from Technology & Learning
These applications can help busy administrators reclaim precious hours.
Web-based productivity tools help people collaborate, communicate, and save time—and the good news is most are free. Below are five good strategies for using them.
1. Clean out your inbox and focus your professional development with RSS.
Ever feel bogged down by all of those interesting articles in your e-mail inbox? Do you struggle to keep current with breaking education technology news? Many news sites and blogs distribute their headlines as RSS feeds. You can capture those feeds using an aggregator or Web browser.
"My RSS aggregator is my personal learning network. I attach myself to people who can help me do my job," says the Landmark Project's David Warlick (a regular T&L contributor who wrote "The Executive Wiki"). Aggregators save time by consolidating headlines from many sites where you can look for breaking news or join a conversation.
When you find a Web site to track, look for an orange XML or RSS subscribe button. This will give you options for different news aggregators or bookmarks in which to store your feed. Choose one and let the aggregator or browser collect the latest updates.
2. Share your documents online with wikis or online productivity applications.
Still sending documents via e-mail and collecting opinions with "track changes"? Wikis and Web-based productivity applications give everyone online access to the same document while tracking iterations. To post a file, simply create an account on a wiki or Web-based application site, upload your file or create it online, then share.
"Google Docs was the tool that really got the principals thinking about designing collaborative agendas, documents, reports, etc." says Kathryn Hayden, assistant professor of education technology and ISTE mentor to Chicago Public Schools principals. Web-based documents may not have all the bells and whistles of fully- featured desktop software, but they foster real-time collaboration and sharing.
"With Zoho Show, principals create a presentation and it's on the Web," Hayden says. When a principal discusses a new initiative with a teacher, they can sit down together in the classroom, log-in, and view the document or add to it. "We still have a digital divide around technology access, but there is a digital divide with software also," Hayden says. "[These tools] allow students, teachers, and everyone to have access to an application to collaborate with others, to be professional in their sharing and learning."
When asked to facilitate the revision of a district technology plan, one consultant introduced the team to a wiki and a Webtop word processor. The move led to more participation and easier communication. The final plan was of higher quality and had broader buy-in than previous plans because more stakeholders had participated.
From a personal productivity point of view, Web-based documents mean access anywhere, anytime. If you want to add to a report or a presentation from home or while traveling, simply log in and make the change. You no longer need keep a copy on your home PC, another on your laptop, and yet another on your administrative assistant's desktop.
3. Start a dialogue with your community using a blog.
Blogs make it very easy to publish regularly on the Web and allow participants to enter comments on each post. They provide a platform for a public dialogue or serve as a closed discussion for a small group of professionals working together.
On "Technology Director's Desk," Jim Klein, director of information services and technology for the Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita, California, tracks technology discoveries, posts reference materials, and offers links to helpful sites. His blog serves both his school community and anyone else who trusts Klein as a source for innovation and ideas.
Of course, the personal, open style of a blog can sometimes clash with communication needs on controversial issues. Scott McLeod's blog, "Dangerously Irrelevant," does not link to his school district but instead serves as a personal platform to lead discussions about the future of education. Clayton Wilcox, superinten-dent of Pinellas County Schools in Florida, discontinued his blog on the St. Petersburg Times Web site with the comment, "I think that talking face-to-face with teachers will be more productive going forward."
Before testing a blog in public, district leaders may prefer blogging with a small, invited group of participants who share a common goal. Chicago Public Schools principals who participated in a technology and leadership institute used a blog to share results as they put data-driven decision-making strategies into practice.
"Using a blog was very helpful to learn from other principals' experiences and share ideas," says William Truesdale, principal of Douglas Taylor Elementary School in Chicago. As part of a technology and leadership institute, Truesdale and other principals met face-to-face four times per year but communicated regularly on a closed blog.
When used as a professional-development platform, blogs reflect the way people learn, according to Steve Hargadon. "When we post an essay or contribute to a discussion and have feedback and response, that's how we actually learn in the real world," he says. "That's how we work on things and figure them out."
4. Mark the Web for discovery by tagging.
When you tag an item on the Web, you add a few words to the description that you might use to find it again later. For example, a CTO might tag this article with the words "Web 2.0, emerging, planning." A principal might tag the same article with "Web 2.0, elementary, principals, blogging." A tagger can find the information again quickly by searching on familiar terms.
Tags become more powerful when shared and associated with a particular identity. Warlick describes a librarian who increased library circulation by letting students tag the electronic card catalogue. A voracious third-grade reader might tag a group of books with the term "scary." Other third graders searching on "scary" might discover the book too. When searching for an item on Amazon, a user scrolls down the page to add a tag and see how others have tagged it.
Del.icio.us aggregates tagged items online, making them available wherever you log in. Teachers might share tags to help each other find valuable resources quickly without making a list of links on a Web page or on a piece of paper. Leaptag adds voting to tagging to further refine categories of interest and help discover the most relevant content.
Put it all together.
Forget about storing memos, documents, and address books on your computer desktop—the computer stays in your office. Personalized home pages create a virtual desktop accessible from almost anywhere, with all your resources a log-in away. Just sign in to Google, Yahoo, or AOL to create a desktop with access to all of your other tools: e-mail, alerts, an RSS aggregator, documents, and more.
At a recent Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, John Seally Brown, senior fellow at the Annenberg Center at USC, described young people as having a "gaming disposition." With students leading the way in the personal productivity realm, it's time that educators start getting our own game on.
Karen Greenwood Henke (blog.grantwrangler.com) is founder of Nimble Press.
Exploring Web 2.0
Wikis & Web apps