Friday, April 9, 2010

Finds of the Week: April 5-9

It truly was a great Easter Break here in Central PA, as temperatures have been rising and sunshine abundant! And, just like at school, this blog took a break last week, but it's back with some new finds! This week we are focusing on collaborating online and mind maps.

1. Online collaboration documents - In 2008, a service known as Etherpad appeared on the internet. It allowed for a group of people to collaborate on an online document from whereever in the world they might be. Etherpad had been used extensively by many in schools, but recenlty, Etherpad was purchased by Google, and with the creation of Google Wave, Etherpad is being discontinued. Google Wave is still in preview, and it doesn't have the same features that many teachers and students had enjoyed within Etherpad. Luckily, there are tools out there that are just like Etherpad!

Primary Pad - This tool works just like what you saw within Etherpad, and it is set up specifically for school use. To create a new pad, simply click on the "Create public pad" button on the main page. This will create a new site at "[random_address]" (the "random_address" is generated upon creation). Once you have your URL, you can share it through email, a link, embed, or invitation from your pad so that the collaboration can begin.

As you begin working, you will need to save, as Primary Pad does not save automatically. You will also need to remember to save (or have a collaborating member save) at various points of the collaboration. As members are working, they can enter their name and assign a color for typing so each member knows who is contributing information to the document. Each member can type at the same time and there will be no overlap to the information being entered.

If you have a document that you have already created under a different format (text, HTML, Word, or RTF), then you can import that document and work on it together. When completed, you can export the document to text, HTML, Word, PDF, OpenDocument, or a Bookmark file. There is also a time slider that will play through all of the edits made to a page from time of creation through the end of the most recent save.

One thing to be aware of when working with Primary Pad is that you MUST remember the URL for your pad (or have a saved link) to access it again. As it is a one-click free creation without a username, you need to take action to remember where your document is created. - For, you will notice that when you create a new document, it looks exactly like what you would see with Primary Pad or Etherpad. That's because all three run the same program. If you are familiar with one, you are familiar with all three. There is also a pad available at edmodo known as "Chalk" that is only available as a beta test upon specific request, but there are plans to bring it about as a feature in the future.

2. Mind Maps - Mind maps are powerful tools for use for both students and teachers. When working with a mind map, either as a class or individuals, it is a great way to take ideas and visually represent connections among them. These are ideas that teachers have used for decades, and finding ways to work with them electronically can allow for better access for all. In our district (as well as many others), Inspiration has been used as an installed application. But if a student wants to work on a mind map at home, they may not have had the access to the application. These sites all allow for access from any internet enabled device.

Exploratree - This site has many templates ready to work with for those that might have trouble organizing their information. For those who are more confident with connecting their own thoughts, a blank template is also available. No sign-in is necessary, though if you want to save and share, you will need to create a free username and password. In all, there are 25 different templates to choose from. If you have an outstanding thinking guide template you would like to have posted, you can even send it to Exploratree.

Mind42 - This is another online mind mapping site. What sets Mind42 apart from others is the collaborative nature of it. Not only can you create an online mind map, but you can work with others without having to be in the same place. To invite collaborators, first create your map. Once created, you will see an icon that looks like two people in the upper left of your map. Click on it, enter email adresses for those you would like to add, and send! A link is sent and you now have a collaborator. The interface is very intuitive to work with, and you can hover your mouse over the different elements to get short directions for what each might do. You can review the revisions, import and export mind maps, and insert all sorts of things into your mind map.

As more blog entries are posted, more resources are being listed. If you ever want to see just a list of resources that have been shared in this blog, visit this Google Spreadsheet.

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