Category Archives: Technology

The Book Whisperer Discovers Soonish & Learns About the Future–Maybe


A cartoonist and a researcher team up to write a book. Does that sound like the beginning of a joke? Well, it isn’t! The Weinersmiths, Kelly, a science researcher, and Zach, a cartoonist, have collaborated in writing and illustrating Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything. Amazon tells us that Soonish became an “instant New York Times bestseller.” The Wall Street Journal and Popular Science both call Soonish the “best science book of the year.”

We have long seen predictions of what the future will bring. Some of those predictions have been outlandish, and others have been right on target. For example, in the 1950s, Time magazine ran an article about the coming square tomato. Also, in 1950, Popular Mechanics published an article called “Miracles You’ll See in the Next Fifty Years.” The author of the article predicted houses would be made of metal, sheets of plastic and aerated clay because brick, stone, and wood would be too expensive. The article continues by explaining that plastics would be made from fruit pits, soybeans, straw, and wood pulp. Not only that, but sawdust and wood pulp would be changed into sugary foods.


On the other hand, John Elfreth Watkins, an American civil engineer, wrote “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years, an article for Ladies’ Home Journal in 1900. In the article, Watkins made the following predictions which have come true: digital color photography, rising height of Americans, mobile phones, pre-prepared meals, TV, and bigger fruit.

In Soonish, the Weinersmiths tackle such topics as “Cheap Access to Space Travel,” “Asteroid Mining,” “Fusion Power,” “Programmable Matter,” “Precision Medicine,” and “Brain-Computer Interfaces.” Some of the sub-headings are equally intriguing: “Fusion Power: It Powers the Sun, and That’s Nice, but Can It Run My Toaster?” My favorite is “Programmable Matter: What if All of Your Stuff Could be Any of Your Stuff?”


Readers interested in the future of what may or may not come to pass should read Soonish. It is bright and funny and interesting.

At the end of the book, the Weinersmiths write, “We hope that, unlike so many books, we have not tried to sell you on a philosophy of futurology, or on a vision of the future. To our way of thinking, it’s probably impossible and it’s certainly not necessary. It’s exciting enough to know that right this second, people far smarter than us are working out how to probe your thoughts one neuron at a time or to pry open distant alien minerals.”

A side note: Weinersmith is a combination of Kelly Smith and Zach Weiner, forming Weinersmith when they married. Kelly tired of looking for her scientific articles under the name Smith because there were so many. When she researched articles by scientists named Weiner, she encountered the same problem. As a result, Kelly and Zach created their own last name: Weinersmith.

Kelly, an adjunct assistant professor at Rice University in BioSciences, studies how “host behavior influences risk of infection with parasites, and how parasites subsequently change host behavior.” Find out more at her site:

Zach Weinersmith blogs at this site he calls The Weinerworks: Readers will find his sense of humor embedded in all his work. Here is the description from the site:

“The Weinerworks used to be a blog where Zach posted occasionally thoughts and essays. Now that he has two children, he no longer thinks, and the blog had fallen into dereliction.

Zach realized that having no thoughts made him an ideal critic, so he began writing book reviews of the various things he was reading. These were posted on various sites and were more popular than he would have guessed. So, he decided they should have their own site.”

Find more of Zach Weinersmith’s cartoons at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:



Incorporating Technology


Incorporating technology into our teaching is not always easy or simple. Technology for its own sake does not enhance learning. We need to find the right technology to engage our students and enhance their learning. Another component has to be our own comfort with using the technology. For some of us, that may mean using the blogs and journals found in Blackboard. For others, branching out to incorporate some Web 2.0 tools into our current teaching style, subject matter, and assignments. The technology should not be an added burden, but should be a tool to augment learning and teaching. That it can add elements of engagement and even fun should be bonuses. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, reminds us that “digital learning starts with teachers, whose performance is enhanced by technology—not the other way around.”

I enjoy scouring the Web for innovative tools to share with students and colleagues. In searching, I keep in mind the goal of locating tools which will be easy to use, free, and, primarily, enable students to learn. In several recent workshops, I have shared some tools to aid in teaching and learning.

Last fall and this spring, I have facilitated workshops with new faculty and long-time faculty, both part-time and full-time. On all those occasions, my objective included demonstrating Web 2.0 tools that work well in the classroom and that lend themselves to meaningful assignments.  I choose tools that I have used successfully in the classroom and ones that students have shown they can use easily—and that they enjoy incorporating into their work.

In the recent workshops, I have shared JogtheWeb, InstaGrok, Themeefy, Linoit, Wordle, and Glogster*.  These Web 2.0 tools are free or have a free component, sufficient for our use.


On the home page of JogtheWeb, we learn Jog the Web “is a Web-based tool that allows anyone to create a synchronous guide to a series of Web sites.” What does that description mean in terms of our using it, however? By creating a free account at JogtheWeb, we can collect Web sites on specific topics, add pages with our own content, and share the link with others. I created a jog on Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a short story about soldiers in the Vietnam War.  The sites collected include O’Brien’s home page, history of the Vietnam War, soldiers’ accounts of their experiences in the war, and a reading guide. I added questions for students. The questions and readings helped students understand the story fully. JogtheWeb also allows students to comment on the sites, another possible component of an assignment.  One of the most enjoyable jogs I have assembled has also offered an opportunity for students to learn firsthand how unreliable information on the Web can be. I chose sixteen bogus sites for that jog. Students in groups of three had to evaluate three of the sites. After we had discussed how to evaluate sites, students turned to the jog, not knowing all the sites were fraudulent. The students reported to the whole class on their sites, explaining why the sites were legitimate or bogus because some of the sites were persuasive enough to make students believe they were legitimate. That assessment provoked yet another discussion about determining legitimacy in sources.

InstaGrok, a search engine, allows users to create a free account and keep track of Web searches. It yields better results than Google, Bing, or Yahoo, but users still must evaluate the sources. The key features include an interactive “concept chart” of results on a topic, history of searches, and a journal. Clicking on a circle in the chart will produce additional results. The searches return Web sites, videos, and images. InstaGrok will also create a quiz on material from the sites. The journal permits users to click Web sites to “pin” Web sites, videos, and images for further study and reading. Perhaps as important, the journal also allows users to write their own notes. The journal gives us one more way to remind students that keeping notes as we read is a useful way to remember and incorporate ideas.

Using Themeefy, students and faculty can create online magazines consisting of Web sites, videos, images, and their own text. The magazine is attractive and interactive. I created a Themeefy magazine about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The magazine included information on Shelley herself, the story, and other tidbits to enhance the reading for students. For a recent workshop, I created a magazine on hypertension. Themeefy offers another way to pull material together to engage students—and faculty. We can have students create their own magazines on specific topics.

A number of online bulletin boards are available for our use, but Linoit has become one of my favorites. It allows anonymous posts, but I prefer having students create an account so their names appear on their posts. On Linoit, we can put notes, questions, videos, images, and links. We can have boards on the open Web or keep them private. Recently, I created a board for a Comp II class and invited the students by email so only they and I could see and post on the board. I put questions relating to a story they had read and asked them to answer the questions, post a picture relevant to the story, and respond to a classmate’s post.

I am sure you have seen word clouds, groups of words that form an attractive picture. At, we can paste words to develop a picture. I use the snipping tool in Microsoft Office to turn the Wordle into a PNG which I can then insert into Word, PowerPoint or Blackboard. We can have students write their own text and put it into Wordle; then they can identify repeated words, or words that stand out over the others.  While you can think of ways to use word clouds on your own, at 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning by Michael Gorman, read “108 Ways to Use Word Clouds in the Classroom…Word Clouds in Education Series: Part 2.”


Are you tired of PowerPoint for presentations? Try Glogster! Glogster is an online poster site. Users can put videos, links, pictures, and text onto the posters. I created a Glogster assignment so online students could introduce themselves to the rest of the class; students had to incorporate specific items and they received a grade on the Glog.  In a Strategies class, students taught a simple component of the class using Glogster; the students had to consist of an appropriate video, pictures, and text to demonstrate their subject such as note taking, or test-taking skills.

JogtheWeb, InstaGrok, Themeefy, Linoit, Wordle, and Glogsterl allow us to engage students by using technology that lends itself to helping students learn. All of these tools are as useful as we make them. I challenge you to choose two of the tools and create an account so you can fully investigate the opportunities the site offers. We could begin an online repository of assignments we share across disciplines. Attend the next workshop to learn more about Web 2.0 tools; the list of tools available continues to grow, expanding our opportunities to engage our students and enhance learning for all of us. These tools are all part of the social networking that our students use and know, so these tools allow us to meet the students on their own turf. Perhaps you already have your own favorite tools to share.

*URLs for the tools listed:

JogtheWeb:, InstaGrok:, Themeefy:,

Linoit:, Wordle:, Glogster:

Web 2.0 Tools For Engagement and Learning


Web 2.0 Tools and Uses

The Internet is exploding with new tools teachers can use to engage students. The tools have multiple uses, often, so that they have applications for the classroom, but for other uses too. As mentioned in an earlier post, signing up for Diigo and joining a group will enable users to benefit from the social aspect of bookmarking–sharing sites with like-minded users.


Another site that helps users learn vocabulary is Lexipedia, “where words have meaning.” The site is located at . The opening page begins with the word welcome and defines it using a word web wheel. See the picture above.Users can also translate words into English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, so the site serves to provide definitions, synonyms, and translations. By typing a word into the box, users will see a new word wheel appear. By pointing to each word in the wheel with the cursor, users see a definition of that word. The site is interactive enough to engage users.


Lingro bills itself as “the coolest dictionary known to hombre!” Found at, Lingro turns any Web page into a clickable dictionary. Simply go to Lingro and enter a Web address. Choose from eleven languages. The chosen Web page then becomes an interactive dictionary. Users can also hear most words pronounced. Those learning another language can use the site to translate words. By creating a free account, users can keep a word list, so teachers could use the site to help students improve vocabulary and pronunciation skills. Students can create their own word games from the lists of words they make. Lingro will make flashcards from the students’ word lists; the games become another way the site is interactive and engaging.

Sweet Search

Like Instagrok, Sweet Search provides an alternative to Google as a way to search for material on the Internet. On the home page, we learn that Sweet Search “teaches Web research skills to educators and students.” The site is much more, however. it provides biographies of important people, is a search engine, and offers new material every day. The site searches only 35,000 Web sites that research experts, librarians, and teachers have examined and evaluated. Watch a YouTube video about Sweet Search at this location: . Read a blog about Sweet Search and why it is effective for student use at this location: . Sweet Search offers a search engine for elementary students at SweetSearch4Me. To find credible sources, Sweet Search offers an excellent place to begin. Certainly using Sweet Search does not absolve the teacher from teaching students how to evaluate sources, but it does provide an excellent way to reinforce evaluating sources.

Look for another blog on a variety of other Web 2.0 tools and their uses.Instagrok