Archive for April, 2008

Google Scholar: Researching Faster, Not Harder

Posted on April 25, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

by Tim Cushman

The best part of my library experience during grad school was the fact that I never had to actually go to the library to get the journal articles I needed for research. The digitized collection, readily available online with student login, was a tremendous time saver and an efficient means of staying current on educational research. 

Upon the completion of my degree, I had to resign myself to the lack of accessibility to the wealth of digital journals I had enjoyed during my studies.   My spirits were lifted when I recently stumbled across Google Scholar (It was launched in 2004.  I am just slow).  Google Scholar is a solid research tool for students and teacher-leaders alike.  It is not a rival to what most universities are able to offer, but good nonetheless.  

The keyword search mechanism is intuitive since it is, after all, Google’s familiar platform.  One key distinction of Scholar searching is the citation ranking.  This ranking system helps steer you to the articles you need instead of spending hours “Google wandering.” 

Google Scholar is different from a general Google search because Scholar searches several “invisible” academic indexes.  I also like the fact that Google Scholar includes a feature that allows users to view what other publications cited the article in their research. 

Google Scholar does have its limitations.  Any seasoned search-engine user knows that Google’s strength is breadth over depth when it comes to website indexing.  The same is true of Google Scholar.  Any commercial research database will always be more effective then Google Scholar in returning the most appropriate results.

Users should be aware that Google Scholar returns both free and for-purchase articles.  Despite the limitations, Google Scholar is a serviceable tool for starting the research process.

What other free research tools have you found?

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Read the Words

Posted on April 17, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, General, High School, Instructional Coaches, Interactive Whiteboards, Middle School, Teachers |

by Tim Cushman

Read the Words is a fabulous, FREE web service for converting text into speech. Instantly, many teachers will think of using this site for their special education and non-English speaking students. I would argue that the applications for this web tool is far wider.

Think about the flow of the normal school day. Hectic? How about making more of your teacher notes or other handouts available as an audio recording instead of paper handouts (be mindful of copyright)? Creating a digital reading and distributing the file to your class takes less time then running photocopies and saves precious school resources.

Read the Words has potential for some unique student projects. For example, you might want to translate student writing pieces to an “audiobook” that could be posted on your classroom web site with different voices for each character. The audio file could add some extra flair to traditional projects like Interactive PowerPoint to relay information or give directions.

Read the Words is a singularly-purposed app that does its job well. You can copy and paste text to the site or upload a PDF, Word doc, HTML file, RSS feed, or website address. Read the Words will convert the text into an MP3 file that can be loaded on your iPod or MP3 player as well as giving you a URL for embedding the audio file into a website. Don’t worry about losing your recordings. All conversions will be saved for your exclusive use on the Read the Words website under the “My Recordings” tab.

It only gets better. Read the Words will read in English, Spanish, and French in fifteen different voice and at a user-controlled speed. Worried about conversion speed? Read the Words will convert an hour’s worth of audio in literally 60 seconds. Trouble with mispronounced text in your recording? Type the problem words phonetically.

Text to speech technology has a mixed history – mostly disappointing. I admit that the voice quality from Read the Words aspires to be at the level of KITT from the old Knight Rider series, but that is not exactly an equitable comparison since KITT had an actor doing voice-over AND David Hasselhoff riding in the driver’s seat. Try it out for yourself. I used Read the Words to convert this post to speech.  However, I could not get the code to work properly within WordPress (and yes, I did follow the directions).  Read the Words was very fast in converting this post to MP3, with a processing time of exactly four seconds.

What are your ideas and experiences with Read the Words?

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Need More Computers? Practice Multiplication…

Posted on April 8, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

by Kevin S. Merritt, Instructional Technology

A recent article in eSchool News highlighted two products that can help schools save on hardware, software, and infrastructure costs.  The products are from Userful and NComputing.  The products take a slightly different approach to making one computer become multiple computers.  Both approaches, however, were born from the same concept.

 Think about how most schools use their computers.  Students are using them for keyboarding lessons, email, word processing, and other “low utilization” programs.  Most computers that have been purchased within the past 2-3 years have performance to spare.  Enter: Userful and NComputing products.  These products allow other users to connect to and tap the “unused” capacity of most computers.  Through their proprietary hardware and/or software, schools can allow multiple students to use a single computer while allowing each student to still have their own monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

Check out each company’s website for more information about how their technology works.  In the end, you may be able to get additional “computers” for about 20-30% of the cost of a new one!  Also, you can put to work all of those old monitors, keyboards, and mice that you have lying around!

As you consider the technology, be sure to ask the following questions when you contact the companies:

1.  How does this affect software licensing?
2.  If my students have usernames and passwords on our network, do they each get to use their own logins to have access to their network folders and resources?
3.  Are there discounts on large orders?
4.  Are there additional costs for technical support?  Is it a one-time fee or an annual contract?
5.  Do you have a toll-free number for support?
6.  What are the warranties on the products?
7.  What are repair/replacement costs if needed?

You may have other questions as well.  Keep in mind that the answers you receive to these and other questions MAY mean that these products might NOT be right for your situation.  Make sure you also speak to your district technology staff and get their opinions and input since they may ultimately be the ones who have to support and troubleshoot whatever you purchase!

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Quizlet. Learn it fast.

Posted on April 4, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, Foreign Language, General, High School, Instructional Coaches, Interactive Whiteboards, Uncategorized |

by Tim Cushman


I did a lot of memorizing as a kid. At least, I was assigned to do a lot of memorizing as a kid. No “Fact Left Behind” could have been the unofficial tag-line of my primary education. How did I deal with all of the memorizing? My strategy was simple. I would procrastinate until the day of the test or quiz and then fake a dire attack of the stomach flu. If I would have only had Quizlet. I at least may have had classmates willing to play with me at recess without fear of a sudden flare up of “my condition.”

All joking aside, Quizlet really is a useful tool for learning vocabulary. I am a firm believer in teaching problem solving and applying logic to real-world problems, but I also believe there are times where memorization is a necessity. In fact, Quizlet was created by a 15 year old high school student struggling to learn French vocabulary (read the story here). This is one example of what can happen when we put technology in the hands of our students and make them responsible for their own learning. I will not get up on my soapbox at this time…

Quizlet is easy to use for multiple reasons. It starts with the ease of adding information that you would like to learn. Any digital text can be pasted into Quizlet with the standard copy/paste commands. This information is then transformed into individualized flashcards, a quiz style game, or a test with questions in a variety of formats. Please watch the short demo movie by clicking here.

The real beauty of this website is the inate social aspect of the modern Internet. Any data being studied, called a “set” on Quizlet, can be shared with any other Quizlet user or group of users. This means that instead of wasting valuable instructional time having students copy down important terms, the instructor could create a Quizlet set and let students work at their own pace at school during non-instructional time or own their own at home. Students could also create their own sets and easily collaborate with their classmates outside of the classroom.

Don’t want to create a set? You can search for sets created by others and take the quiz…err…quizlet and just get started. I have linked to a word and definition set as an example of some of the sets already available.

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    The School District of Greenville County – Instructional Technology Department


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