are a learning professional (e.g. teacher, academic, trainer, consultant, developer, practitioner, analyst, etc) and active in the field of (e-)learning, please share your Top 10 Tools for Learning to help refine the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011.

She goes a step further and defines learning tool for us:

This could be a tool you use to create or deliver learning content/solutions for others, or a tool you use for your own personal learning.

This year I’ve done more writing than designing, but have put these tools through their paces for my own personal learning purposes. So, here’s my list (in no particular order):

  1. Hootsuite: I have written about information curation and management systems several times this year and use Hootsuite every single day to manage Twitter tasks: monitor the incoming feed, correspond with other individuals in the field, track topics of interest, follow conference events, and develop writing ideas.
  2. Twitter: This one pretty much goes without saying after #1! I have come to rely on Twitter a great deal, but I am also exploring Google+ more and more for information, conversations, and network building.
  3. Google Search: This is the go-to search engine for me without a doubt. Especially since I made the move over to Chrome.
  4. Chrome: Using this as my primary browser not only opens up the convenience of Google-related features and functions (e.g. searching via keywords in the address bar), but also does a nice job of tracking most frequently visited and most recently visited sites for easy return.
  5. GMail: Another Google product and the one I use for work. Email continues to be a mainline connector for me, and a place where other communication efforts (i.e. Twitter) seem to end up eventually. Did I mention it works well with Chrome? Chrome allows me to set up the notification of new messages so I get a visual on-screen.
  6. Feedly: This is another information management tool that I have written about this year. Set up your reading list of blogs and other websites, and access them in an easy to scan interface. This is a daily routine as well. (And, yes, connects with Google Reader). The Feedly App also allows you to sync your reading list and progress across devices.
  7. WordPress: I use WordPress.com for this blog, and my work is posted on a WordPress self-hosted blog. When asked for recommendations for pretty much anything web-based (i.e. blogs, websites, portfolios, online course delivery, content management ) I mention WordPress. With its large and helpful user community, easy to learn admin side, and design flexibility, you’ve got to give it a try. Oh, and don’t forget to check out a local WordCamp!
  8. MS Word: I made the move to a MacBook Pro over a year ago and haven’t looked back, but I still use Word. For me it’s tried and true. I know how it works and document creation is essential for me. I even admit to creating drafts in Word first before moving to Google Docs or WordPress to share, and then I back up the shared files in Word.
  9. Delicious: I’m still using Delicious pretty heavily, even after the move to AVOS last month. The transition was a little rocky, but everything seems to be back up and running – except, sadly, for Chrome extensions. So while I am shopping for another bookmarking system, Delicious is it for now.
  10. iPad: I am not sure if devices are allowed on this list, but it does fit the definition provided for learning tool. I resisted this purchase with the original then pre-ordered the iPad2 and use it to access everything listed above, except MS Word.

After I completed this list I looked back through my Top 10 for 2009 and 2010 and was a little surprised at how my use has changed over time. How about you? If you haven’t added your Top 10, consider doing so before the project wraps for 2011 sometime in the next few weeks!

UPDATE! Jane Hart’s list of the Top Tools for 2011 is complete! Take a look at the list and slideshow presenting the submissions of 531 learning professionals.

Image credit: zigazou76, Flickr

Selecting a Web-based Survey Tool

Have you used an online survey system? They often provide quick and easy solutions for gathering data and can be helpful as part of the design and development process to get feedback from testers, students, and instructors. Most of these products offer an intuitive dashboard for creating survey questions with templates and generate a URL that you can send in an email or post on a website to provide direct access to the instrument.

If you are interested in using a web-based survey system there are a few questions to answer first:

  1. What is your budget? Most of the vendors offer free and paid versions. The free versions, as you might expect, are more limited. 
  2. What types of questions do you need to ask? Multiple choice, open-ended, select all, rank order… take a close look at your instrument see if there are special considerations related to item type.
  3. How many (items and participants) do you anticipate? Free versions often have a maximum number of items per survey and/or a maximum number of responses.
  4. Do you have any special requirements? If you need to add branching logic, for example, or randomly present your survey questions, these capabilities and many others are possible with online surveys.
  5. What are you going to do with the data you collect? These systems allow you to export participant responses in multiple formats – do you need something specific for reporting or analysis purposes?
  6. Do you need to customize? Different systems offer different options for creating custom URLs, adding images (e.g. logos), and creating color schemes. These may be more important if you are creating an instrument for distribution outside of your organization that would benefit from branding.

Recently I had the opportunity to review and select a survey tool for a project associated with Inside Online Learning. I had previous experience with SurveyMonkey and QuestionPro, so started with these first. It didn’t take long to see that are a lot more tools to choose from so I asked my Twitter network for suggestions. That request resulted in a nice list of tools to try – some with personal testimonials, others from the survey companies themselves.

My preference with this project was to go with a free version if at all possible – a brief survey with limited release as a pilot. I reviewed the websites of the 7 survey systems that were recommended and created these comparison charts (below) along the way.  These charts include the features I was looking for, but there are many, many more available including social media integration, secure SSL connections, multiple languages, analytics, etc.

FREE* SurveyMonkey SurveyShare SurveyGizmo

Zoomerang

Rational Survey

# of responses 100 per survey 50 per survey 250 per month 100 per survey 1000 total
# of questions 10 per survey 12 per survey Unlimited 12 questions 100 total / 10 surveys
Logic branching no yes limited no no
Random questions no ? yes no ?
Export responses no no CSV no no
PAID* SurveyMonkey SurveyShare SurveyGizmo

Zoomerang

Rational Survey

mid-range option** $299/yr (Gold Plan) $200/yr (Pro Plan) $588/yr (Pro Plan) $199/yr (Pro Plan) $240/yr (Basic Plan)
# of responses Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 500 total
# of questions Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 5000 total / 50 surveys
Logic branching Yes Yes Yes yes yes
Random questions Yes ? yes yes ?
Export responses Excel, CSV, PDF, SPSS, HTML, XML Excel, CSV, SPSS CSV, PDF Excel, CSV, PDF Excel, CSV, PDF

* These charts are based on my interpretation of the information posted on the websites.

** In most cases there are multiple plans to choose from, offering a range of service packages and price points. This chart lists just one of the price categories. There are more and less expensive options for each system.

Also reviewed:

  • Qualtrics: This is an enterprise level system, which was overkill for my current needs with one small survey.
  • JotForm: Interesting! For me, not quite as intuitive as the others, but a customizable interface with emailed responses.

The comparison charts helped me narrow my list down to two: Zoomerang and SurveyGizmo. I then created my survey in those systems.  My final selection was SurveyGizmo –  It gave me the most room to work with in terms of number of questions and responses allowed, and had a (slightly) more intuitive interface for creating and managing my survey. I deployed it with little difficulty and have been pleased with the results. I was able to create a professional looking survey, insert a logo, and set up matrix-type questions. Should I need to upgrade to a paid version in the future, I will complete another comparison. While SurveyGizmo offers a lot of room in the free version, the paid options seem more costly than the other systems.

What additional features and functions should we consider? If you have deployed an online survey and have tips for selection and/or lessons learned, please consider sharing your recommendations here.

Image credit: stock.xchng

Catching Up with Google+

Today I (finally) posted an article about Google+ over at Inside Online LearningGoogle+: New Social Media for Education?

I just set up my account last week and have been experimenting a bit. My second post asked:

So, are you using Google+ in addition to the rest (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…) or is it replacing your efforts in these networks?

I was thrilled to get a bit of conversation going with three folks from my fledgling Circles. A lot of people are also writing about this and the reviews are mixed. There’s no consensus, but everyone seems to be watching it closely and experimenting with the various tools.

My take so far – Google+ looks like it might turn into something, and there are some interesting new features and functions, so what not give it a try? If you already have a Google Profile, you’re halfway there.

Now to find the time to manage the account and really explore…

I linked a few resources to the other article, focused primarily on use in higher ed, but here are a few more that might be helpful from the instructional design, freelance perspective.

As always, your thoughts are welcome. Let us know about your early impressions, reviews, and predictions.

Image credit: Creative Nerds

Social Bookmarking with Delicious

My previous post on Feedly sparked a question about Delicious – just one of the many social bookmarking tools available right now. It took me a while to get organized with Delicious, but since I “got it”, the system has been a lifesaver. While there was a brief scare a couple of months ago when Yahoo put it on a short list of tools to shelve, the latest word is that Delicious will continue (whew!) under new ownership.

In my current role as an education writer I read about and research a lot of topics related to online education, current trends, etc. and need a way to catalog what I find, the useful bits anyway. More importantly, I need a system that allows me to locate these finds at a later date, when I really need them. Delicious has become that system for me.

Set-up and Access

I realize Delicious isn’t new, and maybe not as feature-rich as some of the other options out there, but it works for me. Here are a few reasons why…

  • Browser Add-ons: For this tool, any tool really, to be helpful it needs to be easy and convenient to use. I am currently using the browser add-ons for both Firefox and Chrome. Installing these adds Delicious icons to your toolbar – when you are on a site you want to bookmark, click on the ‘tag’ icon, enter your tags (keywords for search later) with the pop-up window, and save. This takes a little set-up time on your part, but it’s quick.
  • Network Privacy: You can select whether or not you want to share your information and collection with others. (Go to Settings>People>Set network privacy.) At first I kept my account private, but eventually found opening it easier as I started sharing some of the information – more on that below.
  • In the Cloud: Having this kind of account, where all of my links/bookmarks/favorites are “in the cloud” is great for moving around. I have access to everything, and the ability to keep adding new things, from any computer or location as long as I have an Internet connection.

Developing Your Tag System

Part of “getting it” is figuring out a way to label and categorize. Your way will be different from mine, but plan for this a bit before you get started. You’ll need to decide how to label things – a taxonomy of sorts. I’ve gotten better at this over time, but need to do a little housecleaning. A few ideas for planning your tagging taxonomy:

  • Levels of interest – Much of what I save is related to education, but I try to narrow that a bit by using, higher education, K-12, for-profit, etc.
  • Nouns or verbs – For example, blog or blogging? Sometimes one makes more sense than the other and there may be a place for both. Just think about your approach so you can find it later on.
  • Singular or plural Blog or blogs? Developing a rule like this will help you keep your list tidy and prevent you from having to search for both versions when you are looking for something.
  • Multiple words – If a single keyword is actually two words, Delicious will save it as two separate tags unless you link it together somehow – highered, highereducation, higher-education, higher_education
  • Abbreviations – This is another option for keeping your list neat and retrieval easy – ID for Instructional Design for example.

A classic example of where I could have done better is aggregate. If you look at my list of tags you’ll see all of the following: aggregating, aggregation, and aggregator. At the risk of sounding a little obsessive compulsive, this bothers me. You’ll also find aggreating – since Delicious doesn’t provide a spell check and will accept as a tag, pretty much whatever you type in.

A few other ideas for tagging that might be helpful:

  • Author’s name
  • Publisher
  • Source – if I found the link on Twitter, I might add @username as a tag.
  • Type of site – I use .gov as a tag.

Remember – the goal of all of this tagging is to be able to find the item again later when you need it. What about the piece will trigger your memory? Maybe that will be the topic and author, or that it was in the New York Times, or even that it was a list of things. Try to find the tags that will allow the item to surface when you search your collection.

The “Social” Part

Consider using your bookmarks for conference presentations. Tag all of the links that are in your presentation slides with something (a hashtag perhaps?) and invite attendees to access the links that way.

Use Delicious to collect all of the reading you are using in a course. If it is available online, you can tag each item with your course number and make your list available to your students.

Answer a request for help! If someone in your network is looking for resources related to X, you can send them a link to your Delicious account with the relevant tag.

Delicious badges are available for your website and I just added a widget to this blog in the sidebar that links to my account. You can also link your Delicious account to Twitter so that you tweet your new additions.

Other Options

While Delicious is my favorite, there are other applications you might want to try.

There’s more to Delicious, and social bookmarking in general, than what I have described in this post. This is just where I am finding value. The goal is to find something that has the features and functions you need, and an interface that works for you so that you’ll use it and keep coming back. Once you get it going, your bookmark list will be your first stop.

What about you? What additional features and functions are you using? What other bookmarking tools are your favorites?

Photo credit: chrisheuer, Flickr

RSS Reader Review: Feedly

If you are like me, you’re trying to stay current, to manage the flow of information, and it seems like an uphill battle. After several failed attempts at Google Reader I decided to try Feedly.  I’m about two months in at this point and am glad I made the move. Feedly isn’t new, but if you are looking for something to organize all the stuff you want to read online, you might want to check it out. Here are a few of the reasons Feedly is working for me.

Cover page format – Advertised as “magazine-like” I have found this to be true, and I think this format is the key to me coming back to actually read. It offers a nice, simple layout and combination of headlines, text, and images. On this main “cover” page, and in the other views as well, you can view the details of each post, many in full text, before deciding whether or not you need to go on to the site. This page also gives you a quick look at the headlines.

Categories – You can assign each new blog or website you add to your Feedly account with a category. This works well to keep the work related streams separate from other interests for example. This feature also allows you to view just the feeds related to a specific category you’ve created.

Tie-in with Twitter – It’s extra easy to send a link out via Twitter within the Feedly page. You need to link your accounts then you are ready to share. Feedly offers several social networking elements that might be interesting to you. You can also share via LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Reader, Instapaper, Tumblr, and others.

Tie-in with Delicious – I am a diehard Delicious fan and Feedly allows me to quickly add a link to my collection there. You can also add to Evernote, Pinboard, Diigo, and others.

“Latest” view – Probably my favorite view at this point. Gives you a long list of what’s been posted most recently – one line per entry with the blog or site it came from and the title of the post. Checking this view has become part of my routine at the end of the day.

Apps for iPad and iPhone – When I first started using Feedly, I didn’t find an iPad  app and was a little disappointed. But that has been remedied! The app interface is a little different, but you still get that magazine like feel and the “latest” view option and tie-in with Twitter.

Firefox Add-on – Another component that adds to the ease of use is the add-on. Use this to quickly open your Feedly account at any point and to add a feed to your account from an open blog or other site.

While I still have many, many unread entries, I am able to quickly identify a handful each day to read in full. The format allows me to scan for issues that are important to me and to easily share what I find.

Building a Reading List

Deciding which feeds to read is an ongoing process of adding and deleting. If you try Feedly, or any other RSS reader, give yourself the flexibility to continuously fine tune and stay on the look out for new sites and authors. Here are just a few of the feeds I am now following and recommend:

What about you?

What sources should we all add to our lists? Your recommendations are welcome! Suggest a few of the blogs and websites that you follow to stay informed.

If you have tried Feedly, please consider sharing your experience here. If you are hooked on another reader, let us know which one! What are the features that make it helpful to you?

Create and Share Your Own Images

One of the many tasks involved in preparing content for delivery is locating and selecting appropriate images. Whether you are writing a blog post or developing a full academic course, images (drawings, photographs, charts, etc.) help tell a story, help to get the message across.

Where do you find images?

You may be lucky enough to have a graphic artist in-house or maybe a subscription to a stock images resource. But if you’re on a budget, you may be looking for other options – images that are available online with no fee for use. Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a popular way for photographers to make their work available for you to use. Here are a couple of ways to search for CC licensed images: Flickr and the Creative Commons search page.

Do you have images to share?

If you are interested in contributing, you can do so by creating your own online account and making your photos available – searchable and clearly labeled with your intent for their use. One option is @DailyShoot:

The Daily Shoot is a simple daily routine to motivate and inspire you to practice your photography, and share your results! It’s not a contest and there are no prizes. It’s simply about encouraging you to pick up your camera and make photographs.

Everyday @Dailyshoot tweets an assignment – an idea, a topic, to focus your efforts. You tweet a link to your photo for that assignment that includes the day’s hashtag, and it is linked to the site. For more about how it works, check out The Daily Shoot. If you post one photo per day you would end up with 365 contributions by the end of the year (next year, that is)! Even one per week would result in a gallery of 52. As a consumer of CC licensed images, now I can contribute to the pool.

Most of The Daily Shoot participants don’t post every day, but a couple do. You can browse their past photos on the site. It’s also interesting to see the differences and similarities in approach to each day’s assignment. As an example, take a look at 12/26/10 – “What fuels your creative process?”

I heard about this project at a conference in September and have wanted to give it a try ever since. Armed with a brand new camera (thanks, Adam!) I just started yesterday. I’ll be contributing via my Flickr stream.

Are you already sharing your images? If so, please let us know where! If not, consider joining in.

Image credit: gywst

Update! (12/3/11) The Daily Shoot decided to cease operations several months ago, but fortunately the organizers made their list of of prompts available via Google Docs: Daily Shoot Assignments. I managed to complete 150 assignments in the past year and have now maxed out my free Flickr account. While I consider upgrading to “Pro” I’m looking for a new source of prompts….any ideas? Please share them here!