Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More Social Networking

I'm here at the monthly meeting of Austin Bloggers which I found out about yesterday on Upcoming. The leader is Chip Rosenthal, writer of It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here. Also in attendance is Jette Kernion, writer of Slackerwood, a blog "devoted to reporting and reviewing all aspects of Austin film". Just arrived is Kimbrough Gray, author of Austin Real Estate Blog. We also have Prentiss Riddle, writer of aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada, Chris McConnell, author of and Adam Rice, writer at of Random Neural Misfirings.

The conversation ranged from Mike Huckabee's admission about frying a squirrel in a popcorn popper to high technology to high school reunions and more. Good people. Good conversation. Good social networking.

Social Networking

Yesterday evening I was reading a blog post over at edtechpost about ”where can I meet you”. In it, Scott mentioned a program to use for personal and event planning – Upcoming. I decided to click on the link and check it out. Apart from the fact the page opened up customized for where I am located, which was a little disconcerting since I had never been there before, I was pleased. One thing that immediately caught my eye was a meeting for Austin Bloggers Monthly Get-Together. I decided to check it out and am here at Austin Java now. Although this is my first time here, I would highly recommend it. If you are ever in Austin come on over to Barton Springs Road just south of the river and visit. The food is great, they have bottomless cups of coffee, and there is a very strong wireless connection. AND most of the tables I see around me have power connections nearby so you can keep working for a long time. Great! Keep the coffee coming. OK. I didn’t intend to focus only on Austin Java, (there are actually several locations) but it really is great. I’m sure I‘ll be back.

I don’t really know enough yet about Upcoming to write intelligently about it so I will keep it brief. It allows users to set up events for themselves plus keep track of other’s events. It also provides the capability to set up favorite places and groups. It could be a quite useful tool, but only if people use it. I’ll try it for awhile and see how it goes.

I really enjoy technology. I enjoy learning about and using new tools. I also enjoy learning how using technology can help improve my performance and the performance of others. Nevertheless, there is always a time when getting together face to face is worthwhile. I am looking forward to this evening’s meeting just to meet with others in Austin who blog. It will be the combination of online social networking with f2f networking. I really don’t know what to expect but I imagine it will be fun. I’ll write more about the experience later. I just got a text message on my phone, sent from Google Calendar, telling me it's time to get to the meeting. Later.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Communication and Collaboration Tools

I do quite a bit of my work remotely. I tend to sit in my home office and work, sometimes late into the evenings like today. Also, much of the work I do is with groups of people spread all across the country or even in several different countries. Right now I am involved in one project with people here in Texas, in Georgia, in California, and in Japan. I am involved in another project with people in several states, in Germany, and in Eastern Europe. I also have to communicate with people from time to time in several other states and countries.

Of course email works well for much of my day-to-day communication needs. However, email does have some significant shortcomings. There are times when I just need to speak to someone. For that, one of my favorite tools to use is Skype – one of the popular VOIP tools available today. One great thing about Skype is that the basic service is free. All I need is an internet connection and a computer and I can communicate by voice with anyone, anywhere, who also has those. Since my laptop has a built in camera, I can also let them see me while we are talking and they can do the same. Skype also allows phone calls to any mobile or land line anywhere in the world for very small charges. I can even purchase a phone number in several different cities and allow people from those cities to make local phone calls to me. Of course Skype also offers voice mail so if I am out or on another call I won’t miss my calls.

Two other communication tools I like are LinkedIn and Ning. Both of these are social networking tools. LinkedIn is a great tool for professional networking. It provides a way to keep up with what is happening with other professionals in one's network. Ning allows people to set up their own personal networks. I have only been using it for a short time but I think it is great.

I will write more later about these and other communication and collaboration tools I use.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Information Management

I am trying to write my blog at least several days a week; it will be great if I can write at least every week day. Writing helps me reflect on what I have read from others and helps clarify and solidify my learning. Reading what others have written, however, can be an increasingly time-consuming task. There are hundreds of authors, many of them quite well thought of, writing on a regular basis about the things I am interested in. There are two tools I have found quite useful to help me keep track of all the information. I use Bloglines as a Feedreader. I currently have feeds to 35 blogs which I try to read with some frequency. There are many others which I will look at from time to time. I also like to use Pageflakes. I also use it as a reader but it has some features I like that Bloglines does not have. With Pageflakes, along with being able to customize what feeds I get, I can customize my page to much the way I want it to look.

Another tool I like to use, which I didn’t mention in my top ten, is another one by Google – Google Desktop. I use it to search for information I have saved on my computer. However, it will also search web sites visited. This is a useful way to find information contained inside files even if you can’t remember which file a particular piece of information is in.

There are many other tools out there useful for information management. I am sure I will be writing more about them at a later time.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Personal Learning and Productivity

I did not intentionally list the tools I mentioned as my Top 10 Tools for Learning in any particular order as to how much I like them, how often I use them, or how important I view them as aides to learning. Rather, I just listed them more or less randomly. I used the third place in my list to mention Google tools. Google provides a large set of tools quite useful for helping anyone learn and be productive.

I use Google Calendar as my main scheduling tool but, as with many of the tools I use, I don’t use Google Calendar by itself. I include the weather icon on each date so I can easily access the daily weather from within my calendar. I also use Remember The Milk for task lists and I have the Remember The Milk task list icon on each day. This allows me to very easily access my list of tasks from within my calendar. One of the things I like about Google Calendar is that it allows me to have multiple calendars, color coded and all viewable on one screen. I can have one for each customer I work with and thus easily keep track of tasks assigned to a customer. I also frequently set reminders for my scheduled events. I usually set a pop up reminder; however, if an appointment is very important, I can have a reminder sent to my cell phone. Another thing I like is that I can view my calendar from any computer and can share it with or hide it from anyone I want.

I also frequently use Google Notebook. One of the nice things about it is that I can access my notes online from any computer. Nevertheless, I usually always have my laptop with me and am not far from a wireless connection. I have the Google Notebook plug-in for Firefox. If I don’t see the necessity of tagging a page with, I can quickly and easily pop open my Google Notebook and take notes about any web page I am viewing. Although I often have a tab open to my Notebook, having the notebook icon at the bottom of my screen gives me another option to view a different page while taking notes in my notebook.

Some of the other Google tools I use also help me be productive – Google Scholar, Google Earth, and of course Blogger. I have used Blogger since 2004. However, I have not written very consistently for most of that time. I have determined to write much more regularly starting this year (not really a New Year’s resolution – more of a goal for the year). Because of this I decided to check out a few of the other Blog programs. I looked at both Wordpress (which is a commercial program) and Typepad (which has a free version or a commercial version). They are both very popular among bloggers and both have many popular features. Nevertheless, after checking them out, I didn’t see anything that made me want to switch away from Blogger. I might not stay with Blogger forever, but for now, it will remain my software of choice for blogging.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Jane Hart added my Top 10 Tools to her listing, viewable here, over at the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Sweet.

I wanted to take a few moments and expand on how I use the tools in my list a little here. Jane only wanted a single tool for each of the top 10 rather than a group of tools. That's great, but in reality I often use groups of tools in conjunction with each other rather than a single tool. For example, I am using ScribeFire now within Firefox to write this blog post which I will then publish on Blogger.

Firefox is a great browser. It is typically faster than IE and is much more standards compliant. However, one of the things I like best about Firefox is all the addons and extensions available. There are a bunch! I use FoxClocks to keep track of the time in multiple countries around the world where I have interests. Some of my clients have particular proxy settings so I use FoxyProxy to enable my connections. The web developer tool kit is great for someone coding up basic pages. Because of the rush to get information out, many organizations are settling with "good enough" as a short-term solution. Many times that "good enough" involves just putting information up in multiple web pages. The web developer tool kit helps with that.

I have been using Delicious now for several months and have come to rely on tags, along with the toolbar in Firefox, to help me categorize and keep track of information. Let me give an example to illustrate one way I have found this useful.

One client I work with has a corporate intranet with thousands of web pages. I work on several projects for this client and sometimes work with different people or groups on different projects. Some web pages have information applicable to several projects; others have information applicable to only one project. With some projects I need to access the same set of web pages on a daily basis. I set up tags for each project and name the tags "project_a", "project_b", etc. I then tag every page I use on each project, or at least the pages I need to use on a daily basis, with the appropriate tag. I also set up favorite tags on the toolbar named project_a, project_b, etc. When I need to work on project_a I click on the project_a favorite tag on the toolbar and then click "Open in Tabs". By so doing, I can quickly open every page I need for the project. If I need to switch to work on project_b all I need to do is click on the project_b favorite tag on the toolbar and then click "Open in Tabs" to open all the pages relevant to project_b.

I will write more, later, about how I use the other tools.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

My Top Ten Tools for Learning

Jane Hart, Head of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, lists Top Tools for Learning on the Centre’s web site. She compiles lists of Top 10 Tools from learning professionals around the globe; from those lists she derives the Top 100 Tools. Check out the latest Top 100 Tools for Learning. I decided to also make a list of my top ten tools. Here they are.

My Top 10 Learning Tools
1. I use Firefox, along with many addons and extensions including FoxClocks, ScribeFire (which I sometimes use to help me while writing blog posts), FoxyProxy, Web Developer and others, as my main browser. It forms the foundation of my personal learning environment.
2. I use Delicious to keep track of much of the information I need. I have many tags for project information with which I can sort out information for the various projects I am involved with. I use the toolbar along with Firefox tabs so I can quickly open multiple sites containing project information.
3. Google provides many tools (Calendar, Notebook, Scholar, etc.) that help me keep on track through my day and week. It is difficult to point out one of the tools above the other. Many are quite useful. Nevertheless, for the purpose of my top ten tools, I would choose Calendar as one of them.
4. I have been on Blogger since 2004. I recently looked seriously at changing to Wordpress or Typepad but decided I had no compelling reason to do so. I have only been writing very sporadically but this year hope to be much more consistent. Still, I think Blogger will continue to serve me well.
5. Bloglines helps me sort through the mass of information I try to keep up with.
6. I like to use Pageflakes in combination with Bloglines for a different view of what might be of interest to me.
7. Although I wish I could say otherwise, I tend to use PowerPoint as my main design and development platform. Much of the work I do is on the front end Analysis and Design phases, with limited forays into development. Since this requires a lot of interfacing with customers and clients, who typically all have Office but probably do not have other programs, I have found it easier to simply stick with Office. Nevertheless, I welcome better methods.
8. I have found Basecamp to be a great collaborative tool, also helping with project management tasks, particularly while working with geographically dispersed groups.
9. LinkedIn is my favorite tool to keep in touch with, or at least keep tabs on, other professionals.
10. I think Ning is like Yahoo Groups on steroids. It is a great tool for online communities, one I hope to use much more during 2008.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Learning Predictions for 2008

The Big Question for January over at the Learning Circuits Blog is "What are your Predictions for Learning in 2008?" Here is my take at a few answers.

The year 2008 will see continued movement towards Web 2.0 technologies. Individuals will embrace these technologies whether or not the technologies are sanctioned by corporate IT departments. Departments will pick and choose technologies that contribute towards their performance whether or not the technologies are chosen for use by other departments. This will all be part of the disruptive nature of Web 2.0 tools.

A backlash against the use of Web 2.0 technologies, precipitated by their unsanctioned use, will occur in some organizations. Although the "not invented here" syndrome will happen in some companies, many forward thinking organizations will find a way to harness the power of these technologies.

As the use of Web 2.0 technologies becomes more pervasive, their novelty will begin to fade. This will be a very good thing. Using technology for technology's sake does little to enhance learning. As more learning professionals learn more about the new tools, hopefully they will begin applying solid educational principles towards their use.

There will certainly be many more technological tools surface during 2008. Nevertheless, I predict there will also be a thinning in the ranks of companies developing and marketing these tools. This will come about either through company consolidation or attrition.

There you have it. I am looking very forward to 2008. It will be an exciting year for learning professionals whether or not any of these predictions come to pass.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year - 2008

Happy New Year to one and to all!

I am very excited about the new year. With the new year I am starting this new blog - Educational Technology Digest. For the last year-and-a-half or so I have been writing Edtec Student's Daily. However, the name did not well represent the gross infrequency of my writing. Although I hope to write much more regularly this year, I decided to change the name of the blog.

I learned much over the last year, particularly the last half of the year. One of the best things I started to learn, or continued to learn, was how to learn better - how to control and enhance my own learning. As I progressed on my learning journey, I learned much about how to help other individuals and even entire organizations improve their learning.

There are a very large number of tools now available to enhance learning. Many of these have come to be known as Web 2.0 tools. Of course not all Web 2.0 tools are learning centric; nevertheless, many have the capability to be used in such a capacity. In 2008 there will be a greater level of adoption of these tools. I hope to write much about them, and about learning in general, in this blog. I hope you will choose to follow along with me through the year.