Google Apps for Education, a sub plot in Google’s dastardly plan to rule the world, but an interesting one all the same

17 11 2008

Google Apps for Education Edition is a derivative of the Google Apps package, aimed at the education/higher education sector and offering a combination of email, instant messaging, calendaring, document creation and collaborative tools. It’s an interesting pitch at providing a set of communicative, organisational and creative applications and, of course, is in no way an attempt to bypass Hotmail, MSN or Microsoft Office as students’ first port of call for messaging or creating documents. A group of happy students from Northwestern University enthuse about Google Apps here, while Linkoping University give their opinion on it here.

I’ve been wondering about how a range of services of use to students could be integrated into one package, which would effectively ‘follow’ them around as they browse or chat, as the browser embedded applications in Firefox do, so it’s good to see someone as major as Google taking a stab at this, even if the tools available are largely communication based. I think it would be great to produce an online ‘utility belt’ that would bring together the functions of the library catalogue, Blackboard courses on information literacy, referencing tools and online journal resources/repositories/databases. I don’t know how possible it would be and, as Yahoo Pipes left me totally bewildered, I’m really not the person to be taking a stab at building it, but I think it would be great if someone doing research or writing a submission could use their utility belt to search for a resource, access it, find out how and why to reference it and then use a something like Refworks to cite it, maybe saving the particular chapter or article to Delicious on the way, all through the same application.

No more rummaging around for lecture notes with NoteSake

10 10 2008

I had a trawl through Go2Web20‘s Web 2.0 directory, searching under ‘student’ as a tag and stumbled upon NoteSake. It allows students to login to a personal homepage on a laptop or PC and enter lecture notes in real time, with the capacity to tag, organise and share them. It’s obviously dependent on access to a  computer during lectures or classes but, as more and more people get their own laptops, applications like NoteSake could form a useful extension of liveblogging for students who want easy, organised access to their notes. Plus, as the notes are stored virtually, it could finally spell the end for ‘my dog ate my homework’ type excuses. Not that I ever used them.

Merry Isthmus

7 10 2008

The Isthmus Project is an undertaking by Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, supported by JISC, to create a service that integrates the features of the Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) used in higher education and the web based applications used by students in their social and academic lives. It’s an interesting and forward thinking step and, importantly, a well-reasoned one. There seems to have been a lot of talk about joining education and library services with web 2.0 and social technologies, but most of what I’ve encountered has been rather knee-jerkily reactive and piecemeal, whereas Isthmus looks to be a considered attempt to bridge the gap between educational applications and what the average student uses day to day on the web. The name’s fiendishly clever as well. The project’s objectives are to:

  • Research the best way to integrate user owned technologies with current institutional practice.
  • Create a prototype solution to facilitate the integration of user-owned technologies with educational technology systems.
  • Pilot a prototype solution and evaluate it
  • Provide guidance and transferable models to support other institutions contemplating the use of similar technologies.
  • Allow learners a more personalised learning experience through the use of user-defined tools.
  • Disseminate knowledge gained to inform concurrent and future JISC initiatives.

Hold me, thrill me, Vozme

24 09 2008

Vozme is a free to use read-aloud web application that can either read out manually entered text, or read directly from a web page when used as a plug-in or a widget. You can also save and download text-to-voice audio files created with Vozme; all in all it’s a pretty amazing app. Thanks to the Librarian in Black for bringing it to my attention, as she rightly points out: what a great way to turn publicly-presented library documents (like library commission minutes) into a format accessible to those with visual disabilities.

Best Web 2.0 sites for education

12 09 2008

This is quite possibly my laziest post yet, in my defence I am suffering from the early stages of a cold and dementia brought on by a combination of baby induced sleep deprivation and sugar/caffeine overload. Hats off to Larry Ferlazzo for compiling his best web 2.0 applications for education 2008, it’s a great list of web apps and their uses for teaching and is well worth a look.

Ubiquity to be ubiquitous?

29 08 2008

Ubiquity is a web application that allows you to mash up various kinds of internet content and utilities that you might otherwise have to access or utilise separately. Broadly speaking, it uses written command prompts to bring content to the screen or application you are working on, which saves navigating away from the page or opening multiple browser windows. Ubiquity is being developed by Mozilla, who describe it thusly:

The overall goals of Ubiquity are to explore how best to:

  • Empower users to control the web browser with language-based instructions. (With search, users type what they want to find. With Ubiquity, they type what they want to do.)
  • Enable on-demand, user-generated mashups with existing open Web APIs. (In other words, allowing everyone–not just Web developers–to remix the Web so it fits their needs, no matter what page they are on, or what they are doing.)
  • Use Trust networks and social constructs to balance security with ease of extensibility.
  • Extend the browser functionality easily

I had a quick go on the trial version available, using Ubiquity to find a map locating the Brixton Academy. I don’t have the screen shot, but the end result looked something like this:

As you can see, the resulting map appears in the dark blue command prompt box that Ubiquity operates through, whilst keeping the page you were viewing open. Once it finds the map, I could then type ‘e-mail to John’ for example and Ubiquity would find ‘John’ in my contacts list and start a new message with the map embedded into the message page. I’m really impressed so far and it’s something I’ll be trying to use on a regular basis; if Ubiquity does everything it says it can it could save people a hell of a lot of to-ing and fro-ing on the net. Thanks to Peter Bihr for pointing me towards another gem, below is the Ubiquity tutorial I watched on his blog:

They did the mash, they did the monster mash (up)

27 08 2008

Mash ups: not, in fact, anything to do with this, this, or this, but a way of taking two or more web applications and combining them to make a single output that intergrates their features. I first heard the term related to music, where people would take vocals from one track and lay them over the music from another:

It was only after reading Peter Bihr’s blog that I became aware of web-based mash ups. They’re clearly a developing medium, as evidenced by some of the rather odd examples I came across on the Mashup Awards website, but there are plenty of genuinely practical applications that should ensure that mash ups are a phenomenon that sticks around. Some good examples inlcude VCASMO, which integrates Slideshare presentations and Youtube videos, Omnisio which does the same, World News Map, which links breaking news specific to nations on a map and Reelz Review which charts new DVD releases and hosts reviews, synopsises and trailers on the same page. I had a quick go on Yahoo Pipes, which allows you to build your own mash ups and came up with this, which uses a tour alert RSS feed and Yahoo maps to show you where the gig you’re going to is.