Monday, July 9, 2012

WWU's EARTC and WordWeb 6 Reviews

   For this blog post I was tasked with visiting the EARTC [education and acronyms always seem to go hand in hand even though acronyms are often inaccessible to wide audiences, often making them detriments to communication and a hindrance in the classroom]. The EARTC is this educational technology center that seems to be intended for students of education rather than actual students. Much of the material in the center is very outdated and the room itself is tiny and cramped with just 5-10 people inside. My assignment was essentially to review “Writing Focus”, a piece of software by Granada Learning. When I got to the center, however, it was full of people; a lesson on the use of SMART boards was being taught to other college students who were taking up about half of the space. There additional students using some of the center’s computers [these were obviously hand-me-downs from other departments or deceased computer labs] and others perusing the shelves of odd learning/teaching tools sorted by subject and age.

   When I finally got a chance to ask the single available staff person for help, he looked up the name of the software on a list, logged into a computer for me, and gave me a cd to install. After the initial install and the subsequent repair failed, I denied the staff person’s offer to switch to a computer with an older operating system and gave up on “Writing Focus.” Honestly, I don’t know who is in charge of the software that gets included in the EARTC’s library, but he or she is either daft or busy with other tasks. “Writing Focus” was created and sold in 2001 which means it probably runs on Windows 95 and/or Windows XP. These operating systems are all but obsolete, and preserving educational software that is 11 years old is pointless. “Writing Focus,” like many of the EARTC’s so-called ‘resources’ are just as horribly outdated as much of the education department’s curriculum. Considering the fact that Western Washington University was originally founded as a normal school, I’m surprised at the lack of resources allocated for educational technology in a time where technology is completely redefining all aspects of education. Western’s education department, however, is already recognized as being fairly prestigious in Washington, and so WWU will make more money by building more classrooms and dorms [as they have been doing the last couple years] to increase attendance numbers rather than improving the quality of existing programs and departments.

   All one has to do is type “educational software” as a search query and Google will grant you immediate access to more tools, resources, and information in 0.21 seconds than the EARTC has ever seen [134,000,000 results]. The 8th result of my Google search brought me to, a trusted download site that has been around for quite a few years now. The site is especially good for providing fast and safe servers for free software and demos. The 2nd most popular educational software on cnet’s site is a small application called “WordWeb.” “WordWeb” is extremely handy, great for classroom and personal use, and it’s free. Here’s a quick review:

WordWeb [ver. 6] – Reviewed 7/9/12 

   WordWeb is a reference tool can assist students with reading comprehension and vocabulary. Most vocabulary-focused reference tools provide definitions, synonyms, and other information about a word or term from a single source. Other tools incorporate multiple sources but usually contain overlapping definitions or irrelevant information. WordWeb at first appears like a normal reference tool, until you realize that it queries WordWeb’s database, Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and an additional online database all at once. If you purchase the pro version, you can even customize these queries and add additional databases. This is how a modern student would look up and learn the definition of a word anyhow; by checking multiple online sources in additional to a dictionary and likely including an encyclopedia/wiki query as well. WordWeb just simplifies the process. WordWeb can be set up to run in the background and respond to a hotkey. The default hotkey is control + right click. I can use this hotkey on any word I see on the screen as long as it isn’t part of an image file. That means I can use WordWeb for word documents, pdfs, websites, etc.

   Because it looks up standard definitions that are saved to your hard drive before querying websites, it’s blindingly fast. I haven’t ever used a reference tools that is this quick. Even the online resources are very speedy; taking you straight to the entry you are looking for, rather than requiring you to re-type the word in a search bar.

   Students and teachers alike will find that this software makes difficult texts more accessible simply due to the speed at which one can find the relevant definition of a word, term, or idea. It also allows students to remain engaged in what they are doing. It’s a huge drag to have to pull out a dictionary or open up a web browser, navigate to a wiki page, and enter a query. And while the program may not directly allow for student expression, it does provide synonyms for not only words, but phrases as well. This can help students find that phrase or word they were looking for and allow them to better and more efficiently express themselves.

   Every student who has the physical ability to use a computer and read can use this program. It supports different languages and could be very useful for a foreign language exchange program. With the pro version, one could set up an online translator as one of the queried databases [or even multiple translators for greater accuracy!!].

   I don’t have any concerns or reservations about this program. It’s everything an educational tool should be: simple, fast, and effective. I will be using this program for my personal use from this day forward, and I will definitely install it on any computers I come across in my own future classrooms. It’s just a no-brainer.

CNET download is here

No comments:

Post a Comment