The Death of Input Devices

Cross posted at U Tech Tips

Maybe that’s an exageration of a title, but a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life folks predicts the end of the keyboard as soon as 2012 (entire PDF report here). This announcement came within days from a similar proclamation for the death of the mouse, from Steve Prentice, vice president and fellow at Gartner, a market-research firm based in Stamford, Conn.

Photo by Maurício Alcântara
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

The end of the “traditional” input devices (we all remember our first lessons in computers) comes on the heels of the development of voice recognition, touch screens, and motion sensors like in the iPhone and Wii remote.

Have we truly reached an immersed computer world when our speech and touch run the computers?

Now, how much longer for the flying cars?

Photo by eqqman
Attribution-NonCommercial License

The device that will end books?

The death of books has been “coming” for a long time.  The web was supposed to put print media out of business and eBooks were supposed to replace books.  None of this happened and even with Amazon’s Kindle making some waves, ultimately we are still pretty stuck on paper.

Have the devices not been good enough?

Not “paper-ey’ enough?

Too rigid?

A blog post on TG Daily shares a new device by Plastic Logic was recently introduced in San Diego.  Pretty impressive so far.

It’s made of semi-flexible plastic that can withstand some impact.  It opens Office files without any conversions.

Will it replace paper?

It remains to be seen, but the Kindle has some competition, that’s for sure.

I look forward to giving it a try.

Wordle – DIY word clouds

Ages ago, I posted about tags.  These were keywords that allowed information to be organized and better yet, accessed in a variety of ways.  Sites then were often represented by tag clouds which created visual representations, using size to indicate importance, i.e., the bigger the word, the more often it was used.

Today, I share with you a new related tool with powerful visual implications.

Wordle is an awesome online tool that allows users to create word clouds based on the user’s choice of words.  You can enter a web address and get the cloud represenation of that site.

Imagine an in-class visualization of how certain news agencies cover the news.  How would a word cloud of CNN differ from one of BBC for example?  What words would stand out?

Imagine pasting in a chapter or more of a piece of literature.  Visually and textually, how would Pride and Prejudice look?  Find out.

What would a student’s own essay look like?

We have often argued that Visual Literacy is at the core of a successful 21st Century Learner.  In a world saturated by visual representation, here’s a great tool to expose students to some.

And imagine the discussion that will occur as classmates argue the merit of the cloud and the “worth” of the words that were selected as descriptors.

Do they convey the message of the author?

How do they change or support the way you thought about what you read before you saw the cloud?

What words stand out to you?  Why would that be different to my own?

For fun, I “clouded” a graduation speech I gave years ago.


More powerfully, here’s Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Give it a try.

Images created using Wordle


In relative terms, some Web 2.0 tools have been around for a long time. As a result, us technology-types often forget that relative longevity doesn’t translate into people knowing how to use them.

Blogs are a perfect example of this.

One of the original Web 2.0 tools, web logs (you can see where the silly name comes from) have been the poster child of the participatory web. Now everyone with a thought and a computer to write it on can become a journalist, editorial writer, political pundit, sports writer, or budding Bridget Jones.

Blogs are web pages upon which it is very easy to write text and share with the internet.

Add to this the fact that the “style” of blogs is to show most recent submissions over past submissions, while archiving older posts and you can see why it has emerged as a “journal” like environment. Talking Tech – the very site you are reading – is a blog. So I am not going to go into too much detail about how they work. If you are here reading this, then you are seeing what blogs can look like. To see more, follow other links on the sidebar to other blogs.

Instead, let’s look at what makes blogs powerful educational tools.

Let’s start with a key question:

If they are “journals”, what makes them better than pen and paper ones, or a Word document that you store on your computer?

First and foremost, it is the power of linking. Because the site is on the web, you can link to other sites. Perhaps an article you are responding to, a video you are commenting on, or a picture that you are inspired by. You can connect people to information and you can give opinion/review on ANYTHING, sharing the original with the reader.

Second, RSS makes blogs better. Because readers can subscribe and have your newest posts “delivered” to them through a(n) reader/aggregator, the chance for increased readership grows. I’ve explained RSS before, so I’ll leave it at that.

So, great…you can link, readers can keep up, but what makes them powerful educational tools?

One word: conversation.

Blogs have created world-wide conversations. Because posts can be commented on, bloggers can now offer ideas, opinions, or information, and get feedback from their readers. The blog’s presence on the web extends the audience of readership beyond the walls of a classroom, beyond the limitations of a grade level, and outside of the confines of a school.

The audience is the WORLD wide web, and that’s a lot of people. Sure, not all of those people are reading one blog, but if the topic and the writing are meaningful, the audience will come. Teachers can facilitate this with school-to-school relationships or “blog-pal” classes. Parents can get involved and comment on students’ work (not to mention get insight into their writing style, their personality, and the issues they grapple with).

Teachers have used blogs to get information out to students: links to websites, YouTube videos to consider (yes, there is educational stuff on there), articles to read, and/or simulations to try. They have used it to prompt students, “what are your Top 3 books of all time”, “how can you make a difference on global warming?” The key has been to encourage student reflection.

The result has encouraged student conversation.

Kids naturally begin to comment on other kids’ comments. They start to talk. And when carefully monitored and encouraged, they continue that conversation in class too.

Why do blogs belong in education? They belong because they enable writers to enrich their writing with sources, suggestions, and links. They belong because they provide writers with the opportunity for self-expression with an audience. They belong because they allow for that audience to be ANYWHERE.

Here is a video from Frieda Foxworth on reasons to blog with students:

Download Video: Posted by ffoxworth at

So how do you get started?

One thing we often encourage is for teachers, who want students to blog, to blog themselves. Start up your own blog at blogger or edublogs. They are free and they are easy to sign up for and set up. And let me know if you have questions.

Here’s a blogging for beginners video from Frieda Foxworth:

Download Video: Posted by ffoxworth at

Image by dailydog, found at Flickr Creative Commons

Today’s Tools

Educators today have an incredible array of tools at their disposal to get information, collaborate, and ultimately help students know, understand, create, and learn.

But teachers are busy.

They are busy planning lessons, collaborating with teams, coaching sports, directing plays, sponsoring clubs, meeting in committees, filling out forms, building curriculum, learning new grade programs, communicating with parents, and TEACHING STUDENTS.

Which means that they don’t have time to keep up with the technology changing faster than the speed of creativity (shout out to Wes Fryer) . That’s why jobs like mine exist. It’s why we run PD sessions and why we send out HowTo’s and such.

And it’s why this blog exists. Because you have to get the message and the training out in as many ways as possible to ensure that it’s heard by as many people as possible.

So come back…it’s been awhile, but it’s time to get back on this.  Read past posts on tags, podcasts, and RSS.   Then come back and read future posts on blogs, Ning, Roxer, and Firefox add-ons.

And let’s bring Web 2.0 to the people, where it belongs.

Tags – how information is organized on the web

In an upcoming post, I will be describing blogs – what they are and how and when they are used. But before I do so, I’d like to share a fundamental piece of the Web 2.0 world.


Tags are the words used to describe content.

For example, this blog post will be tagged with words like “tags” and “web 2.0”. Photos can be tagged with the names of the people in them, a location, or even subject matter or theme.

Tags are words to describe content.


So what’s the big deal, then?

The big deal lies in the search-ability of the web.

Historically, information was categorized and organized by genre or topic, by necessity. In order to find something, a hierarchy of organization helped steer you to the right physical location where you’d find the book, the CD, or the word in the dictionary.

Just recently, the fiction collection at our Main Library went through a re-vamp and books became sorted by genre instead of by author name. This categorization of materials is necessary because books take up physical space and need to be somewhere.

Digital information is not like this.

Digital information can be anywhere.

Digital information can be accessed from everywhere.

Digital information can be “tagged” by genre AND by author name AND by title AND by topic AND by style AND by anything else that’s appropriate. With smart and helpful tagging, anything of relevance can be associated with the information.

Think about that for a second. All information can be kept WITHOUT hierarchy. WITHOUT categories. WITHOUT shelves.

But who assigns the tags? Who is responsible for organizing all of this information?

We are. You are.

Everyone is.

Everytime we post a blog, upload a photo, contribute to a wiki, or submit a video, we can tag. These tags become the way we find information. Remember, Time Magazine named you (us) Person of the Year, for this very reason. Because it is the everyday person that is now creating, publishing, and organizing information. Experts beware.

Here’s an example: I was looking for a photo to place in this post. So I went to Flickr – a site for uploading and sharing photos. I went to Creative Commons – photos available for use. Then I searched within the site for tags of “tag”. That’s how I found the photo I used. (Get it? It’s a box of dog tags.)

I’m sharing this now, because how information is handled, is a fundamental piece of how the new Web works. [Side note: remember…when I say “new”, I mean new to us. For the kids, the web has ALWAYS worked this way. Important to keep in mind.]

Here’s a terrific video, Information R/evolution by Mike Wesch, the cultural anthropology professor who also brought us “The Machine is Us/ing Us” (this video is also in the sidebar to the right).  It’s a little “motion-sickness-y” at the start, but a very thought-provoking look at how information is no longer organized and found the way it used to be.

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(Thanks to Kim for sharing this video and getting me thinking.)

With digital information, categories and shelves aren’t needed anymore. And if there aren’t categories, then as David Weinberger says, Everything is Miscellaneous.

We have to LET GO of our need to understand where everything is and how it is related (this can be discovered when you need it). Instead, “where” doesn’t matter anymore. Web search and tagging find information wherever it is.

Our collective intelligence shapes how information is shared and managed, through our own choices of tags.

Then we’ll have to figure out what to do with it. And that’s where the real learning begins.

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Photo by dontbe10, found at Flickr Creative Commons.

What’s a podcast?

Too often tech geeks (like myself) use words to name new technologies that serve to exclude people rather than include them. We come up with names like blog, Ning, Twitter, and Flickr. People hear the words, they read the names and they are intimidated. They fear venturing into something that they don’t know or understand. How do you approach learning what a Ning is when you don’t have even the faintest idea what it’s about?

And it’s my job to demystify that.

The irony is that these names describe technologies that are completely inclusive rather than exclusive. These technologies have made so much of what used to be the domain of trained professionals now available to EVERYONE. Yes, that includes you.

Podcasting is one of these things.

Podcasts are nothing more than files, mostly audio files, but not always anymore…now they could have video. These files are kept on the web. People download them and then people listen to them. Imagine a radio show that you like listening to, only it’s on at 2 am and you just can’t be awake at that time to listen to it. What if instead, that radio show was recorded and you could get it any time and listen to it anytime. That’s a podcast.

Well, almost.

What makes podcasts different from just any old file on the web actually has more to do with RSS, which I talked about in a previous post. Because RSS means that you can subscribe to a site and get information whenever it’s added to that site. For podcasts that means that once you subscribe to a “show” that you are interested in, every time a new “episode” is added, it will automatically download to your computer.

Here’s how Podcast Alley (more on them later) describe podcasts:

Podcasting, created by former MTV VJ Adam Curry, is a term that was devised as a crisp way to describe the technology used to push audio content from websites down to consumers of that content, who typically listen to it on their iPod (hence the “pod”) or other audio player that supports mp3 at their convenience. The term podcasting is meant to rhyme with broadcasting and is a derivative of the iPod platform. While not directly associated with Apples iPod device or iTunes music service, the company did contribute both the desire and the technology for this capability. Podcasting is not unlike time-shifted video software and devices like TiVo, which let you watch what you want when you want by recording and storing video, except that podcasting is used for audio and is currently free of charge. Note, however, that this technology can be used to push any kind of file, including software updates, pictures, and videos.

They go on to add:

What makes podcasting special is that it allows individuals to publish (podcast) radioshows, that interested listeners can subscribe to. Before podcasting you could of course record a radio show and put it on your website, but now people can automatically receive new shows, without having to go to a specific site and download it from there.

So that’s all they are. Files that you subscribe to using either an RSS reader or more typically, iTunes.

So how do you find podcasts?

A good place to start is the iTunes Store. Open your iTunes and on the left hand side, click on iTunes Store. It’ll take a second or two to load as it uses your internet connection to work. If you are reading this, then your internet is connected.

Inside the iTunes Store screen, you will see some choices – one of them is Podcasts, another is iTunes U. Both are great places to start. (see picture)


Also, use the Search field in the upper right hand corner of your iTunes Store window and search for a podcast. For example, I searched for “french” and got not only a list of songs that have artists named French, but also a long list of podcast files of French for beginners and more.


menu.jpgWhen you find one you like (and if it’s free), click on the Subscribe button. Now the podcast will join your list of podcasts in your menu (see picture) on the left in Library and above the link for the iTunes Store. Just under the iTunes Store link you will see a new link called Downloads. This tells you what podcasts are downloading at that particular moment.

Another way to find podcasts is to search the many Podcast Directories that are out there. Try Podcast Alley or to get started. Or just do a Google search on podcast directory.

If you find a podcast you want to subscribe to in one of these sites, you may have to copy the feed address from the address bar and then paste it in iTunes by clicking Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast and then pasting in the address.
So where to start? Try searching for an interest (pssst…it doesn’t have to be education)

Here are some links that will subscribe right into your iTunes without any searching whatsoever! Now that’s service.

In no particular order…

Counselor’s Podcast – counselors talk about how colleges make decisions, making the most of college visits, and how to handle the rush of recommendations you have to write.

World at War – a series of radio dramas about events taking place during World War II. Might be an interesting hook to start class with.

Coffee Break Spanish – beginner level Spanish learning (there are tons of language learning podcasts)

Mandarin – from the Times Online site, Mandarin learning from beginner levels on up.

Grammar Girl – one of the most popular podcasts in the world. Simple down and dirty tips on grammar in the English language. Great for all writers, SAT takers, and English as a Second Language speakers.

SmartBoard Lessons – educators share lesson ideas using the Smart Board. There’s got to be something in there for all of us!

Physics – this semester’s Intro to Physics class at the University of California Berkeley. Lots more from many of the top US universities in all subjects in the iTunes U section. High School teachers, you HAVE to check out iTunes U!

The Psych Files – psychology in everyday life.

Math according to Mike – math of functions and other algebraic work

Math Factor – interesting puzzle-based discussions of math.

And for fun…

The Onion Radio News – the news brought to you in satire by the witty people over at The Onion.

Here’s a video of me finding a podcast using iTunes and subscribing.

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And there are so many more. But you have to start somewhere. Just find one or two…see if you can get them loaded. Ask me for help, or ask a friend.

Don’t let us tech geeks with our silly names for technology scare you off.

Podcasts are just fun, simple to use and a great way to get and listen to PD and other interests.

Give it a go!

Next post: How to make your own podcasts. Students too!

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K12 Online Conference – Free PD Anywhere, Anytime

In a couple of weeks presenters from around the world will be participating in a conference. None of them will board a plane.

How, you ask?

They are participating in the K12 Online Conference. Conceived by Jon Pederson and then “bounced around by Darren Kuropatwa, Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach from The College of William and Mary (yeah alma mater!) and in its second year, the conference brings together educators who put up “workshops” using different Web 2.0 technologies for viewing/reading. [thanks to Sheryl for setting me straight on the conference’s origins and giving credit where it’s due].

You see the content on your own time and then participate in discussion through posting comments along with other readers.

Completely asynchronous, completely online.

In their words:

The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from all educators from around the world who are interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. This is a FREE conference run by volunteers and open to everyone, no registration is required. The conference theme is “Playing with Boundaries”. The 2007 conference begins with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 8, 2007. The following two weeks, October 15-19 and October 22-26, forty presentations will be posted online to the conference blog (this website) for participants to download and view. Live Events in the form of three “Fireside Chats” and a culminating “When Night Falls” event will be announced. Everyone is encouraged to participate in both live events during the conference as well as asynchronous conversations.

It’s a pretty bold concept. How does it work? Is it effective?

Find out for yourself. Participate.

Test out your RSS skills and subscribe to their site in your reader.

The site is up now, but will begin to “offer” workshops in their entirety beginning with the keynote address on October 8th, by David Warlick.


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Getting Fed: Starter RSS feeds

So you’ve read the last post and you want to get started with setting up your RSS reader.

You’ve chosen your format (a browser like Safari or an online reader like iGoogle or Netvibes), but now what?

How do you find content?

How do you find the feeds that are out there to put into your readers and get updates?

What do you do with them, when you get them?

Start with this: find the newspaper web site that you read regularly and look for their feeds.

They are sure to have plenty of different feeds that focus on front page news, local news, sports or anything in between. Here’s an example of a feed address for the Washington Post’s Top News page. This is the address you would copy and paste into your “Add Content” or “Add feed” box on your reader.

Once you have that, you may want to start looking for some professional reading by other bloggers in education or perhaps a special interest blog or online magazine. Technorati is a great site to search as they document and track blogs.

Below, I’ve listed some good education-focused blogs to get you started.

In each case, click on the main link to check out the site. If it’s something you like click on the feed link supplied at the end of each description, copy the address, and paste it into your reader under Add content.

  • Dangerously Irrelevant: a blog on leadership and educational technology by Scott McLeod , professor at Iowa State University and head of CASTLE. (feed)
  • Always Learning: Our own Kim Cofino’s blog on education, technology and creating a globally connected learning experience for students. She’s world famous! (feed)
  • Medagogy: ISB ES tech stud Justin Medved’s take on pedagogy, technology, and education. Where it should go, great resources and a wonderful vision of learning in the 21st Century. (feed)
  • MathNotations: High School Math ideas on assessment and teaching. Often looks at the math that is used on the SAT. (feed)
  • Academic Aesthetic: As the blog states – Art. Education. Technology. Most of his stuff is recorded too, so you can listen to it if you want. (feed)
  • Blue Skunk Blog: Doug Johnson’s blog on libraries. Great stuff. (feed)
  • Weblogg-ed: Will Richardson’s blog on learning with the Read/Write web. He spoke at the Shanghai Conference and seems to be a leader in talking about how learning will change with available technologies. (feed)
  • Crucial Thought: A MS Spanish and Latin teacher weighing in about technology and language education. (feed)
  • Common Craft: A site with video tutorials on all things Web 2.0. The video RSS in Plain English is from their site. (feed)

Give these sites a look and copy the addresses from the feeds and paste that into your Add Content field.

Most importantly, give it a try and stop wasting time surfing the web.

No surfing allowed

Photo by Snowbadger, found at Flickr Creative Commons.

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Talking Tech Begins (with RSS)

Welcome to the opening post of Talking Tech.

While I maintain a professional blog, I felt the need for a blog about the tools that are out there and tips for teachers to use Web 2.0 tools with students.

Inspired by Alan November’s words at the Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai, China, I am reminded that classrooms should be global communication centers and teachers should be facilitating online learning and problem solving opportunities as much as possible.

This blog is going to share tools with teachers…a one-stop shop for what’s out there and what you can and should be using for yourself or with students.

So let’s get into it.

You can’t go anywhere in web 2.0 without first understanding RSS feeds.

In simple terms, RSS feeds are transmitters of articles or other content to other locations. For example, on this blog, you will see a feed for my other blog, Thinking Allowed. That comes to this site through an RSS feed, which collects the titles and sends them here. By creating a single site called an “aggregator” or “reader”, you can have all sorts of feeds come to one place.

No more surfing the web to find your articles…they will come to you.

Go here for “RSS explained the Oprah way” (no affiliation to Oprah).

Check out this video for a simplified explanation.

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So you need to set this up? If you have and use a Gmail account, then I recommend starting with iGoogle (aka Google Reader). If not, check out Netvibes or Bloglines. Also, it’s worth noting that many browsers including Safari on the Mac and IE 7 on the PC have a feed manager built into the browser. Particularly for Mac users (because Safari’s is quite effective), you might find this a better solution. The advantage of the accounte in iGoogle, Bloglines, or Netvibes is that you can access your feeds from ANY computer. Browser solutions will only be on that one computer.

Once you get these set up by creating an account and confirming it from within your email, you will need to add feeds from sites you like to read from. You’ll be able to find some right there within the sites. Others you may want to add from blogs you like (like this blog). By using the feeds, you don’t ever have to check the sites for new articles or posts.

You just check your reader.

Look for icons like this to indicate a link to a feed.

Copy that address into your reader where it tells you to.

Don’t feel like you have to find all of the great feeds out there at once. You will add and remove feeds as you get a better feel for the process and what you do end up reading and what you don’t.

Of course, ask for help when you need it, but the first step is always going to be to check it out and give it a shot. The ONLY time technology is learned is JUST IN TIME.

And now is that time.