Tag Archives: Social Media

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

An Education Writer/Blogger Goes to School

I am thrilled to be participating in Words Awake: A Celebration of Wake Forest Writers and Writing, taking place today through Sunday. Part of the event includes visits to local schools and I was asked to speak with students at the Paisley IB Magnet School. I worked with their teacher, Mr. Marvelli, via Skype and email to craft a plan for what I should say. As my own editor at OnlineCollege.org put it, “good luck explaining what you do for a living.” What emerged was a series of questions about what I do and how I do it, and I thought a blog post might be a good place to start.

So, here are the questions and my thoughts (although I think I could write a full post about each one). Please take a look and help me provide additional feedback to these middle and high school students who are interested in writing. And wish me luck today!

What is your writing process?

Each week I post 3 to 5 articles at the Inside Online Learning blog, and each one starts with a “pitch” that my editor approves. I start with each pitch as a proposal for a post – defining the audience and topic, how I plan to approach it, and something about why I think it is an important topic – and expand on it.

The structure and flow of the post are important – conversational in nature, readable, engaging (hopefully), encouraging, and authoritative. I’ve usually done some preparation for the post already by reading about the topic (see below) and bookmarking (via Diigo) resources I want to go back and reference.

After I complete a draft, it goes to my editor for review. I make modifications and finalize, select an image to go with the post, and then add it all to the blog site (powered by WordPress). After I upload the post, but before I publish it, there is some tweaking after I proofread one more time on screen, and often read it out loud.

Where do the ideas come from?

They are all around! Once you put your antenna up, you begin to find them in items you read, watch, and listen to, and in lots of conversations with friends and colleagues along the way. There are five categories that organize my thoughts and writing ideas – resources for online instructors, resources for online students, current trends in online education, career advising, and educational advising/student expectations. My professional experience in higher education student services, as an online instructor, and as an instructional designer all inform my writing.

I was given the advice early on to spend as much time reading as I do writing. This can be tough to do, but helps me stay up-to-date on the topics I write about and is my primary source of new ideas for posts. I subscribe to lots of other blogs (via Feedly), news sites (via Twitter and Google+), and listervs. Browsing through these sources is a daily task.

What is the place of blogging in the U.S. and the World? What role do blogs play?

Anyone with Internet access and a blog account can write for a global audience. That is amazing and challenging at the same time. Blogs are platforms that can be used by an individual, or group of individuals, to amplify a voice or an idea. They can be used for business, to market a service or product. Bloggers can build communities around what they write, made up of participants with similar views, interests, questions, etc.  The ability for a reader to leave a comment on a post takes reading and writing to another level – you aren’t just reading, you can interact with the writer by leaving a comment. And the blogger is aware of this when writing the post.

Blogs can also be more private and personal, written only for you or for just a few friends. It’s not journalism. It’s not necessarily objective. It’s the bloggers perspective on the topic. In short, a blog can be whatever you, the blogger, want it to be.

There are currently millions (billions?) of blogs online and the variety of topics, purposes, and writing is as diverse as the population.  Technorati provides an annual State of the Blogosphere report and in the 2011 edition   identified five different kinds of bloggers: 1) hobbyists (61%), 2 -3) Professional Part-time and Full-time (%18%), 4) Corporate (%8), and 5) Entrepreneurs (13%).

How are blogs used in education?

Blogs are growing in use by educators and students. Academics are getting more involved in disseminating their research this way, in addition to more traditional publications, and schools are using blog platforms for school papers (like the Paisley Paw Prints!) and to build communities with parents and teachers. Students, particularly those in online courses, often find blogs as requirements in their courses for posting written assignments, peer review and feedback exercises, reflective journaling activities, and to create digital learning portfolios with artifacts that demonstrate what they have achieved in their courses.

Just as in non-educational settings, blogs can be used to build communities in education – communities of learners who communicate online through their writing and comments. And it’s happening at all levels, not just in college courses. Take a look at EduBlogs.org: With over 1 million blogs and counting, this community is specifically for educators and students. EduBlogs.org also sponsors annual awards (2011 Winners here) in which voting is open to the public.

Blogging platforms are easy to use, making a new blog quick to set-up and ready for use. They also allow for not only text-based content, but also the addition of multimedia, polling, and other communication tools. Blogging in education engages students and teachers with the course content and learning activities, with the technology required to establish and maintain blog sites, and with each other and potentially a larger audience as they make their blogs available on the Internet. Getting involved with blogs and a reader and/or writer also develops digital, information, and media literacy, as each source must be assessed for currency and accuracy.

The Discussion Continues

Paisley students, if you are reading, what other questions do you have? Ask here and I’ll answer, and hopefully others will as well. (You can also reach me via email: mvenable @ design-doc .com or through Twitter: @Melissa_Venable.) Do you have a blog? If so, tell us more about it – why do you blog and what do you like to write about?

I’m looking forward to continuing the discussion, especially about blogging and education. And as I continue to participate in the Words Awake event, as a blogger amid a host of other kinds of writers, I’ll be taking more notes about the purpose of blogs, blog writing, and how it all fits in with the rest.

Image credit: Search Engine People Blog, Flickr, CC-BY

Begin at the Beginning and Blog On

After attending WordCamp Miami in 2010 and 2011, I was thrilled to be able to present at the 2012 event that took place just last weekend. It was an opportunity for me to indulge in one of my favorite topics: blogging. The session followed a morning of the technical side of setting up a WordPress site, so my goal was to present practical tips for getting started with the writing and content development. Here’s a summary of the four main points I addressed:

  1. Goal Setting: Why do you want to blog? Whether it’s find a creative outlet, learn something new, address a burning issue, or start a business, the potential motives for blogging are seemingly endless. Your reasons will be unique to you and help you frame your expectations for the adventure ahead. Remember, it’s your blog, so you’ve got ultimate control over when, where, what, and why, but it can help to establish a few goals to get you moving forward. Put your goals in writing! And revisit them often.
  2. Finding Your Voice: What do you have to say and how do you want to say it? Consider your intended audience and describe their demographics. Take a tip from Problogger and “brainstorm  a list of 10-20 personality attributes” you want people to use to describe your blog, then narrow the list down to 3-5. Is your blog going to be: clever, authoritative, inquisitive, opinionated, helpful, witty, outrageous, controversial … ?
  3. Getting Organized: Chances are you have a day job and other life responsibilities that make adding blogging to your schedule a challenge. Consider adding frequency and topic goals to your calendar. Be realistic, especially at first and set up a plan that’s doable. Use categories to organize your thoughts about the topic your blog addresses. Identify 3-5 broad categories under your broader blog topic, and develop specific ideas as for individual posts related to each category. Consider using an editorial calendar to schedule your writing. Developing a list of writing ideas in advance provides you with a starting point when it’s time to write.
  4. Joining the Blogging Community: As a new blogger you are joining a vast group representing every possible demographic you can imagine. It will be helpful to find other bloggers that share your interests and also write for a similar audience. Conduct a search, add them to a blog reader, and get to know these bloggers better. Take notes about what you like and don’t like and try a few new things on your blog. Leave thoughtful comments on other blogs and look for opportunities to meet other bloggers in your field. Consider scheduling time for this and plan on reading as much as you write.

If you are new to blogging and interested in finding out more, take a look at some of the other offerings from WordCamp Miami 2012. No matter your goals or topic area of interest you’ll find helpful resources and advice in these presentations:

Blogging can be an adventure on many levels allowing you to explore your own learning process, share your perspective with other learners, and connect with those who have similar interests. Many thanks to the WordCamp Miami sponsors, organizers, and volunteers!

Going Green with a Paperless Conference Session

For anyone who has participated in a traditional conference poster session, you know that they can be a little awkward. From the perspective of the presenter, it’s a little like a junior high science fair with students standing by their projects hoping someone will stop and ask a question. From the attendee’s perspective, browsing the poster tables leaves you feeling bad about walking by some tables (while avoiding eye contact with the eager presenters) and a little frustrated trying to locate the few posters that are of interest to you based on the descriptions provided in the program.

Last month I was fortunate enough to present a paperless poster session, entitled Online Career Services: Blogs as ePortfolios, at the Sloan Consortium International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando. This was a great opportunity to further explore my interest in blog formats and ePortfolios, and to rethink the traditional conference poster format. Sloan-C’s challenge to us was to “go green” and conduct these sessions “electronically rather than utilizing printed poster materials tacked to display boards.”

Session Logistics

The conference’s poster session venue included high tables where participants and presenters could stand and talk in a reception-like atmosphere in the exhibit hall. The wireless Internet access worked well, and power strips were available for all presenters. The “go green” challenge also allowed for a little experimentation.

  • Blog: Since my presentation was focused on bringing awareness to the flexibility of blog formats, it made sense to create a blog to illustrate the point. I created a WordPress.com blog, Blog Your Portfolio, to display the content of the presentation via pages and widgets. I used an iPad during the presentation to walk attendees through the navigation of the site and answer their questions about blogs and ePortfolios. The blog continues to remain “live” online and I hope to add content and encourage reader comments as well. The Examples page has gotten the most attention so far, linking to five career ePortfolios built using blog platforms. (Please let me know if you have one to add to the list!)
  • Live Chat: I moderate a weekly live Twitter chat (#IOLchat) in my role as an education writer/blogger with OnlineCollege.org. We decided to try conducting the event from the poster session. This was a little chaotic for me, talking with people in person at the session while contributing to the chat participants via Twitter, but it was a success and a lot of fun to do. (You can review the conversation here.)
  • QR Codes: Sloan-C provided QR codes for all conference sessions, including the posters. This turned out to be a great way for people to stop by a table quickly, gather info from the QR code, and keep moving. The codes took the user back to the presenter’s session page on the conference’s website. Each page included an abstract, session description, and additional resources (e.g. links and PDFs) uploaded by the presenters.
  • Slideshow: Wanting to be prepared in case of limited wireless access or slow connections during the session, I created a PowerPoint file as a backup. As it turned out, the wireless access worked well and I didn’t need the slides, but I ended up uploading the file to Slideshare. This made it easy to add the presentation to my LinkedIn profile and hopefully reach a few more people with the content.

Going Green is Good

Overall, this was a great experience and an opportunity to experiment a bit with a traditional conference format. The one complaint seemed to be that there just wasn’t enough room for people to move around comfortably, but this was addressed in the morning announcements the following day as the conference organizers recognized the problem and vowed to allow for more space in 2012.

The primary benefit I see, beyond the positive environmental impact, is that the digital materials last longer. The links, files, and codes can all be shared and referenced well after the conference ends. They can also be used in advance of the event to promote sessions via social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Have you presented or participated in a paperless conference session? If so, please consider sharing your feedback and suggestions here.

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

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