Friday, October 31, 2008

On the Precipice of Change: 3 Obstacles to Technology Use in K-12

“Let’s talk about 3 obstacles,” shared one executive director in a conversation that I had the opportunity to participate in, “that keep you from doing what you want to accomplish in Instructional Technology.” What a great opener for a conversation about district-level initiatives! We are often stopped by obstacles that we perceive. Warren Greshes’ shares that for most people, there are 3 obstacles that they just cannot get around (Source: Read More) .

Those obstacles include 1) Fear of failure; 2) Other People telling you that it can’t be done; and 3) Old habits that keep us back. As I reflect on the question, and Warren Greshes’ 3 obstacles, I had to ask myself, what are some perceptions that stop the bulk of Texas educators from integrating technology into their work? We all know that there are individual successes, but what about the rest?

Greshes shares that fear of failure is the “single biggest obstacle to our success.” In Instructional Technology, it may very well be defined as fear of trying to use new—or even old—technologies in the classroom. As I reflected on fear of failure, I was reminded of an audiocast that I heard in mid-November, 2006.


In a recent interview, Nancy Willard—published author and educator on the subject of CyberBullying—shared that there is a perception out there that K-12 education is on the precipice of change. What is causing the change? In her response, Willard cites the power of the Read/Write Web (a.k.a. Web 2.0), digital handheld devices, and a school district’s growing inability to restrict technology students have access to. There are many things to fear in the application of these new technologies to K-16 education. Some might characterize these new technologies in this way:

The next crop of terrorists are still at school, preparing for their SAT tests. They are probably bright, politically disinterested and easily susceptible to the ideology of the Read/Write Web. They receive a daily diet of anti-school establishment propaganda through Web 2.0 and so-called social networking websites. Young children of immigrants still at school are among those linked to guerilla conspiracies.

The path from adolescent dreamer interested in moblogs to flash mob radicals ready to engage in peaceful school walkouts to immigration issues and posting embarrassing videos of irrelevant teachers on YouTube can be frighteningly short. Web 2.0 guerilla-teachers are looking to groom and brainwash our children as advocates for passionate action, conflict over harmony, transparency over invulnerability, and commitment to virtual friends, and real life strangers. The teenblogosphere is without restraint.

That false alarm aside, teachers, administrators, students, and some parents are continuing to advocate for the use of these new and emerging technologies in schools. Administrators and teachers confess that investing time in these technologies may detract from what they are required to do—test-preparation for TAKS—in school today. There is only so much time in the day to accomplish what has to be done.

Yet, perched on the precipice of change, administrators and teachers have a different perception of what is keeping them from integrating technology. What is that different perception? What are the obstacles that keep schools from integrating technology?


With this last question in mind, I asked a principal (retired earlier this year in June), what are 3 obstacles that keep you from accomplishing technology integration? His response touched on a few points, including the following:

  1. A Surface understanding of what constitutes tech integration among teachers and
  2. Failed to give up control of their power as teachers so as to create learner-centered environments.

“Teachers think Powerpoint,” the retired principal shared, “qualifies as technology integration. Teachers lack the courage to let students learn using technology. They are too focused on being the authority in the front of the room and they are handicapping children.” “Handicapping our children,” he chuckles as he shares this with me, “THAT got me into trouble with the teachers. But, you know, it’s true. Teachers are afraid to learn technology and they are handicapping their students.”

Yet, this perspective is challenged by one teacher’s blog entry. In that entry, the author writes a blog post entitled Teachers as learners as teachers v. learners as teachers as learners: the ultimate mashup.

…I hope this message is clear–I could not have done any of this had I not invested in creating a technically competent self. I learned in order to teach in order to learn further. I feel empowered because I can do better and faster what I already want to do.

Let those who can hear, hear—teachers who are unwilling to learn and empower students are hamstringing students in schools. For teachers who are willing to learn, there is a challenge to moving ahead. For them, the challenge is less that of failing to learn, but of desiring to use technologies not yet present in their school system.


Some, like Seattle Washington’s 3rd grade teacher Mark Ahlness, advocate that these teachers should engage in guerilla warfare. He writes of his frustration with over-blocking of Web 2.0 sites for blogging and wikis:

We cannot not surround and change the educational technology establishment by external force. And we do not have the time or patience to quietly play by the rules of that establishment, hoping somebody will eventually notice….
We are working behind the scenes, using every tool, every lever and advantage…we have also infiltrated the ranks of the everyday teacher, the student body, the parent organizations, the school boards, the mainstream media. We will change minds, not twist arms. We will not go away nor shut up. We are guerillas in their midst.

It’s so easy for other people, Greshen points out, to keep one down, to push you down a path that is more convenient for them. For those that find daily mind-changing exchanges too confrontational, heart-attack inducing, these 3 strategies might be more effective:

  1. Build successful instructional practices in your classroom, enabling your students to do that which will make them shine. Focus on enhancing the power of their voices, gathering work that proves they are ahead instructionally and reflects their technological expertise. Use whatever is necessary.
  2. Once you have a body of student work, ask if you can celebrate that work by sharing it in the hallway, online via a web page (blog or otherwise), and share it with parents via newsletters (also online and/or paper). The goal is to get their voices out there as loud as possible…once you have a “bully pulpit,” then you can advocate for change.
  3. Fly below the radar on all projects until your students’ success becomes apparent to all.

Will these approaches be more effective? In the short run, perhaps. For educators, it’s really about juggling obstacles, doing whatever it takes to ensure success for one’s students.


There’s no shortage of obstacles for educators to juggle. Aside from their own, even researchers have some new ones to offer, holding up a mirror to years of educational technology efforts.

A new report, Technology in Schools: What the Research Says, highlights the following obstacles that prevent technology integration:

  1. Over-confidence on the part of educators that they could easily accomplish the depth of school change required to realize the potential technology holds for learning.
  2. Educators did not make as much effort as they could have in documenting technology’s effect on student learning, the way teachers used the technology, or how efficient it was.
  3. Educators and school staff underestimated the amount of time it would take for technology access to be sufficient.
  4. Educators underestimated the rate of change in technology, and the impact of such a rapid, continuous change on staff time, budgeting, professional development, software upgrades, and curricular and lesson redesign.__

As I read these obstacles, I was struck by the accuracy of the research to my own experiences. These four points could easily translate into obstacles I could share.


They might be organized in this way:

Point #1 - Inability to accomplish change in the adoption of technology innovations that impact teaching and learning.

I first became aware of this during my early research on how to accomplish change in regards to educational technology and K-12 education. There seemed to be so many factors in educational settings, factors I had little control over in my “non-positional” area of authority, that I felt unable to achieve systemic change. I was the Jurassic Park mosquito caught in the amber. Or, as a venerable elementary school principal once put it, “a skeeter in a nudist colony,” unsure of where to strike first.

Not surprisingly, accomplishing change in educational technology is of key interest to graduate educational leadership programs. This was revealed by this audiocast at the recently held UCEA, November, 2006 Conference in San Antonio, Tx (listen to the audiocast at At the graduate and post-graduate level, researchers and professors are struggling to realize the benefits of technology-enhanced teaching and learning in their own work. Encouraging changes in the attitudes of superintendents and other educational leaders is tough work.

How does one address the reluctance 1) on the part of district administrators to incorporate technology in meaningful ways to the scope and sequence, 2) of curriculum specialists to learn how to use technology to redesign their own teaching of adult learners, 3) of campus teachers and administrators failing to use online technology textbooks, 4) competing elements within the curriculum department that chase after technology solutions without putting a plan together to ensure successful implementation?

On reflection, it became clear that the best efforts on my part did not result in systemic change, and failed to consider the motivations of all stakeholders.

In my survey of teachers, they shared this perspective: Lack of administrative support for innovative use of technology. Administrators seldom seem to understand that technology-rich lifestyle IS indeed a lifestyle that students have embraced, and that to engage them, teachers need to be able to know what is going on.

Point #2 - Inability to mandate/require professional development for teachers, and provide incentives for achievement of professional development objectives, that directly impact teaching.

With the inability to mandate professional development, and lacking the funding to provide incentives, professional development in the area of technology suffers. While education technologists look with great hope to the change of the word “Beginning” to “All” teachers in the title, “SBEC Technology Competencies for All Teachers,” that is a change that has yet to be felt by fourth grade teachers laboring at reading, writing and math TAKS test-preparation. While performance pay may find a niche in our schools, as divisive as a lichen to a rock, of more need is incentive pay for teachers to learn how to use technology. In fact, some might identify at least following needs for Texas schools, and probably much more beyond the scope of this article:

  1. Need for state-wide technology competency professional development and tracking. The tools already exist. If Temple ISD can use free, open source tool such as Moodle and build SCORM compliant modules with Adobe Captivate to assess Technology Applications for students, then why can’t the Texas Education Agency leverage similar tools for all of the State of Texas? Combine SCORM compliant modules with a Learning Management System (e.g. Avatar Technologies’ Course InSite or one of the many others) and teachers could be learning online and held accountable in no time…especially if you invite the teacher Technology Competency Certification Portfolio Index ( to the party. This type of innovation is around the corner.
  2. Need for a state-wide one to one computer initiative Texas schools. Indiana’s Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student (ACCESS) has been sustainable and attracted attention due to its claims of being affordable, sustainable, and replicable. Other key successes include its scalability to 300,000+ simultaneous student and teacher users, use of low cost hardware, openness due to free open source software use, and compatibility. Find out more online at

As the need increases for delivery of TAKS assessments online, it is clear that a statewide, low-cost, solution will be necessary. Would Indiana’s ACCESS initiative offer a viable option for providing sufficient, ubiquitous access to online professional development and assessment? And, couldn’t the need that drives student assessments also drive increased access for teachers and students?

Point #3 - Lack of budget sufficient to establish ubiquitous access to hardware and software teachers need to redesign their teaching environments.

School districts continue to use proprietary software tools to accomplish their instructional objectives, even though free open source software (FOSS) offers a powerful alternative. One teacher characterized the lack in this way: “There are tons of open-source offerings, but having the staff on hand and available to get it installed and running is a struggle when the district budget does not show any importance in that area.”

Teachers list as one of their obstacles a lack of access to software tools such as Acrobat, Flash, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc. Another teacher put it this way:

Money, Money, Money. The kids wish to do video editing, podcasting, music creations, and more. Yet, 1/2 of the computers in the lab are 400mhz.

Student time with the technology. Even if I continue to do this with my students, I am the only place they get it. They do not have enough time in one class along with ELA content to learn all there is out there. They need extended seat time.

Indiana’s ACCESS Initiative relies on low-cost hardware and open-source software to achieve its viability. Perhaps it’s time that Texas educators considered alternatives to doing things the way they have been done in the past. Funding cuts at the federal level, reorganizing at the state level require districts to be more flexible and nimble than they have been in the past.

We are left with many obstacles to consider. The goal of this article was not to offer final solutions, but to engage you in problem-solving, to find a way to negotiate a treacherous path at the edge of a chasm. Indeed, we are on the precipice of change. How we navigate the change will be a testament to our ability to overcome our fear of failure, as well as let nay-sayers know that while they may not be able to get the job done, they don’t know Texans! It’s a long, tough journey, but onward, if not forward, is the only way possible. Perhaps, we need to consider what Diane Quirk writes in her blog, Technology to Empower Student Learning:

Are the ways we use technology designed to keep students occupied (obstacles) or are they designed to help students experience growth in their learning (conduit)?…The challenge for us as educators is to examine our practices in terms of being either obstacles or conduits to the learning of our students.

Subscribe to Around the

Best of Both Worlds

Are you a brand new Intel Mac user? I am. After using Windows and GNU/Linux exclusively for the last five years, I was persuaded to buy one of the new Intel-based Macbooks. Like teachers and students in Ysleta ISD who are experiencing the “best of both worlds” with their new dual-platform Macbooks, I am exploring the possibilities. This installment of Download a la Mode focuses on experiencing the best of both worlds, and recommends Macintosh specific software for first-time users. With one $15 exception, all of it is free, open source or freeware you can use. In addition to programs listed in response to the questions below, I have also added a bonus list of must-have applications for Mac users in the sidebar, Must-Have Mac Apps.


Some of the specific questions addressed in this issue include the following:

  1. How do I run Windows XP (or GNU/Linux) on my Macbook?
  2. How do I get my Mac to play proprietary audio formats?
  3. How do I convert WMA audio files to MP3 format?
  4. How do I get rip audio off CDs without buying any special programs?
  5. How do I terminate individual programs when they crash and freeze on my Macbook?
  6. How do I ensure that a program quits when I close the last program window (like on Windows XP)?
  7. How can I quickly capture images from my screen for use in tutorials or on the Web?
  8. How can I draw images on Windows?
  9. How can I FTP—file transfer protocol—files using a two-pane window, like popular programs on Windows and GNU/Linux?
  10. How can I get my DELETE key to “delete forward” rather than just backward in one direction?
  11. How do I uninstall a program on my Macbook so that ALL the preferences and settings are gone?
  12. How can I easily combine PDF files without Adobe Acrobat Professional?
  13. How can I turn turn a USB Flash drive into a Mac OS X diagnostic, repair, and maintenance tool?

How do I run Windows XP (or GNU/Linux) on my Macbook?

“You’re using a Mac?” asked an incredulous, digital storytelling workshop participant recently. “How can you be running Microsoft PhotoStory on it?” One of the primary benefits of having an Intel-based Macbook is that you can run multiple operating systems.

Having seen these claims before with older Macs—and investigated them thoroughly—I was shocked to find that, yes, you can run Windows XP, as well as your favorite GNU/Linux distribution on your Intel Mac without restarting your computer (you can get the free BootCamp that requires a restart of your computer, but I often like to run Windows and Mac programs at the same time. Having to restart was a pain).

However, this involved purchasing Parallels Desktop for Mac, which costs $79.99 retail. So, I purchased seven copies for my team at work to use (they were also running off an Intel Macbook). However, before the licenses arrived, I became aware of a completely FREE solution (pricing has been announced since I wrote this article, though) that proved BETTER than Parallels.

Some of the obstacles I encountered with Parallels Desktop for Mac included slow startup of the Windows XP “virtualization,” as it is known, and the inability to install GNU/Linux distribution of choice. I was not happy because I occasionally needed to run other operating systems and programs. The new, no-cost solution? VMWare Fusion. Although still in beta, the program did everything I asked of it that Parallels could not do. A neat feature reported of VMWare Fusion is it’s ability to ‘’suspend a virtual machine to disk with all your applications open to just where you want them.” The benefit? You can quickly resume applications open where you want them. For example, if I’m working in MS Outlook, everything shuts down exactly where I want, then I can re-open and voila!, I’m there.

You can find a host of information available online about each of these solutions. You can download these tools to empower your Intel Mac at the sites below:

How do I get my Mac to play proprietary audio/video formats?

Although you can use iTunes to deal with a variety of audio formats, using iTunes in that way is a bit like using a Bowie knife as a letter-opener. The easiest way to get your Mac to play proprietary audio formats is to use VLC Media Player (available for Windows and GNU/Linux as well).

Another benefit of using VLC is that you can “crank up” the sound. If using a Macbook, you will probably encounter “low” sound output on your Macbook from the built-in speakers, as well as unamplified speakers you might plug-in.

Although I recently bought $20 amplified speakers to “boost” the signal coming from the Macbook, another trick is to play media (movies and audio) via VLC Media Player. With VLC, you can crank up your sound to 400%. Now, if only we could crank up our personal productivity as easily!

Download VLC Media Player online at

You can also equip your Mac by installing a few other applications that add functionality. In addition to playing audio/video, you may want to convert it from proprietary formats as they are shared on the Web. Here are a few more I recommend:

Although converting video is a bit trickier—sometimes the online services fail—you can accomplish it with a shareware program known as EasyWMV ($15). Unlike the other programs mentioned in this article, it costs money. As shared on their web site, EasyWMV can be used to convert or resize wmv, asf, avi, mp4, mpg, mpeg, mov, m4v, flv, nsv, swf and vob video files so that they can be used with QuickTime Player, Apple TV or an iPod. You can get it online at

How do I convert WMA audio files to MP3 format?

Want to do fun things with audio, but don’t want to spend money on an iPod and Belkin recorder? You may turn, like David Warlick and my school district did, to the Olympus WS-100 digital audio recorder. This $64 digital audio recorder gets great audio quality and costs a fraction of what an iPod would cost. In fact, you can take lesson plans that use an iPod and use the Olympus WS-100 instead. I wrote about it here and encourage you to read how. I especially like how Stephanie Sandifer, whom I met at the TCEA 2007 Conference, uses the Olympus WS-100:

I use my Olympus recorder with my Mac and it does show up like a mounted drive (or USB flash drive) as soon as I plug it in to one of my USB ports. It allows you to record into one of 5 separate folders — so you could assign each folder to different situations (meetings, training sessions or classes, interviews, reminders, grocery lists, etc.) and then when you open the mounted drive you’ll see the 5 folders. You just selected whichever one you recorded into and then drag the approriate file over to your harddrive (Source:

Like some other recorders, the Olympus WS-100 generates audio files in the WMA format. To convert them on your Macintosh, you can either use iTunes or a free program known as Switch. The Switch sound format converter can convert many different audio file formats including wav, mp3, ogg, flac, aac, wma, au, aiff, ogg, msv, dvf, vox, atrac, gsm, dss and other formats into mp3 or wav. I like it because I do not have mess with running iTunes and instead use one program to get the job done.

You can download Switch for Mac/Windows/Linux online at

Sidebar: Nifty Mac Related Web Sites

How do I get (or “rip”) audio off CDs without buying any special programs?

You can rip CDs to MP3, OGG or any variety of formats using the free, GPL Max.

Per the Max web site, Max can generate audio in over 20 compressed and uncompressed formats including MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, AAC, Apple Lossless, Monkey’s Audio, WavPack, Speex, AIFF, and WAVE. Furthermore, Max allows you to read and write audio files in over 20 different formats.

Download Max online at

How do I terminate individual programs when they crash and freeze on my Macbook?

Lots of programs are open on my computer at any one time. I’m usually copying-n-pasting images and text from one application to another, checking my email, running a java applet, and much more. Multi-tasking is just a fact of life. Another fact of life is that computer programs crash. Although it seldom happens on my Macbook, when it does happen, I can be left in limbo waiting for something to happen. One trick for terminating an individual program that has crashed or frozen is to press OPTION-APPLE-ESC to bring up the FORCE QUIT APPLICATION dialog. This will allow you to select an individual application and force it to quit. You can then restart the application and move on.

How do I ensure that a program quits when I close the last program window (like on Windows XP)?

When you close a program window on a Mac—for example, the last document window in Audacity sound editor or NeoOffice word processor—the program itself keeps on running in the background. You actually have to QUIT a program you want to close out. This can be problematic for Windows users who are accustomed to clicking an application closed by selecting the “x” on an open window.

To accomplish this on a Mac, use StopLight (you’ll have to register for a no-cost account). After you install StopLight, you can configure it to quit out of a program when you close the last open window of an application.

Get your no-cost account and download StopLight online at

How can I quickly capture images from my screen for use in tutorials or on the Web?

Two fun programs allow you to capture pictures of your screen for sharing in other documents. If you’re a brand new Mac user, you may not yet be familiar with Skitch. Skitch—available at—is a phenomenal image capture tool. You can take a picture of your screen, copy an image into the program, and do simple annotations with arrows and more. Here’s a snapshot of a web page where I added arrows and a few words:

Skitch also allows you simple, easy image creation. It’s simplicity makes it a clear winner, as shown in this example of a diagram I made to illustrate a blog entry about writing simply:

One additional feature of Skitch is that you can save your screenshots and created images to the Web quickly, easily and, currently, at no cost. Skitch is beta software, so there will probably be a cost eventually, however, it is well worth it. In the meantime, give it a spin. You may find you won’t be able to go back to other image capture programs!

While you can use the built-in screen capture functionality of Mac OS X—OPTION APPLE 3 or 4 depending on whether you want a shot of the whole screen or a selected area—I like to use a program known as Instashot. This program lacks the functionality of Skitch, but you can use it in different ways.

Instashot allows you classical screenshot functionality for capturing the whole screen, a portion of it or a window and also the option to make timed screenshots or to make delayed captures over time. Once InstaShot is installed, you have an icon in your menu bar. You can see a menu of options that includes any of the following options: whole screen, a portion of screen, timed screenshot or multiple captures. It allows you to save the screenshots to JPG, PNG, and/or TIFF files, as well as to your clipboard.

Download InstaShot online at

For just capturing a screen shot of an application window on Mac OSX go OPTION+APPLE+4+SPACE BAR. A little camera will appear- move it over the application and the app will turn blue. Click and you have a screen capture of just that app or icon.

How can I draw images on Windows?

Not being an artist/drawer kind of guy, may I suggest The GIMP? You install X11 off your Mac System CDs and you’re set to go. If you’re already familiar with Adobe PhotoShop, then you might consider getting the GIMPshop, which customizes the GIMP to look like PhotoShop.

Other programs that might meet your needs—at no cost—in regards to drawing and pixel punting, as well as animation, include Pixen, Seashore, and Pencil.

Pencil is an animation/drawing software for Mac OS X and Windows. It lets you create traditional hand-drawn animation (cartoon) using both bitmap and vector graphics.

You can download these applications online at the following web sites:

How can I FTP—file transfer protocol—files using a two-pane window, like popular programs on Windows and GNU/Linux?

While there are several two-pane window FTP programs for Mac, they usually cost money. Those that are free, well, let’s just say they haven’t been perfected yet. CyberDuck is one of my favorite single pane window FTP programs, but it doesn’t meet the standard of showing you the server on one side, and your local files on the other with simple arrows to indicate the direction of the file transfer.

If you use Mozilla Firefox—and I definitely encourage you to do so—you should get an add-on to Firefox that allows you to FTP. In fact, this is a must-have add-on to Firefox regardless of what operating system you use. The add-on is FireFTP. It allows you to save commonly used FTP sites with username and password, and, in my experience, works flawlessly.

You can download FireFTP online at

If you want file management a la Xtree Gold (if you know what this is, then you’re an old time DOS user!), in addition to FTP capability, then you must take a look at the muCommander. MuCommander is available for Macintosh, Windows and Linux and gives you control over moving, copying files around on your computer or via file transfer to a remote server or computer.

Download muCommander at

How can I get my DELETE key to “delete forward” rather than just backward in one direction?

Various word processors offer you the opportunity to delete forward. Unfortunately, some do not or use different key combinations. As a writer, I often write in the freeware application known as TextWrangler and I am able to use SHIFT-DELETE on my Macbook to delete forward.

While TextWrangler is my multi-purpose text editor, great for editing a variety of files, I would rather not do serious writing in it. And, while I like the power of more sophisticated word processors (e.g. NeoOffice, Open Office, MS Word), those are often slow to start up. And, like the quick Bean Word Processor, SHIFT-DELETE does not delete forward.

Instead, I use a different key combination. Hold down the “fn” key which appears in the bottom left-hand corner of your keyboard and press DELETE key at the same time, and you’ll delete forward.

You can download

You can also re-map your keys using a free, open source program known as Double Command. You can download it at

How do I uninstall a program on my Macbook so that ALL the preferences and settings are gone?

“Skype isn’t working right,” I told the network tech who had trudged down from the vicinity of the heavenly helpdesk. His response was, “Can you uninstall Skype and then reinstall the new version?” After having played around with Macs for a few years, it seemed that uninstalling anything would certainly be a problem. The reason why is that even if you throw away the application, there are a host of preference files and libraries that are left behind.

A more rapturous, uninstall experience can be had if you use AppDelete. AppDelete not only deletes the application you choose, but also any associated items—including files and folders—that belong to that application. This saves you a hunt through your system to find these items and remove them yourself! Using AppDelete is pretty easy. Instead of dragging an application file to the trashcan, you drag it on top of AppDelete icon (I leave mine on the desktop next to the Trash). You soon hear a satisfying series of “trash” deposit sounds from AppDelete as it cleans out your hard drive. The application and related items are put into the Trashcan so that, if you choose, you can review what has been thrown away before you empty the trash. In months of using AppDelete, it’s never failed to do the job right. No documents have ever been thrown away.

Download AppDelete online at

Must-Have Mac Apps

It’s not every day you run into great applications, but I recently went through and cleaned out my must-have Mac applications. I have narrowed the list down to the following. Note that I do not include applications mentioned in the article, so you’ll want to read that as well.

Communication/Network Tools

  1. Adium - Instant Messaging for Gmail/Yahoo and more-
  2. Chicken of the VNC - virtual network control -
  3. Cocoa MySQL - interacts with MySQL databases -
  4. iStumbler - find wireless networks -

Audio/Video Tools

  1. Audacity - sound editing -
  2. Democracy Player - plays FLV files and more -
  3. Handbrake - rip DVDs to a file -
  4. Soundflowerbed (awesome sound diverting so you can record what you’re playing into Audacity) -

Image Tools

  1. Flickr Uploadr - upload images to Flickr -
  2. Flickr Backup - backup images from Flickr -
  3. Image Tricks - simple things you can do with a file -
  4. ImageWell - very simple image editing/manipulation -

Productivity Tools

  1. CMAP Tools - graphic organizer -
  2. LiquidCD (this is like the best find for CD burning) -
  3. NeoOffice - office suite -
  4. NVU - web page editing -
  5. PDFLab - merge PDF files you create with this free utility -
  6. Scribus - desktop publishing -

Mac Tweaking Tools

  1. Dock Dividers (vertical) - lets you organize your dock with dividers -
  2. FlashMount - mounts DMG files quickly. -
  3. iRed Lite - remote control your Mac -
  4. SimplyRAR - compress files using RAR format instead of ZIP -
  5. The UnArchiver - uncompresses just about anything -
  6. TinkerTool - lets you customize your Mac dock and a few other things) -
  7. Enable Your Intel Mac to access 802.11n -

How can I easily combine PDF files without Adobe Acrobat Professional?

While it is certainly easy to make PDF files on a Mac no matter what application you are using, it’s not obvious how to combine multiple PDF files into one document. To accomplish that, you once might have needed Adobe Acrobat Professional. Now, all you need is the freeware PDFLab. This program…

…lets you split and join PDF documents as well as insert images and blank pages. You will also be able to easily create PDF documents out of several images.
Its usage is really simple. You add your files in a list, select the pages you wish to include, order them the way you want and create a new PDF document.

Give it a try! You can find it online at . If you want more choices, check out this list online -

How can I turn turn a USB Flash drive into a Mac OS X diagnostic, repair, and maintenance tool?

Booting off an OS X CD isn’t fun. You have to remember to push the “C” key down upon startup of your Mac, then wait what seems forever. What if you could skip those troubles on your new Intel Macbook? You can, of course, if you use Das Boot. It allows you to…

DasBoot allows you to take any third party boot CD (such as those shipped by Inc, Prosoft Engineering Inc, Alsoft Inc, or Micromat Inc) and quickly create a bootable diagnostic device that contains any of your own utilities you may wish to install. You can use your device to boot and repair Mac OS X computers* as needed without erasing it and taking away your ability to use it for other purposes such as playing music, or watching videos. With the help of DasBoot™ you get to carry all the tools you’ll need with you. But unlike expensive third party alternatives, you’ll have plenty of space left over in case you need to recover data.

Download Das Boot at


The best of both worlds is available as free, open source software, or at no cost as freeware software. With the wealth of applications available to Intel Mac users, it’s no wonder that some school districts are considering a switch to Intel Macs. Applications like MS Outlook and MS MovieMaker run without problem on Macbooks, and take advantage of the built-in iSight video camera.

In the next issue of Download a la Mode, we’ll explore must-have add-ons for Mozilla Firefox, as well as how to work with sharing and getting videos online.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Subscribe to Around the

Mac Software Worth Buying

As I walked the streets of a small Latin American town this summer, street vendors sold Spanish translations of movies such as the recently released Pirates of the Caribbean 3—not to mention John Wayne’s The Commancheros. Each item on display in Santiago, Panama cost only $1. As I walked on, staring incredulously at the CDs arrayed on the cheap wood table, I noticed that audio CDs were also available. While uniformed police stood in the shadows, passers-by stepped up and paid their one dollar and picked up a plastic sleeve encased CD labelled with a permanent marker.

As I watched the street sellers display their “warez,” I had to wonder how these sellers decided on which items would be ripped and sold in public streets. Would their selection system be based on the quality and cost of the software or other factors?

What software would I choose to share if I were one of these street sellers? How would I choose what was worthy of being stolen? Or, rather to give it a positive spin, what would be worthy of being purchased? Thinking about this from a “pirate” angle certainly gave me a different perspective.

This article explores some Mac software worth purchasing. And, it includes a list of great Mozilla Firefox add-ons to extend the functionality of your browser, as well as how to easily get videos off the Web.

As educators, violating copyright law is not something that should be encouraged. That is why free, open source software has such a powerful attraction for educators (albeit it is still forbidden fruit due to the impermeable, slowly changing perceptions of district administrators, the financial symbiosis of commercial companies and K-12 education and affiliate organizations). However, some choose to use Macs and Windows computers—and others have no choice—and the question becomes in our copyright conscious society, What specific needs do you have and what software meets those needs? To answer that question, I might follow a process like the following:

  1. Identify and articulate minimum expectations for software needed. One consideration is built-in collaboration and web connectivity is needed, or not.
  2. Identify audience and solicit appropriate stakeholder feedback on selection.
  3. Ask myself what software is available that is free, open source (FOSS) or freeware might be available to meet those needs.
  4. If no FOSS or freeware solutions exist, consider commercial software alternatives.
  5. Check to ensure software solution selected works well with other existing solutions and on the network.
  6. Implement solution with necessary professional learning opportunities and follow-up.

What suggestions or process do you have in place in your district? How do you go about selecting the right tools for the job at hand within the larger context of district needs?


As you can see from the process above, I have moved away from how I go about selecting software to meet identified needs. Before, I started with the commercial application and then worked to find an alternative. Now, with free, open source software, there are so many software packages that commercial applications have become the alternative. They are costly alternatives, not only because of financial burden they place on our institutions but also because they limit our freedoms to innovate with that software as designers, developers, and users. Yet, there are often software programs that have no equivalent, or at least, an equivalent so well-developed that they meet our needs. So, what are these applications?

I posed that question in this way to edu-bloggers via my Around the education focused blog:

“What Mac software do you judge as indispensible and lacks a no-cost/low-cost/FOSS alternative?”

One response from Peter Rock (GNUosphere at was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the obvious, “Umm…the operating system!” While the Mac OS is incredible, I was looking for more specific responses.

Here are some of the questions that led me to these software programs. For the record, I have experimented with the trial versions of these software, but I have not purchased them. My mentioning of these products does not constitute a commercial endorsement of these tools, nor do I benefit financially from mentioning them here.

Furthermore, I encourage you to try before you buy, and to evaluate whether these tools will meet your needs. Since these are software tools that enhance your fundamental computing environment, they are appropriate to use in professional, as well as education, settings.

Some of the questions that arose in the course of my work that required me to consider the solutions mentioned in this article include the following:

  1. How could you easily record what is going on your screen, whether a presentation including embedded movies/audio with audio narration?
  2. How could you speed up the movement of your USB mouse?
  3. How can you convert video from any variety of formats to any other?
  4. How can you setup an FTP server on a Mac?
  5. How can you easily burn CDs from images (ISO files) or burn CDs to ISO files for storage?
  6. How can you bulk email folks with a Mac?
  7. How can you make professional looking diagrams?
  8. How can you protect your privacy with data-shredding tools?
  9. How can you set your Mac to empty the Trash Can automatically without your intervention?
  10. How can you run GNU/Linux or Windows programs on your Mac?
  11. How do you monitor outgoing Internet connections to prevent unauthorized Web access?
  12. How do you add the “Ken Burns Effect” to any photo of students, co-workers, friends and family?
  13. How can you keep your Mac hard drive running smooth without problems?
  14. How can get Windows 2000/XP/Vista to access Mac-formatted disks such as hard drives, CDs, iPods, etc.?
  15. How can I easily format text in HTML format for posting via web-based applications, like blogs?
  16. What easy to use digital storytelling tool could one use aside from the usual iMovie?

Bulk Emailing

How can you bulk email folks with a Mac?

Ever tire of sending out emails one at a time to a large group of people, even though your work is education related? I have. Just recently, I emailed an HTML newsletter on what we’re doing in Instructional Technology to over 3000 staff in my school district. To accomplish that, I used what’s known as a bulk emailer.

No, bulk emailing isn’t just for spammers anymore…it’s also for legitimate uses! While blogs and the ability of that content to be subscribed to is important, email remains the lowest common denominator of Internet use.

You need to know how to do this, and what tools are available to get the job done for a simple reason—as a technology director, staff development coordinator, or anyone who has to routinely mass email work colleagues, it is important that you get the information out. You can listen to a podcast on this subject at

Download: MacBulk Mailer Pro - Cost: $59.90

Professional Looking Diagrams

How can you make professional looking diagrams?

“OmniGraffle,” shares Tom Hoffman (, “is without peer.” I could not agree more. A colleague of mine introduced me to OmniGraffle through the work he does. At first, I thought I could design some nice diagrams using Inspiration or Cmap Tools, but the after seeing the interface, I realized that OmniGraffle was one of those tools I would have to purchase in the future for the team at work. According to Wikipedia, OmniGraffle ‘’…may be used to create diagrams of any complexity, flow charts, org charts, and illustrations. It features a drag-and-drop WYSIWYG interface. “Palettes”—groups of shapes to drag and drop, are available as extensions for OmniGraffle, and users can create their own palettes.” (Source: Wikipedia -

Protecting Data Confidentiality

How can you protect your privacy with data-shredding tools?

Old hard drives yield dark secrets. They are dark because they were never meant to see the light of day outside your office. Those dark secrets can include student data, confidential data. I periodically shred the free space on my computer’s hard drive to eliminate confidential data. While I do everything I can to safeguard physical access to confidential data stored on my computer (read this article at encrypting it using free tools that limit my liability if the equipment is stolen—at some point, unencrypted data may have been stored on the hard drive by a system process.

Two excellent, low-cost tools can help you with this. Even though you can replicate some of the features of each with free, open source tools, together, both of these applications could make your data-shredding much easier.

  • Download: NetShred -
  • Description: Shreds web/email confidential data stored on your hard drive. In other words, it knows where to look to get rid of confidential data that may be stored by your browser, email and other web tools.
  • Cost: $19.95
  • Download: ShredIt X -
  • Description: Shreds free space on your hard drive, as well as allows you to shred files and folders.
  • Cost: $19.95

Taking Out the Trash—Automatically

How can you set your Mac to empty the Trash Can automatically without your intervention?

One of the best features of the MS Windows Recycle Bin is the option to have it automatically empty itself. You drop something on the Recycle Bin, and it can immediately delete the files (not that deletion does not constitute safe-guarding of confidential data; you will still need to use a free tool like those mentioned here - ).

On a Mac, you can achieve both purposes—automatic deletion and data shredding—using Compost from Fastforward Software. It lets you set a time limit on your trash, restrict the amount of content that is allowed to reside in your trash can, and maintain a minimum amount of space.

Running Other Operating Systems On Your Mac

How can you run GNU/Linux or Windows programs on your Mac? Although I recently mentioned these two options before in a previous article, they are worth mentioning again. Both of these applications are required for avoiding rebooting to access Windows or GNU/Linux operating system on your Mac. Instead, you launch VMWare Fusion or Parallels, and you have a window in your MS Windows operating system and programs (or, GNU/Linux distribution if you’re so inclined).

One of these options is essential for folks who love their Mac but occasionally have to run Windows only programs, such as MS Outlook, Publisher, or PhotoStory. While the best solution for speed is using Apple’s BootCamp solution, in a pinch, these two options for running other operating systems on your Mac—with your Mac programs still accessible—will serve you well.

Option 1:

Option 2:

Monitoring Internet Connections

11. How do you monitor outgoing Internet connections to prevent unauthorized Web access?

With its acquisition of the Macromedia suite of tools, Adobe has suddenly become THE set of tools to use if you are into MySQL/PHP and web page development. Unfortunately, a slight problem with Version Cue3 was reported with the Adobe Creative Suite 3 that involved turning off your Mac’s firewall, which could have nasty results.

No one should depend on a proprietary system’s operating system (e.g. Mac or Windows) to monitor and let one know of outgoing and incoming network connections. You SHOULD know what your computer is doing, how it’s connecting to the outside world, not just blithely trust it. As a device, and as the Adobe example shows, it can be compromised by software. Since most application installers require you to grant administrator access during installation without being transparent about what is happening, you could be setting yourself up.

Little Snitch monitors outgoing network connections. When a program tries to access the network, displays a dialog permitting the user to allow or deny the connection and asks whether to set up a permanent or temporary access rule for future connections of that type. You can also setup specific rules for particular applications via your Mac’s System Preferences panel.

The trial version of Little Snitch works for 3 hours before shutting down. To get it going again, just restart your computer.

Working with Images

12. How do you add the “Ken Burns Effect” to any photo of students, co-workers, friends and family?

Larry Stegall—an independent videographer—shared with me a neat tool he uses. The tool is LQ Graphics’ Photo to Movie, which enables you to add the Ken Burns Effect to any photo, then save it as a movie. When you go to the LQ Graphics web site, you can actually see what this looks like with a demo video. Photo to Movie is able to dramatize your photos and convert them into a movie that zooms and pans across your photos, blending them together while moving from one photo to another.

Two other neat image tools are available that recently came to my attention. The first is Picturesque, a $20 image-enhancing application that can work with individual images or in batch mode. It is ideal for customizing images for the web since it can add reflections, soft glows, shadows, delicate curves, strokes and fades to your images.

The final image tool worth taking a look at is Skitch, a product still in beta. A New Zealand teacher, Allanah King (, brought it to my attention as I was soliciting applications to share with you. Rather than being an image enhancer, it allows you to take snapshots of what you have on your desktop and then share that easily via the Web. The idea is you take snapshots of the work you are doing—designing a logo, encountering a problem to take a picture, configuration screen—then you are able to add notes, circle items, etc without changing the image itself.

Sharing and Getting Videos Off the Web

There are many tools available for getting videos off the Web, as well as sharing them online. Although this article is primarily about Macs, I am including cross-platform tools below. This is one of the most often asked questions—How do I get video off the Web, especially sites like YouTube?

Get and Play Video

  • Play Video: Democracy Player - On Mac/Windows/Linux, you can play that FLV file.
  • Get Video: Firefox Add-on Unplug

Web Tools to Grab Video

  • - Allows you to paste a URL in, then save the movie to whatever format you want.
  • - Allows you to paste a URL in, then save the movie as FLV file…you can play the file with Democracy Player.
  • ZamZar

Convert Videos



Disk Defragmenting and More

13. How can you keep your Mac hard drive running smooth without problems?

When our collection of Macbooks arrived at work, I immediately ordered DiskWarrior as a general purpose tool. I had experience with DiskWarrior. However, one of our resident Mac gurus (ex-Systems Engineer for Apple) Larry Stegall pointed out a new tool, Drive Genius. Another tool is Micromat’s TechTools Pro.

These tools help clean up the bloat, fix file permissions, fix corruption on OS X volume structures, improve application performance and verify system integrity (whatever that means). In short, they fix problems when they are small rather than overwhelming you when they get bigger and meaner. If I had to point to any one software tool as a must-have, buy it now from this article, I would have to point you to one of the three options below. Yes, it is that critical you have one of these, especially if you are deploying lots of Macs or just have one at home or work.

Another program you might want to throw on your bootable USB Flash drive is TechTool Deluxe. I have it because I purchased the Apple Care Protection Plan. It’s described in this way:

TechTool Deluxe is part of the AppleCare Protection Plan for Macintosh computers. It is based on Micromat’s powerful TechTool Pro diagnostic and repair utility. TechTool Deluxe checks the major computer components covered under the AppleCare Protection Plan. It is available only by purchasing an AppleCare Protection Plan for a Macintosh…TechTool Deluxe can also repair many of the problems it finds.

Of course, on reading the web site, it appears I didn’t get the best of the two TechTools available (Deluxe and Pro). The TechTools Pro version apparently can do more than the Deluxe version. If one needs that functionality, you may have to invest in Drive Genius, which seems to beat out DiskWarrior and TechTools Pro.

By the way, you will definitely want to combine these utilities on a bootable USB Flash Drive rather than use the slow-loading, bootable CD that these vendors will send you. Make yourself a Mac OS X bootable USB Flash drive with your favorite utilities loaded on it! Booting off an OS X CD isn’t fun. You have to remember to push the “C” key down upon startup of your Mac, then wait what seems forever. What if you could skip those troubles on your new Intel Macbook? You can, of course, if you use Subrosasoft’s Das Boot. It allows you to…

…take any third party boot CD (such as those shipped by Inc, Prosoft Engineering Inc, Alsoft Inc, or Micromat Inc) and quickly create a bootable diagnostic device that contains any of your own utilities you may wish to install. You can use your device to boot and repair Mac OS X computers* as needed without erasing it and taking away your ability to use it for other purposes such as playing music, or watching videos. With the help of DasBoot™ you get to carry all the tools you’ll need with you. But unlike expensive third party alternatives, you’ll have plenty of space left over in case you need to recover data.
Source: Das Boot Download page -

Using Alsoft’s DiskWarrior as a starting point, I was able to make a bootable OS X USB Flash drive with DiskWarrior, as well as a few other utilities. But the best part about it was that the process to create a bootable USB Flash drive didn’t take that long…and starting up from the USB Flash drive was MUCH faster than off one of the vendor provided CDs.

This is a major time-saver for anyone with an Intel Mac(book) and buying a 1 gig USB flash drive just for this purpose is worth it.

Option 1:

Option 2:

Option 3:

Put one or more of these hard drive optimization tools on a bootable USB Flash Drive (1gig for example) using the no-cost, Das Boot (available at

Reading Mac Drives On Windows Computers

14. How can get Windows 2000/XP/Vista to access Mac-formatted disks such as hard drives, CDs, iPods, etc.? Although I format my external drives in FAT32 format (read about this online at for wide-based compatibility, I suppose that some day I may give in and format them in Mac. While this is not likely since I run GNU/Linux on all my computers, some of you Mac-lovers may prefer to format your external devices, as well as media, in Mac format. To access those on a Windows computer, you may want to invest in MacDrive, recommended to me by fellow educator, Larry Stegall.

  • Download: MacDrive 6 for Windows 98/2000 or MacDrive 7 for Windows XP/Vista^
  • Cost: $49.95

Easy Editing

15. How can I easily format text in HTML format for posting via web-based applications, like blogs?

If you are a writer that interacts with web-based applications (e.g. blogs and more), then you know how critical it is to be able to format text as HTML. However, finding the right application to get the job done is tough. No one word processor gets the job done, and so you end up shuffling between text editors and learning more about HTML than you ever wanted. Allanah King suggested Dejal’s Blog Assist would get the job done. Some of its features include the following:

  • You can simply select and copy some text into the clipboard, choose a suitable operation from the menu, then paste the result in the desired location. The text will have been transformed like magic. For example, copying hey and choosing Bold will result in hey - the HTML tags for boldface text, wrapped around the original text.
  • Includes support for web and e-mail links, bold/italics/strikethrough/etc, LiveJournal tags, and more.
  • Download: BlogAssist -
  • Cost: $9.95 for individual user

Digital Storytelling

16. What easy to use digital storytelling tool could one use aside from the usual iMovie?“Comic Life,” shares Tim Stahmer (, “is a terrific story telling tool. It’s a very fast and easy way to layout photographs (great integration with iPhoto) and add captions for an album.” Tim goes on to say that, “I’ve also seen Comic Life used by kids to create storyboards for other projects they were working on. And, I think the full version still comes free with every new Mac.” For Windows users interested in Comic Life, be aware that a Windows Beta version is now available. The Comic Life web site shares that it is a super-quick and easy way to create astounding comics, beautiful picture albums and enticing instruction booklets to name a few of the many possibilities. From the examples circulating, there is no denying Comic Life’s appeal.


The question is bound to come up. Do I recommend each of these software products for purchase? The answer is an unqualified YES. If you are going to be working on a Mac for an extended period of time, I encourage you to invest in these tools as you need to. My goal here has been to share them so that when the need arises, you will know what to do. I want to save you the trouble of having to settle for more expensive, less capable solutions than those mentioned here.

Subscribe to Around the

Crafting Digital Tales and More with Web-based Tools


“What if creating, sharing, and getting feedback,” I asked, “on your digital stories was free, easy, and didn’t require loading software on your computer?” Technology Applications:TEKS (TA:TEKS) teachers attending an August workshop on middle technology applications were some of the first teachers to find out in my school district. These teachers had a chance to see and use online digital storytelling tools. We threw out the curriculum, not because it wasn’t good, but because it’s important to find ways that engage our children using multiple forms of media—text, audio, video, etc. However, finding the right tools to use on older computers—ranging from Windows 98 to Windows XP—is a significant obstacles.

Even though you can find digital storytelling—or creation—tools for every platform, it’s important to revisit old questions. For example, here are some of the no-cost tools that folks are using for digital storytelling on various computers:

This is a program that are costs nothing and is designed for folks who want to create photo/video slideshows easily and upload to free video hosts. (eg. YouTube) to share it with friends and family. However, educators can use it to create video files.

  • Windows XP: MS PhotoStory or MS MovieMaker

Both of these programs come loaded on your Windows XP computer, but if not, you can download and install it provided you have the authority to do so.

  • Mac OS X: iMovie

This is the classic digital storytelling tool, very easy to use and powerful.

But I have found that there are always problems. For example, PhotoStory uses a proprietary format for the movies it creates (WMV files) that have to be converted to another format for sharing on the Web. Moviemaker tends to crash frequently, and iMovie…well, two examples is enough, isn’t it? What if you could find other, web-based tools that could get the job done?

New Answers to Old Questions

In the first installment of this series on Digital Storytelling (read the series here), I asked a few questions. In re-reading those questions, the following struck a chord. I realized that the answers to these questions had changed dramatically in the few months since the first installment on digital storytelling had appeared. The questions were as follows:

  • How can I use Read/Write Web technologies (like blogs and podcasts) to enhance the storytelling experience and story-swapping?
  • What can I do to connect with a larger community of storytellers outside my classroom and district?


Usually, when one refers to the Read/Write Web, they are talking about the ability of people to communicate, collaborate, and share that process online. In my school district, my team and I are modelling the use of a variety of tools to share digital stories online, including blogs, podcasts, wikis, and Moodle.

These are powerful tools that enable us—and students, whether children or adult learners—to quickly publish digital stories created with iMovie (Mac), PhotoStory/Moviemaker (Windows) with others. As powerful as these tools are, they involve these steps:

  1. Learn to use the software (e.g. iMovie, PhotoStory)
  2. Learn the digital storytelling process
  3. Create the digital story
  4. Convert the digital story into a movie format usable on the web (for example, using the Free Jodix iPod Converter to convert a PhotoStory WMV into an MP4 video format that others can view via the Web regardless of their operating system).
  5. Publish the video of the digital story online
  6. Share the location of the digital story with others.

New tools that have become available recently simplify this process tremendously. Furthermore, these tools allow us to answer the second question, What can I do to connect with a larger community of storytellers outside my classroom and district?


“There are so many different ways lives work out, so many stories,” shares Sean Stewart, “and every one of them is precious: full of joy and heartbreak, and a fair amount of situation comedy.” How can we communicate those stories with a larger audience? Publishing them via a blog is one way that invites written comments, but we already know that many of our children are swapping stories online via YouTube. Whether we like the content of the stories they swap is one thing, but these children are becoming familiar with the language of images and sound. So, with that in mind, how can we enhance story swapping in such a way that we take advantage of this media-rich language our children are using online?

There are many tools available online that teachers can use to accomplish this. Once you become aware of these new tools, the “old” steps are shortened. Instead, you might take the same steps that Alan Levine suggests:

  1. Outline a story idea that can be created in a Read/Write Web tool using images, audio, and/or video.
  2. Find a Read/Write Web tool where you can create the story quickly
  3. Share your example and observations on the value of the tool

Levine lists over 50 different tools you can use on his web site. You can find the web site at Since we lack unlimited pages of the Web, we’re going to focus on one tool you can use immediately.

Story Tool: VoiceThread

The power of VoiceThread is that it can be used regardless of what type of computer you have since it is web-based. VoiceThread describes itself in this way:

A VoiceThread allows every child in a class to record audio commentary about the ideas and experiences that are important to them. Whether an event, a project, or a milestone, children can tell their story in their own voice, and then share it with the world.
For teachers, VoiceThreads offer a single vessel to capture and then share all the diverse personalities of an entire class. You will hear the pride and excitement in their voices as the students “publish” their work.A VoiceThread can be managed with little effort, creating an heirloom that can be shared by students, parents, and educators alike.


After you manage to get the Internet Security Officer in your District to agree that VoiceThread is a benign digital tool usable in the K-12 classroom, you will want to point out that communications are moderated.

One of the key components of VoiceThread is the possibility of inviting moderated audio, or written, commentary on the work created. Imagine that. Other children can leave audio or text comments on a piece of digital work, and you, as their teacher, can choose to allow it or not. It is is incredible that children can interact with each other via the Web through the sound of their voice. How powerful is that as a way to create a sense of audience?

Variety of Uses

There are many more VoiceThreads available online, spanning a variety of media genres including poems, self-portraits, lectures, book reviews, multimedia presentations, and digital stories. Why not add your students’ work to the mix?

For example, consider the following projects (with more being added every day):

  • Poem book: In this activity, participants share their favorite poems to create an audio poem book. Imagine your bilingual/ESL students creating their favorite poem book, adding their audio narration, and then sharing that online.
  • Great Book Stories: According to Wes Fryer (, The idea is basic: Narrate five pictures to share why you love a specific book, and why other people should read it. If you’re interested in contributing, please check out the site and the guidelines. The password to edit the wiki is “share” without quotation marks.
  • Online Literature Circles: Wouldn’t this be a neat way of having literature circles online?
  • Social Studies/Geography Applications
  • Using Moodle in Technology Applications Classrooms: This was created by TA:TEKS teachers as a way to explore VoiceThread while at the same time share ideas about using Moodle, an online discussion forum and teaching tool in their classroom. Note that someone Allanah King, a New Zealand teacher was able to leave an audio comment on one of the “slides.”
  • Teaching Chemistry Lecture: No, digital creations aren’t just for elementary school students.
  • A Book Review by the GED Book Club
  • A student presentation regarding The Invisible Children

In Your Classroom

Want to use VoiceThread in your own classroom? Consider these resources to get you started:


“Digital storytelling begins,” says Joe Lambert, Co-Founder of the Center for Digital Storytelling, “with the notion that in the not [too] distant future, sharing one’s story through the multiple mediums of digital imagery, text, voice, sound, music, video and animation will be THE PRINCIPAL HOBBY OF THE WORLD’S PEOPLE.” As that world becomes more connected through the Internet, the importance of learning to use digital tools to share your ideas, your vision, your stories becomes all the more critical.

Given the choice of drill-n-practice or digital storytelling that is authentic, involves multiple media forms, which would your students select? I invite you to join the digital storytelling revolution, adding your voice to the mix.

Subscribe to Around the

Diigo the Web for Education - From TeleGatherer to TelePlanter with Diigo

This email floated in one day last week.

Once again I come to you with a grave concern. During this revamp of our current curriculum, we are trying to encourage both students and teachers to read, reflect, and write. I am trying to find and share resources on Greek mythology for my teachers. Is there an easy way to do that?

The answer is a definite YES that does not involve creating a single web page, wiki, blog or anything like that. You can use a no-cost social bookmarking tool known as Diigo to get the job done. This article shares how you can use the Diigo social bookmarking tool in education. This article is organized in 3 sections:

  1. How to become a global tele-gatherer with Diigo.
  2. 10 ways to Diigo the Web for Education
  3. Share Your Daily Gathering

Let’s start diigo-ing!

Hunters and Gatherers

With the advent of Web 2.0, hundreds of tools are available. But you only need one to get started annotating and sharing resources you find on the Web. As Dr. Judi Harris shared long ago (, gathering web-based resources is part of our “hunting and gathering” stage of development. New web tools allow you to do MORE than just gather great resources; they allow you to explain why they are great, put virtual post-its on them, and then share that care package of great resource links with your comments with your audience of choice. Judi writes:

  1. We all begin on the Web by “telegathering” (surfing) and “telehunting” (searching. This we can do pretty well. What we don’t do very well yet is to take educationally sound steps beyond telegathering and telehunting).
  2. We need to help our students and ourselves “teleharvest” (sift through, cogitate, comprehend, etc.) the information that we find, and “telepackage” the knowledge that results from active interaction (application, synthesis, evaluation, etc.) with the information.
  3. Then, we need to “teleplant” (telepublish, telecollaborate, etc.) these telepackages by sharing them with others…who use them as information in their…
  4. …telegathering & telehunting, and the process cycles back around again.

Are you helping your students make the shift from surfing and searching as telegatherers to becoming teleplanters? Here’s one tool that can help you and your students make the jump without esoteric technical knowledge.

Step 1 - Get a account. is a social bookmarking tool, similar to the popular service, but Diigo also centralizes various learning possibilities. The social aspect of learning is important, especially with our increasing focus on conversations that add value to what we are learning. Diigo lets you bookmark Web sites and have online conversations about them.

Diigo boasts some powerful tools and features that are easy to implement for novice tele-gatherers eager to become teleplanters:

  • Easy installation of a Diigo toolbar (no advertising) into your browser. You can access help and tutorials for Diigo online at
  • If you are not allowed to install toolbars, no problem, use the Digolet tool that can be added to your browser without installation.
  • If you use social bookmarking tool already, you can easily import your bookmarks from into via a “wizard.” Diigo does all the work for you!
  • Even more delicious, as you add new bookmarks, Diigo can save them to This is great for those that have a network of followers—such as a class of students or colleagues—in

Some of the exciting ways educators are using Diigo are listed in the sidebar to this article. Centralize your learning through web sites and the conversations you have about that learning by using Diigo. Because Diigo is free, you can encourage your superintendent and other administrative staff to become part of the conversation. That kind of networking empowers everyone who participates in the conversation. Below are some suggestions for using Diigo:

  • Annotate curriculum documents and add stickies to show where tech integration is happening and could happen. That could be annotated for a group of curriculum writers.
  • Annotate state education agency memos for your administrators. We get memos every day and they are posted online. Immediately, among a team, share the implications of the ideas in the memo, the most important points, and so on.
  • See instructional uses of Diigo as screencasts developed by Clay Burell, an International School teacher.
  • Create a slideshow of clickable web sites grabbed from your bookmarks. A great way to present awesome resources for children, parents and colleagues.
  • Annotate and add comments to a web page via Diigo, then publish your annotations/comments to your,, or other supported blog platform.

Learn Diigo via Video

Innovative teachers are finding MORE ways to use Diigo. If you are not sure you’re ready to start using Diigo, view Emily Barney’s video on Diigo - — to get a visual of what it is like. You can also view and listen to this long conversation ( between educators regarding Diigo’s usage.

Some other helpful videos available via (watch them at home if YouTube is blocked at your school):

You can also learn about Diigo via this picture tour, available online at

Step 2 - Diigo the Web for Education

Clif Mims, a colleague, started a conversation on Diigo—yes, you can start conversations with other learners on Diigo about what you are linking to and writing virtual post-its about—about educational applications of Diigo. Here is a snippet of the ideas being shared in online conversations by incredible educators that you may be missing out on:

  1. Bookmarking and organizing, lesson planning, share stuff with kids, online discussions, share information among teachers—team, grade level, school or district wide
  2. Facilitating student collaboration for discovering information by doing the following:
    • using the comment ability to analyze and evaluate websites
    • helping students to interact with text and helps them think about what they are reading. Rather than just cutting and pasting, students are asked to consider the text and the meaning of the text. Being selective and researching skills are so important and will move the research agenda further foward.
  3. Building an online community of telegatherers and teleplanters.
  4. Customizing information using Diigo tools. Teachers with multiple sections and/or preps can easily customize information, resources, activities using Diigo’s groups, lists, and conversations. This can all even be done at the time that a bookmark is made (for example, I could send the bookmark to a 7th grade math group list, a pre-algebra group list, but not the 7th grade social studies group)
  5. Enhancing professional learning communities by sharing web resources by using the cool highlighter feature or sticky notes and extend our chat about how to help our students become better readers, then the PD would mean more to us.
  6. Supporting Diigo-based fine-grained discussions connected to a specific part of a webpage - which opens up the possibility for more meaningful exchanges where teachers can embed all kinds of scaffolding into web-based materials with Diigo:
    • sharing questions for discussion (either online, or to prepare students for an in-class discussion);
    • highlighting critical features; asking students to define words, terms, or concepts in their own words/language; providing definitions of difficult/new terms (in various media, such as embedding an image in the sticky note);
    • providing models of interpreting materials.
    • using the highlighting/sticky note feature to “mark up” our “textbook” (blog) with comments, observations and corrections to specific words, phrases or paragraphs of each post.
    • Aggregating bookmarks the students make of websites valuable to their learning, and use the highlighting feature and sticky notes as if they were like the Track Changes feature in MS Word which lends itself more towards collaboration and the iterative process.
  7. Accomplishing peer reviews of assignments. Students place the assignment on the web and other students critique it. This removes the need for specialised peer review modules in some Learning Management Systems.
  8. Facilitating instant conversation starters. Diigo allows for the focus to go back to specific content. You bookmark a site and send it out to a Diigo group. This resource becomes an instant conversation starter or at least a common piece of content between members of a network. The diverse experiences of the network can then discuss the resource and the unique perspectives of each of the members can sprout new ideas into the collective. You get a lot of “I didn’t think of things that way” or “That would never fly for me, because…”
  9. Having students research a particular topic. The teacher(s) gather a few web sites that students can use an tag them appropriately. In the comments section, the teacher(s) might place instructions which are specific for the content to be found on the web site. This enables students to read it before even opening the page. This technique—which also includes highlighting content—is important for younger students and helps focus them on specific content. Students can also reply via virtual post-its to the highlighted text.
  10. Marking up online student work with this tool. Online students can mark up each other’s online work with this tool and engage in conversation about that work.
  11. Encouraging students to create annotated bibliographies of web resources in directed learning activities AND share and discuss them with others in the class. This resource can grow and be available for the online course from term to term.

I’m sure you can find other ways to use social bookmarking and annotation in your classroom. Join the conversation that has already begun online at

Step 3 - Share Your Daily Gathering

“Dad,” asked my daughter, “what’s RSS? I see it everywhere.” What a great question from a fourteen year old. I explained that RSS means that people subscribe to web pages and that instead of going to a web site to see what’s changed, the web site sends you a list of changes via RSS. You just get a free account at Google Reader ( and then click on the ubiquitous orange RSS button that appears on web pages these days.

As I responded to my teenager’s question on the way to watch the new Indiana Jones movie, I remembered that with Diigo, you can subscribe to bookmarks people are making. One way to ask this question is, “Is there a way to pull an RSS feed of all the bookmarks that are tagged with these bookmarks from all Diigo users?” Another way is, “How can I get new resources other people add to their Diigo bookmarks sent to me via an RSS feed?”

You see, once you get an RSS feed, you can put that RSS feed on the front page of your web site, in your blog or wiki, or share the RSS feed with your students. That way, a whole class of student tele-gatherers can learn what everyone else is doing.

Here’s how to accomplish that:

If you want to find out about items tagged “edustreams”--educational broadcasts of videos for education using free services such as uStream.TV—just type in the following and subscribe using Google Reader to what comes up:

Note that you can replace the word “edustreams” with any word (a.k.a. tag) you want. For example, if I wanted to see bookmarks from other people tagged with the word “TCEA” I’d type in the following:

If typing in the “tab=153″ is too much of a pain, you can always just type in this address:


Just be sure to change the word or tag above—”edustreams” or “tcea”--to reflect your word choice.

Another way to share what you are doing—especially with like-minded educators—is to create a group. For example, wouldn’t it would be great to copy-n-paste some code then put that—also known as a “badge”--on a web page? Students, parents, teachers, and others interested in what I was doing for my classroom could join a group to receive updates (as opposed to subscribing to the RSS feed) and have conversations about that content within a group setting. This can be an exclusive group with only people I know joining.

For example, I want more people to sign up for the TexasEdTechNews group, but aside from putting a link up, I’d like to have something that enables other people to click and connect. To do this, you will have to have a Diigo account and created a group. Then, go to “edit my membership” on the group you manage, and click the group widget tab, copy the code, then paste it into your web page. You can see what this looks like online in a short tutorial I prepared at


As Dr. Judi Harris pointed out so many years ago, it is important to help our students move beyond the “gathering and hunting” web sites stage of Internet use. A tool like—at no cost for educators, and which promises to develop an education-centric interface where teachers and students can use without having to appropriate an adult learner tool for children—can make the move possible.

Teach your students, your colleagues how to use Diigo, and you move them right up Bloom’s revised taxonomy.

About the Author

Miguel Guhlin, Director for Instructional Technology Services for San Antonio ISD, dug Diigo out a few months ago, and has been sharing it ever since with other educators and learners via his Around the Corner blog at Drop by and share your ideas about Diigo-ing the Web for Education, or email him at “”.

Sidebar - Diigo Groups

Where Learning Conversations Take Place

  • Classroom 2.0: A place for members of to share links, Classroom 2.0 is a social networking site devoted to those interested in the practical application of computer technology (especially Web 2.0) in the classroom and in their own professional development.
  • CTOnetwork: The focus of this group is to bridge the disparate organizations focused on CTOs, technology directors, and school district level technology issues.
    *Educators: This is a group for educators to use to share bookmarks. It is completely open and anyone can join. It will have a set of standard tags to help us share things that you might use in addition to your tags.
    *EDuStreams: Easily track education-related broadcasts (EDuStreams). Find out more about those via the Education World

Subscribe to Around the

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner



Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure