10 Tools: Pocket Review

Is it May already? Oh my. This is my “April” review of Pocket, an app that let’s you stash articles, blog posts, or web pages to read later.


I used to email myself articles to read later. This resulted in a whole bunch of emails that never got filed or read, and I usually ended up deleting them. Pocket gives me a place to keep them without mucking up my inbox. Whenever a have a few spare minutes to read, I pull up one of those articles in Pocket. I did it just today while waiting in the doctor’s office. It was much better than reading about celebrity breakups or fashion faux pas.

Pocket Basics

  • You can use Pocket on any Android, iDevice, or on your computer.
  • You can tag items and filter by tags.
  • If you use Instapaper, you can import articles to Pocket.

What I Learned

  • Pocket is a great place to store professional development articles. It’s like my own little development space.
  • It’s also a great place to build an “online cookbook”. I’ve started stashing and tagging recipes I find on the web that I want to use again. That used to be a folder in my inbox. Now it’s even better.
  • I can “Pocket” things I want to show to my son later since he’s too young for email or Facebook. This was a big hit while My husband and I were reading The Hobbit to him over several weeks at bedtime:



My New (Space) Learning Hero

When I was ten, I desperately wanted to be the first female astronaut. I had it all carefully planned out: a degree in astrophysics, train to be an Air Force Pilot, then BAM! I’d be on the Space Shuttle.

Sally Ride destroyed that dream when I was 11. I simultaneously worshiped her and despised her.

Christa McAuliffe showed us that teachers could contribute to the space program. I was 13 years old on the day of the Challenger Launch. Completely devastated by the loss of the crew, I think that was the day my space dream truly died.

Now I have a new space hero: Col. Chris Hatfield of the International Space Station. He has masterfully used video and social media to invite us into his world on the ISS and teach us about zero gravity. He tweets with William Shatner and answers school children’s questions about life on the ISS. Most importantly, he connects with us virtually in a way that makes us feel like we know him. It’s the same way we feel like we know Jay Leno or David Letterman. Hatfield talks to us like we are friends.

Of course this is only possible because of current technology, but also because of his willingness to learn these new tricks. He’s no Millennial, but he sure communicates like one.

I’ve written before about harnessing the power of the virtual classroom to bring experts to the masses. It’s not just about using the tools, but knowing how to connect with the audience. It’s not about presenting. It’s about conversing. When you bring the audience into the conversation (either directly or by allowing them to submit questions) it becomes a richer and more meaningful dialogue.

Accessible Experts = Learning Heroes.

Live Virtual Experiences *Can* Be Intimate

If I told you that a live virtual experience could actually be intimate would you believe me? What if I showed you? Imagine you were preparing to play an instrument and record a song with someone in your studio. Now imagine that “someone” is orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station. Have a look for yourself.


On 7 Feb 2013 Canadian Chris Hatfield recorded a song with the Bare Naked Ladies. From Space. From. Freaking. Space.

I find this to be a beautiful example of how we can use technology to virtually bring special guests to a physical classroom. In Spring 2011 I attended a Video for Learning Lab at the Masie Center and experienced this technique. We met with virtual visitors from the CIA and CNN via Skype. Our facilitator asked them to speak for a few minutes about how they used video for learning, then we opened the floor for questions from the students. One of the visitors even asked to be “left on” so he could attend the next exercise we were going to do.

I was still at Intel at the time and working on the New Employee Orientation (NEO). One of the chief complaints from new employees was that we did not have a section on benefits during the first day orientation class. The benefits class is a virtual class offered once a month because the benefits team didn’t have the bandwidth to have someone teach the full session every other week when NEO was run. If you know anything about new employees or remember what it’s like to be a new employee, then you know that one of the biggest thing on their minds is benefits. I tried to convince our organization that we should partner with the benefits team to have someone virtually visit the class via video for 15-20 minutes to answer some of the students’ burning questions. It wouldn’t be as robust as the class, but at least we could calm some fears and show we care with a real human touch.

It didn’t end up happening at Intel but I keep this idea in my back pocket, waiting for the right opportunity. I’ll let you know how it goes.

10 Tools: Flipboard Review

If you’ve ever wished for the perfect magazine packed with only features you love, you were wishing for Flipboard.

Flipboard_ScreenI haven’t subscribed to a newspaper or a magazine for years. I generally find that I’m only interested in a fraction of most publications and they seem like a waste of money. I’ll read a paper if one is lying on the table at the coffee shop, but I’m highly unlikely to ever buy one. I do miss newspapers a bit though. I miss paging through and being surprised and delighted by a story I didn’t expect to see. I loved that feeling of discovering something new and great on page B2 or C5. Flipboard gives me the satisfaction of a magazine created just for me. Once again I experience the serendipity of discovering something completely unexpected and completely perfect–like a recipe for Beef & Guiness Stew that became dinner for St. Patrick’s Day or Harlem Shake for Designers that just made my week. It is visually stunning.

Flipboard Basics:

  • You can read your Flipboard on an Android or iDevice.
  • The app comes pre-loaded with feature categories you can keep or delete.
  • You can search for additional sites to add. (I added Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), BBC World, Facebook, Google +, and Twitter)
  • The Cover Story is a mashup of all the live categories you have in your flipboard.
  • Flipboard is awesome.

  What I Learned:

  • I really can have it all! Finally, that magical magazine designed just for me is mine.
  • Sometimes you can only find the Facebook site for what you are searching for instead of the news site. This was the case when I tried to add OPB. It was kind of a bummer because I wanted to get all the news from opb.org , not just the features that get posted to the OPB Facebook site. Oh well.
  • Flipboard is awesome.

Application to Virtual Learning:

This is more of a personal productivity tool and I don’t really have a virtual learning application for the tool, but it did give me an idea for a virtual assignment that can be posted by students. Have them create a magazine cover for an issue dedicated to the topic of the course. The cover shot should be a picture that sums up the topic for them and feature articles should reflect important points.

10 Tools: Pinterest Review

I’ve been using Pinterest for a few things over the course of the month. I was eager to see how I might use it to organize a project or utilize it for a learning activity.

Pinterest Basics:

  1. Pinterest is a way to organize photos, images, and videos. They are called pins and you share them by pinning them to a board.
  2. You create boards to act as a album for a group of related pins.
  3. You can create secret boards that don’t show up for others in searches.
  4. You can invite others to pin to your boards by entering their email addresses.
  5. You can follow other Pinterest users. They can follow you.
  6. If you log in via facebook it will post on your behalf unless you tell it not to.

I created three boards to play around with in Pinterest. One collected ideas for a kindergarten Valentine’s party. The next is an on-going collection of ideas for an end-of-year gift for my child’s teacher. The last was an unsuccessful attempt to gather ideas for a welcome/info book for my beach house.

What I learned

  • Pinterest is spectacular at providing inspiration. Keyword searches connect you to incredible creativity and delightful results. I’m beginning to suspect that Martha Stewart is no longer needed. Popular pins include DIY, home decor, crafts, wedding planning, travel, cars, and art. 
  • It really is photo-based. The website you link to has to have a photo or it won’t pin. I ran into this issue when I found some great templates I wanted to pin for my welcome/info book, but I couldn’t pin them. It doesn’t work well for project planning for this reason.
  • I don’t really enjoy following others in Pinterest. I use it more to farm for ideas via searches.
  • If you do the “shelf elf” at Christmas time Pinterest is the place for you.

Application to Virtual Learning

I could see utilizing Pinterest in a couple of ways for virtual learning. If there isn’t a mechanism in your platform for creating student profiles or sharing headshots you might give the following instructions:

You’ve been invited to post on the XYZ Course Pinterest board.

  • Please pin a headshot on the board.
  • Tell us in the “Describe your pin…” section why you are taking the course and how you hope to use your learning after the course.
  • Look at pins from other students. Comment on at least three of them.

It could also be a way to gather ideas for a class project to apply the learning or a way to demonstrate how they applied the learning back on the job after the class.

How would you use Pinterest for a learning event?

Next Tool: Flipboard

10 Tools Challenge (1-5)

I had a really difficult time coming up with a list of 10 tools. I used Jane’s list of Top 100 Tools, but I already use a great number of them and others required subscriptions. I’m sticking to 100% free tools and apps for this challenge. I also fretted that new tools would debut this year that I’d like to include and I didn’t want to be married to a specific list. As a compromise, I chose 5 that I promise to review. The other 5 I’ll discover over the year. Deal?

Here is the list of 5:

  1. Pinterest. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m just now getting around to Pinterest. I thought it was just DIY and wedding planning, but I can see potential for gathering classroom resources and asking students to contribute. I’m also using it to plan a kindergarten Valentine’s Day party.
  2. Flipboard. This one really intrigues me and I think it will help me clean up some clutter of buttons on my phone and tablet home screens. It’s a customized one-stop shop for your news and social networks. It’s also visually stunning if you can trust the demo.
  3. Open Badges. I love having quick, visual ways to scan information. I also really miss my Girl Scout sash and all those badges. People love earning badges and will go a little farther just to get one. It’s motivation to learn by status and recognition.
  4. Pocket. I am forever emailing myself links to read later. They clutter my inbox and end up getting deleted during angry inbox cleaning sessions, never to be read. Pocket is a bookmarking service that delivers content in an organized way to your phone or tablet and stays the heck out of your inbox.
  5. Avatar Generators. I love sharing avatars in virtual learning environments. Many people don’t photograph well and dread sharing photos. Avatars are fun and can be customized to reflect hobbies and interests. I’ll review a number of avatar generators and share what I create with each one, features, etc.

For each tool or app I share I will try to demonstrate how it can be used in the virtual classroom. It’s possible I’ll find something that I can’t tie in, but is so great I just have to share. I’ll be clear if that’s the case. Stay tuned. I’ll review Pinterest and share my boards at the end of February.