When I was going through my What am I using now series, I forgot to include a very important category that I use almost every time I go on the Internet - what I use for a start page or homepage. To me a start page is a very important part of my online experience, it is the hub of where most of my actions online begin and I go back to it over and over again. Like everything else I have used online, my start page has been a series of evolving steps and searching for the "right" one for me.
Symbaloo - This is my current start page. I found out about it at the ACTEM10 conference in October during the TechShare lunch session and have been using it as my primary start page since then. I am a very visually oriented person and simply having to click on a tab to go to a webpage just seems very intuitive for me. I like the ability create my own tabs for websites that do not have a pre-made tabe and being able to share/use other people's tabs is a great way to find new resources. Symbaloo is more a visual bookmarking service than a start page, but I like that quickly links you to where you want to go, so I use it as my start page. It is also a webpage, so you can set it as your homepage in whatever browser you are working in.
iGoogle - I used iGoogle as my start/home page for almost 2 1/2 years and was very happy with it until I started using Symbaloo. iGoogle provides more actual information than Symbaloo, was flexible and can give a great deal of information in a single page. You can rearrange where your information is and iGoogle is more text based than Symbaloo and but is not as intuitive. It is very powerful, just in a different way. iGoogle in my mind is more like a personal website that has your interests in one place and if you want more information you have a link to easily go to a different site. Since I have made the switch to mrshaw.org, I have only created a basic iGoogle page and didn't bother to download my gMail.com page and transfer it over. iGoogle is a cross-browser start page, but is not icon based.
Chrome New Page - Another option that will be more viable as Chrome becomes more mature is the "new tab" in Chrome, in the preferences box under basics there is already a check box to make it your homepage. This seems to be the direction that Chrome is heading, but until they allow you to add your own "webpages" that are not part of the Chrome Web Store and manually re-order the icons to where you want them, it doesn't work for me - yet. However, when they allow those customizations, it will be a much more appealing option. Although it will not be cross-browser which limits it use to Chrome only, which might not be the direction I want to go with my start page. I like having the ability to use the same (consistency) start page no matter which browser I am using.
There are other start pages that many people use, but that I just never worked for me: Netvibes, PageFlakes, Yahoo, Zoho, and many others. The above are what I am using now.
Another option is to just use the start page that comes with your browser for a minimalist one or if you have the time and ambition create you own custom start page that meets your specific needs. I have often thought about doing this, but never seem to find the time with all the other projects that I have going on at the same time.
Review questions that I try to answer at the end of each review.
- Do my students have access the product? Yes, Symbaloo and most start pages are web based and need an email address to register. But as 7th graders many students are too young to use legally, so that is a consideration to make when recommending a web application to younger students. The Chrome browser is not part of the MLTI image, so the students do not have access to this software.
- Is it intuitive and easy to use or is there a steep learning curve? All the above start pages are fairly intuitive, once you learn how to create your links, which is usually straight forward and simple process for most start pages.
- How much does it cost? Free.
- What are the other options that do the same function? There are many different start pages, which one you use depends on your personal preference.
- Whether it synchs well with my iPhone? I just set Symbaloo as the home page in Safari on my iPhone and it worked like a charm, but the icons are a bit small to press, so I would recommend that your most frequently used links be on the outside of Symbaloo or if you have big fingers, it probably will not work for you in a small touch screen environment. Maybe this change will cause me to use my iPhone a bit more.
- Does it actually get used in my classroom. I use Symbaloo as my start page daily in the classroom and several students have asked me what is I am using. However, I have not yet shown them how to make their own, because of the age issue. Start pages are something I believe that more students should use and but most don't know they exist or how easy they are to use. Perhaps this is one of those things that I need teach my students as a time saver, but getting around the age issue is problematic, unless I send a note home and have my student's parents do the sign-ups (something to ponder further). Start pages are a real life tool that people use every day at work and personally.
- On occasion what students think about a particular tool: Not applicable.
- Will I use this web application? I have been using Symbaloo since October 2010 and start pages for several years and find them invaluable for quickly accessing sites that I visit everyday or having information come to me, instead of going to find it.
- How does it apply to Special Education? Teaching students how to use a start page would cut down on time typing in URL's on a computer or searching for frequently used information, thus allowing them to be ready for class more quickly. They can also have RSS feeds of the teacher's assignments or blog page updates come to them, so they don't have to remember to look for them. Special Educators can use a start page to have new information come to them from the Federal Government, State or even the Special Education Director of their school. Start pages are a one stop kind of shopping and quick access to get to your frequently used webpages.
Using Symbaloo may not work for everyone, but it works for me and I can then go to my gReader, newsfeeds or other web sites quickly and easily. I do miss the "pushed" information that I had in the iGoogle start page and may create a tab in Symbaloo for iGoogle just so I can go there when I want to. Now if there was a way for Symbaloo or iGoogle to be have both an icon interface and the other half "pushed" feeds, it would be the ideal solution. I guess that I would have to create a custom start page in order to do that. Now if I could only find the time.