Create Mini-Websites On The Go

An interesting new website called Zapd has popped up recently.  The idea is for you to create mini-websites on the go based around specific ideas or topics that are maybe too small or focused for creating a full-blown website or blog. I am not sure if there has been much buzz on this one or not – I actually found it while killing time in the iPhone app store.

The basic idea is that you get some content (probably some pictures on your phone), pick a theme in Zapd, add your content, and then save it all as a mini-site. You then share the link with just the people that you wish to share it with – you can post it to Facebook or just send it to a few colleagues.  The website mentions everything from travel pictures to small businesses to  portfolios. The only thing I don’t see is a way to keep your link out of the showcase on the front page on the Zapd website.

And about that website – you can’t sign up or do anything other than look at created sites on their main website.  Many websites let you sign up and do everything from their app, but this is one of those that has to be set-up completely through the app.  An interesting concept.

This could be a simple tool for educators to use.  Send your students out around town or school to take pictures for a project and have them create their portfolio on the spot.  Art, history, politics, social studies, music, science, and whole host of other subjects could use something like this to make it easier to apply the concepts from class to the world around the students, all the while giving students an easy way to share their learning.

I created a quick zap here: (yep – seems like all links look like they are straight from some URL-shortener). I can go back in and edit or even add text entries under the pictures for more details. But it was pretty quick and easy. It also would have let me take a picture on the spot and use it – they didn’t have to already exist.

It would be nice to see videos added (like a YouTube embedder). Maybe even some mash-ups with Google Maps for location based sharing.  But it is still new and I am sure there will be other features added soon.

Band Practice Goes To The Cloud?

GigIn seems to be a new website that is part social network and part “web conference tweaked for musicians.” The basic idea promoted by the site is that you can connect with up to six people anywhere in the world to jam or practice.  Then you can take what emerges there and hold an online concert of some kind.  I’m still exploring it a bit, but can’t really give it a full tour until I join a band (and Bono refuses to return my emails for an audition).

Obviously, this is designed for musicians – but educators are used to re-purposing things anyways, right? I’m thinking that this can be used for anything that requires creative collaboration and practice.  Music majors could get together and practice, of course – even when they live far apart. Or they could meet with faculty mentors online to practice. I’m also thinking this could possibly be used to take speech and debate courses online. Even some plays could be practiced this way – depending on how you reformat them.  Language learning in also a possibility. Also, I’m thinking that smaller online advanced art courses – ones where you work on specific projects with an instructors feedback – could use something like this to go online.

After signing up, I see that there is a mixer program built in – something that gives GigIn an edge over most web conferencing tools (if it works right).  The lack of a good mixer is why you can’t really use many web conferencing solutions for band practice.  If the lead guitarist is using an inferior hardware set-up to everyone else, they might come out quieter in the mix (or way too loud, or distorted, etc). The ability to broadcast your sessions is also another feature that sets this apart from many others.  And then there seems to be the social aspect.

There is also mention of attending online festivals – which could also translate into online teaching sessions and online conferences for educators.  Of course, whether you would use this rather than any other web conferencing software will really come down to how well it works and how flexible it is.  But I like that the idea with GigIn is to connect, create, collaborate, and broadcast online. If they can figure out how to make all that work smoothly and give veryone the features they need – then this tool could have a bright future.

Let’s add dimdim to our list

Received the following email yesterday evening from web conferencing site Dimdim:

Subject: Dimdim aquired by

Dear Customer:

Dimdim has been acquired by Your free Dimdim account will remain active until March 15, 2011. After that date, you will no longer be able to access your free Dimdim account.

Please see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for additional information.

We appreciate your understanding, and we thank you!

This affects free accounts as well as paid accounts. All recordings you have on their site must be downloaded before your account expires, which depends on whether you were a monthly or annual subscriber. [official announcement]

Response to Yahoo’s plans to shut down delicious

Warning: This is an emotional response to yesterday’s announcement by Yahoo! that they are shutting down the popular, absolutely essential, epitome of web 2.0 tool delicious.

What the hell?! First Facebook and now Yahoo! have screwed me (us) over. Two really simple, very functional, extremely valuable web2.0 tools that I’ve been preaching and pushing all year b/c they are/were incredibly useful — delicious and — and the parent companies pulled/are about to pull the plug.

  • October brought us the announcement that Facebook bought and that free accounts were to quickly disappear and paid accounts discontinued Dec.15.
  • Yesterday brought us even more shocking news that Yahoo has decided to sunset their very popular social tagging tool delicious.

Damn them.

Now what do I tell faculty? What are you going to tell your faculty? How are you going to sell them on some really amazing online tool that does something incredibly useful for their class and yet runs the serious risk of being acquired by [huge company name here] and very quickly wiped out?

Yes! I’ve found this great tool that helps you meet that learning objective, keeps your students engaged, encourages active learning … but just an fyi — don’t get too dependent on it, b/c it’s very possible someday you’ll suddenly have to export everything, find a new tool, and figure out how to migrate from one to another.

[Update: Now Yahoo! Says Delicious Will Live On … Somewhere Else]

So Google Wave Is Dead Already?

Google has a fairly inconsistent record of development when it comes to innovative products.  Remember Lively? They pulled the plug on that fast – even though they probably had enough interest and users to keep it going.  Now it seems Wave is going the way of Lively.

Or something like that – the official announcement was a bit unclear, especially since some of the code has already been released open-source. The basic gist of it is that Wave will no longer be standalone… but somehow integrated into other products. And the website will go away by the end of the year. The main reason given was that “Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked.”

That is probably going to be the closest Google will ever get to admitting failure.  It wasn’t that long ago that they were predicting the death of email, that email was obsolete, that Wave would forever change the way we communicate on the web, etc.  I like Google, but they aren’t exactly that great at eating humble pie.

The hard part for me and millions of others is that we still never figured out what exactly Google Wave is…

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Google Wave, but I did recognize that it was innovative. I know that I predicted that it wouldn’t make it, but I would have liked to have been wrong just to see where it could have gone.

I guess we will never know now.

Cloud Computing For Videos and Music Creators

Although there have been various tools out there to edit video and music online, this month we see two more added to the mix. The difference this time is that it is two big players in the tech world that are giving us these tools – two companies that you might already be using.

First up is this small company called Google you might have heard of. Last week they announced that you can edit videos online with YouTube Video Editor.  A few basic features are present – you can crop the beginning and/or end of a video, combine multiple videos together, and even add music from a free music library.  Well, not totally free – if you use the music there, the editor says ads will be displayed. I’m not seeing anything about the ability to download what you created.  Although, there are always ways of doing that with YouTube.

But that is about it for this service – still probably in Beta at best, and you can’t edit or mix audio.  That would be the next nice step. But the big deal is that it is also connected to the largest online video sharing site ever.

But what if you are wanting to create music of your own?  Not just mix a soundtrack, but create music like you would on a synthesizer… but online?  Aviary recently released Roc:

“Use Aviary’s music creator to simulate dozens of musical instruments including piano, guitars and drums. Create music loops and patterns for use in Aviary’s audio editor (Myna) or as ring tones.”

And you can add your own voice or music to the mix. I gave it a shot – it is surprisingly easy to use. you can listen here:

(oh, and all of the embed and share stuff you see above was part of the package deal with Aviary. Nice.)

For hardcore video mixers or musicians, this is probably not that great of a deal. For teachers and amateur creative types – this is huge.  Many different projects could be created online and easily shared with students around the world.

Adding Value and Battling Staleness in Online Classes

Think back to some of the best courses you took during college. What made those courses so great for you? Well, other than the ones that were an easy A – what made them interesting to you over other courses? Probably one factor was an interesting instructor. Many instructors like to just read from the textbook or (even worse) a PowerPoint.  You know for a fact that their class is probably exactly the same this semester as it was last semester and the semester before that.

In other words: BORING!

The classes that most students end up liking are taught by instructors that are talking to them about current events and new information related to their subject. The course that you get this semester is slightly different than the one last semester. In other words – there is a a greater value in showing up to this course, because it will be interesting and relevant (and slightly different from what your roommate learned last semester). The instructor is reading and researching the subject and keeping you up to date on the course subject.

But… can this be done online… where classes are usually canned and solidified months before the first day of course?

Through the modern miracle of technology, the answer is yes – if you plan ahead.

You are probably teaching a course in a subject that you like. That means you are also probably reading blogs, articles, journals, and other websites related to that subject.  What if your students could follow you as you do all of this reading? What if they could research with you – and this research became the course content? What if they discussed what you read that week, instead of some canned, stale question you stuck in a “discussion board” months ago?

Technically, this is possible with a blog. But do you really want to log in and create an entire blog post for every article, blog post, etc, etc. that you find… several times a week? Sound too tiring to you? Well then I have two words for you:

Social Bookmarking

You have probably heard of sites like Delicious and Digg.  Did you know that you can use these sites as the content for your course? Ditch the pre-processed cheese html zip file, pdf, or (shudder) audio lecture recording and go flexible, relevant, and easy.

Here is one idea: create an account in Delicious. Then come up with a tag just for each class – edtc3320, for example.  Then install a Delicious bookmark plug-in for FireFox or Chrome (if you are using Internet Explorer, well… I am sorry).  You can then send your students to the page for your specific class tag, and they can use whatever RSS reader they want to follow you. You can even create multiple tags for different classes.

As you come across different articles and links that would apply to your class – bookmark them in delicious and tag them for the class you want to read them. Maybe even add a second link of ‘edtc3320week1’ or whatever to help students organize them better. Delicious lets you write short comments on each link – so let students know why you bookmarked the link. Then add a discussion question for each link. For your class discussion, tell students that they have to answer at least one question raised during each week’s readings.

But don’t ditch the blog just yet – you are the content expert, so you have great insights to add to everything you read, and delicious has a short limit on comments.  So blog about what you want, and then bookmark your blog post in Delicious. It gets added to the flow that students have to read each week.

Dynamic content, active learning, reflection, and rapid course design all in one neat package! Want to be really fancy? Get a RSS feed widget, and then insert that in to your LMS course for the students that don’t get RSS. They can just click on the content page and it will be there for them in the walled garden…errr… Learning Management System.

Want to see what this could look like? Well, as I find resources I like online, I have created a Delicious tag just for EduGeek Journal readers to follow:

Follow me in your favorite RSS reader to see what this could be like.

{this post is being cross-posted at Soundings: Best Practices in Teaching and Technology]

Out With The Old, In With The New. Again. Yawn.

The new year is almost upon us. Resolutions are being made as predictions are flying left and right.  Oh… and nothing that was supposed to die this year has died yet.

So now it is time to just change the year on those predictions to ‘2010’ and hope that no one notices that our predictions from past years haven’t come true.

I apologize for the lack of posts this month, but most of the EdTech news has been so monotone recently.  Google Wave, Google Wave, Google Wave. I love to explore emerging technology just like the next person, but there are other things out there.  And many of them we can actually use now in education… not wait until some secret date in the future finally arrives.

The college I work for recently hosted a presentation by  Daniel M. Russell, a research scientist with Google. His insights into search were fascinating.  And his comments about Google Wave were concerning. He bluntly stated that the interface isn’t working for people at all. Then he clarified what the current status of “preview” means to Google: they can change or cancel the Wave project at any time if they want.  The email killer itself could get canned if Google just decides one day that it isn’t cutting it.

And just why does everything in the world of technology have to die? Why are there so many technology killers out there? iPhone killers. Email killers. Windows killers. University killers. Sheesh.

Why do we have to get rid of something just to get something new? Email works just fine (and 94% of the online activity of the millennial generation is spent using email (still), so I doubt it is just for old people). Why do we have to kill it? Why not use it with Google Wave?

I am one of those odd people that will listen to a vinyl record and an mp3 in the course of one day. I’ve always felt that if something has value now, it will have value in the future. New ideas and products should come along side existing ones, not kill them altogether.

Well, except for 8 tracks. Those never made sense to me.

Of course, since nothing that is predicted to die actually ever dies, I am really just making a big deal about nothing. I guess I am just growing bored waiting for people to realize that nothing ever really dies in the technology world, and that Google Wave is still too around the corner to be any use to us right now. Then maybe we can get some interesting ideas flowing again.

Kicking The Tires on Google Wave

Finally – my Google Wave invite is here. I have heard that if you get invited by someone else, don't mention their name on a public site – because that person will get inundated by requests for an invitation!  Of course, the person that sent me an invite knows who they are – so to that person: thank you! You rock!

If you are still wondering what Google Wave is, you can head over to the handy Complete Guide to Google Wave for more information.  Of course, I am in Wave now and I still can't really describe what it is that well.  You see, it really just isn't what email would be if email was invented today. Gmail is what email would be if it was invented today.  Email is just electronic mail – a system to send messages and documents electronically.  You can't really change that much, because it was never meant to be synchronous communication. Even though I have been in many situations where the emails are flying so fast and furious, you kind of have to wonder…

So far, Wave seems more like a slick mixture of a synchronous wiki and a synchronous discussion board.  The ability to slip in and out of the conversation – to go from asynchronous to synchronous as you wish – is really cool. What few plug-ins they have are pretty cool. Watching others type in real time is creepy, but still kind of cool.

But this is the problem I now have – I have to separate the geek side of me from the educational side of me.  The geek side of me loves Wave so far, even though I barely ever use it (because so few people I know are on it).  The educational side of me is a little more skeptical.  It is true that Wave is information overload. Even one active wave is hard to keep up with, because people can be adding information and responding to other people all over the place.  You can be reading the bottom of a wave and find out that a better exchange is taking place two scroll lengths up. Kind of frustrating.

I have seen many of the long lists of ideas people have for educational uses.  Which all look nice, but you have to realize that you can also come up with a long list of educational ideas for NotePad (I have seen them).  The problem is, most of those ideas sound good on paper, but they turn out pretty boring in implementation.  Will people be able to implement these Google Wave ideas in an effective manner?

That remains to be seen. The learning curve for Wave is steep. Second Life is floundering in many areas because of this same issue, while FaceBook keeps growing and growing.  FaceBook is way more complex than Wave, but it is fairly simple to ease yourself in and then explore new features as you feel comfortable.  I don't know if I see Google Wave as being as simple to ease in to. Maybe they are working on that.  All of this is just to say that Google is going to have to get Wave to appeal to more than geeks like me for it to go anywhere.

I also find it interesting that Mozilla has recently announced the Wave-like Raindrop product.  Raindrop is different in many aspects, but I already understand what they are going for… while I still struggle to get exactly what Wave is going for.  I bring up Raindrop because competition is good, and I think the best thing for Wave will be a good, solid competitor.  So keep your eye on Raindrop.

Of course, don't let my reality check fool you – I will still be using Google Wave as much as I can as long as I can.  And no, I don't have an invites to give!

Guess That Google Wave Invite is Not Coming?

I wish I could tell you that I have been secretly playing with Google Wave for the last week, and this was my report on what I found. But, sadly – no Google Wave invites have appeared in my account. The good news is that I finally got my Google Voice invite! (how long has that been out?)

What really worries me is that there are probably about a thousand or so technophobes out there sitting on their invites because they had no idea what they were signing up for. “Oh, Google Wave. That sounds so nice and refreshing, don’t you know. Sure I’ll sign up. Is it a new soft drink or something? Well, I’ll agree to all this mumbo-jumbo talky-talky on this page and find out.”

Anyone got a spare invite? So far, I have read some good feedback and some not-so-enthusiastic feedback. I am guessing that some of the negative feedback is coming from people that just like to be anti-hype. There have even been people that have made a list of Top 10 Google Wave problems. Already? Sounds kind of speculative at best, and others have already successfully argued that it is too early to dismiss the G-Wave so easily.

The real question is whether or not Google will draw out this private Beta stage so long that people will stop caring about Wave by the time it is open to everyone. If you want to change the way that people communicate online, you’ve got to get everyone on board pretty quickly. People can prove to be resistant to change if it takes too long.