Monday, June 30, 2008

Del.icio.us: Sharing the Best Web Resources

Some of you may recall that I conducted a grand experiment with the del.icio.us tagging service - http://del.icio.us - about two years ago. I learned a lot from that experiment but ultimately had to abandon it because of some technical problems I ran into. Well, as I have been working on my current crop of Aesop materials, I realized that del.icio.us was the only way I could really manage to keep track of everything, so I've started another del.icio.us experiment, and it is so much fun! Based on the tricks I learned from my previous experiment, it is going great, and I am really excited for how this will help make my Aesop materials more accessible. So, in this post and in the next few posts at this blog, I'll explain how I am using del.icio.us, and perhaps you will see some ways in which it can be useful to you, too.

What is del.icio.us? The del.icio.us service is basically a way to "tag" webpages with keywords that make it possible to index the page. All the people who use del.icio.us add tags to webpages, and then del.icio.us takes that information and compiles it, so that you can get a collective picture of how people are tagging different webpages. The power of del.icio.us derives from the fact that it has thousands and thousands of users, tagging millions of webpages. The tagging information provides a "smart" index of the Internet, as opposed to the brute-force indexing which a search engine like Google provides.

Using the del.icio.us website. You don't have to create a del.icio.us account in order to take advantage of all the work people have done in tagging pages. Anybody can access the del.icio.us website, and see what pages have been tagged with words that are important to you.

For example, here is what you see if you go to the del.icio.us website. There is a list of the webpages that are "hot" (that is, lots of people are adding tags to these pages), and there are also "tags to watch" (the tags that people are focusing on at the moment.


Searching for specific tags. There are actually many ways to search del.icio.us, including a search engine box you will find at the top of each page. What I most like to do, however, is to search for tags by simply typing the URL myself or using the tag box at http://del.icio.us/tag:

For example, I can simply access directly all the pages tagged with "aesop" - and those pages are listed here: http://del.icio.us/tag/aesop


Even better, if I want to search for a combination of two tags, I can just add the other tag with a plus sign, "aesop+latin," for example: http://del.icio.us/tag/aesop+latin


Or let's say you want to make cucumber salad: http://del.icio.us/tag/cucumber+salad


I notice immediately this recipe which has been tagged by 112 other people!

Searching with del.icio.us tags is quite different from just searching with Google for the phrase "cucumber salad," because what comes up on the first page of Google is a mysterious product of Google's page rankings and all kinds of mysterious factors. Fortunately, del.icio.us is still a more recognizably "human" environment - it is not as vast a collection of information such as that managed by Google, but in return for the smaller size, you do get the human touch.

Other people's tags. If I click on the "saved by 112 other people" phrase in that entry for the cucumber salad recipe, I can see who they are, and any notes they have made about the page, in addition to the tags. If something gets my attention, I can click on the user name and see their other saved pages. One comment gets my attention, and when I click on the link to her user profile, I discover all kinds of great recipes which this woman has saved!
http://del.icio.us/genevieve.gill


Isn't that cool? The different tags she has used (see list on right) are categories I can click on, in order to keep exploring the pages she has tagged.

RSS feed. I can even get an RSS subscription so that I will be notified when this user adds a new item. I can even specify that the RSS feed be only for items saved by this user tagged "recipe" (since it is often the case that people tag all kinds of pages based on all the different things they do online). I just go the del.icio.us page for the user genevieve.gill with the tag recipe: http://del.icio.us/genevieve.gill/recipe

To subscribe for updates, just look for the RSS button down at the bottom of the page:

Here is what the RSS feed for "Genevieve Gill/recipe" looks like in Safari; depending on what RSS feed reader you are using, you may see the contents differently.


Web 2.0 and social networking. I hope this has provided a good introduction to the social networking power of del.icio.us, one of the most successful "web2.0" services. I've never met "genevieve gill" but thanks to her saving 35 recipes here with del.icio.us, I may have found a great cucumber salad. It sounds like it might even tempt my salad-averse husband! I'd love to try the peanut soup, too, but I don't think I can get my husband to go along with that one.

In my next posts, I'll explain some of things you can do by creating a del.icio.us account (totally free) and using it to organize and tag the webpages that are important to you in your work life or school life, or just for fun.


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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Edit Images with Picnik.com

While you may have image editing software on your computer, it's also worth knowing about some good online alternatives that allow you to do basic image editing - crop, resize, etc. - without having to install any software at all. That way, if you don't have image editing software on your computer, or if you are working on a computer in a public setting, in a computer lab, etc., you can still do some quick image editing!

One of the nicest online image editors that I have found is Picnik.com. All the basic services are available for free. There is also a Premium membership ($25/year) which gives you access to more powerful editing tools, a photo history (so you can recover previous versions of your photos, etc.), and it also removes the banner advertising from the site. I can't tell you a lot about the Premium version, but I can tell you that my experience with the free version of Picnik has been excellent.


When you start Picnik, you will see a basic editing screen that allows you to either sign in as a user, or simply start by uploading a photo from your computer with creating an account at all. There are also some demo photos you can play with to familiarize yourself with Picnik's features. One of the most common things I need to do with images is to resize them, which is very easy with Picnik:


The cropping tool is also easy to use, and for those of you who are serious photography buffs, you will appreciate the way the grid layout of the cropping tool encourages you to think about the "rule of thirds" as you select the crop area.


Cropping and resizing are the two features that I use at Picnik.com all the time, but you will see that there are all kinds of other editing options available in the free version of the software. So, if you have a photo you have taken yourself, or an image you have found on the Internet, you can use Picnik.com to tweak that image, so that you end up with the picture that suits your needs!


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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Instant Editing with GoogleDocs: My Recipes

As someone who works online, I basically am working with a web browser window open all day long. Google Documents - Docs.Google.Com - allows me to open a document with a single click and edit it instantly; Google Documents even saves automatically for me, so all I have to do is open the document, type my notes, and it is saved automatically for me. So, if you are looking for a quick and easy way to keep notes, to-do lists, etc., Google Documents is a great solution. As a demonstration, I'll show you how I use it to keep track of my recipes!

I used to have a regular Word-type document on my computer where I saved recipes. But when I found a good recipe I wanted to save online, I had to go open Word, open my document, paste in the recipe, save, etc. But here's what I do now instead with Google Documents.

It's easy to create a Google Document. First, I created a Google Document for my recipes with all the recipes I had in my old Word document file. (I just cut-and-pasted the document, but I also could have uploaded the Word document itself if I wanted to do that.)


GoogleDocs are webpages - and you can bookmark them! When I have the file open in Google Documents, it has an address, just like any other webpage, so I am able to save it as a bookmark. Although it may seem trivial, being able to save a specific GoogleDoc as a bookmark in your web browser is one of the biggest advantages to using it as a filing system. Having each document I access frequently saved as a bookmark means whenever I want to see the document, edit the document, etc., I just click on that bookmark - it's instant access!


So, if I find a recipe on a webpage somewhere (or if someone sends it to me in the email) and I want to keep it, I just click on the bookmark to open the Recipes document, then I cut and paste the recipe into the document. I can either click on Save myself, or just let Google Save it for me automatically (if I leave the window open, Google will save it for me). As you can see, Google wants to help me improve my spelling - it has put the wavy red lines under the typos, but since it is just a recipe file, I'm not going to worry about the typing:


GoogleDocs CAN be made public. By default, a Google Document is private; even if someone else has the address of the document, they cannot view it. However, I can choose to share the document with others, making it a public webpage.

So if I want my mom to be able to see share my recipes, I just send her the link in the email - link to Laura's Recipes (I'm not much of a cook, as you will see) - and she can open the document as a webpage, but she cannot edit it. She sees the contents, but none of the editing options, the wavy red lines to indicate spelling errors are gone, etc. It's the same document as shown in the previous screenshot, but when someone views it who is not me, all they see is the contents of the file itself, without being able to change those contents.

Of course, I could also choose to make her a "collaborator" (that's another one of the Share options), and we could both be adding recipes to the file together!

Access from any computer. If you work on multiple computers, you also have this advantage: your Google Documents are available from any computer. So if you are cooking at someone else's house and want to check on a recipe, you can do that instantly - to access your documents from anywhere, you just need a web browser.

Recipes... To-Do Lists.. So many uses! I keep finding all kinds of new ways ot use the instant editing that Google Documents makes possible - I even keep an honest "to-do" list which I update regularly, because GoogleDocs makes it so easy to edit the "to-do" list instantly, letting me add things as soon as they come to mind. If I don't write it down immediately, I'll forget - and now, instead of having a computer covered with post-it notes, I have a handy little "to-do" list, color coded and printable, thanks to GoogleDocs! If you play around with this great online service from Google, I'm sure you'll also find all kinds of ways to take advantage of the many conveniences it offers, with each of your documents a single click away, and instantly editable.


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Monday, June 23, 2008

Super Site-Specific Searches with Google

My apologies for not posting last week! If you read the Bestiaria Latina blog round-ups, you know that I've been working on harvesting all the Latin Aesopic fables I could find at Google Books and other online sources... finally telling myself to stop when I reached 4000 fables! You can see the results of those efforts at the Latin Aesopus wiki. I'm going to try to get back to my regular blogging schedule this week! :-)

As a result of last week's project, I've been doing a lot of online searching, so I thought I would share a simple tip about Google searches: even if a site does not offer a search engine of its own, you can make your own site-specific Google search!

Site-specific search. Add the address of the site to your Google search, prefaced by the command site:

For example, there's a great repository of Latin texts at The Latin Library online here:

http://www.thelatinlibrary.com

You can actually ignore the www at the beginning of the address, and just consider it to be: thelatinlibrary.com. So, just add this command to any Google search to limit the search to this site only. Here's a search for the Latin word "mustela" (weasel) at the site:

mustela site:thelatinlibrary.com

Search a specific subdirectory. Depending on how the site is structured, you can even do some further refinements. For example, if you look at this address for a text by Cicero at this website, you can see just where all the Cicero files are located:

http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/cicero/brut.shtml

The website has a subdirectory, cicero, where the files are kept. When you decipher a web address, you can think of the subdirectories, separated by the forward slash sign, as being like folders on your computer. So within the website named thelatinlibrary.com, there is a folder called cicero, and inside that folder are all the individual files, such as this file named brut.shtml.

So, if I want to search for the word "mustela" in just the Cicero files at this site, I add this to my search:

mustela site:thelatinlibrary.com/cicero

Isn't that cool? Not all websites are organized with such an easy-to-understand structure, but if one of the sites you want to search has clearly labeled subdirectories, you can easily create specialized searches for those directories.

Search a specific sub-subdirectory. Another site I rely on heavily is the Sacred Texts website, which is also very congenial for searching. Let's say I want to look for "weasel" at that site:

weasel site:sacred-texts.com

I can then limit my search to weasels in Celtic folklore like this, since I know where all the Celtic files are at the site, inside the "celt" subdirectory, which is contained within the "neu" subdirectory. I think that stands for Northern Europe, although luckily it doesn't matter if I understand the names of the subdirectories - I just have to recognize them from the address:

weasel site:sacred-texts.com/neu/celt

It really pays to study the webpage addresses at the sites you use most frequently. The more you can understand about the structure of the website, the better you can create your site-specific Google searches!


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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Alphabetize or Randomize with the ALPHABETIZER

One of the free online tools that I use for all kinds of purposes is the Alphabetizer Tool at Alphabetizer.flap.tv. I use this to alphabetize and also to randomize. In fact, it's the randomization tool that is surprisingly useful - it's easy to alphabetize with a word processor (like Word) or with a spreadsheet program (like Excel), but being able to randomize is not something youc an easily do with either program. With the Alphabetizer, it's easy.

If you go to the Alphabetizer.flap.tv website, you will see there is a simple text box where you can paste in your list. I don't know what the limits are, but I've used this to work with lists containing hundreds of items and have not had any trouble at all. So, just copy-and-paste your list of items into the box:

Then, if you want to adjust the alphabetizing options, check the list of possibilities on the left. One important note is that the sorting is case sensitive, unless you click the Ignore Case option. You can also choose the Randomize option from this list:

When you have chosen your options, click on the Alphabetize button at the bottom of the text box. Ideally, it should say "Re-Order List" - because if you have chosen the randomize option on the left, instead of alphabetizing the list, clicking the button will randomize it:

There's also an option at the bottom of the text box which allows you to leave the list order the same - don't alphabetize, don't randomize - while still applying the options you chose on the left. I actually use this feature in order to quickly capitalize and number lists, without changing the order of the items. So, if you want to apply any of the options on the left without alphabetizing or randomizing the list, make sure you click the Maintain List Order option at the bottom of the screen.

When you are done, you can cut-and-paste your reformatted list from the textbox. Simple - and very efficient! This is an online tool I've been using for a couple of years now, and I keep finding new uses for it all the time. :-)


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Monday, June 16, 2008

Troubleshooting Greek Font Display

Starting around the year 2000, Unicode Greek fonts have become more and more widely used, much to everybody's relief! Before the advent of Unicode, Greek fonts were not standardized. With Unicode, it is now possible for people to create Greek fonts according to a standard. As long as people are adhering to the Unicode standard, you don't have to use the exact same font set they are using; all you have to do is to make sure you are using a Unicode-standard font.

For example, here is today's Greek proverb displayed in a Unicode Greek font:
Ὀυχ' ὁ τόπος τὸν ἄνδρα, ἀλλ' ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτὸν ἔντιμον ποιεῖ.

If you are not seeing the accented letters, that means you are having a font problem. Here is how you can troubleshoot the problem.

Install a Unicode Greek font. A great free font package which includes a Greek font is the Gentium font set. You can download and install the Gentium font set for free from the SIL website.

Upgrade your browser if necessary. The newest versions of the Firefox, Safari and Explorer web browsers are all Unicode-font compatiable. If you are having trouble viewing the Greek font, it could be that your browser is an older version which is not fully Unicode-compatible.

Check the webpage encoding. There might be a problem with the encoding of a specific webpage. You need to make sure that the page is UTF-encoded. To do this, you will need to check the source code for your page. It should look like this, with a UTF-8 coding statement in the header part of your webpage:

If you are the author of the page, you can correct the encoding if it is incorrect. If you are not the author of the page, you could do the author of the page a big favor by contacting them to let them know that there is a problem with the page. Especially if people are loading dynamic content into an older webpage, the encoding could be a bit out of date.

In general, Greek font display has become easier and easier on the web. You can use a simple utility like TypeGreek.com to create the Greek and pretty much safely cut-and-paste it into any web publishing application, such as Blogger.com or PBWiki.com. Of course, it's not because these websites are focused on ancient Greek - but the Unicode standard is used for both modern languages and for ancient languages, which means that the ancient languages have benefited from better and better support for living languages with non-Roman fonts. :-)


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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Google Calendar Event Notifications

With Google Calendar, you can create multiple calendars, both public and private. You can also subscribe to other people's shared calendars. You can then decide how you want to use each of the calendars. You can view them individually or combine them, and you can also set up different notification options (email and/or cell phone) for each of the calendars. I'm excited about using Google Calendar with my students! Starting this fall, I will create a calendar for each of my online courses, so that students can sign up if they want to get email and cell phone notifications for their homework deadlines.

To show you how the notifications work, I've created a test calendar with one event every day. You can use this test calendar to try out the process of subscribing to a calendar, and you can also use this calendar to see what it is like to set up notifications for events in the calendar. The calendar is populated with an event scheduled every day for 8 a.m. That will make it easy for you to try out the different notification options on any given day.

Log in to Google Calendar. First, make sure you are logged in with your Gmail identity at Calendar.Google.Com.

Pick a Public Calendar. To subscribe to a shared calendar, you can view the public calendars that are available and pick one. If you want to add a calendar this way, just go to the My Calendars box, click on Add, and select Add A Public Calendar. This will take you to a list of public calendars you can choose from. There are some fun calendars out there you can subscribe to, such as the Phases of the Moon!


Subscribe to a Shared Calendar. You can also subscribe to a specific calendar if someone has given you the address of that calendar. Here is the address for the test calendar I have set up:
Google Test Notifications Calendar

Just click on that link to go to the calendar. At the bottom of the page in the right-hand corner, you will see a button to click to Add to Google Calendar.


Click this button, and a confirmation box will pop up. When you click Yes, the calendar will be added to your My Calendar box, listed under Other Calendars.


Configure the Calendar with Notifications. You can change the color of the calendar, and whether or not to include the events of this calendar on your main calendar display. If you click the check box, the events will be included in the main display. Uncheck the box if you do not want the events from this calendar to be included.


To set up notifications for the calendar, click the notifications option. You can set up reminders for the events on the calendar, including multiple reminders, based on the minutes, hours, or days before the event. You can also have notifications sent to you for new items on the calendar, as well as a daily agenda from the calendar.


I've set up this test calendar with an event every single day at 8 a.m. to make it easy for you to test the notification system. If you set up an event notification, you can see how it works, and you can also test out the daily agenda notification. Because there is an event every day on this test calendar, you will be able to see within 24 hours just how the system works.

Discontinue Calendar. Make sure to remember to cancel the notifications you have set up later - otherwise, you will keep on getting notifications from this test calendar every day until you cancel the notifications! You can also just delete the calendar, which will cancel any existing notification settings. To delete a calendar, choose the Manage Calendars link at the bottom of your Calendars box.


Then, click on the Trash icon next to the calendar you want to delete from your system:


I'll update this post later in the fall when I find out what my students think about the option to get notifications by email and cell phone. The course management system we use at my school (Desire2Learn) does not have any notification options for the calendar, so I think this Google option is something my students might really appreciate.


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Friday, June 13, 2008

Import List of Events into Google Calendar

If you're like me, you may have the data you want to put into your Google Calendar stored in some other format. For example, I already have some widgets with calendar-related information in them, and I need to be able to create Google Calendars by importing that information all at once. Luckily, you can do that using the Google Calendar Import feature.

To import the calendar data, you need a CSV (comma-separated-value) file, which is one of the formats that is compatible with Excel or any other spreadsheet program you might be using. These are the columns you need in the file:
Subject,Start Date,Start Time,End Date,End Time,All Day Event,Reminder On/Off,Reminder Date,Reminder Time,Meeting Organizer,Description,Location,Private
For your convenience, I've created a Google Calendar Import Spreadsheet you can use as a template. You can save this to your desktop, import it into your Google Documents (or open it in Excel, etc.), edit it, and export it as a CSV file.

When you have completed your file, here is how you import the events into a calendar. First, make sure you have created the calendar into which you will import the events. Then, click on the Add-Import Calendar option.



You can then browse to find and upload the CSV file of events you have created on your computer, and designate the calendar you want to use.


I've used this to import hundreds of events at once. Here are a few tips based on my own experience and from some information I found online:

Be careful. There is no "undo" option for the import. If you accidentally import the events into the wrong calendar, or import them twice into the same calendar, there is no way to mass remove the events. You have to remove them one at a time - so be careful!

Required fields. Every event needs a Subject, a Start Date and a Start Time. Other than that, all fields are optional and can be safely left blank.

Private/Public. If these events are for a calendar you want to share, make sure you make the Private field as FALSE for each event. That way you can be sure that each event you are adding will be publicly available.

You can use HTML in the Description. I've been able to create link sin the Description field using HTML. I'm not sure just how much HTML is allowed in the Description field (I could not find documentation for that online), but I was able to successfully include A HREF tags to create active links in the description for an event.

Although I have not had any trouble importing calendar data, it can be tricky working with CSV files. Google offers to help with problem files, as you can read at this Google Calendar Help page. If I learn some more about the "ins and outs" of importing calendar data, I'll be sure to update this post. :-)



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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shared Google Calendar

Google Calendar is a fantastic tool for sharing information with others. To demonstrate how that works, I've created a Google Calendar version of my "Latin Proverb of the Day," where there is a Latin proverb "all-day event" for each day of the year. Hopefully you'll be able to see from this example just how you can shared any kind of calendar with others, either a convential calendar with real events and times, or an unconventional calendar, like these Latin Proverbs.

First, you will want to log on with your Gmail identity at Google Calendar. You can create as many calendars as you want, both public and private. To create a new calendar, just click on Create New Calendar under the My Calendars area:

Go ahead and create events on the Calendar one by one. (In tomorrow's post, I'll explain how you can upload multiple events all at once using an Excel spreadsheet.)

Then, in order to share the calendar, click on the Manage Calendars link at the bottom of the My Calendars area.

You should see the name of the calendar you have created; click on that calendar in order to access the settings.

There are several tabs available, including Share This Calendar.


Click on Share This Calendar. Now click the box to Make This Calendar Public.


Now you can get the address of the calendar, and also the HTML code you need to embed the calendar. Click on the Calendar Details tab, and scroll down to where it says "Calendar Address." Click on the HTML link.


A window will pop up showing your calendar address. Click on the address, and it will take you to a webpage which displays your calendar, with all the configuration options (Month-Day-Week-Agenda, etc.). This is a public address that you can share with anyone. (The address is admittedly long, so you can use TinyURL.com to make it small!)


For each event, you can click on the item in order to see the details. Here's an example of event details viewed from the Agenda format:


In addition to this webpage version of your calendar, you can also get the HTML code you need to embed the calendar in a webpage. Just go back to Calendar details, and look for the Embed This Calendar option.


Click on the Customize link to configure all the options - height, width, Month-Day-Week-Agenda view, colors, etc. When you are done, just cut-and-paste the resulting HTML code into your HTML-editor.


For example, here in my Blogger.com blog, I just click on the Edit HTML tab in order to insert this code.

And here is the result! :-)




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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Create a Social Network with ning.com

Do you know about ning.com? A little over a year ago, I was introduced to a ning.com website for Latin and Greek teachers: eClassics.ning.com. Through that network, I learned about some other great ning.com groups which are very relevant to my work as an online teacher, such as FiresideLearning.ning.com and Classroom20.ning.com. I've become a big fan of "nings" and thought I would post a few words here about why I like them so much. I have not created a ning network of my own (although it is free to do and, by all accounts, very easy), so my comments here will be from a user perspective, not an administrator.

Ning is friendly. First of all, ning.com pages just feel very friendly! Although each administrator can customize the layout to their own liking, each ning that I have participated in has ended up with a very sensible layout, not too overwhelming, and with a strong "people presence" so that you really feel like you are interacting with other people in a direct and clear way. The discussions are easy to read and follow, and I like very much the ease with which images and links can be included in discussion posts. The blog set-up is quite nice; although I do most of my own blogging at Blogger.com, I have done a fair amount of blogging at ning.com sites and have enjoyed the experience.

Great notification systems. The combination of RSS and email notifications is really efficient. I always feel like I have a good sense of what is going on at the ning.coms which I follow closely, but at the same time I don't feel overwhelmed by the notifications. I subscribe to the "All Activity" RSS feeds, which lets me see discussion board posts, blog posts and comments in my RSS reader. When someone posts to a discussion to which I have contributed, I also get an email notification, although it is easy to turn off the email notification if I am no longer following that discussion. There are email notifications for the messaging service that is part of each ning. Personally, I prefer leaving messages at each person's "wall" at their profile, but when people contact me via the message option, the email notification alerts me to that and makes it easy to click and reply.

Good technical support. I've only had one instance where I needed technical help at ning.com and that had to do with a change they made to the HTML editor - I got a prompt response from ning.com technical support, and I've ended up being very pleased with the new HTML editor they are currently using across the system. At one of my blogs, I was posting in ancient Greek, and I had no problems with the Greek font at all. My only complaint about the HTML editor is that it does not allow the use of javascripts.

Best of all: discussion boards PLUS blogs. The thing I like best about ning.com is the integration of discussion boards on the one hand, and blogging on the other. The discussion boards are a great way to have back-and-forth between individuals on topics of common interest. The blogging space gives me a way to expand on something that is of importance to me - perhaps a topic related to a discussion, but perhaps something that is simply of interest to me, and which might become a topic of group discussion, or which might not. I tend to be a long-winded person, so having the blog space where I can go on at length about something is really nice - I don't want to clutter up a discussion board with some long discourse, but it's great having the blog space where I can go on at length for anybody who is interested in following some topic in more detail.

Conclusion: I'm hooked! As someone who teaches online courses at a school which does not have a strong online culture, I have been largely without colleagues at my own school. Over the past year, however, I have finally met some people I consider true colleagues, thanks to the ning.com communities dedicated to teaching and technology. I have benefited from this so much more than I ever expected! Exactly because the groups I participate in now are able to meet my needs so nicely, I have not felt the urge to create my own ning community - but I almost wish I had an excuse to do so! I'm curious what ning.com looks like "under the hood" and learning more about the ways in which ning.com sites can be configured. Just browsing around at some of the MANY (hundreds of thousands) of ning.com communities, I can see what a great variety of options are available to the folks who are using this software to create a space for their group online. Just take a few minutes to browse around some of the most popular groups at ning.com, and you'll see what I mean!

Find out more at the ning blog. You can keep up with all the latest events at ning.com at their blog; here are the latest posts:



And here's a screenshot of a typical ning.com community homepage:




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Monday, June 9, 2008

Adding Widgets to your Quia.com Webpage

You may already be familiar with Quia.com, a long-established and really excellent online quizzing site. It costs nothing for students to use the activities at Quia.com, and there is a low yearly fee for instructors to create unlimited games, quizzes and classes online. I've been using Quia.com for close to ten years now, and in my experience it is still the best option for developing online quizzes and learning activities. They have a great 30-day free trial for instructors if you want to give it a try. If you decide to keep using the service, the fee is $49 per year (with group discounts available for schools).

There are so many great features of Quia.com which I'll cover in some other posts. For today, I am going to talk about the Quia Class Pages. As an instructor, you can create as many Class Pages as you want. You can use a Class Page for a specific class, adding Quia activities to the page. You can also create a Class Page to share general information with your students, such as messages from you, links to websites, etc. That is what I am going to do here, creating a Class Page where I will share the Greek and Latin proverbs, with new proverbs displayed automatically every day of the year - without me having to do anything at all! The script does all the work, so that there is new content at the page every day of the year. If you are curious to see the final product, here is the page: Greek and Latin Proverbs of the Day.

Select widgets. First, select the widget (or widgets!) you want to add to your page. For this tutorial, I'll be adding the Greek Proverb of the Day widget, and the Latin Proverb of the Day widget, which you can find at the SchoolhouseWidgets.com website. I'll keep this website open in one window, ready for me to use while I create my Quia.com Page in another window.

Create Class Page. In another browser window, log in to Quia.com as an instructor. That will take you to the Instructor Zone. To build a webpage, you will want to select the Classes area, and then click on the Create Class Page button.

To create the page, you will fill out a simple form, starting with the name you want to give your page. As you work your way through the form, you will eventually come to a big "Message" box where you can type the information and materials you want to share with your students. This is where you can paste in the javascript for the widget you want to add! So, go back to the SchoolhouseWidgets.com page which you have open in another browser window, and copy the script content from the box on that page. Then, paste it into the Message box here at the Quia.com page (click on this image for a larger view):


Formatting your Message. Notice that this Message box at Quia.com is not a "WYSIWYG" editor, where you see the formatted results immediately. Instead, you are actually pasting in the raw HTML code. Your students will see the results of this code, not the code itself. In effect, you are being a computer programmer right now, putting commands into the Message box! When someone looks at the page in a web browser, the web browser will carry out the commands, and they will see the results.

Because this is an HTML box, you may want to insert some special HTML codes to format what you have typed. In HTML, every command goes inside "wickets," which are the less-than and greater-than signs on your computer. For example, if you want to insert a horizontal line in-between multiple widgets that you are inserting into the page, you need to type the command HR which stands for "insert Horizontal Rule" - and make sure you put it in-between the wickets. You can also type the command BR which stands for "insert line BReak"). To make something bold, just put a B at the beginning of what you want to type, and make sure you put a /B at the end (B stands for starting bold, and /B means to stop the bold formatting). Here is a super-quick guide to some of the HTML commands you might want to use to format your Message box (click on this image for a larger view):

Save and view page. When you are done formatting your message, make sure you click on Save Changes at the bottom of the page to save your work (you can always come back and edit the page later). When you save the page, the system will then give you the link to your finished product! For example, here is the Quia Class Page I created which displays the Greek and Latin proverbs, with new proverbs each day:


This is a resource not just for my own students, but for anyone who is online. The webpage address which Quia has created for me - http://www.quia.com/pages/proverboftheday.html - is something I can share with everybody! Although I need to log in as a Quia instructor to create the page, there is no log-in of any kind required to view the pages which I create. Enjoy!



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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Adding a Widget to your Blogger.com Blog

If you have a Google Blogger.com blog, you can easily add widgets to your blog. If you do not have a Blogger.com blog yet, here are instructions for setting up a new Blogger.com blog - it only takes a couple of minutes!

Make sure your Blogger.com uses Layout. This only works if you have upgraded your blog to the Blogger.com system that debuted in 2006. You can quickly see from your Dashboard which system you are using. If your Dashboard indicates that a blog you have is equipped with "Layout," you are on the new system:

Using the drag-and-drop Layout system, you can easily add widgets to your side column. Some services, like SchoolhouseWidgets.com and SpringWidgets.com, give you a single-click option to add a widget to your Blogger.com blog. For this tutorials, I'm going to show you how to add one of the Blogger Widgets from SchoolhouseWidgets.com to your Blogger blog.

Log in and add widget. First, log in to Blogger.com, so that your blog is ready for you to add widgets.

Then, just go to the webpage with the script you want to use. For this tutorial, I'm going to show you how to add the Greek Proverb of the Day script to your website. I'll start by going to the Greek Proverb of the Day Widget page at the SchoolhouseWidgets.com website.

As you will see, there is an Add to Blogger button for the script:


Click on the Add to Blogger button, and you will be able to select a blog from your list of blogs (there's a dropdown menu if you have more than one blog). NOTE: You have to be logged in to Blogger.com for your blog list to be populated.

When you are done selecting your blog (if you have more than one) and making any changes you want to the title, click Add Widget.

This will take you to your Layout page. You can "drag-and-drop" the widgets in your sidebar to whatever location you want.


You can also use this Layout screen to add all kinds of other content to your Blogger template - just click on "Add Gadget" to see the range of things you can include.

When you make changes to the Layout, be sure to click on the orange Save button at the top of the layout diagram to make sure your changes are saved! You can always click on the Preview button to see how it is going to look on your actual blog page.

And don't be nervous: none of your blog posts are affected by changes you make to the Layout, so you can play with the Layout and not worry about putting any of your content at risk. So, experiment and have fun with creating your own "look and feel" for your blog! The possibilities are endless! :-)


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