Just give me five minutes!

It’s so common to hear complaints about how technology in the classroom can cause so much disruption for teaching staff. I wish there was a simple answer – one magic solution that could enable teaching staff to forget about all the distractions that technology brings and instead focus upon all the benefits. Until then, we’ll have to make do with more tips and tools.

I discovered http://minutes.at on my favorite site the other day. It’s a simple tool. All you need to do is prepare your URL as follows:

http://n.minutes.at/this.url.com

Replace ‘n’ with a number equal to the number of minutes you wish to limit browsing to. Next, replace ‘this.url.com’ with the site you want the learner to visit, e.g. www.wikipedia.com. So, if I wanted to have a five minute browsing session at Wikipedia, my URL will be http://5.minutes.at/www.wikipedia.com. Easy eh? Follow that URL – when you do, your browser window will include a title bar at the top of the page. A countdown timer is included in the title bar, working down from the number of minutes you specified in the URL. When it reaches zero – times up!

There’s a stopwatch mode too, so rather than counting down, you can count up. Perhaps you don’t want to limit browsing time, but rather use the tool to record your activities? Might be useful if you are completing online training and need to record CPD hours? Alternatively learners might have progressed from having limited time to browse and digest a resource, and moved on to managing their own time with the timer being present as a useful aid?

There are a couple of areas where more functionality might be useful. There’s a Pause function, which might be the first thing that students reach for when told that time is counting down; optionally removing this would be very useful. Also, when ‘time is up!’, you are presented with a small dialog box, but no other action is taken (redirect you back to the VLE, for exmaple). Otherwise, I could see this being really useful as an aid for lesson planning. How about pre-populating your VLE course with one or more URLs to which you refer the learner in the classroom; learners can self manage their browsing time with the added help of a timer, or you could use the countdown yourself to manage their activities. The ‘writing session’ could be great for focusing attention upon writing with web based reflective tools.