Jon Mott recently asked readers to consider what a learning software application would look like if it were developed with the learner in mind. Jon was contrasting this ideal with current course management software, like Blackboard, which is often focused on institutional needs. I’ve spent most of my week building the framework for a wiki project that will help my students explore some of the free tools for teaching with technology and Jon’s question has been rolling around in the back of my mind.
My list of tools is a hodge-podge of downloadable applications and web-based services. The list is far from exhaustive, since it doesn’t even include all of the technologies tools of which I am aware. Many of the applications weren’t created with teaching in mind, let alone learning. Still, thinking about what these technologies allow me to do and what I still wish I could do (or do more easily), helps me to think about what my ideal learning software application looks like.
The closest thing that I currently have to an ideal learning software application is my Firefox browser. To be honest, any browser would put pretty much the same vast stores of information at my fingertips, but the beauty of Firefox is its customizability. Using Firefox, I can make it much easier to get to the information I want. I use a number of Mozilla add-ons including, but not limited to:
- Diigo Bookmarks and Web Annoation
- LookWAYup Sidebar
- All in One Sidebar
- Status bar calculator
- Smart Bookmarks Bar
I’ve even customized the search engine toolbar. Each change I make is calculated to keep the tools I use and information I need close at hand. My favorite addition is probably my Diigo sidebar. When I was a Delicious user, my links languished, almost forgotten on my Delicious page, but now, with a quick click, I can easily search all of my bookmarks by tags I’ve given–without interrupting my work on other pages. A Diigo list shared amongst class members would be a great way to distribute digital resources to students.
Tabs are another important feature of my ideal learning application. This is largely because browser tabs give me almost constant access to the information on my iGoogle homepage. iGoogle integrates well with my To Do list in Remember the Milk, as well as with Google Calendar and Gmail (both of which I’ve also integrated with RTM–I try hard not to forget things). iGoogle itself is tabbed. My home tab contains the information that I need to manage my time and tasks throughout the day. I’ve even found a widget to track my time as I clock in and out of my work on projects. I also have a Tools tab full of widgets (most of which are redundant with applications on my own computer) that have trouble finding when using a borrowed machine. With the right widgets, a shared iGoogle tab could be set up to provide course information to students.
I access RSS feeds using Google Reader through the GUtil! add-on in my browser. I often wish more of my contacts were using Google Reader because I like how easy it is to share blog posts within Google Reader. I also enjoy organizing blogs by folders and posts by tags and stars.
Obviously, I use a blog to reflect on my learning. I get to my blog by clicking on the favicon on my Smart Bookmarks toolbar. While Diigo organizes the things I might find useful someday, the Smart Bookmarks toolbar holds the things I use everyday; Diigo is a closet, while Smart Bookmarks is a pocket. Shelfari also makes the SB cut. I use Shelfari to keep track of book recommendations that come my way. Additionally, I use Zotero to manage citations for research. I absolutely 100% love that Zotero can recognize bibliographical information from a library website or from Amazon and collect it for me with a single click. I am now, however, slightly annoyed at the professor who required me to pay good money for EndNote for his class three years ago.
I used to use meebo for instant messaging, but got frustrated with reliability in the past month and recently switched to Digsby. I love the functionality of Digsby, but wish it could be integrated within my browser, perhaps through a sidebar. I’m also hoping that some of my previous favorite add-ons like coComment to release updates for Firefox 3.0.
Basically, my ideal learning software application is a customizable portal to web-based information and services that allows me to manage time, tasks and information. I want to be able to integrate as many of the tools that I use as possible into one convenient location. I need quick access to my RSS feeds and my bookmarked resources. When I am doing research, I want a citation manager close at hand. I want to be able to instant message colleagues with minimal interruption to my work flow. I also want to easily track of the conversations that I am having across the web. I suppose that in a truly ideal world, this learning application of mine would function on a mobile device and allow me to comfortably read electronic documents.
What would your ideal learning software application look like?