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I have to admit that I am a bit biased when it comes to Google. I find their resources easy to use and nicely integrated. So I definitely see some significant advantages in using Google as my homepage. If you use Google docs or gmail or any of the other long list of Google resources, you could easily have access to them all from one place: iGoogle. In fact, I created a how-to article on setting up an iGoogle homepage because of this obvious advantage that Google has over the other sites--plus the fact that it's not likely to go away. Of the four sites, I've used iGoogle the most, so let's look at the pros and cons.

 

 

iGoogle - the heavyweight in this contest

 

 

Pro:

 

  • Seamless integration with other Google tools, such as Google docs
  • Gadgets:
    • Gadgets seem to be more user friendly and easier to find than those on Netvibes (and certainly better than Symbaloo).
    • Gadget directory provides detailed explanations and large screenshots of gadgets
    • Users rate and comment on gadgets
    • One-click "add it now" buttons quickly add gadgets to your page
    • "Bookmark" gadget is great—I like it much better than Netvibes’ version
  • Most sites have a one-click "Add to Google" button to subscribe to their site so you don't have to go to your iGoogle page to paste the RSS URL. add_googlehp.jpggooglebutton.jpg
  • "Pretty" themes--and lots of them--to spice up your homepage
  • RSS article titles change color once you view them
  • Easily share a gadget or a whole page with a friend--and your friends are probably more likely to have some type of Google account, and that's all you need
  • You can minimize gadgets to save space
  • Very quick start up. As Google says, "create a homepage in less than 30 seconds"


Con:

  • On RSS feeds, you can only scan the article title names. You have to click a + to view the first paragraph of the entry. No dates or "last updated" information

Grade: A

(Rating based on personal opinion)

igoogle_standard.jpg

google_homepage-use.jpg

 

 

 

Yep, Google has some pretty smart folks working there to make sure things work together seamlessly. iGoogle would definitely be a good choice for a homepage. If you want to try it out, this short tutorial might help. I hope you'll share your experiences with iGoogle.

 

But stay tuned for the last in this series. Pageflakes has been patiently waiting in the wings for its turn in the ring.

 

If you're just jumping in to this series now, you may want to start at the beginning where I talk about what RSS is and the different ways you can subscribe to Web sites that you like to visit frequently. Or just go back to the last few blogs where I talk about one great way to tie everything together--Customizable homepages.

In my search for the perfect homepage that will allow me to easily access my RSS feeds, I spent a lot of time with Netvibes. Here is a brief look at this very versatile homepage.

 

 

Netvibes - very customizable homepage--but still easy to use "out of the box"

 

 

Pro:

  • Very quick start up and easy to search for content
  • Lots of very usable and versatile widgets (over 180,000 at last count!)
  • One-click minimization/expansion of all widgets
  • Nice design--lots of customization possible
    • color code your widgets by content type (the only homepage that allows this that I know of—which I love)
    • collapse boxes to save space
    • customize the number of recent stories/blogs and how much content to show
  • RSS feeds:
    • Identifies how many hours, days, or weeks it has been since an article was posted
    • Title changes color when you have read the article
    • Settings can be customized to either preview article when you mouse over--or show a few lines
  • If you want to switch from another homepage site and keep the same widgets and RSS feeds, you can

Con:

  • When viewing Web sites that you want to subscribe to, you don't often come across RSS buttons to automatically add that feed to Netvibes (like iGoogle, Pageflakes, and others)
  • Preview of widgets before adding to your page is nice, but a little time consuming
  • Widgets automatically added based on your interests are awful--just do it yourself

Grade: A-

(Rating based on personal opinion)

 

 

 

netvibes_hp.jpg

So, Netvibes definitely gets a thumbs up from me. Like so many of the other homepage sites, it's very quick to get started and you don't need to sign up for an account to play around with it. One nice feature about adding content is that you can choose a different country than the United States when searching for widgets—which makes it more applicable to your needs if you live outside of the U.S. Click the Add Content button at the very top left of the page and see where it takes you.

 

netvibes-widgets.jpg

 

 

I'd love to hear how you like the features and use of this homepage.

 

If you're just jumping in to this series now, you may want to start at the beginning where I talk about what RSS is and the different ways you can subscribe to Web sites that you like to visit frequently. Or just go back to the last few blogs where I talk about one great way to tie everything together--Customizable homepages.

Well, I have to admit that these new Web 2.0 homepages are really interesting--and a black hole for your time if you let it. Trying out the different features, seeing how quickly one can build a useful page, finding easy-to-use widgets, and testing out the RSS feeds on four homepage sites (igoogle, netvibes, pageflakes, and symbaloo) was pretty time-consuming. I have realized, however, that trying to figure out which one has the best features really depends on what you are looking for, so I'll just sum up what I've learned.

 

 

What they all do: All of these sites allow you to quickly and fairly easily add little tools and resources that pull Web content in to your single (or multi-tabbed) Web page--rather than you linking out to content that you have to go find. Dragging and dropping gadgets or "boxes of content" is the standard on these Web 2.0 homepages. No one can view your pages unless you want them to--they are password protected. However, you can make one or more pages public, or share a full page or just a single gadget with your "friends."

 

 

First up, just to get it out of the way is Symbaloo. On this homepage, each widget "box" is exactly the same size--almost square--with a large box in the middle for content to show up (or not) when you click an appropriate box.

 

 

Pro: Provides a fun, very different format for a home page.

Con: Very few widgets available, customization of boxes are sometimes difficult--obviously a site that is just starting out

Grade: C-

(Rating based on personal opinion)

 

 

symbaloo.jpg

default "home" page

 

symbaloo-news.jpg

"News" page where current stories link from boxes depicting the story. Mouse over picture to get the first few lines of the story.

So, although it was fun--and I enjoyed seeing the most current news stories in such a visual manner, I wouldn't recommend this new-kid-on-the-block. It's just too limiting--although an exception would be if you want students to have an interesting method of accessing news-breaking, current event stories. This homepage might be an engaging means to provide access to a variety of news sources.

 

But try it out yourself--you don't even need to sign up for an account to play around with the blocks. What do you think?

If you haven’t been following this blog, you may want to view the previous discussion about RSS (Really Simple Syndication).

 

It's been an interesting trip heading down various RSS paths. The easiest path, although not terribly inspiring, was simply using the RSS subscription that is built into most browsers. Whenever you happen to come across an interesting site that offers RSS subscription, you just add it like you are creating a favorite.

IEfeeds.jpg

 

The drawback with this method is that you have to remember to check your list of feeds and it doesn't offer a preview of the latest entries. One of the main reasons for using RSS is to save you time and be able to keep up with new content on a variety of sites--this method doesn't really help you do that very well although it does tell you when new articles are available.

Next I tried different readers. I chose not to try readers that require the installation of special software--although many reasons exist for using a desktop reader. However, I felt that teachers in particular would appreciate and desire the flexibility of using a reader that was available from any Internet-connected computer, so I tried bloglines, newsgator, and Google Reader. I really didn't like the layout of bloglines--even though it has a huge fan base. It felt too cluttered. Newsgator I liked because of its simple layout, multiple display options, and easy use. It felt comfortable with a folders-type structure on the left of the screen. But still, the preview of the articles were not very helpful since you couldn't really take a glance at all (or most) of your RSS feeds. Again, not a real time saver in my mind. Google Reader also has a clean look, but in addition, it has a nice preview of the most recent entries of all your feeds.

googlereader.jpg

 

Click a particular subscription and you can view either the full articles or see them in list view with a single line that previews the title and first sentence. I also liked the easy way to note your favorites, share with others, and tag the articles with key terms. And uncharacteristically, I appreciated the recommendations of other blogs based on the ones I chose to add to the reader. In a separate article, I explain how to set up and use Google Reader.

Last, I explored the use of customizable homepages that allow you to quickly add useful tools and resources to your page called widgets or gadgets--as well as RSS feeds.

igoogle_homepage.jpg

 

The difference between these "homepages" or "start pages" and a regular Web page with HTML code to create links, text, and images are these moveable "boxes" of content. No longer are you creating static Web pages that simply link out--instead you are pulling content in. Although I found six resources for creating these types of homepages and tested them briefly, I created and used the homepages provided through Netvibes, Pageflakes, Symbaloo, and iGoogle.

Before I post my experiences with these homepages (I’ll be looking at Symbaloo first), I encourage you to try one or two of these sites yourself. What features do you like the best? How would a start page like the ones offered by these sites help you stay on top of the information you're chasing? Do you use one of these homepages already? Do you see any obvious applications for the classroom? (Note: You can create your own gadgets/widgets, too.) Have some fun...but be forewarned: you can easily get sucked in and not emerge for several hours.

 

 

To view the first article of this series on Web 2.0 resources and their use in the classroom, read, "What's All the Hype about Web 2.0?"

During spring break I visited the Pinball Hall of Fame Museum in Las Vegas. I enjoyed walking around the museum and looking at all the old games. I then took time to play these “old games.” While playing, I began by just dropping in the quarter and playing by reflex. I then took time to review the notices and hints on each machine about how to earn points. As I took this time, I watched my scores go higher – often resulting in earning an “extra ball.” When I just dropped in the quarter, I had a very short pinball game. After reading the notices, hints, and signs on the machine, I was able to take advantage of other opportunities to increase my scores.

 

 

After about an hour of playing, I thought of teaching and providing professional development. I determined that a pinball game is a good model for both of these activities. When I just dropped in a quarter and began to play, often the result was a VERY SHORT game because the balls quickly dropped down the center without scoring many points. After I took the time to look over the signs and hints on the game, I discovered and took advantage of new opportunities for scoring. As you see in the video, at one point, there are three balls in play at the same time. Each of these balls earned more points by bumping into the other balls and thereby into point bumpers in the game.

 

 

 

In both teaching and professional development, it is very important to consider all of the ways to connect with our audience. In addition, there are areas that will “score points” with all participants that will help them become more engaged in the learning process. As I played these games, I was reminded to not think that I am “so good” that I do not need to plan and/or prepare. To be a successful instructor, I have found it important to take time to review and highlight my notes, review multimedia shows, check the timing on my presentations, and then consider possible questions that might be asked and how I might answer each one. One thing I regularly do is highlight my materials and put post-it notes in specific locations to help me "not forget" important facts or details.

 

Think about your most recent Professional Development training. What was done to engage you as a participant (or if you were the leader, what did you do to engage your audience?) If you could change anything, what could or would you change to engage your audience more than was done? After each Professional Development training, I find it helpful to reflect. On a multi-day training, I reflect every evening. This encourages me to think of how I can do a better job in the next training. After this trip, I will be thinking of playing pinball the next time I present. I hope this will remind me that I need to know where I can “score the most points” in helping my audience enjoy and learn the material being covered.

 

I am interested in hearing what you think of using Pinball as a “metaphor” for training and teaching. Please post your comments below to further this discussion.

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