Ever wanted to make a quick tutorial demonstrating how to do something on a computer for your students or a friend? You could create a screencast, but if you are like me, you would want it perfect which means investing a lot of time making it. There is a simpler way.
Clarify by Blue Mango Learning Systems allows you to capture computer screenshots and annotate them. Although there are any number of apps that allow you to make screen shots including utilities already built into your computer’s operating system, the beauty of Clarify is that you can combine your screenshots with how-to instructions and even non-screenshot images to create step-by-step tutorials. The program is easy to use allowing you to quickly create your tutorial document which can be exported as an attractive PDF; copied into Word, Evernote or other applications as RTF; or converted to HTML via upload to clarify-it.com. Clarify is available for both Windows and OS X for $29.99 or $39.99 for a cross-platform license. For Mac users, Clarify is available from the Mac App Store. However, there will soon be a new, major upgrade version (Clarify 2), and if you buy from the App Store, you will need to repurchase when it becomes available. By purchasing from Blue Mango directly, you will be eligible to get the upgraded version. Clarify 2 is now in public beta and has some really great new features.
Want to give Clarify a try? You can download a free 14-day trial at Clarify-it.com.
How do you transfer files from an Android phone to a Mac or i-Device? One way is to place a copy of the file from your phone into Dropbox or some other cloud storage solution and then copy it to your Apple device. Ever wished you could get rid of the middle-man and directly transfer between the two platforms? Now you can…enter the Droid NAS app from Code Sector.
Droid NAS is an Android app that allows your phone to act as a standard SMB server on your Mac. SMB is a client server, request protocol which makes file systems and other resources such as printers and mailslots available to a client (your computer) on a network. Basically, what the app does is allow file sharing between the Android device and Apple product when they are on the same Wi-Fi network. Your phone will show up like a flash drive in the Finder on your Mac allowing you to copy files both to and from your phone using the app. Within the app, you can specify the types of files that are available for sharing on a particular network allowing you to control accessibility to your sensitive data depending on the security level of your network connection. You can even set up different profiles for use on different networks such as your home, office or the Starbucks down the street and have the appropriate profile automatically accessed when your phone connects to the network.
This is a great way to get those snapshots off your Android phone and onto your Mac. Unfortunately, the app does not work with Linux or Windows. The app is free from the Google Play app store.
PowerPoint gets a lot of negative criticism because so often presentations (and class lectures) using it are filled with slides crammed with words, tables full of hard to read data and mind numbing lists of bullet points….but is that a fault of PowerPoint or the way in which so many people use it?
I had the opportunity to attend a full day workshop on Keynote 6 (an Apple product) presented by Les Posen of Melbourne, Australia at MacWorld/iWorld last month. I have to say that Les is truly a presentation magician, and I was really sorry when it was time for the workshop to end! Although I own Keynote, I had never played around with it. I have always been a PowerPoint user. It is true that there is a lot of really cool stuff that you can do in Keynote that you can’t really do in PowerPoint, but there are a lot of things you can do with PowerPoint to make engaging presentations. Although Les showed us a lot of interesting things we could do with Keynote, the main content of the workshop was the psychology of presentations (Les is a psychologist) and how to design presentations to engage the audience. First on the list is to get rid of slides filled with words, which is something I already try to do. Some of the worst slides I have ever seen for engaging an audience are the stock presentation slides that come with chemistry text books often comprised of entire pages of paragraph length bullet points. Who designs these things? Have they ever actually looked at them on a screen?
My thoughts are that rather than blaming the software (although there are lots of areas in which PowerPoint could be improved), perhaps we need to change how we think about what we put into a presentation and how we can make it more engaging for our audiences.
There are a number of tricks that you can do to bring animation to slides with static drawings or to make data on tables, graphs or charts more visually appealing with trends easy to see. Since I use PowerPoint as the screencast base for the recorded lecture videos I use in my flipped classes, I have had to come up with a number of techniques to allow me to animate objects on slides that you can’t animate directly. I will post some of the things I do as I find time.
If you are interested in learning more about how to make great presentations, I would suggest that you check out Les Posen’s blog, “Presentation Magic – The Art, Science and Magic of Presenting“. Although Les is a died-in-the-wool Keynote man, his tenets apply to any tool you might want to use to prepare presentations.
Have you ever wished you could take your class on a virtual mini-field trip, or do your students go into the field to collect data (which would be neat to film), but you don’t want to carry a bunch of gear so you can get video? The GoPro is a great little wearable video action cam intended to take about any abuse from being bashed on rocks to submerged in the ocean. However, even though the GoPro is pretty inexpensive, you still probably do not want to buy them by the bundle for student outings. So what’s the solution?
The majority of students in our classes have smartphones , and you probably have one with you wherever you go. The bonus is that most smartphones have quite good cameras and video capability. If you want some great tips for how to use a smartphone as a GoPro-substitute safely and effectively, you might check out this article in VideoMaker magazine. This is really going to be useful for my Honors General Science class students in their documentary projects.
This is the title of an article by Christina Farr about the project-based learning program NuVu Studio where students enrolled in the program learn by solving real world problems. For example, a project for one group of students was to make a mock up of an affordable prosthetic hand. After conducting interviews with amputees and their families, physicians, and engineers, the students designed a prosthetic device and produced it on a 3D printer. This is an interesting, thought provoking article.
Who hasn’t needed to schedule a meeting with a group of busy people? It is often like herding cats!
I recently needed to come up with a schedule of candidate interview times for a lab tech position within our department working around the teaching, research and other obligation schedules of the four faculty members on the search committee. I had heard about a web service, Doodle.com, at David Sparks’ and Katie Floyd’s Mac Power User Workflows session at the recent Macworld/iWorld Conference, so I decided to give it a try. It worked like a charm. Rather than asking everyone to give me the times they would like to meet, I sent out a list of times that fit my schedule for everyone to respond to with their availability. Doodle provides the polling results as a nice, color-coded table that makes it easy to see when everyone is available at a glance. No more series of back and forth emails or juggling pages of paper schedules. Yippee! In fact, I just sent a poll to all of my students presenting their senior seminars this term so I can set up a dress rehearsal schedule, normally a real time-eating task.
Thanks David and Katie for the great productivity tip! If you are not familiar with their “Mac Power Users” podcast, you should check it out.
We are all aware that the “millenials” (today’s 18-25 year old college students) are more plugged into technology than students of the past. They are more apt to get their news from the internet than a newspaper or TV, communicate with friends and family by texting and are constantly plugged into social media. The bottom line is that they respond differently to content presentation than past generations. They do seem to respond less well to being passive vessels absorbing course content via lecture…. I wonder if passive learning has really ever been such a good idea …..
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand” is a quote attributed to Confucius that shapes many of my approaches to education. As much as possible, I try to incorporate “doing” into my instructional methods either by having students actively interacting with the course material during class time or by using Project-Based Learning (PBL) approaches where students become responsible for their own learning through the in depth research needed to produce a product that will be used to inform classmates and/or the public instead of assignments only viewed by an instructor. I have experimented with PBL-style instruction in classes for non-science students as well as those for chemistry majors and graduate level in-service teachers. Since most of the projects have involved student use of technology, they also fit into the scope of this blog.
For the last couple of years, I have delivered my organic chemistry class in the “flipped” mode. Students watch short video lectures outside class rather than hour-long in-class lectures. During the class period students actively review the material and solve problems using student response devices (“clickers”).
In some other courses, this online video technique is combined with a PBL approach (which also allows students to use writing skills within a scientific context). My environmental chemistry course was one of the University’s online offerings this year. Video presentations of materials was combined with current interest, online discussions and a project in which each student was to present a current topic to the members of the class. This was done by each student producing a “podcast” in the vein of the “How Stuff Works” podcasts. My energy resources class uses video lectures coupled with a major class project, the writing of an electronic textbook while teams of students in my liberal arts core general science class for those in the University’s Honors Program produce video documentaries that are publicly screened.
Flipping your class and facilitating student projects is quite labor intensive, but I am very satisfied with the fruits of my labor and can’t imagine reverting to a lecture-centric approach. I will write future posts with more details about the technology used in creating online video materials and by students in their projects.