How to Use “Animation” to Spice Up A Classroom PowerPoint Slide.

PowerPoint presentations are frequently referred to as “death by PowerPoint” because often the slides are crammed with paragraphs of words or lists of bullet points.  The slides that come with textbooks are often perfect examples of what I believe should not be used in a classroom lecture.   For example, here are the two consecutive presentation slides that come with the text that I use in my organic chemistry class.  They are a copy of a figure from the text book outlining how one draws the chair form of a cyclohexane ring.


cyclohexane2These are not horrible slides, but they show too much information all at once.  It is human nature for us to read everything that appears on a slide rather than listen to what the presenter is saying.

It is very easy to make an “animation” that gets across the same information without having an overwhelming amount of information projected on the screen at all times.  Here is a short video that I have made showing how this same information can be imparted using very simple techniques in PowerPoint.

Obviously, in the classroom, we work our way through the information in a step-wise manner over a period of several minutes. Here I am just quickly clicking through the two slides.  In the lecture, the students have been given a handout onto which they physically draw the chair form of cyclohexane as we progress through the “animation”. Drawing the cyclohexane chair may seem like an easy thing for students to do, but traditionally, mine do not seem to be able to make intelligible drawings without some guidance!  While working our way through the “animation”, everything on the figure from the text is incorporated into the discussion plus we look at physical “ball and stick” models allowing the students to relate their drawing on paper to the three dimensional molecule.

Making this more interactive visual was not very difficult.  If I can make something graphic, anyone can as I have little artistic talent!  All that was required was to insert lines, boxes or circles using the shapes on PowerPoint’s drawing toolbar and then tell them when and how to appear and disappear using the animation toolbar and animation pane.  Although it takes more time to make slides like this compared to just typing a list of bulleted items or using a stock figure from a text book, it is far more interesting and attention holding for  your audience.  With small bits of information appearing on the screen, students are less likely to quickly read what is on the screen and go back to their social activities like texting, tweeting, etc.

Most people tend to remember pictures better than paragraphs of words so I try to incorporate pictures as much as possible on my slides and use words somewhat sparingly so they have more impact when they do appear.  If you want to give students more information, you can always provide them with a lecture outline or make presenter notes to share.



Do You Ever Wish You Didn’t Need to Type the Same Thing Over and Over Again? Here’s Your Ticket!

Do you ever repeatedly type your name, certain phrases or terminologies, or write a lot of similar email responses?  If you do, tame those beasts with a text expansion application. Text expansion applications allow you to create snippets of text that you can use over and over again.   A snippet can be anything from a word or a single line signature to paragraphs of boilerplate verbiage. You assign a unique trigger abbreviation to each of your snippets.The expansion application runs in the background on your computer so that when you type the trigger abbreviation, your snippet of text is pasted into the document.

There are a number of text expansion applications out there, but the one I use on the Mac is TextExpander 4 ($34.95) from Smile Software.  One of the advantages oficon_home_textexpander TextExpander is that Smile also makes an iOS application, TextExpander touch ($4.99), which can sync with your TextExpander library via Dropbox allowing you to access your snippets both at your desk or on the go with an iPhone or iPad.

So what sorts of things can you do with TextExpander? You can use it to insert signatures that may contain either formatted text and/or graphic.  You can add headings and salutations used in letters or emails.  You can insert the current date and time in any format that you want to use and even do date/time math.  One nice application is the automatic correction of typos.  If you are like me, and there are some words that you commonly type incorrectly, you can use the commonly misspelled word as the trigger and have TE automatically correct the misspelling.  This is very different from that lovely autocorrect function that we find on smart phones and other mobile devices because you make your own library of correction words or phrases, and the computer does not “help” you out by guessing what you are trying to type!   With TE the word replacement is only triggered when you actually type in the misspelled word.

Perhaps the thing I like best is the ability to create boilerplate snippets containing form fields that allow a snippet to be “personalized”.  One of the tasks I do quite often is write recommendation letters for students applying to professional or graduate schools.  In these letters, I have several topics for which I always provide evaluation so I have generated boilerplate introductions for each of these topics that can be quickly “personalized” for each student.  This allows me to concentrate my time on the more important individual comments that I want to make about each student.

Here is the TE snippet I use at the beginning of my letter for my introductory comments about each student.  The %filltext part of the snippet generates a form fill-in into which I type the “personalizing” information.


Here is the fill-in snippet that pops up on my screen when I type the trigger abbreviation. Notice that my trigger abbreviation is not something that I would accidentally type into a document!


All that I have to do is type the information into the field boxes


and voilà, this paragraph magically appears in my document!  I can then modify or add other information that specifically pertains to that student.


I use TE snippets for emails that require only small changes from a stock response, have created items such as expense reports that are quickly filled in and have generated snippets for graphic items that I frequently use in my class materials.

Since TextExpander is a Mac only application, what to do if you don’t have a Mac?    I personally have both a PC and a Mac running simultaneously on my desk at work that I bounce between so I wanted to have my snippets available on both machines.  PhraseExpress, which is billed as Text Expander for Windows, was my answer.  It can be used as a Windows only application or can sync pex9_main_program_window_500pxvia Dropbox with your TE library.  I have found the cross-platform interaction to be quite good.  Snippets created in TE work seamlessly for the most part on the PC, and snippets created on the PC get added to your TE library.  I haven’t done a lot with creating snippets on the PC so I can’t say whether or not the return journey to the Mac is always successful.  Although you can have image snippets in PhraseExpress, this is the one area where I have encountered incompatibility with my TextExpander library.  Typing the trigger abbreviation for a graphic has resulted in the graphic not being inserted by PhraseExpress.  For graphics used regularly, I solved this issue by creating graphic snippets in PhraseExpress that are triggered by the same keystrokes I use in TE.  This strategy seems to work well.  The standard version of PhraseExpress is free for personal use, and there is also an Android app. I don’t have any experience with the Android app so I don’t know how well it integrates.  Maybe someone out there with experience using both PhraseExpress and the Android app, can give a comment review.

No matter what your platform of choice is, go out, get a text expansion application and up your productivity!

Electronic Storyboarding vs Analog Storyboarding

I use electronic mindmapping and storyboarding for my personal projects and also have my students create storyboards in a class wiki for classroom video creation.  This morning I read a blog post on that discussed the merits of analog storyboarding, the good ol’ pencil and paper, versus electronic storyboarding for planning presentations and other projects. mindmap_iconThe point the author makes is that texture stimulates the brain and computers, phones and tablet surfaces do not have texture like paper.  He points out that braille is a language in which the feeling of the texure by the fingers stimulates a response in the brain and that touching food before eating evokes a satisfaction response in the brain even before you eat it.  However, in investigating one of his examples of how a book was designed using paper mindmapping/storyboarding, I did not see any reference to how the author’s use of analog tools was better than digital ones.  That author chose to use paper and sticky notes while other authors I know of choose to plan entire books using digital mindmapping tools.  

The article does provide food for thought.  My first idea is that no “one size” fits all and for some people analog might be better while for others electronic tools are better. I know that I can sit staring a a blank sheet of paper for a long time while I can quickly begin to tap and drag using a mindmapping application on my ipad.  Could it be that just the use of my hands stimulates the thought process?  Merely holding a pencil does not seem to work as well for me.  This would be an interesting research subject.  I would be interested in how others stimulate their thought processes.

Using Video Documentary Creation in the Science Classroom

A number of my classes have a significant project-based learning (PBL) component.  All of my classes are upper division Chemistry courses except for one, General Science, a liberal arts core course for students in the University’s Honors Program.  I team with an Earth Science colleague to teach the third term of this year long sequence course.  The students in our class are not science majors, rather, most are majoring in the arts, humanities, social sciences or education.  photographerWhile we teach some physics, chemistry, earth and environmental science through the topic of energy and energy resources, much of the students’ in depth learning comes from researching an energy topic of current interest and creating a video documentary about it.  The documentaries are used for class learning and are also presented in a public screening during Western Oregon University’s Academic Excellence Showcase. The project is a rather daunting one for our students as we are on the 10-week instructional quarter system, and in reality, they only have about 6 weeks from the time they start their research until the date of the Showcase event.  We have found over six years of using this instructional approach that production pairs work most effectively. There just is not enough time for single students to complete the work while larger groups invariably result in unequal divisions of labor.

Video production is writing in disguise, a term paper on steroids if you will.  Whereas a term paper is a very individual assignment written by a student and typically only shared with an instructor, the videos are writing shared with many people.  The project has a number of stages, and each provides students with the opportunity to learn some academically useful skills and improve their collaboration skills.  The stages are:

  1. Research
  2. Script Writing/Storyboarding
  3. Audio Recording
  4. Video Editing
  5. Proceedings Abstract Writing
  6. Presentation


The research portion of the project is very similar to what a student does for a typical term paper.  However, during this phase, students are not just learning about their topics and collecting references.  They are also looking for imagery and video clips that they might be able to use.  We use this stage to teach about copyright and the Creative Commons.  If the students find non-Creative Commons pictures or video clips they would like to use, they learn how to seek the permission of the copyright holders to incorporate the materials into their projects.  We also provide a library of video clips we have recorded for them to use and royalty free materials.  Another skill we teach is how to locate scientific information and how to determine the validity of what they find.

Since this is a collaboration between two students, we provide them with a shared folder on the university network for storing files.  We have developed a class wiki site (hosted by PBworks), and each production team has a group of pages for storing research, composing their abstracts and developing the documentary storyboard.  The wiki serves two purposes.  It allows both members of the production team to add and edit materials (also members of other teams can drop anything they find that might be of use onto another team’s wiki space), and it allows the instructors to monitor each team’s progress to ensure they are keeping on schedule and make comments and suggestions.


Once the students have gotten a significant amount of their research done, they develop a storyboard for the project.  For our purposes, a storyboard consists of a two column table with rows for each of the “scenes” in the video.  One column contains notations of the visual materials that will be on the video track, and the second column contains the audio (narration, music, sound effects) that will accompany those visuals on the audio track.  This is where the students write their narration script.   All of this is done on the wiki so we can read the scripts as they develop.

Recording the Narration

Once the script is written, students record their narration.  We use Audacity, a free audio recording software package, available for both Wiindows and Mac which does not have a huge learning curve.

Video Editing

Once the narrative recording is completed, it is laid down as the audio track to start the video editing process.  The visual track is then constructed with still graphics, video clips, transitions, titles, etc.  We use Adobe Premiere Elements, available in both Windows and Mac editions, as our video editing software. This software is quite powerful for a consumer software package and does have a learning curve.  To get the students up and running, I have created a web module with screencast tutorials of all the basic features needed to create a video.  Early in the term, we familiarize the students with the software by having them create a short 1-2 minute video clip with an audio track (learning Audacity), video from stock visuals (although they can opt to shoot their own), transitions and titles.  We devote several class/lab sessions to the actual video editing of the documentary project so I can trouble shoot and help with technical aspects.

Proceedings Abstracts

Western Oregon University allocates one day each spring (typically the Thursday after Memorial Day) for students to present academic work in a professional meeting environment which is open to all segments of the university community as well as the public at large.  This is the forum through which our senior Chemistry majors present their seminars, and the students in our General Science class show their videos.  A Proceedings with abstracts of all the presentations is published for the event.  The unfortunate part of the abstract writing exercise is that the deadline for abstract submission occurs before the students have completed their narrative due to the time frame needed to compile and print the abstract volume.  We teach about abstract writing, the students collaboratively write their abstracts within the wiki, and then we do group editing during a class session.


When the Academic Excellence Showcase day comes, the students are present for the public screening of their videos.  Each pair of producers sit in directors chairs at the front of the auditorium and introduce their video, tell why they chose their topic and share something interesting that they learned during the research process.  After the videos are shown, they entertain questions from the audience.  This process can be a bit daunting to our students who are often freshman and sophomores as the lecture hall in which the screenings occur is often filled to standing room capacity (70 or more).

Miscellaneous Comments

We do devote a lot of class time to these projects so you may wonder how we cover the course content.  The theory behind project-based learning is that students learn more about a subject if they develop their own knowledge through an in depth study of a particular topical area than by a traditional overview of a subject.  Our students learn from their own research topic as well as from the range of topics covered in their classmates videos.  The members of the class watch and critique the other students videos multiple times, and the material from these topics is queried on the final exam.  During the term, we do cover basic physics, chemistry and earth science concepts as well as topics not explored in a given year’s video productions.  Much of the course content is delivered using a flipped classroom style methodology where students watch video lectures and complete web modules I have generated, watch videos on alternative energy topics, watch videos from previous years classes, read articles on energy innovations, conduct hands-on lab exercises, etc. We have conducted surveys of our students over the years we have been teaching this class, and the majority of the students rate their class experience favorably.  Some reoccuring themes we see in the surveys are that the students were afraid of the project because they came into the class with few of the technological skills needed for making a video; the students liked taking responsibility for their own learning; they were proud of what they accomplished and would recommend the class to others.  I am old fashioned… I believe that self-esteem and confidence comes from tackling challenges, learning from mistakes, and ultimately accomplishing a goal.  Our students, who are not going to be scientists and may even be “afraid” of science, leave our class confident that they can research a scientific topic and learn what they need to know to be an informed citizen.  This is my goal for these students!

Six years ago, Philip Wade, whose specialization is Earth Science education, and I undertook this as an investigation to see how alternative learning experiences can be used in the university classroom, and we are very pleased with the results.  It takes much more effort to teach the class in this manner than if we used a traditional lecture approach.  We have presented our findings via poster and oral presentations at several meetings of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and were invited to write a chapter, “Using Video Projects in the Science Classroom”, in the monograph New Trends in Earth Science Outreach and Engagement, Advances in Natural and Technological Hazards Research published (December 2013) by Springer based on one of our oral presentations.  In addition, a number of our student videos have been selected each of the last two years for showing along side commercial productions as part of the AGU Cinema held during the AGU fall meeting in San Francisco.  We plan to submit entries this summer from this year’s class for consideration for next December’s Cinema.

It is true that our students’ videos are not technically perfect.  There is just not sufficient time to mix the audio and to get the levels even throughout the production and to fix other imperfections.  Oh, what I would give for a 15-week semester course!  We give our students freedom to tell their stories however they wish.  While most use a “Ken Burns” style, we have had students write a play and do the acting, write their own music , make their own models, etc.  I am surprised we haven’t seen a “rap” version yet…we do encourage them to be creative! Here are some examples of this year’s videos (note that each video begins with about 10 seconds of a leader so the video does not begin abruptly at the screening).  I’d love to see any comments or suggestions you have.


An excellent student effort

Cracking the Case on Fracking

This is an interesting way of telling a story.  It was “performed” and filmed by the two students.  The background image is a tree trunk section showing the growth rings in case you are wondering.

The Ocean: Energy in Waves

This one contains some very nice imagery

Black Gold – Texas Tea

A well done look at petroleum

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Fuel

This video takes you to an energy generating facility not far from the university’s campus

The Potential of Mind Mapping for Projects

Project-based learning plays a role in a number of the classes I teach.  My Honors General Science students make video documentaries; my online Environmental Chemistry students produce podcasts; students in my Energy Resources class write chapters for an electronic textbook; and my senior Seminar students give public seminars. In developing these projects, students generate outlines from which they work.  One problem with outlines is that they tend to box you into a linear thought progression which is helpful when putting together the details of the project but not necessarily helpful in the brainstorming stage.  I have been wondering whether using a mind mapping strategy might be a better starting point for these projects since creating mind maps allows for a non-linear or radiative thought progression.  In all of these projects, the first thing the students should do is brainstorm, gathering ideas about the aspects of the central topic that should be explored.  mindmap_iconI am thinking that mind mapping might be a good tool for this phase of the project because after you get thoughts out of your head onto a “canvas”, it makes the connectivity of ideas visual giving a global view of the relationships between the ideas.  Using an electronic mind mapping application, students would open the program and just start putting down ideas without worrying about how they are connected.  As the mind map develops, they could easily move concepts around exploring different connectivities.  After fleshing out the mind map, students could analyze the advantages and disadvantages of the various ideas and decide which to include in their projects.

Mind or concept mapping (I use the terms loosely) is not a new concept.  Remember using note cards or sticky notes as oganizational tools? With the right features, digital mind mapping allows you to do a lot more.  For my student’s projects, I would like them to be able to convert their mind maps into an outline which can then be expanded into the “script” for their project.

So what mind mapping application should I use?  Traditionally, mind mapping software packages have been expensive. So, first I need something that is affordable.  Since I want the students to be able to convert their mind map into an outline, it would be helpful if the software had the capability of exporting the data either in Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML) which is an XML file format created specifically for outlines or in RTF (rich text) outline format.  I would prefer to have the students export their mind map to an outlining program where they would arrange their ideas in an orderly fashion eventually generating a beginning, middle and end for the writing project or presentation.

Outline with a headline collapsed; the same outline with the headline expanded

OPML Outliner: Outline with a headline collapsed and then the headline expanded

OPML Editor is a free, open source outlining program that works on both Windows and Mac to generate an outline.  You can expand and contract elements of the outline for viewing (see graphic), and you can move entire chunks of the outline from place to place making reorganizing easy. The other option for converting a mind map to an outline is to export as RTF to a word processor.  However, having the entire outline in text format makes viewing and reorganizing a bit more complex.  I like the idea of using OPML Editor.

My favorite mind mapping application, and the one I use, is IThoughts which comes as an application for iPad and iPhone (IThoughts for iOS7) and also for OS X (IThoughtsX).  I love the ease of use on an iPad, the ability to edit a mind map anywhere an idea strikes, to sync between the mobile and desktop apps, and export your mind maps in OPML.  However, not all my students have iOS devices or Macs, and the computers in my labs are Windows machines (boy do I wish we still had that lab of Mac minis we had in our old building with both operating systems available!)  While I can recommend either iThoughts or Mindnode (another nice app for iOS and OS X) to those with their own iOS/OS X devices, I need to find a Windows solution, and I have been investigating different mind mapping applications for that environment. Even better would be a solution that works for both Windows and Mac.  Here are some of the offerings I am considering:

FreeMind – free, open source mind mapping software for Windows/Mac/Linux.  It allows you to put navigable html links into your nodes,  The mind maps can be exported as HTML,  but it does not appear that they can be exported in a form for loading into an outlining application.

Open Mind 3 ($19.99) – for Windows/Mac/Linux.  This program uses a click and drag system allowing nodes to be easily resized and moved with a mouse.  It has a range of features including the ability to embed or link to files on your computer.  Mind maps can be exported as images, pdf documents, Word documents, and to Powerpoint.  This application gets a 5 start CNET ratiing.

Mind Maple (Windows Pro version $9.99; Lite version free)- allows use from any PC via Google Drive if you have a Pro license.  There is also Mind Maple for Mac ($4.99) and Mind Maple for iOS (free for the iPad and iPhone) which allows multi-device accessibility and sharing via Dropbox.  Mind Maple allows nodes to be added or moved anywhere on the screen rather than to a preset location as in some other programs.  You can add relationships, boundaries, hyperlinks and files to the mind map.  The Windows version can export to Word, Powerpoint, pdf, text, image and html.

Coggle – a free web based app that allows simultaneous multi-user editing with chat (nice for those collaborative projects).  Nodes can be placed anywhere and links and images attached to nodes.  An added bonus is that it supports LaTeX for mathematical notation.  Unfortunately, there is no map export option.  You can take a picture of your map and download it as a pdf or image or embed a map into a web page.  Unfortunately, probably not export options appropriate to my students’ needs. – a free web application that allows online creation of mind maps with features similar to Coggle but with the ability to export the map as an XML file.

Does anyone out there have experience with any of these applications or recommendations of other software solutions that will fit my needs?  I think I will experiment with Mind Maple and first.

IPads Are Now Available for Purchase at an Educational Discount

apple_logoApple has long given educational discounts for the purchase of Mac computers, but until now, iPads were only available at full price.  While you can get up to $200 off on a computer, the discounts on iPads are a modest $20-30 … but every little bit helps!  For example, a new 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad Air costs $469, a discount of $30.  A 16 GB iPad mini with retina display is $379, a savings of $20, while the mini without the retina display is $279.  A 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad with retina display (the iPad “4”) is $379.  Too bad I got a new 128 GB iPad Air without the discount a couple of weeks ago!  According to Apple’s website,  college students, students accepted to college, parents buying for college students, faculty, staff and homeschool teachers for all grade levels are eligible for this educational pricing.  If you don’t already have an iPad or wish to upgrade an older model, this might be a good time to make the purchase.compare_ipads_icon

If you are not eligible for an educational discount but are looking for a bargain, you might check out Apple’s Refurbished Store.  All products sold there are certified by Apple and carry a one year warranty just like a new product.  All refurbished models have a new battery and outer shell.  What is available varies daily.  For example as I write this,  a 16 GB Wi-Fi  iPad Air is $414 while a non-retina mini (16 GB, Wi-Fi) can be purchased for $249.



“Enough with the Lecturing”

Enough with the Lecturing” is the title  of a May 12, 2014 press release from the National Science Foundation (NSF) which summarizes the results of a meta-analysis study testing the hypothesis that lecturing maximizes learning and course performance in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classroom.  -U.S._Army_nurses_are_taking_notes_during_a_lectureThe study was conducted by members of the Department of Biology at the University of Washington and School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine.  A paper describing it entitled “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering and mathematics” appears in the May 12 Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So what is the problem to be solved?  In 2012 the PCAST (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) STEM Undergraduate Working Group reported that less than 40% of U.S. students who enter universities with an interest in STEM programs earn a STEM degree.  This percentage drops to 20% for underrepresented minority students…not a pretty picture…

In their report, PCAST called for a 33% increase in the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees completed annually, and one of their recommendations to reach this goal was the adoption of empirically validated teaching practices in the first two years of the STEM undergraduate curriculum.  The report goes on to state:  “Classroom approaches that engage students in “active learning” improve retention of information and critical thinking skills, compared with a sole reliance on lecturing, and increase persistence of students in STEM majors.”

Those of us in academia have titles such as lecturer or professor (one who professes!)  These titles are in keeping with the traditional mode of instruction in universities which has utilized an instructor-focused “teaching by telling” philosophy. In contrast, in an active learning environment, teachers facilitate the process of students constructing their own understanding often through asking questions.  The main question Freeman et al. asks in this study is: “In the STEM classroom, should we ask or should we tell?”

The project involved the meta-analysis of the data from 225 published and unpublished studies which documented student performance in courses employing some active learning versus the traditional lecture methodology.   Meta-analysis is a technique commonly used in fields such as medicine for determining the effectiveness of a particular treatment based on studies with a variety of patient groups, providers and methods of administering the therapy or drugs.  Freeman’s analysis focused on two questions: (1) does active learning boost exam scores and (2) does active learning lower failure rates?

The study found that students in active learning environments showed an average increase in exam and other assessment scores of 6%.  What was even more interesting to me was the difference in failure rate between the two teaching approaches.  While no method can save every student, the authors  found a 21.8% failure rate in the active learning classroom versus 33.8% with the traditional lecture approach. failure_rate In other words, students were found to be 1.5 times more likely to fail in the lecture style classroom.  The study indicated that students in all sizes of classes benefitted from active learning.  There also were no significant differences in the effect of active learning between courses for STEM majors and nonmajors.

The authors conclude: “Although traditional lecturing has dominated undergraduate instruction for most of a millenium and continues to have strong advocates, current evidence suggests that a constructivist ‘ask, don’t tell’ approach may lead to strong increases in student performance — amplifying recent calls from policy makers and researchers to support faculty who are transforming their undergraduate STEM courses.”

I have been using a flipped classroom instructional approach in my organic chemistry course.  My students watch short video presentations outside of class (typically 15-25 minutes in length) on the topics that will be covered in the next class.  In the classroom, questions concerning the material are presented which the students answer using student response devices (clickers).  Most of the questions require the students to work out the answers by figuring out how the electrons flow; work through multistep syntheses; or apply what they know to systems different than what they have previously seen.  It does sometimes get a little loud as students debate and help each other come up with answers.  After everyone has selected an answer, we work our way as a group through the thought processes needed to arrive at the correct answer.   Although I do not have enough data to make any statistically valid conclusions, I have seen an improved retention across the three terms of the course since moving to the flipped classroom.  So far I can’t say that I am seeing more students earning A’s, but I have seen decreased numbers of D’s, F’s and dropouts.  Only time will tell if this trend is a permanent one.

Writing this post brought back memories of an all-but-forgotten educational experience I had many years ago.  As a new graduate student at Texas A&M University in 1975, I was offered the opportunity to increase my TA stipend by $25 a month (which then was a significant amount!) if I took a course offered by Dr. Glenn R. Johnson of the then Department of Educational Curriculum and Development.  Of course I, and a number of other Chemistry grad students, jumped at the opportunity. The Chemistry Department was hoping to make us better at our teaching duties, but we just wanted to eat better!   Dr. Johnson’s philosophy was that a significant amount of instruction in the classroom should be in the form of questioning.  As part of the course, we had to teach a number of short, videotaped lessons in our field of expertise using different types of questions.  Of course, we all jumped through the hoops to get through the class, but I doubt if any of us took the educational philosophy seriously.  After all, all of our role models had taught us using the lecture tradition, and we hadn’t turned out so badly had we?  I actually got an A in the class, received my $25/month increase, earned a Ph.D. and have spent 32 years as a professor.  It is amazing that while I had all but forgotten about that experience, I am doing exactly what Dr. Johnson tried to get us to do…teach by asking questions!

iThoughts …Get It While It’s Hot!

I have been playing around with mind mapping tools lately and found out that an app I really like has been updated and is on sale. iThoughts-iPad iThoughts HD, a great iPad mind mapping tool, has been totally rewritten from the ground up and was released May 13 with a new name, iThoughts for iOS 7 which is universal for both the iPhone and iPad.  Since this release is essentially a new app, if you already own iThoughts HD, you will need to purchase it again.  However, for a limited time it is available for $1.99 in the iOS App Store which is 80% off the regular price.

In addition to the mobile app, there is a companion application for the Mac called iThoughtsX.  iThoughtsXYou can move your maps easily between your i-devices and Mac via iCloud, Dropbox, etc. allowing you to brainstorm anywhere.  When your mind map is complete, you can export it in a variety of ways including OPML, PDF and HTML for sharing or for use with other applications.  To celebrate the launching of iThoughts for iOS 7, the Mac version is also on sale for $48 which is 20% off the normal price.  Although this might seem to be a bit expensive, computer mind mapping tools often range in price from $100-$300.

You can purchase iThoughtsX either from the developer’s (Toketaware) website or from the Mac App Store.  Want to try before you buy?  You can download a free 14 day trial for iThoughtsX from Toketaware.  iThoughtsX licensing allows the software to be installed on multiple computers as long as only one person is using it at any one time.  The developer’s website indicates that educational discounts are available upon request.   Both the mobile and Mac versions are great pieces of software although I really like the convenience of the iPad version for use anywhere an idea strikes me.

Is there a Way to Run iOS Apps on an Android Device?

One problem with mobile devices is that they are limited to running apps coded for either the Apple XNU kernel or Android Linux kernel.  You cannot download an app from the Apple App Store and run it on an Android device and vice-versa…or is there a way?

A group of Columbia University PhD. students have developed a software solution called Cider that allows Android devices to run both Android and iOS apps on the same device without invoking a virtual machine.  Here is a video showing a demonstration of the application:

This is pretty cool!  At this point the software is only a research project and isn’t able to use things like the device’s camera, GPS signal, cellular radio, etc so some applications do not have full functionality.  The students are continuing to work on the project so maybe a more full featured version will become publicly available some time in the future.  This would be totally awesome for those of us in education  because it would allow us to be freed from reliance on a single platform.

Snakable – a Solution to Broken Charging Cables?

Does this look familiar?  All of our mobile electronic devices come with USB charging cables which inevitably break just below the connector due to the strain often resulting broken_cablefrom plugging them into awkward-to-reach electrical plugs and by rolling them up for transport.  You can add electrical tape to cover the bare wires as a short term solution, but eventually the wires will break with use, and you will need to buy a new cable.  There are lots of cheap cables on the market, but if you have an Apple lightning cable you really need to make sure it is certified (MFI) if you want to ensure that it works properly and that can cost you $15 or more.  Ideally, what we need are cables that don’t break in the first place.

The Snakable cable may be the solution to this problem.  snakableIntegrated into this cable are several free-moving, ball bearing-like joints on both sides of the cable at each connector that restrict the cable from bending beyond its safe bending radius relieving strain where the cable enters the connector.   Snakable is a Kickstarter project so it is not yet available for purchase but has reached its $28.0000 goal and is due to be funded May 28, 2014 with expected product delivery in August.  The Snakable will be available in both lightning for iOS devices and micro USB for all other devices.  The snakable21.2 m cable is advertised as being constructed of a heavy-duty cable with an anti-tangling coating.  The cable will sell for $30, which while not inexpensive, is less than buying multiple replacement cables for your devices.  You can still get in on the backer deal until May 24 at $20 per cable.  The cable will come in black, white, red, orange and green.  Do remember that when you pledge to a Kickerstarter project, you are providing seed development money with the possibility that the product may never make it through the production stage.

I’ve never backed a Kickstarter project, but I might just give this one a shot going for a red cable since I travel a lot and have to replace cables all too often.