Back-to-school treats galore from the BRAIN_blog!

Wow, did you see that?  Hmmmm….. I�m not entirely positive, but it looked very much like the last days of summer just speeding on by and heading straight for fall!  Yes, fall � it�s hard to believe it�s nearly here!  I don�t know about you but as much as I�ll miss summer (this has been a particularly fab one weather-wise, no?) I always get a rush toward the end of August.  Maybe it�s all those back-to-school ads and flyers (e-L has always had a thing for school supplies and new shoes) or maybe it�s the promise of cooler temperatures and more football!  Whatever it is, there�s no denying it � fall � and by default school � is on its way and to make it better than ever, this edition of the BRAIN_blog has some sites to get you jazzed for the big return to class!  

1) �7 Things You Should Know About…�…but were afraid to ask!
Start the new school year off with a big ol� e-Learning bang!  Get or stay on the cutting edge of the latest and greatest in technological innovation with the fabulous EDUCAUSE.  There is just not enough time or space to do justice to all the amazing resources that can be found on this site, but I�d like to highlight a fairly recent series that EDUCAUSE launched, to help you stay current with technology and innovation.  The �7 Things You Should Know About…� series, according to the EDUCAUSE site: �…provides concise information on emerging learning practices and technologies. Each brief focuses on a single practice or technology and describes what it is, how it works, where it is going, and why it matters to teaching and learning. Use ELI’s “7 Things You Should Know About…” briefs for a no-jargon, quick overview, either for yourself or for colleagues who are pressed for time.�  So what�s included?  Well, as of right now, EDUCAUSE has briefs on Videoblogging, Wikis, Podcasting, Clickers, and Social Bookmarking, available for download as a 2-page PDF.  Each follows a standard format with headings and information designed to answer the following questions:  �What is it?� �Who�s doing it?� �How does it work?� �Where is it going?� �Why is it significant?� �What are the downsides?� and finally �What are the implications for teaching and learning?�  EDUCAUSE even provides a �Scenario� in each, a sort of case study, illustrating how this particular technology could be, or is being used and incorporated both in the classroom and beyond.  

2) They call me the seeker…
Have you made up your mind to be more organized this year?  Me too!  Of course I say that every year, and every year it gets harder and harder to stay on top of the hundreds of files and downloads that seem to accumulate on my computer!  If you�re in the same boat, think about trying a desktop search tool.  This is a small tool that you download, and running it will allow you to search your entire computer � folders, documents, mail, and everything in between.  I was a little skeptical about a device that claims to be able to find everything you�re looking for on your desktop, but I have to admit that the very thorough Benchmark Study of Desktop Search Tools from the University of Wisconsin � Madison E-Business Consortium has me sold on the idea.  If you�re thinking about venturing into the world of desktop searching, be sure to read this study first!  It evaluates, compares and contrasts a dozen desktop search tools, including MSN Toolbar Suite, Google Desktop, Copernic Desktop Search and Ask Jeeves, and rates them based on 6-point Benchmark criteria, evaluating the Usability, Accuracy, Security, Versatility, Efficiency and Enterprise Readiness of each.  Findings are displayed in chart and text formats, and there is a comparison table in Appendix A, for further breakdown.  Appendix B outlines the sub-criteria for each of the main 6 benchmarks and allows you to see just exactly what the ratings are based on.  Excellent descriptions of each search tool are provided along with their rating, and you can easily see where some tools scored higher than others and why.  Truly a great way to determine which one is right for your needs � read the study, get a search tool – and you�ll get to get what you�re after!

3) e-Learning by design�
Established in 1994 (and I don�t know how it�s stayed under my radar for this long!) the e-Learning Centre is a really comprehensive & well-organized site from the UK.  Split into five distinct e-Learning sections, the e-Learning Centre covers a lot of ground with their resources and information.  The Library has links to articles, reports, white papers and more, all in the e-Learning realm; the Showcase contains links to examples of relevant and dynamic learning materials, online courses and more; the Products & Services area is where you can go to find information on e-learning tools, systems, service providers and other items; Events lists just that � e-Learning conferences and events worldwide!  Finally, the e-Learning Centre also has a Bookshop where you can access information about teaching & learning with an �e� focus.  There is also the What�s New Blog for current information, newsy stuff and commentary on what�s up in the e-Learning biz.  Definitely a lot of information, but there�s no need to be put off by this!  Start with the Library (we at the BRAIN_blog always do recommend you begin any search venture at the Library!!) and browse through the topics.  You�ll see everything from e-Learning for beginners (What is e-Learning? Are you ready for e-Learning?) to some more advanced topics (Digital Rights Management, Web Design Guidelines) and lots more!  If you�re wanting to incorporate more e-Learning initiatives into your classes, or If you�re just curious about what can be done and what IS being done with e-Learning, give the e-Learning Centre a go!

4) Get in the mood…for Moodle!
Holy cow talk about a site with mounds of information!  Wow.  Moodle is an incredibly powerful course management system (CMS) – and it�s free, to boot!  It�s part of the Open Source initiative and according to the site, it�s a �…software package designed using sound pedagogical principles, to help educators create effective online learning communities.�  If you�re interested in getting started with Moodle, you can download and use it on any computer (there are a variety of downloads available), just note that free registration is required in order to use all the features.  And what are these fabulously free features?  Well, registered users can enrol to run through the demonstration courses and learn what types of things that are possible using Moodle.  There are some snazzy discussion forums, chat & message boards perfectly suited for teacher/learner interaction.  Moodle allows you to set up interactive surveys and quizzes for on-the-fly evaluation and progress checking.  The left sidebar lists all the parts of the course � assignments, quizzes, resources, etc. so it�s easy to find what you�re looking for, and the sidebar also lists the students or course participants, so you can contact each person when/if necessary.  Moodle has a great calendar feature to help you keep track of assignment due dates, holidays and other pertinent course information.  The possibilities seem limitless � the entire course, documented online for everyone to participate.  And all for free.  It boggles the mind � or should I say it Moodles the mine?!?  Either way, use this site to experience all that is possible in online teaching and learning.  This is, to me, the way e-Learning was meant to be!

5) Blackboard, I hardly knew ye…
It�s a sad but true story BRAIN_blog readers.  The blackboard � that 1-dimensional, dusty piece of wall that was so central to the classroom and helped start everybody on the road to education from the very first day of kindergarten, right through to post-secondary lecture halls � is on its way out.  Alas, it too is going the way of the filmstrip, the overhead (although that isn�t disappearing fast enough to e-L�s liking) and the LP record.  I guess the end of summer and the return to school gives us reason to get nostalgic for the technology of the past, which is why Bye-bye blackboard: from Einstein and others caught my eye recently.  Created by the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford, this online exhibit �…pays tribute to the blackboard and its many uses.�  At the present time there are 18 different blackboards in the exhibit, and if you visit the site (from now until it closes on September 18th) you can see each image, along with some commentary on its creation from the creator.  Fascinating stuff, really.  And I do like this quote from the homepage: �Blackboards were wiped after use: they were meant for immediate communication, not for record.  Even as they were being used, their messages were continuously revised, erased and renewed.�  Food for thought, without a doubt, and when you consider that the blackboards were thoroughly cleaned every night after school, it was like everyone got a fresh start each morning.  So take a walk through the site to consider not only the blackboards on display there, but also the blackboards of your past educational history.  Can you remember some of them?  Interestingly enough, while they appear to be disappearing from most educational facilities a rapid rate, my 7-year old son confides to me that having one�s name written �on the board� is still a source of shame and embarrassment.  I wonder… without the blackboard, how will the Grade 2 teachers of the future keep track of the kids who misbehave?  Oh, I�m sure they�ll think of something!  

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