Jane Hart has once again asked for people to vote on the top ten tools that they use when working online. She has been doing this annually since 2007. This is a helpful prompt for reflection on whether my use of technology has changed over the past year and if so why, and if not why. I am not very adventurous in adopting new tools. Technology doesn’t interest me enough to want to experiment with tools I am unlikely to find useful in my every day work. I can remember clearly being shown Second Life a few years ago and knowing that I would never want to spend time trying to learn how to use it, and now it isn’t mentioned very often, or not in my circles, so I don’t regret not engaging with it. I am not afraid of technology, even of Second Life, although I was in the very early days, when I remember that I even resisted having a computer at home. All that struggling to use BBC computers in primary school classrooms, way back in the 80s, really put me off to begin with. At that time I would never have thought I would end up working as an education consultant mostly online.
These days, these are the tools I use and what I use them for.
Personal, private communication
Email: I still use this a lot and for many things it is still my preferred mode of communication, although I recognize that this has become easier since I have been independent and no longer receive hundreds of institutional emails, which have been copied to everyone, like I used to in the old days. Email does not work though for discussion about research, because it’s difficult to keep track of the ongoing conversation and edits.
Pbworks Wiki: I use this a lot for collaborative research. I find it a fantastic tool for this. Not only can we keep all the resources and data in one place, but we can also discuss papers and ideas. I also use it for shared reading, e.g. to discuss a book. I spend a lot of time in my wikis and see that I now have 34 wikis in my list (not all currently active), most of them set up by me.
Skype: This is a great tool for personal communication and team meetings. And it’s free! I use Skype quite a lot. I prefer it for meetings. I have never liked the phone, so I don’t particularly want to Skype for ‘chat’.
iPhone: I am not of fan of phones and only use them when no other form of communication will do the trick. In the past few weeks I have spent what I consider to be an unreasonable number of hours changing my phone provider. I hate how difficult they make this.
Personal Resource Curation
Mendeley: This is where I collect all the research papers that I am interested in, read them and make notes on them. I really like that it is so easy to cite references from Mendeley. There are public groups in Mendeley and although I am a member of some, I do not really engage with them.
Evernote: I use this for making a note of interesting websites and online sources. It is easy to use and organise and complements the PDF/Word documents that I collect in Mendeley.
Feedly: This is where I gather RSS feeds to all the blogs I am interested in, but I am a slow reader (not good at skimming), so I don’t get to read as many as I would like to keep up with. I am more likely to read blog posts if they come into my email.
Flickr: This is semi public/private. I store nearly all my photos on Flickr, but I only allow some contacts to see photos of my family. I don’t like seeing photos of myself online, so I can empathise with others who might feel the same and don’t assume that everyone is happy to have their photo posted online. I tend to take photos as memories of places I have visited and found visually stimulating.
Kindle: I have just bought a Kindle PaperWhite. I love it. I already have a collection of books that I want to read – all in the palm of my hand – and it is sympathetic to my ever failing eyesight!
WordPress: My blog is very important to me. It is a place where I publicly reflect on what I am thinking about in relation to my work. It helps me to do this reflection. I don’t very often use my blog for reflecting on more personal issues.
Facebook: I don’t really like Facebook very much, and as such don’t post there very often, but a lot of people that I like use it, so I tend to look at it most days to see what they are up to. I am a member of a few Facebook groups.
Twitter/Tweetdeck: I am also not a huge fan of Twitter, although I can see its advantages for sharing ideas. I find I have to trawl through a lot of ‘dross’ to find the gems. I like Tweetdeck for conferences. I find I can follow a conference very well online, at a distance, by creating a conference column in Tweetdeck.
Google+: I have an account, and I share my blog posts there, but it has never really resonated with me and I don’t really use it for anything else or follow it.
LinkedIn: I also share my blog posts on LinkedIn. My profile is actually a bit of a mess and I should do something about it, but I’m not sure what the benefits of LinkedIn are.
Blackboard Collaborate: This is not free for large numbers but it’s great for webinars, although Adobe Connect is also not bad these days. I have tried Big Blue Button in the past – but not recently. I could definitely find use for a reliable free tool that could host large numbers of participants for a webinar.
Powerpoint: I’m not really a fan of this from the receiver point of view, but I haven’t yet really worked out why. I think it’s because presentations are necessarily more didactic than would be my choice. I still use it, but try to have as little text on slides as possible, although I know that this doesn’t help people who are listening to recordings.
Prezi: I have used this twice. For me it needs to be used judiciously for specific purposes.
Word: I use Word every day. I am now questioning whether Word is always used for presentation. I think it is – even if that presentation is only to myself. I am working in Word now, to write this post.
Camtasia: I use this for recording online presentations. I also use it for research purposes and when I am working on projects which require interviewing people.
Survey Monkey: I have used this quite a lot. Going back to check, I see that to date I have created 23 surveys in Survey Monkey. I used to have a paid account (unlimited questions), but now I use the free account (up to 10 questions). I find it a really useful tool to get started on gathering empirical data. Email and Skype can be used for follow up.
Dropbox: Apart from the tools I have mentioned above, I use Dropbox – for sharing large files, such as videos.
Excel: This remains a very good tool for gathering large amounts of data for analysis. For example, I used it extensively in a project where I was working with 21 Universities and synthesizing their work on a variety of funded projects.
Searching for information
Browser: I use Google Chrome. Before moving to Chrome, I used Internet Explorer and Firefox. I have had fewer problems with Chrome. But sometimes Chrome fails me and then I use Safari.
I also search for information through Google Search, Wikipedia, YouTube, Google Scholar and Google Translate.
I know I should use a variety of search engines. Perhaps this is what I need to work on for next year.
TOP TEN TOOLS
So which are my top ten tools? I know I use other tools as well as the ones I have mentioned here, such as Diigo, ScoopIt, JustGiving, Moodle and so on. This makes me wonder why I have focused on the tools above. On her site Jane Hart tells us ‘how’ to vote – but as far as I can see she doesn’t stipulate what ‘Top Ten’ means. Does it mean the number of times, or how often you use a tool? Does it mean how useful you find the tool? Does it mean how easy you find it to use the tool? Does it mean that it is free? And so on.
I’m going to select 10 based on the frequency with which I use them, either every day or at a minimum every week – and as such there are some important ones (to me) missing from this list. Here is my Top Ten, created according to this criterion.
- Google Chrome (that’s where I start each day)
- Email – Yahoo (that’s my next stop at the beginning of each day. I reply to emails as necessary and save them to my folders)
- WordPress (I check comments and stats every day and might write a post, if I have something to say)
- Facebook (I check what my friends/connections are doing, but find myself constantly asking why I am doing this. It feels a bit like voyeurism, since I rarely post in Facebook myself)
- Tweetdeck (I scan the different columns for new posts which contain information which is relevant to my work. Occasionally I find something. I am very grateful to those who retweet my tweets)
- Word (then I get down to it and start writing. Usually the writing gets copied into another site, e.g. PbWorks, or WordPress, or an email etc.)
- Flickr (I usually have a backlog of photos that I want to edit and upload. I like to see what other Flickr contacts and users have posted. I am always so impressed by the openness and creativity of others)
- Kindle (This is very recent. I read something every day on my Kindle PaperWhite. I can upload PDFs and comment on them and also upload a whole wishlist of books I hope to read. I read every night before sleeping. It used to be tangible hard copy books, but I find the Kindle easier. Will I be missing the hard copy books by this time next year?)
- PbWorks (I don’t think a week goes by without adding to or commenting on text which has been uploaded to one of the wikis that I collaborate in. This is where I experience the most in depth discussions in my working life).
- Evernote (This helps me to remember and store those weblinks that I often come across serendipitously and which I don’t have time to read in the moment).
I realize that this post is a bit like our work on Footprints of Emergence in which we (Roy Williams and I) create a visualization of an emergent learning experience in an open learning environment (See this open wiki for details).
In drawing these footprints we realize that the reflective process is dynamic and can change from instance to instance, so maybe if I were to list my top ten tools tomorrow they would be different. But this is my list for today and now.