Graphite – A service to connect Teachers to Educational tools


Graphite
– A service to connect Teachers to Educational tools

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Due to ever increasing popularity of web based learning the web is now filled with a plethora of tools and content for students and teachers alike. However since all of these tools are scattered throughout the internet in blogs, forums and app store, it can really become a tedious task to search through and find the desired app that is needed.

To alleviate the issue of navigating through a maze of tools and services, Common Sense Media has recently launched a service graphite.org to aggregate, categorize and review the varying content that the internet offers for teachers. What is unique about graphite is that it provides a system of rating and insights on the given content by a community made up of teachers. This opens up a wide avenue for any teacher to quickly find and access a particular app or find new content to enhance their existing classroom sessions.

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The site lists content such as apps, websites and games in a neatly categorized way that will help in getting the most out of this site in the simplest way. The review for content is very precise and the information is provided in a very intuitive way.  The reviews are directly written in form of their application to the classroom and are very clear in nature. One more important feature is the “field notes” section where teachers can comment on how they incorporated the content and how it was useful to them. This is a very nifty feature that will be very useful for any potential teacher scouring to find a better way to teach,

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It is also interesting that this project has earned the respect and backing of Bill Gates. Yes the siteñ was created by a non-profit Common Sense Media with backing of Bill Gates and Chicago philanthropist Susan Crown.
 
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                                             (Click the image to enlarge)         twitter.com/BillGates

I think that this is a very good initiative and has the great potential for any educator who wants to bring the wonder of the web to the classroom.


Is the new generation really tech savvy?



I recently read a blog posted by Marc Scott titled “Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You”. Now Marc is a teacher and teaches computer Sciences and also lends a hand in managing his school’s network. So you can understand that if anyone has a computer related problem in their home or office he is the one they would call for their rescue.  Also he deals with students in an everyday basis so his blog is quite relevant to the subject area.

The blog talks about how today’s generation is being misunderstood as being tech savvy and tries to analyse the impact of such condition may cause. Now it is true that almost everyone has a computer or access to the internet from his/her mobile phone. But what the author truly counts someone able to use a computer is to be able to do simple tasks and fixing (or at least being able to give it a try) Here let me quote the personal anecdotes given by Marc himself on how he categorizes someone as “not being able to use a computer”

A sixth-former brings me his laptop, explaining that it is running very slowly and keeps shutting down. The laptop is literally screaming, the processor fans running at full whack and the case is uncomfortably hot to touch. I run Task Manager to see that the CPU is running at 100% despite the only application open being uTorrent (which incidentally had about 200 torrent files actively seeding). I look at what processes are running and there are a lot of them, hogging the CPU and RAM. What’s more I can’t terminate a single one. ‘What anti-virus are you using?’ I ask, only to be told that he didn’t like using anti-virus because he’d heard it slowed his computer down. I hand back the laptop and tell him that it’s infected. He asks what he needs to do, and I suggest he re-installs Windows. He looks at me blankly. He can’t use a computer.

A kid puts her hand up in my lesson. ‘My computer won’t switch on.’ she says, with the air of desperation that implies she’s tried every conceivable way of making the thing work. I reach forward and switch on the monitor, and the screen flickers to life, displaying the Windows login screen. She can’t use a computer.

A teacher brings me her school laptop. ‘Bloody thing won’t connect to the internet.’ she says angrily, as if it is my fault. ‘I had tonnes of work to do last night, but I couldn’t get on-line at all. My husband even tried and he couldn’t figure it out and he’s excellent with computers.’ I take the offending laptop from out of her hands, toggle the wireless switch that resides on the side, and hand it back to her. Neither she nor her husband can use computers.

A kid knocks on my office door, complaining that he can’t login. ‘Have you forgotten your password?’ I ask, but he insists he hasn’t. ‘What was the error message?’ I ask, and he shrugs his shoulders. I follow him to the IT suite. I watch him type in his user-name and password. A message box opens up, but the kid clicks OK so quickly that I don’t have time to read the message. He repeats this process three times, as if the computer will suddenly change its mind and allow him access to the network. On his third attempt I manage to get a glimpse of the message. I reach behind his computer and plug in the Ethernet cable. He can’t use a computer.

A teacher brings me her brand new iPhone, the previous one having been destroyed. She’s lost all her contacts and is very upset. I ask if she’d plugged her old iPhone into her computer at any time, but she can’t remember. I ask her to bring in her laptop and iPhone. When she brings them in the next day I restore her phone from the backup that resides on her laptop. She has her contacts back, and her photos as well. She’s happy. She can’t use a computer.

A teacher phones my office, complaining that his laptop has “no internet”. I take a walk down to his classroom. He tells me that the internet was there yesterday, but today its gone. His desktop is a solid wall of randomly placed Microsoft office icons. I quickly try and explain that the desktop is not a good place to store files as they’re not backed up on the server, but he doesn’t care, he just wants the internet back. I open the start menu and click on Internet Explorer, and it flashes to life with his homepage displayed. He explains that the Internet used to be on his desktop, but isn’t any more. I close I.E and scour the desktop, eventually finding the little blue ‘e’ buried amongst some PowerPoint and Excel icons. I point to it. He points to a different location on the screen, informing me of where it used to be. I drag the icon back to its original location. He’s happy. He can’t use a computer.

A kid puts his hand up. He tells me he’s got a virus on his computer. I look at his screen. Displayed in his web-browser is what appears to be an XP dialogue box warning that his computer is infected and offering free malware scanning and removal tools. He’s on a Windows 7 machine. I close the offending tab. He can’t use a computer.

The core of the problem is that the majority of his students who use computers are not able to do a task beyond the simple browsing the web or running a few applications. But if anything happens then they are at a loss.

Now you may ask why is it relevant, the answer is simply because we must be capable of understand or else we will perpetually be at loss of how things work but more importantly because we use them so much, we use them for shopping, socializing, banking, entertainment and productivity. And the people in the dark side of internet know this, criminals today are now targeting the individual instead of the machine and that is precisely why ID thefts and other online fraud are on the rise.

Now isn’t that what our education should do; instead of teaching a student to just work on a closed environment shouldn’t it kindle their spirit to look under the hood and know what is happening. And not only it’s the schools job to do it but parents to should try to educate them on proper online etiquette and  know what they are actually doing. Parents should try to comprehend that their son or daughter is not a computer wizard just because he spends tons of time in Facebook or YouTube.

Now I know it is a tough task but is it not essential that a technology that skill be integral to future be understood by the next generation.


Ninite – A computer geek’s best friend


Are you a friend who doubles as a tech support to your friends and family, or just had a OS crash and are sweating with the thought of reinstalling all your basic applications or just need to quickly install VLC or flash or any such essential freeware application, then skip the vendors website and try Ninite.

In case you are wondering why go to a separate site instead of just going to the respective software’s site; since you already have them memorized, it’s because it simplifies and automatres the entire process, not just downloading, but the whole installation part. Now there is no more clicking on “I agree” forms or a constant barrage of clicking the next button. And the most important part is that it doesn’t load your system with toolbars and other such adware (which now almost seems to be standard in almost all these installation packages).

It allows you to get your system operational (Because no computer is operational unless VLC is installed) and ready to go. Also the collection of software they have is pretty amazing and is updated. It covers all the basic things that you or your frustrated Grandmother needs.

Working with Ninite is very simple just go to http://ninite.com/ select the apps that you want from the list of categorically arranged apps.

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Then click on the Giant “Get Installer” button,  it will take you to a new page where you can download or run a small file and then sit back and relax.

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Seriously that is all.

I have personally used for myself and while setting up a friends computer many times and found it very useful. Also Ninite ensures as I have previously explained that no pesky adware or any other software gets installed along with it, there aren’t even any advertisements in the Ninite site and saves you a lot of time.

One niftier feature of Ninite is the really simple easy to read URL that it generates, say you need to rescue someone’s software trouble from far away, you can simply copy paste the url that Ninite generates and send it to them, which they can double click and install.

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Ninite is has been around for more than three years now and is run by two developers Patrick Swieskowski and Sascha Kuzins, who have created this utility. It’s a very simple and one of the most useful ones that I have encountered. So stop wasting your time by staring at that installation progress window, use Ninite and chill out.

 

Quad core and Idle – donate them for Science


Thanks to a massive reduction in cost of phones, Dual and Quad processors have now become common in a lot of mobile devices. But once you do buy them you’ll notice that they are seldom used, and most of the processing power is just sitting there waiting.

So what can you do to utilize them to feel smug and virtuous at the same time? Well as the title says donate them to science, and I do mean that literally, and not just any science but the cutting edge science like Pulsar research, HIV drug research etc.  How? It’s simple, by donating your excess computing power to help speed up the computation intensive process that is required for these researches. To get in to the science movement just download and install BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) from the play store, and then add the projects that you would like your device to contribute to the search for new stars or help discover drugs and fight AIDS and more. The BOINC app has been developed by University of California, Berkeley which provides the platform for running the aforementioned projects. The app that has recently released for android platform (it supports Android 2.3 +) was initially created to use the idle computational power of desktop systems way back in 2002, now BOINC boasts  240,759 active volunteers with 495,067 computers totalling a 24-hour average of 6.908 PetaFLOPS.


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The app supports devices having android 2.3 and above. The app also is by default set to run only when the device is plugged in and is charged above 90% and will transfer data only when the device is connected to WiFi. This of course can be changed from the preferences.

The project Einstein@Home driven by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics uses your computation power to search for weak signals from neutron stars (Pulsars) using data obtained from telescopes and satellites. The volunteer project has already led to the discovery of more than 3 dozen new neutron stars. You can read more here and a general description of other projects here.

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In short you can now contribute directly to science and the betterment of humanity just by running an app in your phone.