Saturday, September 01, 2012

Your Virtual Blue Binder

As a student, when going back to school in September, there was no event I waited for more than shopping for school supplies. I would love the fact everything neatly fit into a blue binder, and my subject dividers and pockets kept my notes and handouts organized throughout the school year
Today’s students and educators have a different type of organizational task to think about—organizing their virtual resources. Keeping Web links available on whatever hardware device they are using. Storing photos.  Be able to access email from anywhere. And keeping up with blog posts and social networks. Oftentimes, items seemed to be spread among too many places.
What are some helpful tools to keep in your “virtual blue binder”? Here are just a few of the types of tools that can be helpful. There are many online tools that fit into these tool types. Please add your suggestions in the comments section and be sure to include the “type” in your reply.
Type: Aggregators
An aggregator is an online Web tool that aggregates or pulls a bunch of things together. Aggregators are also called newsreaders. The tool automatically gathers newly published articles of interest from news sources and blogs all over the Web to one single place for you. These Web sites allow you to “subscribe” to receive their new content by typing the URL of the site into the aggregator. The techie name for this process is Really Simple Syndication, abbreviated as RSS.
Some popular aggregators include:
  • Google Reader is part of the Google suite of tools and the most-used newsreader.
  • Feedly is available as an add-on for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox and also has apps for the iOS and Android platforms. If you have your Google Reader all set-up, you can use Feedly to easily access your subscribed feeds on a computer, tablet or smartphone.
  • Reeder is a newsreader app for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Mac computers.
Type: Capturing Tools
Capturing tools are like Swiss army knives. They allow you to photograph, record, scan, copy, paste, and gather items all in one easy place. These capturing tools are for your own use, although sometimes colleagues use the same account to share their discoveries or find other ways to share their findings. . These types of tools have various feature sets, including taking notes,  the ability to tag, search by keyword, turn handwriting into text, convert PDFs into editable text, and much more.
  • Evernote is the most popular tool in this category. Evernote has a Web-based site, a Web clipper extension for many of the popular Web browsers, and apps for iOS, Android, and third party apps for WebOS tablets. Your Evernote items remained synced no matter which hardware you use to access them. There are also specialty apps that allow you to connect your Evernote to online storage sites, handwrite notes and send them to Evernote, and other cool connections. And you can even email your text, images, and audio to your Evernote account. Once in the account, you can create folders, called notebooks, to keep your information organized and accessible.
Type: Curation Tools
Curation tools allow you to gather information, organize it in a meaningful way, annotate it and add your thoughts, and then share it with others. Curation tools differ from the capture tools since the idea is to meaningfully arrange items by whatever criteria you decide and make it available to others. This a very crowded arena right now, so I recommend you find the single tool that does what you want to do, and stick with it. Don’t jump around or cross-post to other tools. Spreading the URL of your curated information is encouraged, though!
  • Pinterest is a wildly popular curation tool. Starting out as a way to save images of items one was interested in, it has quickly grown to be a place where educators “pin” Web sites and items of interest on categorized “pinboards”. You can search across all the content on the site, “repin” something to one of your pinboards, or comment on a pin. Take a look at my search on “iPads in the classroom” to get a feel for the type of information you can find. And, when clicking on a pin, you can get to that educator’s entire pinboard, like this one called Technology in the Classroom.
  • is an easy-to-use tools to curate items of interest. Your first create a topic, then install the bookmarklet on your browser’s toolbar, and just add items to your topic pages easily. In addition, gives each topic page an RSS feed which allows you to easily aggregate the “scoops” of others in your aggregator.
  • Educlipper is a new curation site that is specifically dedicated to educators and students. You can create “clipboards”, add articles, images, audio, and more that you find to them, “reclip” items from others, and share your clipboards with the world!
  • BagTheWeb allows you to create “bags” of information sources for yourself or to share with others. They have a page dedicated to the use of their tool in the classroom that showcases some good ideas!
  • allows you to create a tagged, organized daily newspaper from information you post or gather from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any web content.
  • Pearltrees allows you to use a bookmarklet in a browser or in Safari on the iPad to send “pearls” that you find to folders. It also allows you to automatically save resources you share on Twitter or Facebook to your Pearltree. You can share these folders, and see who else has curated the same resource, thus finding others who are interested in the same topics as you!
  • Weebly is an easy to use Web page creator that allows you to organize information, upload images, attach files, embed content, and create weblink lists. They even have a free education version that allows you to allot Weebly accounts to your student.
Type: Online File Storage
One of the organization tools that comes in very handy is the ability to have all of your files with you at all times, no matter what the format. There are a host of online file-hosting services available that are no cost and some let you share documents with others, too. Read the rules carefully. Some, like Dropbox, only allow x number of megabytes to be downloaded by others from your public folder per month. (I learned this the hard way with a note from Dropbox telling me I exceeded the limit and they were not allowing access to my public folders for three days.) Some have a limit of 100 megabytes on the files you upload.
  • Dropbox starts you off with 2GB of online storage space, but, through referring others, you can increase that to 18GB. There is a public folder to share files with others and you run a Dropbox application on Windows, Mac, Linux, and mobile platforms. There is even a plug-in to Dropbox called DROPitTOme which allows you to give a secure URL to others who can then upload files to your Dropbox.
  • Box is another popular file storage and file sharing site. For free, you get 5GB of stograge, can view your files on demand, can share a link to a file to a colleague, and even share an entire folder of files. A Box application is available for Windows, Android, and iOS.
  • SkyDrive is a Microsoft file storage site that starts you off with 7GB of file storage space. There is an SkyDrive application for Windows and Mac which allows you to move files up and down, and Windows Phone app, iOS app, and third party app for use with Android.
  • Edmodo is not meant to be an online file storage site. However, any asset you upload into this learning management-type system gets a public URL. Simply right-click on the uploaded asset (up to 100 MB), copy the long, cryptic URL and, using a URL shortener, create a short URL of the file to share with others.
Type: To-Do Lists
One of the nice things about online and app-based to-do lists is the ability to keep your tasks organized and prioritized at all times. There are lots and lots of to-do apps. I have tried many of them personally. Some are very complex and full-featured. Others are just basic and provide only a few features. Here are some suggestions.
  • Mac Reminders works with iCal, Outlook, and iCloud. and your iOS device.  (There is also a  new desktop app in Apple’s newest operating system, Mountain Lion.) Reminders allows me to set priorities and alarms, create separate topic lists, and allows me to set a location where I want to be reminded– for instance “Remind me when I get to work to write the article for Steve.” When I pull into my work parking lot, up pops the reminder on my phone. I really love location-aware apps!
  • Remember the Milk (RTM) is an online to-do list and task management application. There are mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Blackberry and you can view your tasks on our Apple iCal or Google calendar. You can even aggregate your task feeds with your aggregator and get reminders about your apps via instant messaging. And, if you are a big Twitter user, you can even use direct messaging on Twitter to send your tasks to RTM.
  • Nutshell is simply a browser-based to-do list with the ability to prioritize and make separate lists by topic. It is accessible through the tablet browsers, includes RSS in case, as the teacher, you want to assign tasks to be delivered to students’ aggregators, and is simple and easy-to-use.