This blog has always focused on those online resources and applications that can be exploited to support teaching and learning. However today I’d like to give you a quick run down of the tools and services that I’ve been using over recent years to help me manage the flow of information and organise myself as a teacher.
The following services are mostly device agnostic, that is to say, they will work across all major operating systems and devices, though some restrictions will apply, especially if you have a Windows phone or tablet, though not on Windows netbooks, laptops or PCs.
As a teacher and a curriculum leader I have often found myself on the verge of being swamped by paperwork and admin. It’s not just pupils’ work and reports but also slips that need signing, budgets that need approving, schemes of work that need revising, books that need ordering, departmental handbooks that need updating and school handbooks that need, ahem, reading.
Among the vast array of online tools and services, there are a few whose raison d’être is to help you stay organised and keep your head above water. One such tool is Dropbox, a wonderful service that I discovered a couple of years ago and that stores all your files in the cloud so that you can access them from any computer at any time. It also features a desktop application that synchronises anything that you save into your Dropbox folder to all computers connected to your account, ensuring that any file that you save, say at school, will be there waiting for you when you log on to another computer, say at home. Such is the magic of the cloud.
Dropbox also features smartphone and tablet apps for all major platforms, allowing you to access your files and documents anytime and anywhere and to share them instantly and easily with your colleagues or pupils should you need or wish to. The basic account is free and offers users up to 18 GB of free storage (starts off at 2 GB and you can earn free space through referrals). You can open your free Dropbox account here.
But it doesn’t stop there when it comes to free online storage. Google now has a service called Drive that amalgamates the old Google Docs as well as giving you a massive 15GB of space to store all your documents. It also offers you the ability to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations on the fly within your browser – so no need to download or install expensive office software. Not only can documents on Drive be shared easily with colleagues and pupils, but you can easily change the settings so that several people can edit the same document, even simultaneously, opening up fantastic possibilities for collaboration. Google Drive also has apps for all major tablet and smartphone platforms.
Storing and sharing documents in the cloud is much safer that carrying memory sticks or portable hard drives, which you are liable to losing. For this reason, this is what all major operating systems are now moving towards. Microsoft’s (soon to be renamed) Skydrive also offers you 7 GB of free storage and links to its new Office 365 service and brings you access to your documents and browser versions of familiar office applications from any device.
Apple’s new iWorks for iCloud is currently in beta testing and will feature similar functionality in the Autumn. So keep an eye for that if you prefer to use Apple products and services.
Lastly in this section is Evernote a tool that helps you save anything – notes, pictures, lists, documents – and synchronises it all across devices. It has a desktop application as as well as mobile apps for all major platforms. Don’t underestimate Evernote because is listed last in this section. Evernote is probably the tool listed here that I use most frequently to keep myself organised in the classroom, at home, on the road… anywhere, really.
Although I am highlighting how these tools and services can be used to help teachers’ productivity and organisation, they can all be used to actively support teaching and learning by sharing documents, lessons, etc. with your students. In fact, there is a very strong case for these tools to be adopted by schools and be made available to their teachers and students.
Teachers are incredibly busy people. There is lots of planning, marking, report writing, pastoral issues… In addition to this, we tend to be reflective practicioners, always willing to continue learning, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of those in our charge (well, you are if you’re reading articles like this one in any case). But how can we continue learning if we are always so busy? How can we find the time keep ourselves informed and up to date with the latest theory and practice? The key for me has been harnessing the internet to ensure that timely and relevant information gets to me without my having to seek it.
Twitter has been essential for doing this. To this day I continue to meet people who, often contemptuously, tell me that they don’t tweet “because they don’t need to know what other people had for breakfast’ just before they smirk, pleased by the extent of their own wit. Fair enough. Myopic, but fair enough. Each to their own. To me Twitter is, actually, possibly the most effective professional development catalyst I have thus far encountered and it can also be used very effectively to support teaching and learning, as well as to engage with the wider school community.
I personally tend to use Facebook to tell friends and family what I’m having for breakfast, whereas I use Twitter for geeking out on educational technology and pedagogy. I do this by carefully selecting lead practitioners and other relevant people who might offer a(n often different) perspective on topics I’m interested in researching, such as education and learning technologies. They may sometimes tell me what they had for breakfast, but they also help me keep abreast of what is going on that is relevant to me.
Before Twitter, I used to use RSS feeds – that is: subscribing to blogs and other websites so I would be notified every time new content was published. I find that Twitter has somewhat taken over this role, for it not only helps me follow the blogs and websites I know of, but also those which I don’t through other people’s recommendations. Twitter, used appropriately, shows how important and effective social learning and discovery can be.
Having said that, RSS feeds are still very useful to stay in touch and receive updates from familiar blogs and websites. Tools such as Feedly bring the information to you and present articles from your RSS feed in beautiful, magazine-like format in your browser or through its smartphone and tablet apps.
If you have already taken the step, as I have, of using a tablet as your primary computer for reading, web-browsing and researching, then apps such as Flipboard are really good ways to create a news feeds based on your interests that delivers news and articles in magazine format from a wide variety of sources. Zite and Prismatic are excellent alternatives for iPhone and iPad users.
There are, of course, many other ways to keep yourself organised and up to date with information using the internet. These are just the tools I’ve found myself using most frequently.
Tell us what you think. Are there any other tools you would recommend?
Photo credit: Stuart Boreham