Thursday, January 01, 2009

Best tools of 2008 -- mostly web 2.0

I've been a busy boy for the past year and so I basically used the tools that were easiest to find that also helped me the most in the classroom and at home.

I figured it would be nice to punctuate the start of the new year with a post about the most important tools I've either discovered or used a great deal in 2008. Tools I plan to use throughout 2009 and beyond.

For people that know me, or those that read this blog regularly (I think there might be 3 or 4 people) it won't be a surprise when I declare that Google has been my prime toolkit of the year.

Best tools of 2008:

1. Google Docs - About two months after I bought my new laptop my trial period of Microsoft Office Premium 2007 for Vista expired. I didn't miss it! Anybody that paid for an office software application within the last two years has got to be moaning that they got ripped off!

Google Docs is a free service that offers spreadsheets, documents and powerpoint for anybody with a google account. Features like auto-save and portability -- it's always online -- make it unbeatable. You never need to be concerned about which version of your document is the most recent or where you might have saved it. All of your 'stuff' is there, just login! Power interruption or crappy, buggy browser? Are you still using Internet Explorer? Ditch it for Firefox or Chrome. Autosave always kept me from losing my data and I tested this mercilessly for 6 to 8 hours a day for 10 months of 2008 (I had plenty of browser crashes and power interruptions both at my school). I should also state here that I've been doing all of this 'testing' from an out-of-date Windows XP machine with 250 MB of RAM using Firefox and later in the year Chrome in a small town in central South Korea (just in case the reader starts to think that I'm using some sort of all-important network to the kids at Google, I'm not!)  

If you want to send a document to a friend or colleague you can share it by publishing it online. You don't need a website or blog for this as google puts aside space to make all of these documents public. If your friend has a google account he can collaborate (work on the same document at the same time!) with you but, if not, then they can view it in any of the major browsers as a webpage (see this document as a webpage here ). Old fashioned people might want to send it as an attachment in email. No problem, just click on 'share' and  then click on 'email as attachment.' You don't even have to leave the document as you are viewing it in Google Docs and you have the option to paste it directly into the email or attach it as a PDF, DOC, ODT or RTF.  I have used this for everything including keeping track of the marks I awarded students and for record keeping of which class got which lesson, when, which week and how far into the lesson we got. I had 20 classes, once each week, so it wasn't that easy to remember what I'd done without taking notes and I hate pen and paper -- I never was much good at using paper and pen reliably for many reasons, first of all legibility! That's why having all of my classes in the computer lab was such a great organizational help to me.

Alternatively I have occasionally used It is also free, but you need to stay a bit more organized to keep track of documents on the go. I used this as a backup in case I couldn't get online (Google Docs lets you edit (word) Documents but not spreadsheets when you are offline). I used OpenOffice with a great deal of success in helping a friend edit her Korean translations to English. I would import her translation into Google Docs and do what I had to do, to make it sound like a Native English document. Sometimes the finished product would bear little, if any resemblance to the original, but I wanted to show her just how much work I had to do and give her the opportunity to notice patterns in her translation errors so I'd view the 'Revision History' in Google Docs' Tools menu (selecting the first and last revisions to view) and paste the revision history document into an OpenOffice document, save it in DOC format and send it along with my finished product by email.

Google Docs now has a PDF viewer usable through Gmail so you can slim down your hard drive by eliminating that RAM hungry nasty, nasty, beast that Adobe calls Reader. 

And/or install Sumatra PDF instead of Adobe's Reader for none-email PDF viewing.

2. Google Notebook This lets you keep your bookmarks and organize pages of like items together in a fairly versatile way. 

Next time . . .

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