Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 1

toondoo-logoToondoo always gets a rave whenever I demonstrate it at workshops and conferences. According to the company, “ToonDoo was the happy result of brainstorming session that was aimed at creating a new way of expression for those who do not have the talent to draw. You can now just drag-drop or click to create comic strips that express your views, opinions, angst or to just have fun, loads of it!”

There seems to be a bit of momentum in the use of comic strips as an outlet for student creativity. I encourage faculty to at least once a semester give their students the option of creating a comic strip or comic book as a means of expressing themselves rather than the same old tired term paper or other same-old, same-old project.

The ToonDoo site is a bit of a social network; sort of a YouTube for comic strips. You can comment on the comic creations of other people and also rate them. You can save your own comics and those of others that you have marked as as favorites and collect them into galleries. From the home page you’ll find links to the Most Viewed, Editor’s Picks, Latest Doos, etc. If a creator is so inclined, they can make their comics “Re-doo-able,” which means that others can remix or improve upon them. This is another example of where students can publish their creative works publically and receive feedback and evaluation of their work.

Here’s an example of a simple 3-panel Toondoo that I created. (link to strip at Toondoo site)


In addition to the single strip as shown above, you can also create a book of comics, called a ToonBook. Due to restrictions in this WordPress-powered blog, I can’t embed a ToonBook to show you the full array of features. I’ll try to embed one below, but you’ll probably have to click this link to open the ToonBook in a new window at the Toondoo site.

barrydahl LSC toondoo for students in the non-degree-seeking status for enrollment.

This ToonBook is a prototype for a project I hope to complete at LSC this year. I want to have various employees and student workers help create ToonBooks and Toondoos for us to use in place of some of our standard FAQs on the website. I’m hoping that they will be entertaining as well as informative (and better than the quickly thrown-together prototype shown above).

Toondoo provides a selection of characters, backgrounds, props, clip art, and text boxes to choose from; or you can upload your own pictures into a personal image gallery and use them. It is very easy to resize, rotate, flip, or position the objects in the comic strip panel wherever you like. When satisfied with your creation, you can publish (either publis to the world or private to invited guests) with a single click of the mouse. You still have the option of re-opening the comic strip and editing further even after it has been published.
Students I have worked with find these projects to be both enjoyable and engaging. It is one of the easiest ways of having students engage in digital storytelling. It also can be a great way of having them introduce themselves at the beginning of an online class, or for an online instructor to provide some of the basic information about the class. The only real limit appears to be your own imagination.
One final note. I have found the Toondoo staff to be surprisingly communcative and engaged. They care about their service and are always striving to make it better.
That’s all for 2008. Happy New Year to all, and to all warm wishes for a great 2009.

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 2

zoho-notebook-logoZoho Notebook helps you organize information into multiple-page web-based spiral notebooks. You can easily combine text, graphics, audio, video, and embedded content from other sites.I have long been a Zoho fanboy, but I continue to be amazed at how forward-looking Zoho Notebook is, and how the drag-and-drop interface let’s you customize the arrangements of objects on a webpage in ways that just can’t be done with Dreamweaver and other html page editors (at least, not in any way that I know of).

As a Web 2.0 tool, you can easily collaborate with others by sharing an entire notebook, individual pages of one or more notebooks, or specific objects (such as images) within a particular notebook page. That granularity in assigning rights is pretty uncommon. As you would expect, you can assign either editing or read-only privileges to your collaborators. There’s even a built-in chat window for exchanging instant messages with distant collaborators.

There is a Firefox plug-in for Zoho Notebook that allows you to take screenshots of web pages. After installing the plug-in, you can right click on any web page to capture the entire page or just a user-defined selection of the page. These screenshots will be inserted into your open Zoho Notebook (must be logged in to Notebook) where you can then re-size, edit, or change the positioning of the object.

Zoho Notebook treats everything in your notebook pages as an object that you can move around anywhere you choose, even creating layers of objects if you so desire. Objects can be pinned in place so that you don’t accidentally move them, or you can leave them ready to be dragged and dropped to a new location with a flick of the wrist (mouse).

When you open a new notebook you start with a blank page. You have complete control over what types of content you add and where you add it. Additional blank pages can be added from the control panel, or instead of a blank page, you can begin with a word processing document, a spreadsheet, or a web page that you want to share. The first two options make use of the Zoho Writer and Zoho Sheet applications  which are integrated into the Notebook interface. You have all of the editing tools from both applications, available right inside your collaborative notebook. If you use other Zoho services (which I do), you can easily incorporate other things such as presentation slides from Zoho show, and even web forms made with Zoho Creator.

There are also some basic whiteboarding capabilities built into Zoho Notebook. I wouldn’t consider it to be a replacement for a full-featured whiteboard, but you can mark up documents and such using these drawing tools.

To recap, the following types of content can be used:

  • Text Boxes, of any size and placement
  • Images, via upload or URL
  • Audio, upload from computer, point to URL,  or record with microphone
  • Video, upload from computer, embed from YouTube or similar, or record with webcam
  • HTML, which allows you to include any content that you can normally embed into a Web page
  • A website via its URL, which can embedded onto the page using an iFrame-ish picture-in-picture, or use the entire webpage as a separate page of the notebook
  • RSS feed, which will display in an RSS reader widget
  • A file attachment via URL or upload
  • An embedded document from Zoho Sheet or Zoho Writer which can either be a separate window in a page with other content or the whole page to itself

Zoho Notebook also includes wiki-like history of versions and version comparisons. A new version of the notebook is recorded in history every time that you save a page. You have the option of reverting to an earlier saved version at any time, which allows you to easily correct errors, or simply review the progress that has been made on a collaborative project by the different authors. Even better, each object in the notebook has its own version history so that you can revert changes to that object without changing everything else in the notebook. That’s pretty damn cool.

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 3

netvibes-logoNetvibes is an extremely useful and customizable personalized start page, similar to (but better than) iGoogle, Pageflakes, and the like. “Better” of course is in the eye of the beholder, and I’ll start by telling you the one feature that I think makes Netvibes better – you get a public page that you can share with the world. I have used iGoogle since it was first released and I do like many things about it. However, the lack of a public page for sharing your stuff with others is a major deal-breaker for iGoogle. Here is one of my public Netvibes sites.

Any Netvibes site can be personalized through the use of existing themes or by creating your own theme. You decide how many customized tabs to use, which feeds to display, and which modules should be shown. Display your email, weather, latest news from your favorite news sites, the latest posts from your favorite blogs, your Twitter feed, Delicious bookmarks, Flickr photos, Skype windows, instant messaging, a comment wall, and much,much more.

The Netvibes Ecosystem is where some of the useful new developments occur. There’s a Facebook Application, a Firefox extension, nearly 150,000 widgets (as of Dec. ’08), and a large number of third-party tools.

One of the best educational uses of Netvibes comes from none other than Professor of the Year Michael Wesch of Kansas State University and his Digital Ethnography project.

Other useful links:

Finally, I’ll leave you with a video I created for a blog post titled “Web 2.0 inside D2L – Netvibes as Home Page.

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 4

diigo_logoDiigo is more than just another social bookmarking tool. During this past year, they unleashed their Diigo Educator Accounts in an effort to make Diigo a “more integral part of collaborative learning in the school environment.”

From their blog: “Specifically, once approved for a Diigo Educator Account

  • A teacher can create student accounts for an entire class with just a few clicks (and student email addresses are optional for account creation)
  • Students of the same class are automatically set up as a Diigo group so they can start using all the benefits that a Diigo group provides, such as group bookmarks and annotations, and group forums.
  • To protect the privacy of students, student accounts have special settings which only allow their teachers and classmates to contact them and access their personal profile information.
  • Ads presented to student account users are limited to education-related sponsors.

If you are an educator, you can go ahead and apply for a free Diigo Educator account now! You can also check out FAQ and Getting Started tutorial for Diigo Educator Accounts.” (end of paste from blog)

A very useful tool is Diigo WebSlides which is an easy way to convert your Web bookmarks into slideshows. You can check out WebSlides at You literally get a slideshow made up of active web pages from the sites you have bookmarked. You can create a special subset of your bookmarks to include only those desired into the Webslides show. The slide shows also display any text that you’ve highlighted usinf Diigo or notes you’ve taken on bookmarked sites. Here’s a WebSlides show I created with the top 50 tools from my PLE. Each webslide displays for 10 seconds before going to the next,

Other useful links:

diigo education pioneer

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 5

google_reader_logoGoogle Reader has moved into my top 10 this year even thought I have already added long-time RSS reader Bloglines to my Hall of Fame. I won’t be at all surprised to end up with two or more RSS readers in the Hall before too much longer. One reason that I really like Google Reader is because they have a public page that allows you to share saved posts with others.

I find the shared items page to be especially useful when sharing content with students, even inside the VLE (virtual learning environment, such as D2L, Angel, Moodle, or any other you might think of). Here’s a video of how that works (embedded below, or open in new page with link.).

Here’s a few other links.

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 6

slideshare-logoSlideShare appears on my year-end list for the third year in a row. I’m thinking that it probably will move into the hall of fame at the end of 2008, barring some sort of major meltdown or such. Three years of being one of my most used and useful Web 2.0 tools probably means that it has the kind of staying power that you would expect for a hall candidate.

As I started using clickers in more and more of my presentations to gather audience feedback, I found that I actually had an increased need to use SlideShare since the clickers increased my need to use PowerPoint slides. Just when I was almost completely PPT-free, the clickers sucked me back in. I’m okay with that because it seemed as though the info I was collecting from the audience was actually the most productive use of PPT I had ever experienced. Then being able to share the data on the PPT charts via SlideShare made it all the more useful as a repository of the information from the presentation.

Since five of my six blogs are WordPress-based blogs, I have no doubt that I use SlideShare a bit more since they have developed a WordPress plug-in that allows me to show slides as this example shown below. Many types of content cannot be embedded into WordPress due to their ban on flash-based content, but SlideShare is one of the lucky ones that has received the attention needed to get a custom plug-in built for WordPress.

A few useful links:

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 7

pbwiki-logoPBwiki was at the top of my 2007 list of web tools. It slipped a bit in the past year, not because I think it is any less of a useful tool than it was previously, but only because I was using it less myself during the past year. No particular reason for using it less, except that there are so many different tools that I use and it just turned out that this was not the year of the wiki for me. It was, however, a good year for PBwiki as they released a new version (PBwiki 2.0) with an updated interface and new features.

PBwiki is still one of the most popular tools in many of the Web 2.0 workshops that I conduct each year. They still are very educator-friendly by offerings advertising-free wikis for educational uses and being pretty generous by giving away many of their premium upgrades. They say that they have over 250,000 educators using PBwiki. That sounds pretty significant to me.

Quoting myself from an earlier submission to Jane Hart’s Top Tools site: “I almost stopped using wikis about a year ago, but PBwiki brought me back with all kinds of new plug-ins and added functionality, plus it is ad-free for educators” Barry Dahl

A couple of fun facts taken from Wikipedia include: a) Jim Groff, a former employee of Oracle Corporation and Apple Inc. is now the CEO of PBwiki, b) over 1,000 wikis were created during the first 48 hours after the June 2005 launch, and c) several companies and education institutions are apparently using PBwiki as a document management system.

Some useful links:

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 8

poll-everywhere-logoPoll Everywhere makes it into the Top 10 this year, partly based on performance to date, and partly based on the promise that it holds for the future.

I have used Poll Everywhere a few different times this year during presentations. Most often I have used it during a presentation where I am using clickers, such as the Turning Point clickers (very good) that we have at my campus. Part of the point is to show how cell phones can be used as clickers, and part of the point is to not lose sight of the fact that technology continues to expand and develop at an incredible rate. This wouldn’t have been possible just a short time ago. Now it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it works.

Using the service is free if you plan to collect 30 or fewer responses per question. This was specifically targeted at being free for classrooms of 30 or less. Sure, some classes have more than 30 students, but the first un-free tier of pricing is $15 per month for 50 responses per question (no limit on the number of questions). You don’t have to sign a long-term contract but instead pay month-to-month. That tells me that this service could be used for four months in the fall and four months in the spring for $120 per year. You can definitely try it out for free before you decide to do anything else with it.

It’s true that not all students have cell phones with text messaging enabled. On my campus our surveys indicate that about 90% do have cell phones. Most clearly have a texting plan since that is a preferred mode of communication for many. So, even though a few of your students might not have devices in their pockets for this task, it clearly has been increasing rapidly and I have no doubt that this will be less and less of an issue in the next couple of years ahead.

Also, text messaging your answer is not the only option. Your polls can also be web-enabled so that people can answer the questions using a computer instead of a cell phone. In fact, they give you the embed code so that you can place the poll anywhere that you want on a web page. For example, place a poll on the home page inside your VLE, or on a content page, or even a discussion forum.

Ironically, although you can embed the poll widget on just about any webpage, I can’t embed it here (WordPress doesn’t allow it.) So, instead just click on the graphic below to go to answer a Poll Everywhere question (no cell phone needed for this one).


How does it work? (from the Poll Everywhere FAQ page) – As a poll is displayed to an audience, they cast votes by sending text messages to our short code number (99503) indicating the option they wish to select. Their mobile carrier (e.g., Sprint, AT&T) routes their text message to our web servers where the vote is counted. Once counted, the vote is displayed in real time on-screen.

Can I embed a poll in my PowerPoint presentation? (also from FAQ) – Yes, when viewing your poll, click the PowerPoint link for instructions. If you use PowerPoint 2007, you can download a small .pptx file containing your poll. The poll inside this slide can be copied into other presentations, used multiple times in a presentation, and resized like other PowerPoint objects.

Some useful links:

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 9

imeem-current-logoimeem was number 5 last year but this shouldn’t be viewed as a downgrade of how much I like imeem. I think it’s great and I think it’s getting better all the time. The only reason it is not higher on the list is that I also spend a fair amount of time using other music services, including Pandora, Seeqpod, Songza, and a few others. These different services are explained in a post from June titled “Embedding Music Playlists in your VLE.”

Because WordPress will not allow a flash-based player to be embedded, you’ll have to click on the screenshot below to open the playlist at the imeem site. You can embed the imeem player in normal webpages including Blogger blogs and inside things like Desire2Learn, Angel, Moodle, etc. See the links above.


If you click through to the playlist, you will probably see that some of the songs in that playlist are not full-length. When I am logged in to my imeem account and using the playlist at their site, they are all full-length. If you don’t have an imeem account, or you are listening to an embedded playlist, some songs are shortened to 30 seconds depending upon licensing agreements between imeem and the music company in question. Songs on imeem will be only a 30-second preview if the artist or record label has not signed an agreement with imeem giving approval for full-length streaming. Their interpretation of copyright fair use principles indicates that a 30-second preview is acceptable. When you search for a song on imeem you’ll see right away whether it is a preview or full-length.

For songs that you already have on your computer, you can upload them to your imeem account and listen to them full-length, regardless of whether imeem otherwise has permission for that song.

You can use your imeem account to store and play audio and videos, and also to store and display photos. It can easily be used for podcasting, as explained in their FAQ section. Although I haven’t done it, it would be easy to embed the player inside your VLE, then each time a new podcast is uploaded it will appear in the player for students or other subscribers to listen to. For video files, imeem supports many different file types, but recommends .MPEG, .MOV, .FLV, and .AVI for optimum results. The suggested video size is 400×300, but other sizes will work as well. For music files, imeem supports mp3s only, with a recommended sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. At this time there are no maximum file size limitations for uploading video or other file types.

imeem certainly has it’s critics since some people don’t like anything that is ad-supported. But come on, they’re doing all the heavy lifting by dealing directly with the a-hole record companies, they’re helping make it legal to access your music from any Internet connection, and they’re enabling you to legally share the music of other account holders. In my book, that’s a pretty good deal. Did I mention that it’s free?   (some of this text is repeated from the June post linked above)

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 10

ustream_logoUstream.TV enters the Top 10 for the first time this year. Although I’m not a heavy user, it has come in very handy several times for live broadcasts on the Internet. In addition to the live broadcasts, UStream will also allow you to record and archive the broadcast, and it does all of this for free.

This great tool is not even two years old yet, having been founded in March 2007. This year they added co-hosting so that you can have more than one presenter (and more than one web cam displayed), you can have poll questions appear on screen, send out automatic tweets on Twitter about upcoming shows, and probably other additions that I’ve forgotten about.