Monday, 28 July 2008

First look at the new search engine Cuil

Cuil, pronounced Cool is taking on the big boys!

Well a new search engine is always good and this one makes wonderful claims:
"The Internet has grown exponentially in the last fifteen years but search engines have not kept up—until now. Cuil searches more pages on the Web than anyone else—three times as many as Google and ten times as many as Microsoft."
I do like the way it presents its results, a three column, very tidy display that is easy to access and follow, with a stream of pages to work through at the bottom. On my first search the pages at the bottom did not work, but the arrows did so that was fine I could access all of the results, on other searches they did work.
In each search the same web sites are presented many times, once for each page or something like that rather than saying at the end similar pages have been left out click here to view the full list as we are more used to. Consequently I had to work through about five pages of results to access the one I was looking for at number 50 whereas with another well know search engine it was number 14 in the results. Whether the thoroughness is good or bad you must decide for yourself and how your quickly connection zips through the offerings.

I like the fact that the safe filter is on by default but it is so easy to switch off it is almost not worth considering. Where it says Safe Search is on with a tiny green button click on it and select off and it is changed. Anyone can do it in about half a second, there is no possibility to build in a password or anything like that to keep the safe filter on.

What I am less pleased by is the lack of an image search. I asked for pictures and images but did not get them, just standard searches on text.

There were several missing images on each page but I am sure this will be sorted soon - it is too many for them all to be missing, I am sure it is some other problem.
A nice feature once it is mended is the category search that sits on each page (see the second image). If one clicks on a category it seems to open suggested links. The first try worked but subsequent tries failed. It took me a few seconds to work out why there were no pages available but it was soon very obvious, each time I chose a link from the category it added more and more search terms until I ended up with : rollright stones Uffington White Horse Wayland's Smithy after four clicks, so, of course, it did not find any of the pages.

I am sure it will soon be fine, I have just read on the web that it is struggling to keep up with demand, so maybe that is some of the reason for missing images etc.. It is clearly one to watch!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

One Hour Sim Project

I have just become aware or Eshi Otawara's one hour sim projects. She has an hour to turn the sim into a giant work of art. The first one that I have seen is the huge flowers but I will be watching for more. Those that she has done are archived in video format on her blog about the project:

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Learning Spanish in Second Life - A Reflection

After about seven weeks of learning Spanish in Second Life I have realised what a superb educational resource it really is - especially for languages!
Lesson after lesson we have been placed in real life situations in a Second Life city, locations have included a hotel, supermarket, bank, in a park having a picnic etc., and finishing with a party and speed dating - see the first photograph!

We have had Spanish speaking teachers and been part of a group of international students.

Humour has played a huge part in the learning process built in by the teachers who made the whole process very entertaining, and of course, in the sometimes very funny language mistakes being made.

Lively - First Successful Visit

Well after the launch of Lively, and endless failed attempts to get in, something changed today and I instantly entered the first room I clicked on. That room seemed to be hosting a group of much younger people chatting about nothing much so I went in search of more interesting rooms. Most of the ones that I chose had no-one in them - is that a true reflection of me? Probably :-)

Now, having achieved success and seen what it is all about I doubt that I will return.

It is a chat room, it has an added 3D aspect in as much as it is possible to create the chat spaces in the form of rooms or islands but what is possible is so limited and adds little to what is essentially a chat room.

I can see that as it opens in the browser, and is quick and easy to access it may be popular with some people, but I was struggling to find something there to hold my attention for even a few minutes. Eventually in one of the Second Life rooms the Robbie Dingo machinima Watch the World was playing. This video shows a Second Life rendering of A Stary Night and is quite amazing:

... but I did not need to go to Lively to see it and it says far more about SL than Lively. I can only really compare Lively with my knowledge of Second Life where there is such a wealth of things to see, learn, create and virtually experience that it did not start to match. I can't imagine getting bored in Second Life but within seconds was bored in Lively.

After a couple of minutes of inane chat I said that I was off to Second Life to try out an idea I had had when an avatar close to me replied "Second Life sucks." As I felt that there was little chance of entering a sensible conversation on the matter I sensed it was time for me to go :-)

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Computer return

Well I have my computer back. I bought it about five months ago and it never worked properly so now it has had loads more money thrown at it and seems, so far, to be good! I have just about loaded my usual array of software onto it, got in a bit of a fix last night whilst trying to join a webinar, needed suddenly to download Java etc., and just as I thought I had got it going a friend phoned me on Live Messenger which is when I found I had not actually installed the web cam :-(

Hopefully now though no more switching from machine to machine as I can find one at work not being used and that is slightly better than my old one. In fact I think I will get my old one rebuilt now so that I have two sensible machines.

It is hard to celebrate the working of this computer - I have a tooth abscess and am living on antibiotics and painkillers just at present. However, I have just been into Second Life and am thrilled afresh at the colours, sky, water - it all looks so wonderful and I had forgotten it all over the last few weeks having got used to a much poorer quality display.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Music in Second Life

Well I am fascinated now by the possiblilty of making music in Second Life. (I am still at the stage where every new thing in Sl in wonderful, one day I will decide what I really want to do there, but at the moment it is all sorts - I change by the week.)

I have struggled to get some sound files from our electric piano today, it is about five years old and has a floppy drive fitted, so in hopes I dug out some old floppies and a floppy disk drive reader and tried it but in vain!

I tried recording with an Ipaq - that failed too. Eventually got good recordings with a microphone and laptop.

Tonight I have uploaded them and made a pentatonic music creator game type of thing in SL! Had a script problem, as usual, but managed to get it sorted. So - simple it may be but good fun creating it. I think I will add at least one ostinato tomorrow! :-)

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Second Life Fifth Birthday Languages Roundtable session 7 July

I attended an interesting session last night in Second life, the roundtable for language teaching. Several very experienced language teachers discussed the benefits and innovations of teaching in Second Life. The panel was made up of
• Dudeney Ge (Director, EduNation)
• Iffaf Ling (Teacher Trainer, LanguageLab)
• Head Teacher (Director of Studies, LanguageLab)
• Daf Smirnov (Spanish Courses, LanguageLab)
• Baldric Commons (Project Leader, British Council)
• Howie Yokishawa (CEO Avatar Languages)
• Calisto Encinal (Glendale Community College, Arizona).
On arrival it took a few minutes to rez there were already a lot of people there and by opening time the sim was full and more people were trying to get in.
Dudeney opened the session by explaining that the first thirty minutes were for the teachers to tell us how they perceive the current situation in teaching languages in Second Life followed by the second thirty minutes being thrown open to the audience for questions.

Everyone agreed that language teaching for beginners is just as difficult in Second Life as anywhere else but the advantages of being able to put people in “real” situations such as hotels, shops, banks etc. made it a good place to teach. Mention was made of the Language Lab’s city and Calisto’s Mi Casa which had been presented at the Slanguages conference in May, both being examples of how being able to take students to something or somewhere virtually aids learning and is impossible in real life.

One of the draw backs to teaching in Second Life seemed to be the skills that avatars need to learn before they can take a full and active part in their classes. Views ranged from people needing just a few hours to twenty hours and even more were expressed. A question was raised about just how much skill was needed, being able to navigate, use voice note cards etc., seemed to be the least and simple building skills to most.

A big question seems to be how much people are prepared to pay for learning in Second Life. There is no answer so far, but it affects the number of trainers needed, the time they can spend on preparation etc. That also impacts on the size of classes, all agreed that a small number of pupils is good, above 12 seemed to be considered impossible, and six seems to be the ideal. One or two trainers for six people for two or three hours a week may make it too expensive to be considered viable by some.

Teaching preparation time seems to be extended when teaching in Second Life, it takes hours to make the interactive resources used for teaching, but I guess the opposite of that is that once they are done they can be used time and time again for different groups of people.

Questions were raised about how the balance of reading, writing, listening and speaking is achieved in Second Life. Listening is what occurs most frequently as learners are listening to the teacher. Reading is achieved though the use of note cards, posters, on wikis and blogs, writing on note cards, IM and speaking essential – though sound can still be an issue as it proved for a couple of the panel!

Someone raised the point of shy learners benefitting form the anonymity of Second Life.

So very interesting, I am sure I have missed most of the important points out, I did not take any notes, must sat and listened and enjoyed it!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

ICT Conference news and other bits...

Well what a week! The county Charter Mark assessment for our service has been this week and we held our ICT Conference at the Williams F1 centre at Grove on Thursday 3rd July.

A Second Life thing though…
On Wednesday I went into an e-safety training session being delivered by a colleague in our training room. Within a few minutes of me walking in she arrived at the Second Life slide in her presentation and said the to delegates, I am glad Carol is here maybe she will talk about it… So I walked to the front and talked about SL for probably no more than 5 minutes. I was clear about the seedier side and clear about the education side, telling them that I am having both scripting and Spanish lessons there at the moment. I talked about EduNation for a few seconds – the place where I tend to hang out when I am in SL. I mentioned the currency, building etc. I told them of the difference in the Teen Grid and what sort of things happen there – all very brief and to the point!
At the conference on Thursday, two of the course attendees who were also at the conference came up and told me they had gone home and signed up for SL on the strength of my five minute talk and having a true sense of the my passion for it. How wonderful! How dreadful that I do not know either of them in RL, or even which schools they are from but have made friends with the one who gave her avatar name in SL :-)

I would love to be writing about the conference but I never got to actually see any of it.

We had presentations from schools demonstrating good use of Myst to enhance writing; Podcasting; Using videos as a catalyst for learning; ICT across the Curriculum - a school preparing for ICT Mark; ICT in history; Personalised Learning; Easing the primary / secondary transition; feedback from schools doing various hardware trials, handhelds, laptop trolleys etc. We had St Gregory the Great showing off their award winning Formula 1 in schools car and their design process. The Lego League winners were there demonstrating their skills. The exhibition hall was filled with famous educational names such as RM, 2Simple, Crick, Espresso, Clipbank, JISC, iTeachers, SAM Learning, Interactive Education, Go Education, Education City, Matrix display, Cannon UK, Richo, Renaissance Learning, Sibelius, Avermedia, Network and Cabling etc.
We were also provided with access to the Williams Museum so took loads of photos! The pupils who won the competitions were photographed in the racing car simulator.
Apparently a good day was had by all. I will post a link to a conference write up with photos – or whatever happens on the ICT web in a few days whenever I have done what has to be done in that respect!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

A few bits of free software that are I am finding interesting or useful at the moment: Summize – and little tool that enables one to search Twitter posts on a theme or for a person! Look for ICT conferences, web 2.0 etc.
Also check your own or anyone else’s tweets any number of free VC clients – maybe we can use instead of the rather clunky provision by the county at the moment!