Friday, March 30, 2012

World Backup Day - make sure your data and files are backed up!

CopyBackupFiles Want to backup files? Here are 8 free web applications that can help you

Tomorrow is World Backup Day!

Everyone needs to have their files backed up. It is very easy to have your flash drive, hard drive, or computer crash, get damaged, or have your flash drive or laptop get lost or stolen. And it always happens at the worst possible time.

There are many different ways to backup your files. You can use an external hard drive, backup to a flash drive, or backup your files to the cloud. I use a mixture of both.

1. External Hard Drive - an external hard drive is a great way to back up your files locally. This proves very useful if your computer goes down and you have no internet. Many of them come with software build in to set up automatic backups and Windows and Mac have automatic backup apps. You can even make an image of your hard drive so that you don't have to reinstall software if you need to start from scratch.

2. Flash Drive - a flash drive can also be used for backup, but they are more expensive than hard drives for similar storage capacities. I do use a flash drive as a backup at school of my main files.

3. Cloud based backup - this is my favorite way to backup my files because it is automatic, free, and I can sync my files to multiple computers which means I have access to them locally. They also allow me to access my files from any computer, or even smartphone, via the web (and smartphone apps).There are many different ones available. They all have some sort of free plan and many allow you to get extra free memory through referrals. Here are a few of my favorites:

Dropbox is a service that allows you to sync your files on your computer with their system as a backup. This also allows you to access the files anywhere. You can also sync the files across multiple computers. This means that you have automatic backup of your files and 24/7 access to your files. I have it set up to sync a folder on my home computer, wife's computer and school computer so I don't have to worry about having multiple versions or forgetting a flash drive.

There are also Dropbox apps for iPhone, Android, iPad, webOS and Blackberry. You can also access the mobile site from any web-enabled phone. Imagine being able to access all of your files on your smartphone!

You can also share files with others. I teach EMS classes (EMT and Paramedic) and the course coordinator shares files on it with instructors through one folder and students in another folder. It makes things very easy for all of us.

Dropbox is a great service for teachers and students. Access to all of your files anywhere, backup of your files, and the ability to share files.

SugarSync - Sugarsync is another powerful sync and backup service. You can have it back up your files on their server, and sync the files among multiple computers. So, my files on my home computer are synced to my laptop and my school computer. You can also access these files through any web browser, and there are apps for smart phones. You can even access them with a mobile web browser if you don't have an app. You get 5GB for free and there are fee based plans with more storage. I can access my files anywhere, on any device, which makes it very convenient. You select the directories that you want to be backed up. The "Magic Briefcase" is the directory or folder you pick to be automatically backed up and synced. As soon as I save a file to that directory, it is uploaded to their servers.

The Websync feature is also nice. If you are accessing your files through the website, you can select "Edit with websync" and a Java program will download a temp copy of your file, allow you to edit and save it and then upload the new version. You can also share files with others through email or the web.

Sugarsync came in very handy for my wife. 1 week after setting it up on her computer, her hard drive died. Completely dead and no data was recoverable. If it wasn't for Sugarsync, she would have lost over 2 weeks of work (since her last backup). The automatic sync and backup is wonderful.

Box - is similar to the others. The free version only has 5GB of storage, and you can purchase more storage.  Box has been giving out free 50GB accounts to many people (HP TouchPad, iOS 5) too. The only downside is that the free version does not sync your files. is another online file storage, sync, and backup service that offers a 2GB free account. I haven't used it, but it seems to work the same as the others.

Uploadingit is another file sharing and syncing service that I found. It has free and fee-based plans, allowing you to upload, sync, and share files.

The file manager works like a desktop app and is simple to use. You can upload multiple files at once, drag and drop, move, rename, and organize files and folders.

The free plan offers 10GB of space and 10GB of daily bandwidth. It does have a 200MB max file size limit and advertisements, but it's free. You can upgrade to paid plans to increase disk space, bandwidth, get rid of ads, ability to hotlink files, and also increase your priority download.

It is another, free file syncing and sharing service that is very useful for teachers and students.

Google Docs - you can upload any type of file (up to 250MB each) and you get 1GB of storage free. You can purchase additional storage at $0.25/GB/year, which is a good deal. There is no automatic sync built in. There are some 3rd party applications that you can use (like GDocBackup, which I use.) It doesn't sync to your desktop or backup automatically, but it is still very useful. 

Amazon Cloud Drive is another way to back up your files. You get 5GB of free storage, but it does not sync your files, it is just on online storage service. 

CX is a new file sync, share and backup service, similar to Dropbox or Sugarsync that I just learned about from the Education Technology Blog.

CX allows you to backup your files, sync them across multiple devices, share your files and collaborate on them with others, and even discover new ideas and friends.

A free account starts off at 10GB of storage, which is more that the other services offer. Like the other services, you can earn more storage for referring others to sign up (to a maximum of 16GB). There are also paid plans with more storage (50GB, 100GB and custom amounts).

It is currently available for iOS and Android is coming soon. No mention of other mobile OS's.

What is unique is that every file you share has a comment system so you can share it and collaborate with others on it.

Pogoplug, a company that already has streaming and sharing devices, announced a new service: Pogoplug Cloud.

The Pogoplug Cloud service provides 5GB of free storage and allows users to store their files online. They can then access, share, or stream the content from their mobile device. You sign up directly from any mobile phone, web browser, or tablet. You can purchase additional online storage also. 50GB is $9.95 per month and 100GB is $19.95 per month. Pricing is similar to many other cloud storage systems.

One thing that is different is that you can host a private, unlimited cloud for no monthly fees by purchasing a Pogoplug box ($99) and connecting it to your network.

Pogoplug will automatically upload photos and videos from your mobile phone to your Pogoplug cloud with no syncing required. (I have Sugarsync set up to do this on my Android phone). You can share anything in your cloud through email, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and even create shared folders. You can also stream videos, photos, and musics to your phone.

There are free apps for iOS and Android. - Online Backup, Storage, Sharing and Sync

SpiderOak is another free backup, sync, sharing and storage system. It works on Windows, Mac OS and Linux.

There is a free 2GB account and you can earn up to 50GB of free storage by referring friends.

It's another great way to make sure that your files are backed up and available to you any where.

I do a lot of work online and in the cloud and find it very convenient and useful to do so. But, I also know that there can be internet connection issues and those cloud services can crash or have problems so I backup all of my cloud based data to my computer too.

I use Google Docs, Google Reader, Google Sites, Blogger, iGoogleEvernote, Aviary and more. Web based computing allows me to have access to my data and files anywhere that I can get internet access, including on my smart phone. It also allows me to share data and information with others. I also like web based apps and data because it is platform independent - Windows, Linux, Mac - it doesn't matter. The web based apps also, in my experience, seem to run better on older, slower computers than native applications.

I'm also a believer in being prepared and having backups of my data. The services I use have great data centers and backup, but sometimes their servers go down, and sometimes I may not be able to get internet access.

I backup all of my work and data in multiple places so that I always have access to it, even without an internet connection. Here's what and how I do:

Google Docs - I use GDocBackup to backup my Google Docs. I also have Google Gears installed so my files are synced with my computer that way too. You can also export your Google Docs to your hard drive.

Evernote - I have Evernote's desktop application at home so all of my notes are backed up on my home computer. I also export the data once a week to an html and txt file for backup.

Google Products - I also export my Blogger blogs, iGoogle Settings, Google Reader subscriptions, Calendar, email, tasks, and bookmarks once a week as a back up. For each of them, go to settings and look for the export command. Here's more information on how to export data from Google's services.
(I use Google Chrome so my bookmarks are synced between my two computers.)

Google Sites - I use HTTrack Website Copier to make a backup of my website.

All of the backup files are in a directory that is automatically backed up to SugarSync and then kept in sync on both my school and home computers. Sugarsync does this automatically, so it is no effort for me. I also have really, really important data (financial, digitized paper records, etc) on a flash drive in my fireproof safe. Just in case.

My Android smart phone automatically syncs with my Google Calendar, Google Contacts and other Google services and I have my Evernote notebooks synced to it as well. I can also access all of my files on the cloud services through my smartphone.

This may all sound like overkill to some people, but I feel more comfortable knowing that my data is safe, backed up, and easily accessible. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Milo and the Rhinoceros, part 2

In a previous column I wrote about a conversation I had with Milo, my six year old grandson.  I asked him if he had learned anything interesting in school lately and he told he me that he had been learning about how the rhinoceros is an endangered species.  We discussed that a bit and my reaction was to teach him that one person’s endangered species was someone else’s food. So when I visited him later on, we ate kangaroo, elk, wild boar, rabbit and pigeon (not all on the same day.) He loved them all.
I visited him again earlier this week and he handed me a piece of paper. It was a letter to parents jointly written by the kids in his class, asking for a donation to the “save the rhinoceros fund.” He had addressed his letter to me (and as an afterthought it seems, he included his mother as well.) I asked him why he was asking me for money for the rhinoceros, and he said it was because we had discussed it. 
I am, of course against indoctrination in school of any kind. I can think of a lot more important social problems to be concerned about than dying rhinoceroses. But this was “science” you see, and not social studies.
I may be morally opposed to indoctrination, but I am profoundly in favor of Milo learning to think hard, so I gave him five dollars to contribute to the fund. (His mother had earlier refused. “That’s my girl.”)
I then added that he could simply keep the five dollars for himself and buy whatever he wanted with it. His eyes lit up. He said he was confused about what to do. I said it was his decision.
Today I learned that he kept the money. 
Another blow against school indoctrination.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Free Teacher Guides from Microsoft - great resources


Microsoft has some great Teacher Guides available for free. The guides have teaching tips and step-by-step instructions on a variety of topics and tools and technologies.

The guides are all free and downloadable in PDF form.

Topics include: Critical Thinking in web searches, Windows Movie Maker, Free tools from Microsoft, Digital Storytelling, Microsoft Office, web apps, OneNote, Bing and Mathematics, and Accessibility in the Classroom.

The guides are easy to use and read and a great resource.

NASA Rockets Educator Guide - updated and free - great resource

NASA is an excellent resource for educators with sites, lesson resources, and more available.

One of the resources I really like, and use each year, is the Rockets Educator Guide. NASA has recently updated it with some new information and materials. It's available as a free PDF download here.

Cover of the Rockets Educator Guide+

The NASA - The Rockets Educator Guide includes lesson plans and activity ideas. This guide has some great activities like rockets using film canisters, baking soda, and vinegar, paper rockets, altitude trackers and more. There is even a part on the history of rockets.

I use this at the end of the year in a project on Rockets, combining topics from throughout the year in a fun project.

Here's more on the project:

More NASA Resources:

Quickly find free NASA educational resources
Here are a lot more great, free Educational Resources from NASA

PDF - interesting infographic and lots of resources for using them

PDF, Portable Document Format, files are ubiquitous. They are everywhere. They are a great way to share and publish files since they can be locked, watermarked, and viewed on pretty much any device or OS. Most office suites allow you to save files as PDF formats and there are some other great tools for creating them.

Here are some great resources for working with PDF files and an infographic about PDF files and the format.

Lots of PDF resources - print, markup, convert and more

PDFBinder - simple tool to merge PDF documents into one

BabyPDF - Edit PDF documents for free
Crocodoc - markup PDF files for free

Fill Any PDF form - fill out, sign and send forms

I Love PDF - merge or split PDF files

Adobe Digital School Collection - supporting creativity and digital literacy - includes Adobe Acrobat for creating PDF files

Google Summer of Code Student Internships applications open

Google Summer of Code

Google is once again hosting a summer internship for students called "Summer of Code." It is a paid internship for students who will work on open source projects. Organizations submit proposals for projects, students apply to work on those projects and then Google gets them connected to code over the summer. Student applications are now open with a deadline of April 6th. There are 180 projects for students to chose from. 

More information is available here:

Evernote Android App gets Speech-to-text built in

Evernote, one of my favorite and most useful apps, has an update for Evernote's Android app that now includes Speech-to-text. The speech recognition allows you speak and the app will create text into the note. This is also a great way to have transcribed notes without the transcriptionist.

This can also be useful for students and teachers as a learning tool, note taking, and even for students with disabilities to be able to take notes by voice instead of by hand.

The Evernote blogs says it only works on Android 4.0 (ICS) and some other devices, but it works great on my Droid Incredible 2 running Android 2.3.4. I dictated a few notes and it only had one error out of a full paragraph (it missed one letter).

You can get the updated app in Google Play

Source: Evernote Blog:


Evernote for Educators - resources for getting started and using Evernote in Education

Android Smartphone and Apps I use as an educator

Android for Education resources and apps

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thoughts on Writing

Lately I've been having numerous conversations with graduate students frustrated with the process of writing research papers.  Mainly they appear overwhelmed with how labor-intensive the process is, and how long it takes to generate much satisfaction.

When responding, I'm finding it helpful to talk about cooking.  I love cooking, always have.  My strong preference is for slow-cooking -- I like the art of braising, how flavors deepen and meld as meats and veggies turn golden. It never fails to amaze me how the results are even better if left to rest in the fridge for a day before serving, since that time allows the fat to congeal and thicken, and then to be skimmed off, leaving a sharper (and healthier) result.

In my experience, a good research paper requires braising.  I think many people don't anticipate this, instead expecting a stir-fry. Those are neat-- you simply do a bunch of slicing and dicing in advance, line everything up, turn the heat on high, and you're done in minutes.  Preparation pays off, and immediate satisfaction is guaranteed. But as anyone who's eaten stir fries knows, the feeling doesn't last-- you're hungry an hour later.

Writing a good paper requires commitment and patience.  Yes, you need a good idea, but you also need the good sense to put the paper down from time to time, and let it simmer.  I've been known to simmer my papers for as long as two years, before removing the lid to check and see how things look.  (Yes, it's because as a sociologist I'm not fearful of being scooped and my work usually isn't time-sensitive-- and yes, I did this pre-tenure too.)  The best part is that I inevitably find something new when I look-- my view is not only freshened, I'm wiser, more skilled, and excited again about the work.  I can skim the fat quite easily, since it's hardened. I may even involve a second cook in the kitchen at that point, to get the seasoning right.  But no matter what, every single time, the paper is better for the braise.

It's thoughtful, satisfying, and worth every minute.  Try it. And enjoy, along with a nice shiraz.

Glogster Earth Day Contest - great education project with prizes

Glogster EDU

Glogster Edu and the Go Green Initiative are hosting an Earth Day Contest. The challenge is to investigate the water, energy and food systems in your community and come up with ideas to make those systems greener or more sustainable and create a Glog with text, images, audio and video.

The contest includes $2500 in cash prizes for students and $7000 in prizes for classrooms and schools. Prizes include a FlipCam, organic garden, full-service BBQ, stagecoach ride and more.

Entries must be submitted by Earth Day, April 22, 2012. Entry is free and open to all K-12 students.
Contest page:

Join now!


Glogster - multimedia tool that's great for educators and students

Great Earth Day Resources for Educators

Three Ring - free app to create educational portfolios of student work

Three Ring is a free app for Android or iOS that allows teachers to quickly digitize and organize student work into portfolios. You use the app to create the digital portfolio (take a picture) and then the photos are uploaded to the Three Ring site where you can organize the student work, create digital portfolios, share work and examples, and even use it for formative assessment. You can even tag the photos before you upload for easier organization.

This is a great resource for teachers to use to collect and organize student work.

Google Play Android Market:
Apple App Store:

Take a picture with the app...
...and find it stored on the website, where you can sort and share it.



Android for Education resources and apps

Android Smartphone and Apps I use as an educator

Using Evernote for ePortfolios - great idea

OrangeBook - easily create online portfolios of student work

Free Science Fiction Classics on the Web (books and audio)

OpenCulture, a great resource for lots of things, has a great list of free science fiction classics available online, in both text and audio formats. 

The books include classics from Asimov, Huxley, Orwell, Orson Welles, and even the Chronicles of Narnia.

This is a great resource for teachers and students to get free copies of the books, and the audio books can help ELL and struggling readers.


Other resources from Open Culture

National Geographic releases images of Titanic site

National Geographic has released new images of the wreckage site of the RMS Titanic. The images are mosaics, made up of thousands of images from sonar and photos, in high res. It shows everything as a whole, versus small individual areas.

The images are available in the print edition of National Geographic, on their website, or in the iPad edition of the magazine.

These images are a great resource for teachers and students studying the tragedy.

At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the “unsinkable” R.M.S. Titanicdisappeared beneath the waves, taking with her 1,500 souls. One hundred years later, new technologies have revealed the most complete—and most intimate—images of the famous wreck.

Photo: The ghostly bow of the Titanic

Source: The Verge


Wind Power interactive - great resource from NatGeo

National Geographic Education - teacher resources

Sea Monsters - Nat Geo - ancient sea creatures

Animal Facts from Nat Geo - great resource

Hojoki - make all your cloud apps work together - very cool & free

Hojoki is a new service I just learned about from the Hojoki team. It's a very cool idea - it takes all of your online productivity apps and turns them into a newsfeed and collaborative space to work on projects.

I played with it a little today and will be using it more this week. It looks like something that could be very useful for education.

It' is in Beta now and free and there will always be a free plan available.

Here's more information and a video about it:

Teachers utilizing the cloud: Hojoki is your collaborative newsfeed for Google Docs, Calendar, Dropbox, Evernote and more

Hojoki’s basic idea is very simple: they offer one newsfeed for productivity apps. It connects to apps like Google Documents, Evernote, Dropbox, Mendeley and Google Calendar, building you a newsfeed and a collaborative space for your work.

Anytime an activity in any of your connected apps occurs, Hojoki informs you. You can share your activities with others in workspaces, where you can discuss events and manage whatever projects you’re working on. You never miss important changes from co-workers and have all your content in one place.

Why this is so interesting for Teachers?
Some of the tools Hojoki integrates are very powerful and established tools for education:

Google Documents for classroom collaboration
Google Calendar to share calendars with colleagues and classes
Dropbox for sharing and syncing files
Evernote with lot’s of uses prior, during and after class
If you and your colleagues use more than one of those tools, you know the problem. It’s almost impossible to manage communication and collaboration across all the apps efficiently. So both teachers and students spend a lot of time logging into lots of tools, checking for updates and informing each other on changes and updates.

Hojoki solves that fragmentation problem as it brings all the tools and all people involved in one browser tab and allows the creation of workspaces for collaboration.

How to use Hojoki in Education
Hojoki brings teachers and students and, most importantly, their tools together on one page. Here are three suggestions from the Hojoki team for educational use:

Creating and sharing teaching materials    
When creating and sharing teaching materials, teachers often use Google Docs, Dropbox and Evernote. As long as everyone is using the same app, everything is fine. But as soon as content spreads across apps, things become confusing. Everyone needs to log in, check frequently for changes and give feedback on other channels, like email. With Hojoki, you can connect all relevant content from lots of apps to a workspace to get instantly notified if someone updated or added something. Besides that, you get a full searchable history of changes in your teaching materials. Here’s an infographic that shows a typical workflow in Hojoki:

Online Classrooms
If you share and update content from Dropbox, Evernote and Google Docs on a regular basis for a class, create a workspace with your students in Hojoki and add the relevant content. By doing this, Hojoki shows every activity as a newsfeed - who updated a document in Google Docs, created a note in Evernote or uploaded a file to Dropbox. Hojoki connects even to Google Calendar to view class events. Everyone in the classroom workspace can comment immediately and discuss issues. Hojoki saves time by making it easy and keeps everything in one place, so over time you get a fully searchable knowledge base on top of your tools.

Workspaces also work great to provide supervision on writing and student projects which utilize more than one cloud app. Teachers can keep informed on the progress of either one student or a group of students. Students get instant feedback and guidance from their teachers and that extra boost in motivation. ;)

Hojoki is free, so give it a try!  

Monday, March 26, 2012

What We're Reading: New Evidence on Educational Policies

The recent conference of the Association for Education Finance and Policy, held in Boston, was a terrific event. Especially exciting was the large number of rigorous analyses on higher education policies.  Here are some highlights; a more complete set of papers is here.

1. Peter Hinrichs of Georgetown University examined racial segregation in higher education since 1968. He finds that segregation has diminished, in part because of declining enrollment in historically black colleges and universities.  The exposure of white students to black students has increased sharply since 2000 in private institutions but not in public institutions, and these trends appear concentrated in the South and West.  Far more perplexing is his suggestion that affirmative action bans in some states may have also contributed to declining segregation. But he is appropriately circumspect about these puzzling findings, noting that one also has to consider a range of other issues with regard to affirmative action (see p. 17).

2. Ben Castleman and Bridget Long of Harvard estimated the effects of a Florida need-based financial aid grant on bachelor's degree completion.  Using a regression discontinuity design, the authors found that "an additional $1,000 in grant aid eligibility (in 2000 dollars) increased the probability of immediate enrollment at  a four-year university by 3.2 percentage points, while increasing the probability of staying continuously enrolled through the spring semester of students' freshman year by 4.3 percentage points. An additional $1,000 in aid eligibility increased the cumulative number of credits students completed after three years by 2.1 credits and increased the probability of earning a bachelor’s degree within six years by 4.6 percentage points."  On the other hand, Kevin Stange of U. Michigan finds that charging different amounts of tuition for different majors does not appear to impact major choice.

3. An analysis by Amanda Griffith of Wake Forest considered whether same-gender matching of professor to student enhances student performance.  She finds suggestive evidence that the growing presence of female faculty may contribute to the outstanding performance of women students, at least at the private selective college she studied.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Most popular posts on Ed Tech Guy this past week

The last week has had wonderful weather here in Connecticut, with temperatures hitting 70, with a beautiful breeze. It's going to get chilly again next week, but it was a nice break to have the great weather.

State testing is also done (yeah! now we can get back to learning).

Here are the most read posts from the past week: (and don't forget to check out the posts from Friday. They don't usually have time to get to most read status.)

Have a great weekend!

1. Real World Math - ideas for using Google Earth in math class

2. TED Launches TED-Ed "education lessons worth sharing"

3. Knovio - turn PowerPoint presentation into multimedia video

4. Ahead - create zooming multimedia presentations

5. Free Animated Tutorials for Science Classes

6. Interactive Biology - free videos, quizzes and study guides on Biology

7. Why I'm a Teacher and what I like and dislike about it

8. Edcamp - teacher run, awesome, free educational conferences

9. Free Project Based Learning resource available

10. Jog the Web - create webquest-like guides to web pages

Don't forget to check out the permanent pages at the top of the site too!

I am also available to speak at your school or conference and to run professional development sessions. 

Please visit the advertisers on this site. 

If you are reading this blog and like it, please consider subscribing to it. The subscription links are on the right side of the blog, down just a bit (below the ads). 

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Pearltree - Ben's Guide to US Government - great resource for K12

Pearltrees is a great, free site I wrote about in January that lets you organize web content in a visual pattern. There is a Chrome browser extension that makes it easy to add sites to your tree. Trees can be shared and even worked on collaboratively.

A member of my PLN (sorry, can't remember who now and I forgot to make a note of it) just shared a great Pearltree: "Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government for Kids."

Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids

The resources are sorted by grades: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 and there is a page about Ben and a Parent and Educator section. Each section has information, links and resources about the US Government. This is a great resource for anyone teaching, or learning, about the US Government and how it works. 

Here's the main page for 9-12:

This is a great example of how a tool like Pearltrees can be used to create educational resources for students (or even have students create them as a project)

Guest Post - Using Pinterest in the Classroom


This Guest Post is by Samantha Peters, who runs and enjoys writing about new ways for teachers can use Pinterest and other social media platforms to enhance learning in the classroom.

Pinterest is the newest member to arrive on to the social media scene, and it has taken social media users by storm – quickly becoming one of the most popular social media platforms today. However, this site is not solely to be seen by educators as yet another classroom distraction. Pinterest can actually be highly beneficial for a number of reasons:

Lesson Supplements
Students learn in a wide variety of ways, and many learn best when the lesson is interactive. When covering certain topics, whether it be World History or Trigonometry, use Pinterest to post lesson supplements. If you find articles, stories, or YouTube videos that will help students further grasp lessons, Pin them to that lesson's Board so that they have access to tools that will help them supplement their education.
Current Events
Several large news and information sites, including the Wall Street Journal and National Geographic, are members of Pinterest, and have active boards. Simply by choosing to follow them, you can keep your class easily up to date on the most recent breaking stories and finds. These stories can then be used to prompt further classroom discussions or debates, and even lead in to larger projects.
If you are teaching higher level courses, such as those for college students, you can post Pins and have students comment below to create an online discussion board.
Project Ideas
If your students are struggling with project ideas, Pinterest is a great place to go. Create a board on Pinterest exclusively for classroom projects with several Pins of different project ideas. Your students will be able to actually see previous projects, and get a better understanding of what you are looking for and what they can do to create a successful project.
If you are wondering whether or not students are staying on top of their individual or group projects, don't ask for the generic written report. Instead, have each group create a Pinterest account and then post research that they have found, as well as any pictures and project ideas, to their Boards so that you can actually watch their progress, offer criticism when necessary, and make sure that they are using credible sources.
The aforementioned are just a few of the numerous ways an educator, whether they teach 8th grade at a Los Angeles junior high or 19th Century History at a Miami community college, can use Pinterest to further engage their students in the classroom. The highly iconic nature of the site sets it aside from other social media platforms, and makes it a pleasure for students to use. So if you are looking for another way to refocus your students, consider bringing Pinterest into the classroom.


Social Media in Education - connect, share, learn, communicate and more

Popplet - online presentation, mindmapping, and bulletin board

Know Before You Go

Recent conversations with several college access programs prompted this post.  My experiences studying the college pathways of students from low-income families have led me to formulate several suggestions for college preparation, and while I plan to write these up in more formal venues in the future, I thought perhaps it's best to begin dissemination now--especially since, in some respects, I think my suggestions are unconventional.

1. There is no one "right" college for you.  Talk about "matching" with a college abounds, and it sort of reminds me of dating advice.  Find the person who is right for you, suited to your skills and temperament, and all will work out. Well, two caveats: first, maybe yes, maybe no.  There are far too many unobservable characteristics of people and colleges to predict success based on observables.  And second, there are many plausible matches-- if one doesn't work, you need to be prepared to try again.  This means that students need to have a healthy sense of possibilities and alternatives, and a framework for evaluating when college is meeting their needs, and when it might be time to transfer.  They need to know how to go about that process, and to not feel ashamed to make the choice to find a new college.   Nearly one in two undergraduates attend more than one institution in pursuit of a degree, and my research with Fabian Pfeffer shows that this is true even among four-year college students.  Transfer is typically in the purview of community colleges, and many universities lack outbound transfer resources-- and will even discourage departure.  Students need to graduate from high school knowing that transfer later might be necessary, and ready to know what to do.

2. You won't do it alone. The normative view of a college student who leaves home, embraces independence, and engages in college life as a fully formed adult is outdated--or perhaps never really existed.  Remarkably, young people are becoming less not more mobile-- and it may not be a terrible thing.  Family ties promote survival, and kinship can mean the difference between starving alone or managing to make it.  Undergraduates in my study are not only receiving support from their family, but also supporting their family emotionally, and by devoting both monetary and non-monetary resources. The trick is finessing how to do this well.  Students need to graduate from high school prepared to discuss with their parents (and other relatives) how they can best stay connected while also getting to focus on their studies.  What do you do when an assignment is due and mom needs you to babysit?  How can you discuss with your parents the amount of your earnings that you can share with them for the rent, while also having enough to buy books?  This requires strong interpersonal skills we have to help young people develop.

3. Shoot for the stars, but don't over-reach. Many programs are focused on helping students aspire to careers in science and engineering, and that message is leading some students to proclaim the intention of becoming such professionals even though high school hasn't quite prepared them. The unintended consequences may be severe.  In one example, I know a student who was rejected from his first choice college-- a public university-- because his application stated a desire to become a physicist.  Yet, while he had excelled in AP Literature and History his senior year, he hadn't gone further than Algebra II in high school.  The university likely denied him because of a sense he wouldn't achieve his goals there-- at least not in four years (one of the unintended consequences of a focus on measuring grad rates?).  While in a better world, he would have been admitted and then apprised of what it would take to achieve that goal, so he could choose a longer time-to-degree or a different path, instead he was denied.  Crushed, he diverted for a community college.  High school students like this one need to ensure their big dreams are either backed up with the right coursework, or counseled to be circumspect in their college applications.

4. It's ok to not know.  Students in my study often speak of fear of failure, of getting bad grades, of being caught not knowing how to answer a question in class. They don't know that professors have much respect for students who can say confidently "I don't know the answer, but I'd sure like to learn."  The cool pose many students adopt when they are unsure alienates professors.  Instead, high school students need to be encouraged to express their concerns, and ask ask ask.  Perhaps this could be modeled for them, and they could practice it in their senior year courses.

5. Always ask twice.  For four years, I have watched students leave college without a degree because of a snafu-- a minor happenstance that felt enormous and real, but could have been resolved by asking for help more than once.  One student left because he thought his misdemeanor conviction meant he could no longer get financial aid- a concern a fellow student confirmed. He needed to ask again at his financial aid office.  Another student left because she was dropped from her program due to low grades, and she thought this meant she was expelled from the entire college.  She waited for the college to call and explain it to her.  I wish that was something we could reasonably expect colleges to do, but right now the orientation and resources simply aren't there.  High school students need to know that when something's wrong, they need to ask- and ask -- and ask.

I hope this proves useful for the many programs and people working to make college success possible for the least likely graduates.  If you have lessons of your own to share, please write in.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Is This What Shared Governance Looks Like?

For decades, the price of higher education has been rising at colleges and universities nationwide, and relatively few students and families have done so much as sniff.  While occasional concerns about affordability have been expressed, that message has been quite soft when compared to the loud statement uttered by the millions who walk onto college campuses every year, despite rising tuition and fees.  In other words, actions speak louder than words.  Colleges and universities are able to say: if we are truly charging more than you want to pay, why do you keep buying it?

Times are changing, as some students are informing themselves about why college costs so much-- and where the money is actually spent.  Some are aware that part of the costs are offloaded onto students in the form of student fees, fees which in many places students have no choice but to pay, and have no control over.

UW-Madison is a bit unusual-- it has segregated fees, but it also has a renowned shared governance structure which gives students strong input into how those fees are spent.  This is a model that has helped shape the character of the institution and is among its finest attributes.

Unfortunately, a challenge to shared governance may be upon us.  Recently, the Student Services Finances Committee of the Associated Students of Madison voted to reject a request to increase spending of the Wisconsin Union and Recreational Sports.  Before approving the request, the SSFC wanted more information about how those funds would be spent.  In other words, students demanded transparency and accountability, beyond the high-level look at spending they are typically provided.  Absent that information, they declined the request.

On Tuesday, Interim Chancellor David Ward, a chancellor who has been demonstrably sensitive to issues of affordability and the cost-effective use of resources, overruled that veto.  I admit, I have not spoken to Ward to ascertain his reasons. But whether I would agree or disagree with his reasons are beside the point, which is fundamentally about process.  Shared governance leans heavily on adherence to process -- it is time-consuming but is essentially what the concept is all about. And according to the written process, Ward was to consult with SSFC before overruling their decision -- according to both Sarah Neibart (head of SSFC) and Allie Gardner (head of ASM) he did not.

Given a climate in which faculty, staff, and students have good reason to be concerned about allocation of scarce resources (since every day many of us observe it being allocated in inequitable and ineffective ways), and given the generally low morale due to stagnant and declining compensation, it is more important than ever to preserve the aspects of this university which make it special to its constituents. Shared governance is exactly that. Strong protection of shared governance is an inexpensive way to keeping the University's laborers integrated, involved, and effective. It is essential.

A positive result of this action would be a renewed discussion about the types of reporting that students, faculty, and staff can expect to receive from the administration regarding the allocation of monies generated from tuition and fees. Rigorous assessment of the impacts (the delta) resulting from spending (not the outcomes), can help move this institution through hard times-- and we should all be supportive of that.

Monday, March 19, 2012

R.I.P. Encyclopedia Britanicca; Google to the rescue? Not so fast

Encyclopedia Britanicca (EB) announced last week that there would be no more printed versions of the Encyclopedia. The company also announced that they still were in business, presumably meaning the web site they are putting out.
In this column, I usually rant and rave about some education silliness or other that I have just encountered, so, readers may be wondering why I care about the demise of EB. 
In 1990 or so, I was asked to be on the editorial board of EB, presumably to bring some fresh ideas to a board whose average age at the time was over 80. I had just arrived in Chicago (where EB was headquartered) and had opened a new institute about computers and learning, so I guess they thought I might know something that might help them going forward. I was also hired as a personal consultant to the Chairman of the Board of EB. My job was mostly to have dinner with him and discuss the future.
He would ask me at every dinner: “will there be books in ten years?” And, at every dinner I would reply: “yes, but not EB.” (So I was off by a few years.)
Am I sorry that the printed EB has died? Not really. EB represented an ancient concept of knowledge that is the very one that still haunts our school system. The board meetings at EB were something from another century. Scholars discussing what belonged and did not belong in EB. What was important truth and how much space did that truth need devoted to it?
When I suggested that in the future they would not get to be the arbiters of the official truth, they objected. I was told sneeringly that soon “minds less well educated than our own would be in charge.” While I suspect the speaker of these words meant me, he was right. Wikipedia has overtaken EB and while those who write and edit the content of Wikipedia are certainly well meaning, probably things would be better if the people at EB were still in charge of truth.
The problem is that no one can or should be in charge of truth. Truth can be learned from folks wiser than you but you have to know whom to ask and you have to know what to ask.
EB didn’t really answer the questions that actual people have. And while I knew the web would kill EB (even before there was a web) what has replaced EB is Google, and this is a problem. 
There is a program that enables me to see what questions people type into Google that land them at one of my Outrage columns. Here is a list of words (sometimes as questions) typed in the last few days. I assume this is typical of what is typed into Google. Google matches key words so the columns of mine that these questions uncover are quite often totally unrelated to the question the user typed. (What they typed is unedited.):
tell them what you want to tell them tell them tell them what you told them
why must i go to school
school is bad for children
Eassy on why do students cheat?
what should i go to school for
questions measuring academic achievement
byu idaho college stories
essay on why do student cheat on their exam
remember something story
my textbook sucks
what do you want someone to remember about
is schizophrenia taught in schools
john stuart mill view on education
majoring in history
rick santorum education yesterday\
"makes a good college education"
someone telling a story about softball
pat tillman silenced
why education matters
do you think school and prison are alike
good editorial about math
So here is the real issue: People have stuff they  want to know. EB really never answered their actual questions. (Only the John Stuart Mill question above would have been answered in EB.)
So, while the web may have killed EB it is has not done that particularly well. People have questions they want to ask and conversations they want to have. Also, as is clear from ethos question, they need help in even formulating their questions. The web is still not conversational and people are still not well educated but the good news is that many still want to know more. They typically are not trying to know more about what is taught in school, or what was in EB, as is clear from the above questions.