Voices in the Cloud

Recently, I’ve been utilizing a web 2.0 tool for education called Voice thread (www.voicethread.com). This site allows you to have text, audio and video conversations around a central point of focus. For example, you can post a famous piece of artwork into a thread and then people (public or private) can share their thoughts and opinions about the piece. They can respond to everyone’s comments as well. The thread also affords users tools to make marks and highlight things directly on the central focus point while they talk, helping to illustrate their points or draw attention to something specific.

In my experience, I have been using voice thread to learn about coding. It’s such a great supplement to an online class because you can have conversations around lecture slides, and it provides another fun forum to explore thoughts and ideas.

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Another cool feature is the ability to zoom into the central focus point so that you can see the material more clearly if fonts or details are otherwise obscured. A feature that I wish it had was the ability for commenter to switch out the central focus point if needed in order to show the group something a little different, almost like an interjection in the discussion. This would allow users to stay on topic while temporarily changing the display of the central focus point.

Bottom line is that I found it to be a very useful tool for online courses, by giving subject matter the collaborative feel of classroom environment.

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Web 2.0 Tools: Bubbl

Recently, I’ve been using a mindtool called bubbl. Located at http://www.bubbl.us this tool allows you to create a concept map using bubbles. You can create child bubbles, link them and add text and pictures. It’s a terrific way to graphically represent a concept. One of the more notable features is that you can share your created concept map with your contacts and designate varying levels for their involvement. If you share the document and make others editors, you can all collaborate on the concept map together.

Anyone one who has ever put a concept map to pen and paper will immediately recognize the usefulness of this digital tool. Bubbles are easily created, deleted and linked, so organization becomes very simple and manageable. I started an elementary concept map about surfing, and found that it helped connect the concepts involved in a readable and visually pleasing way. Having such a tool in the classroom would be a great way for students to collaborate on a topic, brainstorm a project and enhance their content knowledge about a subject.

This tool does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and I haven’t found very many flaws. To access some of the premium features (attaching pictures, exporting/importing) you have to pay for a subscription but the fee is nominal and the website does offer a substantial student discount. Image

Technovation Challenge National Pitch Night

When I was in high school (many, many, smartphone-less-years ago) we were lucky to receive a remedial course in web page design. The opportunities to enhance our education through technology were far and few between, and rote learning from dusty textbooks was still the pedagogical piece de resistance of the public school curriculum. So it was with great satisfaction and amazement that I attended the Technovation Challenge National Pitch Night this Saturday presented by Iridescent at Google headquarters in Mountain View.

The Technovation Challenge is a new program started by Iridescent, an educational non-profit in Los Angeles. The program was designed to help young women think and act like entrepreneurs in a “start-up company.” Over nine weeks, these girls participated in a program that helped them create mobile phone app prototypes. Using App Inventor for Android, they formed teams and joined forces with female mentors from the business and academic communities.

As I sat and watched these confident finalists present their prototypes I thought about the future landscape of education. What a wonderful heuristic experience! Not only does it engage women’s interest in technology, it is an entire cognitive, experiential and holistic way to gain valuable programming and entrepreneurial skills. This sort of immersive learning, where students are working in groups, using technology, postulating and receiving feedback,while facilitated by a mentor is a glimpse of where education should be heading. And as mobile technologies become an accepted part of formal education, these types of programs will become a necessity.

There were six teams competing at the national finals, and each team presented their app prototype to a team of judges for evaluation. They had to think about what utility their app would serve, what costs and marketing issues existed as well as think about potential competitors and their solutions to the competition. They also had to answer some tough questions from the judges.

For the most part, these innovators had designed app prototypes that offered technological solutions to problems that existed in their high school-centered lives: electronic flash cards, a social events app for high school kids, a “fashion guru” to help you coordinate your outfits, and a way for parents to track their kids via smartphone.  Another team took the frustrating task of trying to hail a cab in New York City and offered a digital explication.

In my opinion all the teams were winners that night, but the official grand prize winner, who will have the chance to develop their app for the Android Market, was team Sparkling APPles with their I.O.U. app. Their design helps you keep track of things you’ve lent your friends and the items you’ve borrowed from them.  Where was this app twenty years ago when I let my buddy borrow my Millennium Falcon for the weekend?

Technovation Challenge founder, Dr. Anuranjita Tewary, and Iridescent’s CEO Tara Chklovski have done a wonderful job creating a program that promotes women in technology. It should serve as an educational model for traditional curriculums where teachers and students find themselves struggling to keep up with technological advancements. Our world is constantly evolving and for the educational system to stay abreast of new technologies, we must offer students a way to immerse themselves in digital landscapes. It’s the future—and it should be the present.

So keep one eye on Iridescent and the other on the young women who’ve participated in the Technovation Challenge. Their designs might be coming to an app store near you.