Category Archives: Reviews

Google Wave is Only Underwhelming Because We Are Educators

google_wave_logo_finalSo after begging and pleading with my PLN on Twitter and submitting no less than five beta requests to Google (including one telling them that I would name my next child Google I was finally granted an invitation to the exclusive test. My first reaction to using the Wave was that the UI was not like anything I had seen, but after using it for a few days I quickly got over that. My next reaction was “what’s the big deal”, which was a sentiment shared by many members of the PLN. At first Google Wave just seemed like a chat client that might be a little novel because you could see what the other participants were saying while they were saying it (a feature slightly embarrassing to those of us who are less than stellar typists). Then, ok you could share files, or images or videos and all the while we were saying…”but I could do all of this before.”

As educators we pride ourselves on making it work. If a piece of technology doesn’t work like we thought it would during a lesson we immediately switch to a back-up plan on the fly and keep going. And that is what all of us have been doing with Web 2.0 tools. If one tool doesn’t work exactly like we want it to or is missing something we need, we make it work, finding another tool to fill in the gaps. After that we go through the often painstaking process of tying it all together with hyperlinks, email, presentation tools, wikis and whatever else we need.

After using Google Wave for a week, I see what Google is trying to do. Think of this scenario you and three of your classmates are working on a presentation for your class, before you would have to either be in the same room or email various copies of the presentation back and forth to each other. Because we are educators, we all have made that scenario work with conference calls, instant messenger, ftp sites, and very carefully worded file names. Now think of this scenario with Wave, when it is up to its non-beta full-strength version. Google will allow all of its products to function in-line in the wave. You will use Google Docs to create the presentation in real time with your partners in the wave, while using voice or even the just announced video feature of Google Talk. One of the group members is using the search features already available in Wave to find images, while another is creating a spreadsheet for the presentation all on the same wave.

I hate to toot Google’s horn too loudly here, but I think this is a sea change in terms of collaborative work flow, it just isn’t immediately easy to see because we are educators and we have always just made it work.

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Two Very Useful Twitter Tools for Educators

I have been using two particularly useful Twitter services for a little while now and I thought I would share them with you. Each of these services addresses a unique problem that I was having while using Twitter and makes the experience much better.

The first of these is ReadTwit. ReadTwit is a service that turns your Twitter stream into links and sends them to your RSS fead reader. This is useful because it saves your feed even when you are *gasp* not actually on Twitter. This gives me the ability to go through the feed later at my own pace and bookmark the best stuff. The other great thing that this service does is drill into the shortened link and give you a preview of its destination.

The second very useful tool for educators is called Topify, and it helps with sorting through the frequent follower updates that you get (particularly on #followfriday, or #teachertuesday). Topify sends you a very detailed email message for nearly every action that is performed on your Twitter account, including when you are followed, follow or block someone, or receive a direct message. The most useful thing about these email messages is the detailed information that they provide about the user allowing you to make a better decision about adding them to your PLN. The emails also allow you to take action from within without having to browse to Twitter itself. You can follow, block or even report spammers from right inside the email. Handy! Topify is technically in an invite only beta stage, but I asked for and received one within a few hours. I cannot reccommend these two Twitter tools enough, give them a try.

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Sentio Review Part 1: Hardware

OK, so the Guru has been up and running for months now, but he hasn’t dispensed much wisdom about educational technology and integration. I thought that I would get the ball rolling by reviewing a piece of technology that I have been working with for a few weeks.

The Senteo interactive response system is a member of a family of products collectively reffered to as Classroom Performance Systems (CPS), or Audience Response Systems (ARS). The easiest way to imagine the CPS is the think of the ask the audience lifeline on Millionaire. Everyone in the audience is able to answer the question within a matter of seconds, thereby becoming participants in the gameshow themselves.

This particular CPS, the Senteo, was developed by Smarttech, the company behind the Smartboard.

This is the second CPS system that I have tested. The other system that I have experienced is the system made by eInstruction.

So out of the box the hardware for the Senteo is impressive. The class set comes in a padded blue carrying case and the hand sets themselves appear to be quite durable. Each set has weight to it and feels good in the hand with the top and bottom of the handset being curved, similar to a decent universal remote control. The buttons on the unit are large enough and are spaced far enough apart to avoid the “fat-finger” effect. Indeed, when testing this with students they rarely reported hitting the wrong button by mistake. The screen on the unit is a different story in terms of usability. It is very small and without color. The text looks like something from an old Casio calculator or dot-matrix printer. Then again the last CPS system I tested had no readout at all other than the feedback from the activity itself, so this is a step up from that.

As for the input unit. It is a simple radio receiver that connects to your computer via USB. The installation of the receiver was simple and intuitive, just plug it in and it works (if you have the Senteo software installed).

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