Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Make Mail Matter!

This week, a few words on emailing with ease, efficacy, and proper etiquette.

Email: By many accounts, the single most popular use of the Internet. But, as with many applications, mastering just a few quick strategies can make your emails more effective, powerful, and well-received...
  • Use effective email subjects! Perhaps the most important way to ensure that your mail is read and prioritized by your reader. A good subject, according to Harvard leadership guru Stever Robbins, summarizes the important information of a message. "Homework Center closed Thursday" is a much more effective subject than "Homework Center" -- readers will be more likely to open your message promptly and remember the most important content!

  • Use context cues. Answering a question via reply email? Robbins suggests repeating the question before giving your answer; wherever possible, I find cutting and pasting a single line of the original message to be an equally effective reminder. Help keep your reader from having to read their own original message to figure out what you are responding to!

  • Send actual links wherever possible! Sending a web address via email is a great way to share online teaching tools and resources. Sending a link which readers need only click on to open it makes it much more likely that people will go right to the webpage you're sharing. Like most web-based email, our HWRSD webmail allows links to be click-able if you include the full web address, including that http:// stuff.

  • Use CC sparingly but powerfully. Cc is more effective if the cc'd recipient can see, quickly, why they got the email. Robbins recommends including notes directly addressed to each cc'd party in the email itself -- for example, if I cc'd our principal on a message to a peer about a teaching collaboration, I might include the line "Barbara: please join us, if you can, to observe this experiment in co-teaching!" in my main message.

    (Students, by the way, have no experience with carbon paper, and thus tend not to understand the difference between a cc'd message and a message addressed to them. If you must add a cc or bcc, think of your audience, and act accordingly.)

  • Consider your reader's habits...and their environment...when deciding if email is the best way to communicate. Many teachers read their email during their planning period; some wait until after school; not all of us do so from home. It might seem obvious, but notes in mailboxes, phone calls, and just plain walking down the hallway are often overlooked in our zeal to get everything done from the comfort of our own desk!

  • Similarly, consider using email if your message would benefit from its unique communicative qualities. The virtues of email lend themselves especially well to some kinds of communication. Personally, I find email an ideal tool if my intention is to pass along a reminder of future date or time (email is more easily archivable), to send along digital materials (always include a line about why you think the reader will find this useful!), when I need to leave a paper trail, or if my desire is to bring several people into the loop while making sure they know who is in that loop!

Also, while we're on the subject of email: if you haven't made the switch to this year's new HWRSD webmail, do so! Benefits include less possibility of "lost" messages, since all mail is stored on the district servers, and automatic archiving, which makes your email searchable. You'll never lose a message again!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Mastering The Googleverse, Part 2
Searching For Images

Part 2 in an an ongoing series of tips and tricks designed to help you and your students improve the way you search. (Previously: Part 1: Searching by Key Phrase)

Looking for a high-quality image of Toni Morrison for a PowerPoint presentation?  A detailed Spanish-language map of Mexico City for Spanish class?   A map or graph comparing average U.S. wages for men and women? 

There are millions of images out there on the web, and sifting through them can take forever without a solid search-and-collect strategy.  Here are some tips to get you started on Google Image Search:

  1. How you plan to use your image should be a key factor in determining your search strategy.  If you will be projecting your image on a big screen, for example, you might want to restrict your search by size to large or medium images only. 

  2. Do not take your image from your search engine's search result screen!   To speed up your search, Google (or any search engine) only displays a tiny version of the real image in your results.   When you click on the image, most search engines then show that same tiny version of the image in a frame atop the page where the image was found.    Make sure you take your image from the actual web page, and not the search engine!

  3. Similarly, many photo sites, like this index of weeds found in New Jersey, only show a smaller version of their best image -- called a thumbnail -- on the page itself.  Click on small images before saving, just in case a better quality image opens up!   

  4. Search engines use several criteria, including image name and the surrounding text on a page, to determine the results of your search.   To get the best results, do several searches using synonyms before you decide on the perfect image.   For example, I get useful but vastly different results for image searches of the terms kitten, kitty, and cat.   

  5. As with any search, using only english terms will only get you images from pages in english.   Searching in another language may turn up better results if you're looking for images of and from other countries and cultures.   Note, for example, that our map of Mexico City above comes from Google EspaƱa.   

  6. If you can't find the image you want, don't despair! Google Image Search can only find an image by keyword if the keyword is used with that image in its original page, and not every web page presents their images with your searching needs in mind. Most pages on the web include images; a careful Google search for web pages on the right subject may bring you exactly the right picture.    And, of course, if scanning is available in your school, searching for images in the library reference collection is often the best way to get the highest quality pictures for your project or cover page!