Friday, July 11, 2008

Week 9/Thing 23: Final Thoughts

This class has been wonderful... I think the best testament to that is how many times I've found myself talking about the class to other people, sharing things I've learned, or teaching my husband how to use all these great new tools!

I've always thought of myself as somewhat tech savvy... but it's amazing how quickly you can fall behind if you don't make the time to explore and play with new technology. I've certainly heard of podcasts, wikis, and Google Docs. But for some reason, I never took the time to learn more or see what they could do for me. This class forced me to do so, and now I wish I had done it on my own a long time ago. As new technology continues to emerge, I'm going to make a point of learning about it sooner rather than later!

The best part of this class was that it legitimized the "play" time for me. Life itself can be so busy, and it's hard to justify blocking off time to play with iTunes. It makes me feel unproductive and guilty. But thanks to this class, I had to play around as part of each weekly assignment. Now I see that this "play" time is actually very productive and worthwhile... within reason, of course! It's still easy to get side tracked on Teacher Tube!

Tools I learned about in this class that I will definitely use regularly: podcasts, Teacher Tube, more Digital Pipeline resources, Library Thing (not to catalog my library, but as a tool to find other books to read & for reviews), Google Docs, wikis,, RSS feeds & Google Reader, Voice Thread, and blogging in general. At this time I don't see myself using Technorati, Flickr, eBooks, or avatars & image generators too much... but once I'm back to work that may change.

I think the class text was a very good read and am going to check out more of the chapters on my own.

My only suggestion to improve the course is very minor: I would recommend editing the links in each section so that they always automatically open in a new window or tab. There were so many times that I would click a link, and before long I found that I had navigated very far away from the course page. Of course I always needed to get back there to review more links or see the requirements for the blog post. Like I said... this is pretty minor! As far as more important course elements (like the actual content) I feel like it was well worth the time and I really appreciate Ann and Katie's efforts to make this happen for us! Cheers!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Week 9/Thing 22: eBooks

I am feeling extremely frustrated right now!!! I went to the Anchorage Public Library web page in search of their eBooks. I used the advanced search function and limited my results to "Web & eBooks." It didn't take me long to find a book that I'm very interested in reading.

Easier said than done! The link in the record took me to "NetLibrary" and I am not impressed with the service. The online reader only shows the first page of each chapter, and for the life of me I cannot figure out how to get more. I can't figure out how to download the book for offline reading either. And the "help" menu (I use the term loosely) isn't of any assistance. No screenshots, no step-by-step instructions... just a big list of links and half of them direct me to other web sites (like Adobe) for assistance. Here you guys have me expecting YouTube video tutorials, so I find this completely unacceptable! ;) GRRRR. I gave up!! Next time I am at APL I will ask the librarians more about the service.

I had much better luck with the recommended links in Unit 9 (go figure!). From the World eBook Fair I found the Classic Literature Collection. The books immediately downloaded as PDF documents and were much easier to read. But honestly... I can't see myself reading like this. I am much more of a "curl up in bed with a book" kind of gal. Maybe if I had a little reading device instead of a big clunky laptop I would try it, but it's harder for me to concentrate for too long when I read things online. I'll be curious to see if tools like Amazon's Kindle create a revolution in the eBook industry.

Now the audio eBooks are a great idea... especially for traveling, commuting, etc. I found a few of these... listened to a few of Shakespeare's Sonnets that I hadn't read in ages (and couldn't believe I still remembered the numbers of my favorites!). I like that these are available in a variety of formats. LibriVox looks to be a good source for audio eBooks (I like how they aim to bring "acoustical liberation" to book in the public domain!!) but the archives were down when I visited. I'll try again tomorrow.

As for me... I'm going to grab a wonderfully old-fashioned paperback book (currently it's And She Was by Cindy Dyson) and head to bed!

Week 9/Thing 21: Podcasts

Podcasts: yet another thing I hear about all the time, but never really use myself. Until now! It's all about making the time to go play with these tools, and once you realize how simple they are you wonder why you haven't been using them forever! (Or since they became mainstream about 4 years ago... you get the point!)

Some of the tutorial links in this unit didn't work (like the Yahoo one) but I did enjoy the Lee Lefever video posted in my previous blog entry. I like how he explained "POD" to mean "Personal On Demand" -- and to think I'd always associated it with Apple!

I already had iTunes on my computer, but it was version 4.0 (shows how much we use it!) so I upgraded to 7.7 and started playing. I used the directory and found it very simple to search, listen, and subscribe. Frighteningly easy! I was also pleased that there were no buffering issues like sometimes happens with large video files. I need to play around more in iTunes because the interface isn't familiar to me yet.

The feed I subscribed to is from Storynory. The feed is available here. The site has a collection of over 100 children's classics in audiobook format. The reader - Nastasha - has a lovely British accent and they are very well done! This could be really fun to use in the library - especially if it's coupled with an art project. The kids could all listen to the story, and then you could divide up various sections and have the students listen again and create illustrations. Lastly, bring out copies of the actual books and let the kids compare their version to the published copies.

I found this feed through the iTunes directory - and it's perfect timing, because we are going on vacation next week and I can make a CD of stories for the kids to listen to on the plane or in the car!

Week 9/Thing 20: Teacher Tube

I've heard the buzz about Teacher Tube for a while now, but this is the first time I've sat down with it at length. WOW. It is very easy to get sidetracked and spend an enormous amount of time! When you find a well-done video it's tempting to click on the creator's name and see their entire library. Over at YouTube they are constantly recommending related videos to the ones you just watched. DANGER! I think they should start selling computers with little egg timers so you know when time is up!

For work purposes, I like that Teacher Tube videos can be downloaded so they can be used in a school setting without worrying about bandwidth.

I know that Podcasting is the next "thing" in this class, so this may be a bit premature... but I searched Teacher Tube for Lee Lefever since I've enjoyed his other videos so much. I came across PODCASTING IN PLAIN ENGLISH, and of course it's wonderful! (This is actually the YouTube link, because the Teacher Tube link was to his entire video collection - I couldn't find the Podcasting one as a stand alone there...)

I am impressed with his simple, informative videos and tutorials!

I also explored YouTube a bit and had no idea that there were so many tutorials on that web site. I can't tell you how many times I've nearly ripped my hair out while trying to do some project with Paint Shop Pro. The learning curve for that program is steeper than most, and it often takes me hours to do something very simple. I've bought books, read online tutorials, etc. I did a search on YouTube and there are 935 video tutorials - and the ones I watched are really well done! This could be a life saver the next time I try to get crafty! :)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Week 8/Thing 19.1: Digital Pipeline

I took the database class at last year's summer academy, and am amazed at how much things have changed in a single year! Thanks to that class I already had an Ebsco account and some journal alerts set up, but I did edit them to come to my home e-mail address instead of the ASD account.

I watched the Flash video about Ebsco's new search (coming in July 2008 - soon!) and was generally impressed. (The video was a bit long and I wonder how many kids or teachers will sit through it all - it might have been wise for them to break it into a few smaller chapters.) But some of the highlights for me:

--The new search interface looks so Googly-simple. I think that's a good thing! So much time has been spent convincing folks to use these tools, and if the search strategy is familiar then it will be an easier sell. People don't like huge learning curves: if Google is easier, that's where they go. This new interface makes Ebsco just as simple, and the results will still be superior. Once people realize that, they'll most likely play with the advanced search features or be more open to some lessons about it. ONE STEP AT A TIME! (But I do still worry about all the "clicks" necessary to get to Ebsco in the first place...)

--The date slider is very nice! I realize the option to narrow results by date has always existed, but this is a visual tool that will appeal to many people.

--The images look great.

--I like that you can mouse over the various databases to get a description.

--At the end of the video, it said something about "EBSCO 2.0." Obviously 2.0 has become a catch phrase... I know that Ebsco's interface has gone through revisions before - certainly more than 2.0 would indicate! And I'm not exactly clear about how it's a 2.0 tool... where is the interactive element? Did I miss something?

I watched some of the tutorials on the Digital Pipeline. I think the manga characters will appeal to kids, but some of the language doesn't seem to match. They instantly throw around words like "database" and "academic search premiere" that I think warrant some definition for school audiences. Other than that I think they do a really good job. On a terribly nit-picky note - I noticed the wrong form of "its" was used on the very first screen. I'm kind of a grammar-phobe that way. (Although "grammar-phobe" is probably not even a word!)

As for the Consumer Health Index - how fabulous! I really like how the search results could be sorted into categories: alternative, evidence-based, video, etc. I honestly remember conducting lessons about databases and explaining to kids that one of the only differences between the online version and print was that the online version didn't have all the pictures... I would literally hold up an article from Sports Illustrated while simultaneously projecting the text-version of the article from the computer. My how times have changed... just that quickly!

I spent most of this assignment researching eczema (our 2 year old has it) and learned SO MUCH. Even as a librarian, I sometimes forget about these wonderful database tools. I am energized with many alternative, natural therapies to try for her - if it works, I will owe an even bigger debt to this course!

Week 8/Thing 19: Library Thing

I can't wait to show this to all the book lovers in my life! I see this as a HUGE rival to NoveList. I'd say NoveList vs. Library Thing is a perfect illustration of Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0. Library Thing is so amazing because you can read (and post) reviews, check out other people's bookshelves, get recommendations, and more. And of course it has the cool little widgets that bloggers love. Amazingly... with all it does... it's even easier to use than NoveList too. I'm impressed!

This is a tool that school librarians can easily use with students too, because it doesn't require any personal information to create an account. I briefly thought about creating a single demo account for the entire school (a "sandbox" account, one might say!) but so many varied users would really distort the bookshelf, and make recommendations difficult. Hmmmm. Also, it would quickly max out the number of books allowed in a free account.

One of the links in this assignment mentioned that some libraries are using the Library Thing widget to easily display new books on their web sites - I really like that idea! (Maybe I will go post it on the wiki!)

I did wonder about copyright - it's so easy to add a cover image from any old URL and can that be legal? I was in a blog on Library Thing where they said it's okay to link to amazon as long as you provide a link back to the site, but I thought amazon's policy was a bit more restrictive than that? (Although the cover I uploaded isn't showing in the widget - weird!)

Week 8/Thing 18: Google Docs

I decided to try out Google Docs, because I've been adding so many other Google tools (like Google Reader) as part of this class, and I'd like to keep things somewhat centralized.

I can't believe how EASY it was! I even shared the document with someone else (as a collaborator) and it was so nice to check the revision history to see exactly who made changes and when they did it. This is going to eliminate the need to send multiple files back and forth and the worry that you might not have the most recent version. I can't tell you how many of my file names end with "_2" or "_3" and so on...

I uploaded an existing Word document from my hard drive to Google docs, and then saved it as a web page. It can be seen here. I also made a few new documents - my mom has been after me to get her a list of things we need for our trip next week, so I am sending her a link rather than an e-mail attachment. Love it!

I wonder if the Microsoft folks are nervous about these free tools? I know Microsoft has developed some kind of shared office space too, but I haven't used it. Obviously Word and Excel are much more powerful tools, so I don't see the them going away anytime soon. But for people who just need basic word processing software, this is a wonderful option. And draft copies could always be done on Google Docs or Zoho, and then the final versions could be imported to Word to do the desktop publishing end of things. (As a side note, it seems like the Microsoft corporation is in a similar boat as librarians... they need to pay very careful to the changing marketplace if they want to survive!)

It also makes me wonder just how big those Google servers can be... they can hold all of our videos, documents, photos... for free? How long can this last? And before I use this too much I would want to know how secure things are and how often they are backed up!