Gotta Be An Easier Way

Using technology to make your life easier!

Archive for the ‘Collaborative’ Category

I know everyone probably has some sort of Google account and if you don’t you have probably have heard about it. But I wanted to make sure that I wrote something about it because it is one of those fundamental online tools that you must tap into and I didn’t want to take it for granted, that and there are so many tools that people haven’t tapped into that add so much to the experience.

Google pretty much owns my life and there is a good reason for that. It’s easy, free, integrated and unified. On top of it I can gather all the Google tools that I use onto one page, my Google Homepage . This is where I have my Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Reader, and many other tools that aren’t even Google tools like the weather, or alternative search engines.

So how do you get a google Homepage? If you have a Gmail account then you already have access to the Google Homepage and ALL of the tools I have listed here and MORE you simply need to login with your Gmail account to access it and it is all FREE!

Let me elaborate on some of the tools that Google offers:

  • Google Docs: Word Processing, Spreadsheet creation, online forms/surveys, presentation/slideshow creation. All of which can be fully private or fully collaborative with several people working on the same document at the same time from the same room or thousands of miles away.
  • Gmail: Email that offers over 5 GB of storage space (It’s space is ever growing as well depending how long you have had it for, I’m up to nearly 8GB), to-do lists, contact lists, Instant messaging, video chat, and many plugins that increase it’s functionality like GTD inbox, Boxbe, and Google Calendar. And because it is all integrated you send some emails right to your calendar like Entourage and Outlook.
  • Google Calendar: Create multiple calendars that you can share with family, friends collegues, co-workers or the entire world if you want. Tap into co-workers (if they are sharing) calendars to help you schedule meetings or events. Break it down into months days or hours. Reminders help you keep track of your life as well.
  • Picasa: An online photo storage site like Flickr. Easily organize, find, and share your photos. (Stay tuned for a more in depth look at Picasa and Flickr coming very soon)
  • Google Reader: A RSS feed reader that allows for sharing and works really good.
  • Blogger: A easy to use blog that integrates into all your other tools, grab photos from Picasa, documents from Docs and populate your blog so others can keep up to date with what you are doing.
  • Google Sites: A no code required web builder that utilizes drag and drop modular design. Easily have a website up and running in minutes.
  • Youtube: yup your Google account automatically gives you a youtube account.
  • Google Maps: A map of everywhere. Get directions and save them to your account so you always have them for accessibility. And check out street view which lets you go down to street level in most major cities in the world and look around as if you are in a car.
  • Google Translate: Translate from language to language. Very Handy. 43 languages supported and counting.
  • iGoogle: Your personalized Homepage of widgets/nuggets/gadgets. Can house most of the Google tools along with thousands of other tools that enhance productivity or just supply fun.
  • and many more like Finance, Scholar, Books, News etc. And they are constantly adding more.

The best part of it all is that it all exists online (but you can have it run off your desktop too if you want) and is accessible from any computer in the world that have computer access.

How can I use this for education?

  • Increase productivity.
  • Almost everything you do can be online and is sharable.
  • Reduce desktop clutter with fewer applications.
  • Give students a free alternative to pricey desktop applications.
  • Most of your tools can be accessible on one web page. It’s your desktop online.
  • It lives online so you have access everywhere and are not tethered to one computer.
  • Collaborate synchronously or a-synchronously online whenever or wherever with students, course co-writers, colleagues or whoever.
  • Set students up to collaborate online, this works especially good with distance courses.
  • View Microsoft Office documents without Microsoft Office.
  • and there is so much more but so little space

So what do /would you use the Google products for?

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  • Filed under: Calendar/PIM, Collaborative, Conferencing, Editors, File Viewers, Office, RSS Readers, Search, Social Networking, Tools
  • Useful Social Networks for Students

    Everyone knows that social networks like Facebook are really popular with college age students but there are many other web 2.0 apps that can add to a students experience at college. Here is an article from Mashable that describes 10 of these applications. Enjoy.

    10 Must-Try Social Media Sites for College Students

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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Networking, Social Networking
  • iCue – Immerse, Connect, Understand & Excel

    The following is a cross post from and it is being re-posted to the easierway site because this clearly represents an easier or more effective way to learn history, civics and current events and should be considered a glimpse of what the future of learning may hold.

    iCue, which stands for “Immerse”, “Connect”, “Understand”, and “Excel”,  is a free, online, collaborative learning environment for students and lifelong learners ages 13 and up that includes discussion forums, games and activities, and hundreds of current and historic videos from NBC News.

    iCue was originally designed with Advanced Placement students in mind by NBC and the MIT Education Arcade who are conducting research study to find out how iCue can help students learn. Originally designed with Advanced Placement students in mind, students in high school through college and lifelong learners of all ages will enjoy watching the NBC videos, playing the games, joining discussion forums and trading Cue Cards while they learn.

    The system can be used by a wide assortment of learners at many levels but does offer the following courses as a starting point:

    • U.S. History,
    • U.S. Government and Politics, and
    • English Language and Composition.
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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Learning, Networking, Research, Social Networking, Video
  • Part 3: Search Engine Throwdown

    True Knowledge is a “question answering” search engine. You ask a question the way you do to any other person and it will give you an answer and the results (webpages) from which it drew that conclusion. So if you type in “How tall is the Eiffel tower?” I get a simple answer of “324 meters” I also get the specific article it got that information from, a list of other webpages that are relevant to the search and also an option as to if I agree or disagree with the answer.

    True Knowledge is still in beta (like the other 2 I reviewed) so not everything has an answer and on top of that you still need to sign up to be able to use it something that can take days before your account can be set up. That is not very good when you are just wanting to do a simple search. If you are very interested in this concept and feel you want to contribute you sure can add to the knowledge base.

    How can you use True knowledge in education?

    Really because it is in beta, and has been for over a year, it really isn’t suitable to use in education but is definitely one to watch out for and should be followed.

    So who is the winner of this throwdown? My choice as best search engine alternative is Hakai, and for these reasons:

    • Smoothest and fastest interface
    • verified search results
    • direct comparison with other search engines

    This isn’t to say that the other search engines are not good, they are good but I just prefer Hakia at this point.

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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Networking, Research, Search
  • Part 2: Search Engine Throwdown.

    hakia via kwout

    Hakai is a self proclaimed semantic search engine that spits out results based on web sites that are suggested by librarians. Because most search engines bring search results based on popular websites the results may not be credible but Hakai is trying to change that.

    Most search engines bring popular results based on what statistical ranking algorithms, the problem with this is that the popular results are not always credible. Enter Hakai, the self proclaimed semantic search engine that brings quality results based on 3 criteria:

    1. credible websites recommended by librarians
    2. relevance to the query
    3. up to date information

    Hakai takes it a step further by allowing you to compare ( your search to Google, Yahoo and MSN to see how effective it is as well letting you see if you find the search to be as effective as they say.

    No sign up required, no commitment of any kind is needed to use this tools so feel free to try it risk free.

    So how can this tool be used in education.

    • If you are tired of Wikipedia, Google and the like then you can test drive Hakai and it’s librarian approved search result out and perhaps only allow your students to use it when doing research.
    • It is another search engine option for yourself or anyone for that matter.
    • Use it to show your students how different search engines can offer different results, thus it becomes a teaching tool to demonstrate why extra research is usually needed.

    How would you use Hakai?

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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Networking, Research, Search
  • Etherpad: Realtime Collaborative Text Editing

    About the only limiting factor to Google Apps/Docs for collaboration on documents is that one still needs to have a Google account to access and collaborate on a document, spreadsheet or presentation. If your intended users/audience are not comfortable with creating a Google account or just do not want to, but you still need to collaborate on a document then Etherpad is the best way to go.

    You don’t need an account to start and Etherpad and anyone who you send or give the document URL to can start editing the document in real time. Users can identify their edits by color and name so it is very easy to see who has written what.

    Educational Applications:

    • This is one web-based app that you just need to “click and see” just how easy it is to use and what it can do for you.
    • Collaboration, engagement, brainstorming, mind mapping and so on….One is only limited by their own imagination.
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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Editors, Learning, Mind Mapping, Networking
  • Voxli: Instant Voice Chat

    Likely we have all at one point or another used voice chat over the computer. Sometimes it can be difficult and sometimes fairly easy. Most of the time it requires downloading an application and on rare occasions it will exist on the net but still requires sign-up.

    Enter Voxli, an online voice chat application that doesn’t require any sign-up or registration and allows up to 200 people to chat at once. To set it up you simply go to their main website and complete a url of your own choosing. Send that url to whomever you want to chat with. It will prompt you to install a plug-in for Firefox and that is it. Extremely simple. The interface is very minimal and will take only seconds to figure out how it works.

    I have never ran across a voice chat application that is this easy to use let alone with good quality audio and the ability to “push” your chat outside of your browser to various other devices like video game systems.

    Although it doesn’t offer anything new to the arena of voice chat it does make the whole process much easier for admin and end users and that is the kind of power I gravitate to.

    How can Voxli be used in Education?

    1. Easily set up chat groups for distance students
    2. Make yourself available to students after hours via a chat room for them to ask questions while still having the open classroom concept
    3. Have distance students use it for collaborative projects

    How would/do you use it in your course?

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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Conferencing
  • Pidgin Wins – For Now…

    pidginIn the Meebo, Adium, and Pidgin three communication tools with strange names post Tyler pointed to the three top instant Message (IM) aggregators, Meebo, Adium and Pidgin and also explained how these tools could enhance the learning environment.

    While I have yet to find a web-based tool that works as good as Meebo, I have made the move from Adium to Pidgin as my primary application based IM aggregator for the following reasons:

    • Simplest and most efficient interface
    • Adding IM accounts is almost foolproof
    • Supports more services
    • Cross platform (Mac PC, Linux/Unix)
    • Supports 3rd party plugins

    Educational uses:

    • Connect, engage and communicate with students using a tool that they all use.
    • Collaborate with peers in real time.
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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Instant Messaging (IM), Social Networking
  • Post to Diigo & Much More…

    In the Can You Diigo it? post Tyler offered a plethora of reason why one should use Diigo and also offered several educational uses for this excellent social bookmarking tool. I would like to further enhance  Tyler’s post by pointing to 3 powerful Diigo tools that can be added directly to your browser that make it very simple to add and access Diigo bookmarks.

    Post to Diigo is a button you add to your bookmarks toolbar by simply dragging and dropping. It allows you to bookmark the page you are on by simply clicking the button. Once you add the description, tags, privacy setting you just click the Add New Bookmark button and your bookmark is saved and Diigo then returns you to the page you were originally on.

    Diigolet is very similar to the Post to Diigo Button in that it can be set-up by simple drag-and-drop – no download or installation needed, and it works for all major browsers. In addition to simple bookmarking it also allows you to highlight and add sticky-notes.

    The Diigo Toolbar is a power tool that can enhance your online browsing and interaction experiences by providing a full sidebar listing of your bookmarks, URLs and friends. It also provides a full featured toolbar that gives you the ability to bookmark, highlight, send, read later and view recent and unread bookmarks as well as enabling advanced searching and filtering. Despite all the power and control the toolbar is very easy to install, configure and use

    Post to Diigo, Digolet and the Diigo Toolbar are just the first 3 tools listed on the Diigo Tools page so we are really still just scratching the surface when it comes to using Diigo.

    P.S. from Tyler

    When I first started using Diigo these tools that Dwayne has mentioned were invaluable, but I always disliked how much room it took up in my taskbar. For many this may not be a problem but I have many other tools that I use in my task bar as well. I happened upon a solution (by accident) to this though, I discovered that right clicking on a page you wish to bookmark, text that you wish to highlight, or both at the same time would bring up a context sensitive menu allowing almost all of the functionality right at your fingertips without having to have the other tools in the toolbar (Diigo still needs to be installed as a plugin however). I find that this solution is faster and more convenient than using the Diigolet and Diigo button. Below I attached some screenshots of the context sensitive menus.


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  • Filed under: Browsers, Collaborative, Social Networking
  • VoiceThread is an interactive environment that facilitates collaboration on creating dynamic slideshows by allowing users to post comments, which are publicly viewable if needed, in a variety of formats including text, audio and video all delivered from either a computer or phone. In addition to this it allows viewers to comment by drawing pictures directly on the slides.

    Although that is a fairly good shot at describing VoiceThread they do a much better job of it by showing what it can do which you can see here.( and here

    My description of VoiceThread is drastically condensed but it is a good base. When you watch a VoiceThread you are faced with a slide and pictures all along the sides, these pictures are the comments that people have left in either text, audio or video, a timeline plays along the bottom and is segmented for each person who left a comment. If you want you can skip all the comments and go to the next slide by clicking the large arrow on the bottom right.

    So how could you use VoiceThread in Education? Well this is one of those tools that could be used for so many different purposes that I won’t touch on even a fraction of what can be done but I will try so here we go:

    • Put up an image of a technical word (used in medicine perhaps) that needs to be pronounced correctly. Leave your own audio comment so they know how to pronounce it and have your students leave audio comments on that slide. It not only reinforces how to say it but they hear how the other students pronounce it as well.
    • Students could use it as a way of collaborating on large projects and could be used as a way of documenting the process to show they actually did the work.
    • Use it as a way of visual storytelling.
      Use it for creative writing exercises, post a series of pictures and have students commutatively create the story by having each person add to what the last person wrote.
    • Use it as a forum for debate
    • Use it for tutorials
    • Use it to get to know your class

    If you are interested in more I suggest you go to VoiceThread and browse ( ) some of the ones that have already been created. Many of them are very creatively using the tool to fill gaps and really engage students in an open and non-threatening dialog.

    One downside to VoiceThread is that for a student to use it they do need to have an account and although it is free it is another step they will need to go through to be able to use it.

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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Slideshow