Monday, July 16, 2012

WEB 2.O TOOL REFLECTION FOR HIGHER EDUCATION


MY EXPERIENCE:

Web 2.0 tools can be fun, effective and a waste of time.  Basically, as with any other product, there can be a wide range of effectiveness with each tool.  Upon starting this investigation of different web 2.0 tools, I can remember getting excited about the possibilities of each tool and with some of them; the results were disappointing and a waste of time.   Also consistent with other products the positive results often outweigh the negative.  I found it critical to remain focused on several aspects of the inquiry in order to effectively evaluate each tool.  The sub paragraphs below describe what I believe to be essential elements in evaluating the ability of each Web 2.0 tool to meet your particular needs.

STAY FOCUSED ON THE PURPOSE OF YOUR EFFORTS, NOT THE TOOL

Bells and whistles, a.k.a. special effects, are generally common with Web 2.0 tools.  They capture the imagination and create interest from the users.  In order to be objective and effective in your evaluation, it is critical to stay focused on what you want the software to perform and not be distracted by the special effects.    The first example that comes to mind is ResearchGate.  This program has a special effects feature where it will create an index rating of each person using the program.  This rating index is based upon articles written, reviewed and a few other factors however what they don’t state is the sources are all contained within the software.  The number of research articles within the program is minimal; hence the special effect has less effect if you know the basis for the calculation.  Another research program utilizes other known databases so the effectiveness of the program to enable efficient research is far greater, yet there is no special effect.  The lesson?  You guessed it, stay focused on what you want to get from using the tool and minimize approval based upon the WOW factor of the special effects.

WILL THIS TOOL CREATE EFFICIENCY FOR ALL INVOLVED?

The means of processing information within a program is critical to creating efficiency.  If a process takes several clicks to create information in lieu of just one click then the program will not have a long shelf life.  In this modern era, where convenience and instant access are the norm, it is essential to simplify these functions.    The example which comes to mind is the program bit.ly.  While this program will shorten a url, it takes 3 clicks to perform the function.  Where by simply cutting and pasting a long url address, it only takes a single click to go to the site.  People today are easily distracted and overloaded with their schedules so taking these additional steps doesn’t make much sense, efficiency matters!

LESS IS MORE 

The key for repeated use is to find a program that will do more of what you need so that you don’t have to go from tool to tool.  This may be a high expectation but ease of use is increased when we can find one tool that serves multiple functions.  Wiggio is the one tool that comes closes to fulfilling this mantra.  For example, this collaboration tool includes conference calling, virtual meetings, voice notes, video notes, discussion board, document management, emails and text messages.  It also has mobile platforms on iPhone and iPad.  Now that is functionality in one tool!   

IS COMMUNICATION ENHANCED? 

One of the repetitive elements from every Web 2.0 tool is communication; therefore it is critical to evaluate its effectiveness.  Evaluation points include mobility platforms and the modes of communication; i.e. email text messaging, video, etc.  With the popularity of smartphones mobility is very important in reaching the greatest number of users.  Quizlet is a program that has tremendous potential as a learning aid.  Its functionality is enhanced in that it draws upon a pre-existing database and allows individual knowledge to be added to the system.  Upon my initial review of the program, there didn’t appear to be a mobile application which lessened the prospect that it would be utilized by my students.  Closer review indicated that there were several third party programs which enabled smartphone access in both apple and android platforms.  This element made this program viable for use by the greatest number of users.

DOES THE TOOL SPARK OR INHIBIT CREATIVITY? 

Fun and creativity are essential in keeping the users attention while utilizing the tool.  And if you don’t believe this concept then ask yourself, “Why are video games so popular in the learning environment?”  One particular tool that is intuitive and fun to use is Mindmeister.  The ease of use and the fun of linking ideas together in a mind map keep the user engaged while creating a useful product for conceptual planning.

DISAPPOINTING TOOLS:

Based upon my review of Web 2.0 tools, I found the platforms below to be less than expected.  The basis for my evaluation of each tool ranges from complexity, lack of depth or poor final product.
1.      WordPress
2.      Podomatic
3.      Edistorm
4.      ResearchGate
5.      StumbleUpon
6.      Bit.ly
7.      Slide Rocket

RECOMMENDED TOOLS:
The tools below are either robust in their capabilities, highly intuitive or perform their singular functionality extremely well.  I invite you to check them out for your own use.
1.      Wiggio                              
2.      GoogleModerator            
3.      Blogger                            
4.      Wordle                              
5.      Bitstrips                             
6.      Mindmeister                      
7.      Quizlet                               
8.      VoiceThread                     
9.      Dropbox                            
10.  Mendeley                          
11.  Prezi                                  

RECOMMENDATION FOR CONSTRUCTION MGMT. PROGRAM:

Finally, my last recommendation is made specifically for the Construction Management Program at the University of Houston.  The selection of the programs was based upon their ability to assist with group collaboration as this is a focal point in our program.  All three recommended programs are very capable of group collaboration and each deal with specific phases in the preparation of group projects; brainstorming, project development and final presentation.  If you are interested in viewing this recommendation, please click on the link below.

NOTE OF THANKS:
My pursuit of knowledge would not have been as comprehensive without the sharing by my fellow student’s on Web 2.0 tools and the guidance provided by Dr. Sara McNeil and Dr. Bernard Robin at the University of Houston.  Thanks to all for their efforts and belief in collaborative learning.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mendeley - Your Web 2.0 Personal Research Assistant


WEB 2.O TOOL EVALUATION:  Mendeley

LOCATION ON THE WEBhttp://mendeley.com

CATEGORY:  Productivity Tool

GENERAL DESCRIPTION:
Mendeley is a web 2.0 tool for researching topics on the internet and then subsequently annotating the collections for the pertinent data needed for a report.
The program interfaces with a multitude of internet scholarly databases for easy access on a wide array of studies.  This interface includes a plug in where the documents found within these databases can be loaded into the user’s personal library with the click of one button.  This streamlined technology plus the ability to create user specific folders for archiving documents creates a very efficient means of handling research information. 
In addition, the program enables efficient cut and paste creation of notes for a highly productive process in mining the information that you need for your specific research project. 
Lastly, citations in all of the major formats are quickly created in Microsoft Word through a one click menu button so the user doesn’t need to know the specifics of each citation format. 
With Mendeley, productivity is obtained without a premium as all these features are available in the free version.  Research is made easy for the layman or the experienced professional.

PREREQUISITES TO USAGE:
1.      Set up a free user account
2.      You will need to set up a profile but it doesn’t have to be completed in order to start using the program.  The benefits of the profile are simply so Mendeley can recommend papers and people associated with your interests.
3.      For mobile applications simply go to the app store and download the application onto your iPhone or iPad.

RESOURCES REQUIRED:
Access to a computer and the internet.
Data that you want to import into the software or ability to search databases for research publications (note this is optional as you can search the web from your library within Mendeley to retrieve articles on the web).

SKILLSETS REQUIRED:
Ability to operate a computer.

STEP BY STEP ACCESS:
1.      Log in
1.      Upon entering the program you will be directed to My Library where your personal research folders are located.
2.      You may now start your search by placing your topic of interest in the search box located in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
2.      For an introduction to this program go to this video link (created with PowerPoint and Adobe Premiere Elements 10). 
Insert picture of my library

TOOL EXAMPLE:
Since the example I have is my personal research website, I have prepared a highlight video, (created with Adobe Captivate) so that you can see the unique productivity of the program.  This will also demonstrate how I am using the program. 
video

If you would like to start using it for your research projects, go to the following link:  http://mendeley.com

POTENTIAL TEACHING APPLICATION:
This tool can aid with instruction on how to research a topic and streamline thoughts in order to write a report.  Since most undergraduate coursework requires writing either a literature review or technical paper, this application would be ideal for either.  Mendeley would assist in organizing the information and reinforce the concept of initially acquiring research followed by analyzing the article to create annotations of the relevant information for a specific research assignment.
Since Mendeley has an extensive database and utilizes a plethora of outside search engines, it would be ideal for a variety of fields of study.
With the high usage of computer technology in K-12 education, I can envision the use of this tool in grades 7-12.  The research may not be as extensive as in higher education, but writing papers are analytical thinking in research are still important skillsets to acquire.

TEACHING ADVANTAGES:

EASY CITATIONS WITH MICROSOFT WORD PLUG IN
When learning how to create literature reviews or technical reports one of the hardest elements to master is the formatting of the document.  Each research type has distinctively different ways of presenting the same information.  While this program doesn’t provide the overall template for the final products formatting, it does create the citations with the touch of a button.  This is especially helpful if you are creating papers for an English class and an engineering class where the citations are APA and IEEE, respectively.
One step citations



ANNOTATION OF DOCUMENTS IS EASY ON A COMPUTER
This is the most productive element of this program.  In case you missed it earlier, the highlight video, (created with Adobe Captivate), demonstrates how this works.  Basically, you can annotate notes from each of your documents in your library.  This annotation process is simple and allows the researcher to focus on the elements of the document that relate specifically to their research topic.  This enables the analytical thinking process and facilitates an easier way to organize your thoughts when it’s time to write your paper.  This is the jewel of the program!
Annotations allow organization of key concepts for writing 


RESEARCH SITES ARE SUGGESTED TO THE USER BASED UPON SUBJECT
For those users who are unfamiliar with the wide range of scholarly databases, Mendeley enables quick and easy searches on topics from the My Library view of the online program.  When starting the research process, the biggest step is getting started.  Once other sources are identified then it gets easier to follow the path to more detailed information regarding the user’s research topic.  This program facilitates this experience and simultaneously exposes the user to the research process.
Research recommendations


TEACHING DISADVANTAGES

NO EDUCATIONAL TEMPLATES FOR FORMATS OF RESEARCH PAPERS
Mendeley focuses on the research portion of the process and doesn’t provide formatting for multiple writing styles.  In this sense, the program only provides partial coverage of the entire process.  the program could be greatly enhanced by adding this information to create a single source reference site.  In the interim, the best resource that I have found for the writing formats is located at the following link:

MOBILE DEVICES DON’T ALLOW ANNOTATION OF DOCUMENTS
While Mendeley is available on iPad and iPhone, the annotation capability is not enabled in these devices.  The program could be made more robust with this functionality with the increased uses of these devices by students.


RECOMMENDATION
So far, this product exceeds my expectations and performs better than the more popular programs such as ResearchGate, Refworks and Endnote.  I would recommend this to any student or faculty member who needs to perform research on a single or multiple projects.  The benefit is in the ability to organize and annotate notes for easy reference from articles you have researched.   This functionality enables quick access to the information you need as well as streamlines the process of organizing your thoughts.  This program is the BEST OF CLASS!