Gathering Your Digital Pencils for Back-to-School

Remember getting your loose-leaf binder all set with dividers and lined paper along with a stash of pencils and pens so you'd be set for school? You had to make sure you had your dictionary, too, and a portable typewriter. You were getting ready to process information delivered orally, copy down those three points that your instructors would inevitably mention at some point in the lecture, write down the homework, and enter to-dos in your calendar. That year, you were ready.

Now, not that many years later, we read "Back to School: 10 Great Web Apps for College Students," at http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/top_10_web_apps_for_students.php which include Evernote, that can convert blackboard handwriting into searchable digital words; the office suite offered by Google; a bibliography tool by Zotero; Meebo, the universal chat tool; and even Rate my Professors. The ReadWriteWeb site, where the back to school article appears, is one of the best sites for academics to check out regularly, this article being just one example.

If you are more interested in how perceptions of teaching, learning, and assessment are changing in this age, then you should bookmark "Tomorrow's Professor Blog," http://amps-tools.mit.edu/tomprofblog/ -- a partnership between MIT and Stanford, edited by Rick Reis at Stanford. I especially liked the short piece by Lee Shulman, past president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, entitled "When Coaching and Testing Collide."

Or, if you are looking for materials to use in one of your courses and just need to see how others teach that course for inspiration, bookmark the MIT OpenCourseWare site, http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm. For example, I clicked on "most visited courses," then on "Circuits and Electronics" (6.002) and found an entire set of lecture notes and lecture videos. Even though school is just starting now, it's already time to plan your second semester, right?

For the latest tsk-tsk, read http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/29/introducing-the-twiller/index.html, about writing a novel using Twitter, which limits each "chapter" to 140 characters. It's a thriller, and it appears on Twitter, so the author calls it a "twiller." Haiku be warned, we now have the twiller challenge.

For a little buzz about what's coming, go to http://blog.webreakstuff.com/2008/08/ubiquity-this-is-a-big-deal/ where you can read about Ubiquity from Mozilla (producers of Firefox) and see a video demo. This still-developing application allows you to insert objects in your e-mail that Ubiquity has helped you create, such as a translation of a site from one language into another or a customized map that Ubiquity has put together. Ubiquity takes advantage of the rapid spread of open APIs (application programming interfaces) so different databases can be mashed-up in Ubiquity and then inserted in your e-mail.

Finally, we note that Facebook -- http://www.facebook.com -- has just passed one hundred million users. One in every sixty humans uses Facebook. 2008 is the year of Web saturation in the connected world.

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