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Precautions

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Sorry for the long radio silence here and on Twitter, etc.! I went to a convention over Memorial Day weekend, and when I came back, my place had been broken into. My beloved MacBook Pro was stolen, among other things. I hadn’t backed up as often as I should have, because too much other stuff has been going on recently.

Odds are, if you’re a teacher–and particularly if you’re an edtech fan or writer-type or grad student–you also have valuable information and technology in your place. Here are the lessons that I learned from this experience:

  • If you rent your home and own expensive laptops, TVs, jewelry, or other stuff that would cost a lot to replace if damaged or stolen, consider renter’s insurance. It doesn’t cost a lot per year, and it’s made a huge difference for us–replacing two Mac laptops would be an issue for two teachers, otherwise! (Traveller’s has been pretty good, by the way.)
  • Get an external hard drive and, if you are not a conscientious frequent updater of it, find an automatic backup solution. I think newer versions of the Mac OS have options for this built in…I didn’t have that and wish I had.
  • Anything that’s automatically stored in more than one place is a good thing, so anything that’s automatically synced is a good thing. My address book from my laptop was synced to my iPod Touch, so I didn’t lose friends’ phone numbers and addresses (I just wish I’d filled it out more instead of relying on a file!). My calendar with appointments was, too, and so on. If you don’t have a Touch/iPhone/Blackberry, etc., there are some free online services that do similar things. My bookmarks, which include things that are very important like research articles, teaching activity sites, etc., are intact because I use Delicious.com rather than just saving them in my browser.
  • Use an e-mail service that stores your sent mail forever and doesn’t delete it (and can be searched easily, like Gmail). Someday, those sent attachments may be your only record of things like, oh, your most recent CV. (Ack.)

Anyway, without getting into the security side of things, those are just some ideas to keep you rolling/help you bounce back in this situation. I’m sure there’s a lot more out there I could have done.

Ultimately, nobody was hurt, I’m getting a new MacBook Pro, and things could have been a lot worse.

The Twitter Divide

(Note: This post contains lots of speculation and generalizations based on some extremely subjective observations, without any hard data to back it up. I’m not claiming I’m right about any of this! I’d love to get different points of view, so please comment. Thanks!)



 

I’m on Twitter as talkclouds. Since I’m currently working as a private instructor/editor, it’s been invaluable for staying connected. The e-mail groups that I joined as part of my various professional organizations are mostly dormant, and conferences are infrequent. Twitter lets me ask questions, discuss issues, and (best of all) share resources. In the last couple of days, I’ve found out about an event in San Francisco with the Japanese ambassador, two open-source textbook websites (more on that soon!), a JapaneseEnglish iPhone app, a new Pearson Longman site for teachers, an article on teaching English in Taiwan, where I could watch part of a Pecha Kucha session at the IATEFL conference in the UK live online, etc.

That leads to me my next question, which is — is it just me, or are UK-based teachers more with it when it comes to twenty-first century communication tools like Twitter and Pecha Kucha*? It’s frustrated me for a long time that technology seems more alien to English teachers than to, say, librarians–ALA (American Library Association) conference websites are usually more advanced than TESOL/affiliate conference websites, there are librarians all over Twitter, and so on. Meanwhile, CALL and TELL are basically niches, and even many of their advocates focus mainly on twentieth-century “language lab”-style stuff.

At any rate, I thought it was English teachers as a whole that were behind, but when my Twitter list exploded with #iatefl tags (see above), I realized that might not be the case. (Putting a # in front of a word in a post/”tweet” makes it into a “hashtag,” which makes it a clickable, searchable term collecting all the tweets on that particular topic/at that particular venue/etc.) So many people were tweeting from the conference, whereas TESOL’s conference just a couple of weeks before in Boston hardly even registered on my Twitter radar. One person I chatted with, who was at both TESOL and IATEFL, indicated that not only were there very few “tweechers” (Twittering teachers) at TESOL, but mentions of it were not received with favor or interest.

(Alternatively, is it not a North America/UK divide, but an ESL/EFL divide? If IATEFL is really focused on EFL, as the name indicates, and is not a general UK-based ELT association–I confess I don’t know–then that might be part of the difference. Most of TESOL’s membership is composed of ESL instructors, and many of them teach composition rather than or in addition to communication-oriented English classes. The former generally have less in common with EFL instructors than the latter. I’ve noticed a relative lack of interest in using technology other than basic computer applications among many composition instructors.)

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should get on Twitter.** It’s not for everyone; lots of people will just find it annoying even after putting in the time needed to get used to it and learn its culture. (After all, I’ve tried Second Life twice and just can’t get into it.) But I think more people need to try it out–after all, teachers also need support and “personal learning networks.” Twitter is great for that. It’s also very casual; there’s not a lot of Twitter etiquette*** to worry about. You can follow (add) and unfollow (remove) people freely, and you don’t need to worry about catching every tweet.

My Twitter stream is like a magic cafe filled with English teachers from all over the world, plus some international journalists, cultural critics, general educators, linguists, and so on, all chatting to each other and to me. No one is making speeches, since it’s not a lecture hall–although someone may hand me a paper to read later. If I pop in, I can catch all kinds of interesting things and share my own thoughts (and due to the magic properties of the cafe, I can rewind a bit too). I have three other accounts–one for my personal life, one for English learners, and one where I post local news and events for my area. I just think the people in these “cafes” would be bored or confused by each other, so I’ve kept them mostly separate. Most people don’t go quite that far, although a lot of people have both professional and personal accounts. Fortunately, many Twitter clients and apps (small programs that just run Twitter) make handling multiple accounts easy.

CATESOL is in a few days, and I would love to propose a tweetup (a meetup organized through Twitter)–however, I’ve only heard from two other people who are going. I wonder if there are enough of us for a tweetup. You would think California would be cutting edge, right? So far that hasn’t really been my experience.

Any theories on what’s up? Am I and the other people I talked to just wrong and just not hooked into the North American ESL twitter community? Anyone want to talk about how it is in other places and disciplines?


* Pecha Kucha is not especially high-tech, nor are unconferences, but you could argue that both are part of the spirit of TED Talks and other tech-communication related innovations, and Pecha Kucha first came to the attention of many outside Japan though Wired magazine.
** I included this digression because I knew some people were going to think “What is the point of Twitter, anyway?” — as I did before I started using it and, to a certain extent, while I only had my personal account and didn’t have my @talkclouds account.
*** Previous link deleted due to a malware report [on the site I linked to, not here] by Google.

 

 

New Twitter Account, Spiffing Up

I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post, but there’s a new Twitter account tied to this blog.



So please feel free to follow @talkclouds. I’m delighted to follow other English teachers back, and if you have some other people to recommend that I should follow, please let me know!

Also, I’ve cleaned up and reorganized my blogroll. I hope to add more to it, but check it out if you have time!

I’m also testing these retweet and Facebook buttons; I’ll tweak them a bit later to make them fit in better, but we’ll see. If folks are too busy to comment, I’m still looking for some other evidence of what posts are the most useful so I know what to write more of and what to write less of.

Twelve Days of Christmas: Delicious

It’s the next to last day of this twelve-part series. I hope you’ve been enjoying the variety so far! I was debating whether to post about this service, since my geekier friends have been using it for years, but I checked with a couple of English-teaching friends and they weren’t familiar with it. (I’m in that small, weird “TESOL geek” category, so sometimes my perceptions are a little off.) Delicious, formerly del.icio.us, is a site and service that radically changed my website bookmarking habits in a way that I didn’t even know they needed to be changed. It can also help you discover new sites when search engines aren’t doing the trick.

ee_Book_Flow from openclipart.org

Delicious stores your bookmarks online, so you can access them from any computer, and it backs them up and synchs them, so you can keep them stored the way you’re used to in the browsers of your home and/or work computer(s) if you like having them there. Most importantly for me, they’re organized and findable in a far more useful way than browser-based favorites. When I save a website, it’s not saved into a folder or subfolder the way browsers traditionally have stored bookmarks or favorites. Once I’ve built up a lot of bookmarks, it’s a struggle to remember if I saved a museum I want to go to in Japan someday under Museums or Travel or Japan or Culture; or if I put that video site under ESL or Videos or Time-wasters or … argh! And what if I forget that I already made a folder under Education called TESOL, and later make a folder called ESL? On Delicious, you save a URL with tags, so you can tag this site (for example) with blog tesol esl elt teaching education resources. Sometimes I even tag things with really specific tags like sparetime so I’ll click on it when I get around to it. I can also add a note of description if I want, like “I really want to visit this museum someday, because they have …”

So when you’re using a computer you control, you save and access your links through a browser add-on (ideally). When you’re using any other computer, you save and access them by visiting delicious.com.

There’s a nice Delicious addition to Firefox that I’ve shrunk down to two buttons and re-arranged so that they don’t take up any extra room in my browser (they’re right next to the home, reload, etc. buttons). One lets me click to tag a website and add it to my Delicious. The other brings up a side window pane that lets me find something in my Delicious account. It’s so great to be able to save things with abandon, knowing I’ll be able to dig them up later. The search also lets me look by adding tags together, such as travel+kyoto or recipes+pototoes+korean or esl+activities+verbs+children.

There are two more great features. Sometimes you can’t find something through the usual search engine venues because the terms are too common or there are just too many bad examples of whatever it is online. You can search other users’ Delicious tags, and sometimes come up with some really excellent, useful results that way. Usually, if more users have saved a URL, it’s more likely to be fruitful. (Don’t worry! If you want to save something to your Delicious that you don’t need the whole world to see, just mark it as private.)

The second very useful feature is sharing your bookmarks with other users directly. If you know your friends’ usernames, you can add them to your network and tag links “for” them. If you want to bring a link to my attention, you just tag it for:wintersweet, and the little Delicious icon in my Firefox status bar will let me know someone has marked something for me. (Feel free to connect!) It’s very convenient when all you want to do is share a link with someone, not necessarily start an IM conversation, etc.

Delicious has other good attributes, such as tag bundling and so on, but my advice is to just try it out. It’s the easiest “spring cleaning” you’ll ever do.

(EDIT 2/11/2010: Recently, it seems like a lot of educators have been using Diigo, a very similar service. I really don’t like Diigo. Fore one thing, if you click on a Diigo link, you are in a Diigo frame–and unlike other services that repost things, there’s no big [ X ] to click and escape it, so it took me a while to discover how to get out and simply view the site itself. Profoundly irritating. Delicious links are clean–they just take you to where you want to go. Diigo does have a “slideshow” feature that Delicious doesn’t have, but it doesn’t seem very useful to me. You can use your Yahoo! ID at Delicious if you want, since they were eventually bought by Yahoo!. Now, I guess one reason some educators have gone to Diigo is because of the Yahoo hookup–new Delicious accounts have to get Yahoo! IDs, and apparently many K-12 networks don’t allow Yahoo connections from school, or something, so if they want their students to use the bookmarking system too, they can’t. If you don’t have that limitation, I suggest looking into Delicious. Despite the Yahoo takeover, it’s remained clean and simple and pleasant to use.)

Twelve Days of Christmas: Google Voice

On the eighth day, we’re taking a moment to focus on a service that’s mostly of use only to folks working in the US, although there are some ways in which it could be useful to people with a lot of American friends and family. If that isn’t you at all, well, happy new year and see you tomorrow–I’ll do better then!

At any rate, a lot of people have heard of Google Voice, but quite a few people are still asking “What is it good for?” Well, a lot of things…




Google will provide you with a phone number (I picked one with a local area code, which may not be possible for everyone, and messed around with the available numbers till I found a combination that was easy to remember). It’s a kind of virtual phone line that forwards instantly to whatever real phone numbers you specify, such as your home, work, and cell numbers. You can control the forwarding by who’s calling and when: individual calling number, groups of calling numbers, time of day, etc.

If you’re a “freeway flyer” whose students need to get in touch with you, but you don’t necessarily want to give out your home or personal cell phone, this is a fantastic service. Give the Google Voice number to your students, and you can control when and where they can contact you. For example, you could set it up so they can reach you at your XYZ College office during your office hours there, your ABC College office during your office hours there, and then have it on “mute” (voice mail) the rest of the time–except during a special project when you unmute it at home until 9 PM, when you have it automatically mute itself. If they can’t get through, they’ll leave a voice mail, which will arrive in your e-mail as a sound file. (Google will also attempt to transcribe it, which works OK some of the time, but isn’t very good with any kind of regional or international accent or cell-phone sound quality problems.)

You can also receive text messages and reply to them for free (SMS), either having them sent to your phone or sent to your e-mail address (or leaving them to not be shown unless you log into Google Voice). If you reply by e-mail from your computer, it’ll be sent as a text message at no charge to you. My husband has some students who don’t really have access to e-mail at home, and being able to communicate them by text messages without actually texting is really useful, since he wants to be able to help them out but he doesn’t want to have to try to type on his phone. (International SMS is not currently supported.)

There are a lot of other features like being able to customize the greeting by caller (this could be useful for other TESOL professionals who are working for themselves, or if you want to customize messages by class, etc.), being able to record calls by pressing a button, very cheap international calls, and so on. The ability to have phone calls follow you could also be useful if you’re looking for a full-time job, etc. It’s really just one of those services where the more you use it, the more useful it becomes. Lifehacker did a pretty good job with their article “Google Voice is Cool, But Do You Need It?” I think it’s a good roundup of the pros and cons, although I haven’t noticed any delay to speak of and I benefit from it despite rarely using it with my cell phone.

However, there are a couple of big catches:

1) It’s US-only. US phone numbers only, US texting only, and access to a US phone number is required for setup. After you get the invitation (see below), there needs to be someone who can answer an automated phone call at a US number you enter during the setup process and enter a two-digit code from the e-mail. In theory, if you wanted to use the voice mail and texting services to get messages from US-based friends and family while you were outside of the US, you could, but you’d need to coordinate that initial setup. It could be handy to set up if you’re returning from working overseas and don’t have a living or working situation pinned down yet, though!

2) Invitations are still even harder to get for Google Voice than for Google Wave. You can sign up to go on the waiting list here, but it may be a long time before you get the invitation. However, my husband has kindly agreed to donate two Google Voice invitations! It’s the same system as the Google Wave invitations–if you are an English/ESL/EFL or other second/foreign language educator or educator-in-training who would like a Google Voice invitation, please go to the Contact Me form and tell me what kind of school/other teaching situation you work in and what level you teach at (or where you’re studying and for what degree). Make sure to give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address to which you’d like the invitation sent. (Do not comment here to get the invitation–you don’t want your e-mail address posted for the whole internet to see!) You must be a language educator to get an invitation.

I do apologize for the US-centric nature of this post, and I’ll try not to do it too often! That said, it’s been very useful for my business and for my husband’s teaching.

Twelve Days of Christmas: ProfessionalStudiesAE.org and more

Very serious here on the sixth day, after photo fun yesterday! Is one of your New Year’s resolutions going to involve professional development? Read on for free self-guided online courses you can do from the comfort of your own computer! I’ll mostly focus on a set of courses for adult educators, but there are more at the end, including for K-12.

metalmarious_Laptop from openclipart.org

ProfessionalStudiesAE.org is a “portal for online professional development” with lots of courses aimed at adult education. They also offer sessions that require registration fees, but many of the listed courses have no charge at all. Here are some of the free, self-paced mini-classes you can take:
  • Adult Multiple Intelligences Theory and Adult Multiple Intelligences in Practice (two different classes)
  • Ideas for Teaching Reading
  • Using Authentic Curriculum and Materials
  • Activity-based Instruction: Why and How
  • Overcoming Poverty Through Action-based Literacy
  • Health Literacy: New Field, New Opportunities
  • Creating a Volunteer Program in the ABE/ESL Classroom

The mini-courses mostly consist of guided readings and reflections, but they may be useful if you’ve changed which level you teach, started teaching before you had a chance to do formal study, want a refresher, have a new topic you want to learn about, etc.

A friend let me know about a project at his university which is geared toward helping teachers prepare for the PRAXIS II K-12 certification test. Visit http://blackboard.fhsu.edu/ and enter the username esol and password FHSUESOL123 — click on ESL Workshop on the top right to get started.

TESOL, the major international organization, has recently started offering free online workshops (usually to members only), but they’ll be having a session on trends in the profession sometime in February 2010, which will be open to members and nonmembers. Details to be posted here, presumably. TESOL also sponsors the Electronic Village Online Sessions, which are associated with the annual international conference but for which you don’t have to be a TESOL member or registered for the conference. Registration will start January 4, and sessions include “Bringing Language Alive through Process Drama,” “Online Games for ESL/EFL” (I’m thinking about signing up for that!), “Internet 4 Young Learners,” and more.

Finally, Benjamin over at Collaborative Understandings will be hosting a workshop on using Moodle, the course management (and then some) system. Read all about it here and sign up right away–it’s free and it starts on January 4th. Via Collaborative Understandings, I also discovered Integrating Technology, which offers free courses on “how to integrate technology for active learning via blended and blended online learning.” They also seem to have a lot of courses available, but I haven’t explored them because (free) registration is required.

I’m sure there are lots more out there. If I missed a great professional development resource, let me know and I’ll highlight it here (if it’s time-sensitive) or write about it in a future post!

Twelve Days of Christmas: Photojojo and more

On the fifth day of Christmas we’ll be taking a break from education again, sort of. Photography is a favorite hobby of many EFL teachers and teachers in general, but relatively few of us have huge amounts of money to spend on our equipment or taking classes. So, how to upgrade our photo skills? Keep reading–and if you don’t like to take photos but you do like to use them in your classroom, skip to the end.

rg1024_Camera_Lens

Photojojo is one of several photography how-to sites, but it stands out from the others because of its combined focus on photography techniques and DIY instructions for everything from “tripods” to photo Christmas ornaments. Here are a few stand-out articles:

  • Fun with Food Photography: Food photos are a favorite of EFL teachers, serving to make those of us who are are not overseas hungry and jealous. This article has several quick ideas for upgrading your food photo-taking skills.
  • Camera Dogtag: A great idea for any photographer, and one I plan to implement ASAP!
  • The Amazing $1 Pocket-Ready Tripod Trick: Clever!
  • 11 Tips for Sparkling Fireworks Photos: Fireworks are notoriously tricky to capture, but are a favorite of photographers from San Diego to Hong Kong
  • Erase Tourists from Your Vacation Photos: This probably won’t work in overrun sites like the Forbidden City, but two out of the three websites recommended in the article are still functional for those excursions where there is somehow always, ALWAYS one stray schoolchild or other lingering tourist in your shot

Of course, there’s more where those came from. You can subscribe to their blog or dig through the archives on the site. They do periodically flog items for sale, but it’s not much to put up with in return for the content.

Finally, if you just need photos and clip art to use in class, I’ve previously recommended several resources for free images, but here are two more on Flickr: Creative Commons – Free Pictures and Creative Commons. The photographers have Creative Commons-licensed their photos, usually so that you can use them as long as you follow whatever rules are part of the license. For most of them, the licenses just require attribution (putting their name/username wherever you use the images) and noncommercial usage only (don’t sell it or put it in something you’re going to sell, etc.). So to use the photos for class projects, slide shows, illustrations, and so on, all you need to do is discreetly caption them with the photographer’s username. (Hey, it’s a good opportunity to model attributing sources!) Many of the photos are excellent, and there are a lot to choose from–34,753 as I write this. Just put your keywords into “search this group’s pool.” From photo definition activities to sparking conversation, serving as writing prompts, or playing a part in a game, photos have lots of potential classroom uses–and I feel a lot more comfortable when I’m using images that I’ve acquired completely legitimately.

(EDIT: By coincidence, Lifehacker just posted a link to an article from MakeUseOf.com about an image search engine called Sprixi. Sprixi lets you search images that are free to use under various licenses such as Creative Commons–many from sites I’ve mentioned before. It tries to sort them by relevancy, and it lets you embed credit into the image and download that if you want. You might want to give it a try.)

Twelve Days of Christmas: Portable Apps

Hello, and welcome to Day Two! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

USB memorystick from openclipart.org

I think this one of the best things I have for you; even if it’s not something you need right now, you may make a friend’s day if you know someone who needs it. PortableApps.com lets you install small, “light” versions of free programs for everything from word processors to web browsers, audio editors to IM programs, utilities to games. It can solve four big problems for ESL and EFL teachers:
  1. Using an office computer that won’t let you install applications? No problem–these apps can run from the Documents folder, which you usually have access to, or from a USB stick.
  2. Using an office computer running non-English Windows, but not comfortable in the other language? Just snag some English apps from the site.
  3. Using a lot of different adjunct office computers or internet cafes? Stay safe and comfortable by keeping your personal information and preferred settings in portable apps on a USB stick and running them from there, especially a web browser and a word processor.
  4. Deskwarming for hours, days, or weeks on end? Create amazing materials for class, write a textbook or a novel, chat, play games, watch video files, and more with a variety of apps to help you pass time productively and/or pleasantly. (EDIT: Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest anything doing non-work-related unless part of your job simply entails being at your desk, and you’ve already done all you can do to be prepared–which is unfortunately all too true for many teachers.)

Just to repeat the main point: these programs are small and “light” so that they don’t have to fully install themselves on the computer. Although the PortableApps.com touts the idea of running them from a USB stick, you generally don’t have to–if you use the same work computer every day, you can usually install them wherever you like inside the Documents folder, if that’s the only folder you can change on your work computer.

EDIT 7 July 2010: Flash Drive Reminder is a small, freeware program that will alert you if you start to shut down or log out of a Windows computer without removing your USB stick (flash drive) first. Great idea! Here’s an explanation with a screenshot on Lifehacker.

PortableApps.com’s applications are meant for Windows environments since few people find themselves in a Mac-only work situation (particularly one where they can’t install their own software), but if you are in that situation…uh, do tell us about it! Especially as a teacher–that’d be a new one on me. But if that’s you, there’s an option for you too: FreeSMUG Portable Applications. (Yes, as a Mac user I agree that “SMUG” is not a good choice of acronym!)

You can still nominate a great free resource for the Twelve Days of Christmas, and I’d really love to get feedback if you find any of these useful!

(I previously mentioned PortableApps.com in An Alternative Software Sampler, but I didn’t address its full potential nor mention its Mac counterpart.)

Twelve Days of Christmas: Google Wave Guide and Invitations

Day One: A couple of Lifehacker editors have written a guide to Google Wave, the amazing new still-in-progress collaboration and communication service that I think could be really fantastic for teachers, writers, people working overseas, and just about anyone.

abstracted-interpersonal-communication by cibo00 at openclipart.org


You can read a version of the guide free online: The Complete Guide to Google Wave (it only costs money if you want to buy the PDF). It can be a little strange to get the hang of, so I plan to read it myself. You can do interesting things that you can’t do in usual document-sharing and chat services, but it’s very hard to explain until you start playing with it! For example, you can insert a poll into the middle of a chat about where to have lunch, mark up a sample student essay together, scroll around and add pointers to your favorite places on a Google Map view of downtown Kyoto, and switch from one mode into another pretty easily.

In addition, since you still can’t just sign up for Google Wave directly, I have six Google Wave invitations that I’ll give out to the first six English/ESL/EFL teachers (or teachers in training) who contact me through my Contact Me page (please don’t leave your e-mail address in the comment box on this post here, because then anyone can see it!). This offer is not open to other people; just TESOL professionals and professionals-in-training, so you need to tell me your specialty and where you are teaching or studying, as well as give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address (you’ll have to set up a Gmail account). Also, keep in mind that your Google Wave account name will use your Gmail account name. If I invite you, I think we’ll automatically become Google Wave contacts, but other than that happening I won’t use your contact info to contact you for anything. And feel free to delete me.

I’ve been having fun with Google Wave and look forward to collaborating on some serious projects using it soon!

(Late start, but making Christmas dinner took longer than expected! It’s still December 25th in California though…well, it was when I was almost done with this! Rats! I’ll try to get ahead on the posts.)

Please let me know if you make use of any of the Twelve Days entries! I’d love to get some feedback.

Solving the Blogging Sword of Damocles

Especially when living and working overseas, it’s easy to plan to blog and then fail to, whether because of too much pressure or not enough opportunities to get online or an increasing backlog of photos and excursions to write up or too many options when it comes to the actual blog itself.

I think I’ve run across a couple of solutions that would have been really useful to me when I was briefly abroad in Taiwan and even more briefly in Japan; I had a lot of trouble getting organized enough to post even though a lot of people were waiting on me to.

Primarily, Posterous. It’s still under development (and very responsive to suggestions), but it’s great. Here is someone else’s explanation of Posterous. It’s a blog itself, but more importantly, a kind of blog/info management service. Imagine it: Sicily, 1945 Somewhere in East Asia, mid-afternoon. You’re required to be in the office at your conversation school, but not doing anything in particular. Prep is all done. You have photos on a USB stick, but hopping onto Facebook and your Blogger site and whatnot might not look too good. No problem, if you’ve set up Posterous.

Open an e-mail message to post@posterous.com, write the subject you want for the post, any text you want in the body, and attach your photos. (I send from Gmail, since it handles attachments so well.) Depending on how you have your Posterous set up, it’ll automatically format and post the photos and text to the services you’ve set up, such as Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, Livejournal, Flickr, and Tumbler, as well as a Posterous page itself (with the URL of yourusername.posterous.com). It’ll even post to Twitter (using the subject line of your e-mail/title of your post up to 130 characters, and then it adds a Posterous shortened url [post.ly], which I presume goes to the Posterous page).

If you only want something to post to specified services, you send your message to facebook@posterous.com or flickr@posterous.com, or both (and not everything else) by sending it to facebook+flickr@posterous.com.

Your Posterous page itself won’t look fancy; Posterous allows few options in terms of templates, but that’s fine. It’s probably not the main way people will be viewing your content, after all. Here’s a Posterous post and the same post on Tumblr, which I posted to using Posterous. I can’t show you the posts on other services because after the posts appeared, I edited them so that only certain users could see them. (That’s a drawback of Posterous–for services that allow “friends-locked” or password-protected posts, I think you’ll have to quickly edit the post after it appears.)

For when you’re browsing on your own web browser, not at work, there’s a bookmarklet you can put on your bookmark bar so that you can click and post things on Posterous.

Posterous really removes a lot of the barriers to blogging and can streamline the process, I think, so that you can just start posting. And yes, it’s free. (Maybe combine it with Picnik or Pixlr, two simple in-browser image editors.)

You can actually start by e-mailing post@posterous.com (seriously!) but to really get everything kitted out, you’ll then want to visit the site and register other services you want it to autopost to, choose how the Posterous site itself will look, etc. But this should only take a few minutes.

Oh, and you can attach not just images (.jpg, .png., .gif–all resized automatically, though they can link to the large size if you want), but also .doc, .ppt., .mp3, .avi, and .mpg (plus more). I haven’t experimented with this to see how they display, but Posterous claims they’ll all be handled intelligently.

WHAT YOU CAN’T DO: Format things. If you’re posting from e-mail, you’re not going to be able to put pictures in between text. You can’t change fonts, colors, spacing, etc., with HTML, nor write links any way other than as bare http:// … This is strangely freeing in a way, but if you are a hands-on coding junkie, you will be very dissatisfied. Finally, you can password-protect things on Posterous, but you can’t turn on other sites’ privacy settings from within the Posterous e-mail. (EDIT: Okay, after you post you can, in fact, edit the post that appears on Posterous.com to include HTML and other formatting, but it won’t carry over to other sites. If you can do it before it’s pushed to the other sites, I don’t know how yet.)

Tumblr itself is also fairly simple to use and can cross-post; my feeling is that Posterous is more flexible and I like it more. (Other people vociferously disagree and are huge Tumbler fans, so if you’re intrigued by the notion and don’t click with Posterous, check into Tumblr.) Tumblr doesn’t natively support comments, so it’s cool for presenting a list of images (for example, the Mori Girls Tumblr) but not so great for interaction without some hoop-jumping. If you click on “Comment” on my Tumblr post, since I actually made the post with Posterous, you are taken to Posterous. Some people just like Tumblr more, though, so it’s also worth considering as a solution, and you can add comments if you check into it with Google.

These tools are all potentially excellent for your students too, by the way. As mentioned in the Mashable Posterous Guide, you can make a multi-user Posterous that your students could post to, introducing their community or local restaurants, etc.

If you try it yourself or with your students, let me know how it goes.

(Of course, there’s always the more powerful WordPress.com, the popular Blogger, and various other options, as well as hosting it yourself like I do, but I wanted to mention Posterous as a kind of low-resistance way to just make it happen.)