The ever-growing range of online options continues to provide opportunities for teachers and students to teacher, learn, and create. And while many school districts make it difficult for teachers to install software onto school computers, online-hosted software is just a link away – no installation necessary.
I’ve written before about Google Docs (docs.google.com); while these online productivity tools are relatively bare-boned compared to, say Microsoft Office or OpenOffice.org – they have some advantages to traditional office suite software. Your work is saved online, meaning it’s always available (as long as you’ve got online access) whether you’re at school or at home or traveling, and you don’t need to worry about file formats, whether you’ve got a Mac or a Windows system, or whatever. Users can collaborate, both in real-time or separately, making it a good option for groups of students working on a project together. (And you can see who has contributed what to the finished product). And as Google adds features, they are automatically made available – no updates to download and install. For instance, recently, Google gave users the ability to upload any type of file, making a Google Docs account a way to store, backup, or share up to a gigabyte of files.
Google Docs isn’t the only online office suite – Thinkfree Online and Zoho have their fans, for instance, and Adobe’s Acrobat.com offers PDF creation. The upcoming Microsoft Office 2010 (Windows) and 2011 (Mac) promise users some similar online features as well.
Adobe’s Photoshop.com offers online photo album space – like the more widely used Flickr and (Google-owned) PicasaWeb – as the name suggests, it offers better image editing than those other photo sharing sites. But Photoshop.com’s editing features are put to shame by SumoPaint (http://www.sumopaint.com/home/), which is far more like the ‘real’ Photoshop than Adobe’s own Photoshop.com. It’s more of a powerful image editor than a simple photo enhancer, though you can upload photos to it and then go wild and crazy. You can use it online as a ‘guest’, set up an account (letting you save images online), or download and purchase a locally-installed ‘Pro’ version ($20/yr).
Online games can also be useful educationally. Ayiti – The Cost of Life, for instance, was developed by a group of New York City high school students and has been put online by Unicef (http://www.unicef.org/voy/explore/rights/explore_3142.html). It is a simulation game where players are members of a family in rural Haiti (pre-earthquake) trying to make it through four years of life.
Titanium Chef (www.titaniumchef.ca) was developed in Vancouver with funding from the BC Dairy Council. It is aimed at students, grades 6-8, and teaches nutrition concepts in a fun way. Titanium Chef is graphically stunning (unlike the simplistic Ayiti), which makes it more engaging for many students, but has a down-side: at my elementary school, if more than three or four students try to play it at once, our limited bandwidth makes it all but unusable. Hopefully you’ll have better results.
Inudge (http://inudge.net/index.en.html) promises that ‘everyone can create music’. It’s displays a simple grid – everywhere you click becomes a note. You can overlay multiple instruments, adding organ, harp, bass, various percussion instruments, and more, creating short patterns, which can be saved, shared, or emailed.
Some online services may simply provide a helpful tool. Keepvid.com, for instance, lets you save a YouTube video clip as a standard movie file saved on your computer. This can be very handy if, letting you show it on a computer that isn’t online, or share it on a school network, letting multiple students watch it without the starts and stops that happen when bandwidth is limited (as at my school).
Typography and font creation used to require specialized and expensive software. If you have access to a scanner, you can try out FontCapture.com.You download and print out a grid, then create your desired characters for each of the letters, numbers, and symbols. Scan it, an upload it to http://www.fontcapture.com/. In a remarkably short time, a TrueType font is created, ready for download and installation onto a Windows or Mac system. Students love the opportunity to use their own handwriting in their word processor – and it’s a good introduction to the art of typography. (I just wish the boxes on the grid were larger!)
Do you have a favourite web-based application or game that you’ve used with students? Drop me a line: email@example.com