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Personalizing Web Access

June 6, 2008

Sometimes a bunch of experiences mash together and inspiration results. A couple of day ago I received a comment on one of my posts – #2 by Virginia Yonkers where she said “Try working on another’s computer! Just as we have idiosyncrasies in the speech, how we do math, writing (think of handwriting), we develop different patterns for tools and how we use them. If we can see how to modify a tool or how it is used to achieve our goals, we are more motivated to ask for help, persist through problems”. That has been my experience in my own learning.

Later in the day I was working with some people who were not that efficient at using the web and wanted to show them what I regard as an essential web tool, del.icio.us, the social bookmarking application. I reached out to the laptop, not my own, to try to open up my del.icio.us account so I could show them why it was so useful. Two problems:

  1. Although this was the same model as my laptop, the owner doesn’t use a mouse, and I do. I have to think to use the trackpad and that slows me down and klutzes me up;
  2. The owner’s desktop looks different and so do the applications because she has them set larger than I do mine, also disorientating.

Both of these reminded me of Virginia’s comment, and an often overlooked factor in encouraging people to expand their web efficiency. I think knowing how to set up and manipulate our tools is essential to any skilled artisan, knowledge workers included. Which computer we use is important, but knowing how to set up our PLE (Personal Learning Environment) or, the term I prefer, our PLWE (Personal Learning and Working Environment) is foundational. To work efficiently and effectively, you need to streamline your access to the different software and applications you are going to use. You need to fit your tool to your use.

Because I have a laptop, I can travel with it and use it for presentations. Because I am on it for several hours almost every day, and because I am impatient, I have researched and developed my own idiosyncratic setup.

Working SetUp

So let me explain, starting at the top left:

  1. I use Apple and Firefox because experts I know talked about how easy and handy they were, and that has been my experience too; I like them.
  2. I have my applications dock on the left side where I am less likely to “bump” into it. What can I say; it works for me.
  3. Most importantly, I have a personal toolbar, right under the address bar, where I keep all the links I regularly use. I use the Bookmarks feature to put these in the order I want them in, and to shorten their names so I can squeeze more on. I add other links I frequently use too, but allow these to be beyond the “>>” at the right end of my personal toolbar. When I click on the “>>” a long list of these medium important links appears and I can choose from them.
  4. Most of my “Saved for possible future use” bookmarks, I don’t put in the Bookmarks feature of my browser (Firefox) because they are then tied to my computer, and when I get a new one (yum!) or have a crash (the pain! the pain!) or use another computer (awk-ward!), I don’t have access to them. Instead I use an online application for social bookmarking, usually del.icio.us, (although I’m also checking out diigo). I can access my del.icio.us (or diigo) accounts from any online computer, provided I can remember my user name and password. (Not always that easy ;->) So I always have access to the links I’ve saved. Saving to del.icio.us is easy using the (circled) icons (which I dragged onto my address bar from the del.icio.us site) to the left of the URL field. The checkerboard, when clicked, opens my del.icio.us account so I can find previously saved links.  The  tag icon that says “TAG” on it, when click opens a small field in front of the site I’m saving, and allows me to add tags so I can easily re-find the site when I want it.
  5. I have a Google toolbar even though it takes up screen space on my small laptop screen because it has an icon, circled, that allows me to open a new tab with one click. I like having lots of tabs open so I can switch from site to site with ease, which brings me to my final PLWE essential >
  6. When I took the screenshot above, I had seven (count ’em!) tabs open in Firefox. Often I have more because it makes my work easier. When I finish this draft, I will add links, and what I usually do is open the site I want to link to in another tab, copy the link address, return to my draft and add the link. Multiple tabs – I love ’em!

So there you have it, some of my secrets for making my work efficient and easy to manage, for setting up my PLWE, my “tool”. All learned, I’ll add, over years of chatting with others and reading about what the possibilities are in this ever changing web world.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2008 1:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Joan. I’ve filed this one as an example for others.

  2. Romagary permalink
    June 7, 2008 7:33 am

    EN – Jamespot – For students
    From my side, I tried twine which is very interesting for its semantic aspect, but in context of education, I find jamespot even better. Because it is simpler but more importantly, it is turned to the group and it helps build a page with the Web ends with a set of students.

  3. Virginia Yonkers permalink
    June 10, 2008 1:46 pm

    My lap top surprisingly looks like yours: down to the Zotero in the bottom right (this is invaluable as I write papers; I’m currently trying to figure out how to use del.icio.us and Zotero in combination).

    I have a desk top that the entire family uses (I want to see what my children are working on). Every once in a while my daughter will redesign the icons. I spend hours trying to find some of my programs (she knows where they all are).

    Looking at your profile, our backgrounds are similar. I wonder if those from different disciplines would have a different set up?

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