Random Tip # 8: The Noun Project

Noun project logo

(Noun Project logo)

I think my favorite part about the website, TheNounProject.com, is their slogan (even though they don’t use the Oxford comma): “creating, sharing and celebrating the world’s visual language.” Not only does it appeal to my interest in photography and how stories can be told visually, it also applies to my love of digital media and the combination of text and visuals (…especially when the visuals are free).

The Noun Project is a collection of over 100K icons that are $0 – $1.99. If you pay for the royalty free icons, then you don’t have to give credit, but if you use a free version, then you need to give credit. There is a subscription version that allows for unlimited royalty free icons (no citations needed).

Why am I sharing this website since there are plenty of other “free” icons out on the Internet? Is there more to it than just the slogan?

  • Their security guard is cute
  • Easy search tool
  • Gives credit to the creator
  • No ads (pop-up ads or the like)
  • Simple website design, easy to navigate
  • Information for giving credit is provided upon download
  • My favorite reason: the credit is already embedded in many of the graphics (so I don’t have to worry about labels unless I edit out the credit)
  • No watermark
  • There is a blog

Caution: the website is addictive since it is very easy search and download a variety of icons. Do not blame me if you lose several hours in your day.

A previous student of mine used a bunch of the icons to symbolically represent key points from a novel we read for class. She layered the icons so that there were several symbols that worked together to make her point. (She also explained the symbolism to me, which was required.) I loved the simplicity of the images that held significant meaning. It was a great example of critical thinking and visual rhetoric. Beyond that example, I can see how the icons can be used as visual interest in slide presentations or posters, especially when simplicity is ideal.

The Noun Project is my second favorite image gallery. I still really like Pixabay because it gives access to photos and graphics without requiring credit, though The Noun Project does have more diversity when looking for icons or the like. Since the Noun Project embeds the credit, I will likely rely on it more often; it’s good modeling to show students that giving credit is necessary (unless told otherwise).

Noun project sample icons

Just a few icons I collected (…don’t look for deeper meaning in my collection since I chose them because they seemed either unique, relevant, or entertaining)

Noun project sample 2

Random Tip #7: Google Forms

Google forms logo

I had originally set out to write a full review of Google Forms, but I couldn’t come up with enough to write a full review. Besides, I’m biased. I love Google Forms.

I like gathering “data” and putting it into spreadsheets. Early on in my professional career, forms were created through MS Word, and were often ugly if the person didn’t know how to use the “fields” option. It drove me crazy to see a form where there was a “write your answer here” area identified by underscores that you had to either delete before typing there or watch the line grow and grow as you typed in your response. Seriously. Even thinking about how a form with a clean layout would quickly devolve into a mess gives me chills. If you had money, you could get the editable version of Adobe Acrobat and convert the Word document into a form. This was a tedious process since you had to create textboxes for each response line, and then modify the font size to make sure the answers weren’t 14 pt font while the rest of the form was 10 pt font. I have created forms this way. I didn’t like it, and I don’t want to do it again.  I have also done some database work, where you can create a sort of online form that puts the information right into Access or database software. This approach is not really for the non-IT person.

Alas, Google Forms addresses my “form” desires:

  • Free (really free, not free to create the form but have to pay to access the responses)
  • Easy to create and complete
  • Shuttles the responses automatically into a spreadsheet
  • Looks professional (depending on the theme you choose)
  • Able to embed the form in my online classroom (also, able to email interactive form to Gmail accounts)
  • Some questions can be marked required (and users cannot submit the form until completing those questions)

Google Forms can be a bit quirky. I found it is often easier to create a new form than reuse an existing form that needs minor edits in order to be used for a different population; not creating a new form means that all the responses from the old version and the revised version go into the same spreadsheet. Another factor to consider is you’ll need a Gmail account. Since Google hasn’t taken over the world yet, I suspect there are a few people who do not have a Google account (…not many people, but a few). From your Gmail account, you can create the form through the Drive app, which also stores the form and its responses, so there’s no way getting around committing to Google in the form of a Gmail account.

Google Forms workspace

This is the workspace for Google Forms with a few sample questions to show different options. There are a variety of question types, ranging from paragraph to check-boxes.

What might you use a Google Form for? I use it primarily for student surveys that go beyond the official end-of-term surveys. But, I also create peer review forms for my creative writing course; I can see the responses and then email students the portion of the spreadsheet that applies to them. Or, I create “writer reflection” forms to allow students to explain their creative writing process for the story they wrote.

I didn’t include interactive samples, but rather graphics of what two of my forms look like. You can choose your theme for the form so you don’t have to make individual choices about font, color, and graphics; this might be a drawback for some, but I would spend way too long perfecting my design so I appreciate Google’s preset options. That said, I do try a variety of themes before committing, though I can change the theme at any time.

Google Form Samples

Audacity….forcing me to hear my own voice

Cost: Free
Type: Software (download)
Rating: 5/5

 

audacity_logoThis is an oldie, but goodie. I’ve been using Audacity since the very beginning of my digital media adventures (about 10+ years ago). Beyond just a free tool to record audio narratives, this software has had a more significant impact on my life. Ultimately, after creating and editing hundreds of audio files, this software helped me accept my nasally, mid-western voice as it is. Sometimes I sound like a smoker (which I’m not). Sometimes I sound sick (which I’m generally not). Most times, as students have noted, I sound like a documentary narrator…soothing, but not generally sleep-provoking (which I suspect is not entirely true based on my in-person lecture experiences). The software is easy to use, so I had no choice but to continue to create audio narrations to my videos without excuse. Its’ free, but it looks like software you might pay to use.

Goal: find stand alone software to record audio narration for my slide presentations (…this goal was set when PowerPoint was quirky with recording audio in presentation mode)

Benefits:

  • Totally free!
  • Easy to use….just have a mic and start recording. You may want to double-check sound levels at some point since I often record too low.
  • There is a wiki help website, though I have not needed to use it.
  • It’s easy to chop parts out of the recording, such as the beginning (when you’re taking a deep breath) or the end (when you’re saying something like, “Finally! I got through this without the dog barking.”). Just highlight the section to remove and press the Delete key on your keyboard.
Audacity workspace view

This is the workspace, where you can see a recorded file. I don’t know what many of the buttons do because once I set up my mic and volume, I didn’t have to fiddle with anything. Editing as I go is very easy so that I can quickly remove flubs, rerecord that section, and paste the revised version with the first version.

Drawbacks:

  • It glitches and crashes sometimes without saving the recording, thus you can start all over again recording that clip. The most recent version of the software has addressed over 50 bugs, so perhaps the glitch has been fixed. (Recent use has not resulted in crashes.)
  • It probably doesn’t have the audio fine-tuning and editing options as other software. So, if you are planning on submitting your vocal recording audition to America’s Got Talent, then you may need more specific software (and a recording studio).
  • Exporting to MP3 is a total pain the first time, since you need to download more software (plugin) from an external site, and that site often has misleading links, though the author has recently provided insights on navigating the site. Once you install the plugin, you shouldn’t need to do it again unless you move the file.
  • There is one extra screen that I don’t feel is relevant when I’m saving a file…I just dislike having to click more than I have to.

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Evernote….ever a believer (now)

Name: Evernote
Cost: Free (subscribe for more features)
Type: Download, app, Internet tool
Rating: 5/5

 

Evernote logoWay back when I first started my dissertation research, I was eager for tools to help me organize my thoughts and research. OneNote was my first choice, as it was free and already loaded on the PC I was using. It mirrored my existing concepts of note taking since the interface was designed to look like tabbed notebooks or a binder with tabbed separators. My description here is dated since I started my dissertation eons ago, and have since moved on to trying different tools to organize thoughts and research. While I liked the notebook view of OneNote, I would spend too much time color coordinating and otherwise personalizing the notebooks, much like I did in high school (e.g., well-decorated Chandler assignment planner, with few assignment deadlines actually listed in the calendar). Now, you’re starting to understand why it’s taken so long to write my dissertation. When I abandoned OneNote several years ago, I briefly tried Evernote, and didn’t like it. Honestly, I don’t remember why I didn’t like it, though I suspect it was cumbersome or did not fit my way of thinking. But, a few months ago, I went to a training workshop for Evernote, and was encouraged to give it another try, even if I just used it for my grocery list.

I haven’t used Evernote for a grocery list yet, but I’ve used it for keeping track of ideas that would otherwise end up on post-it notes, notepads, journals, notebooks, Word documents, emails to myself, Google documents, notes on my whiteboard (…an actual whiteboard, not an app), Notes app, or junkmail envelopes. This blog would not have come to pass without Evernote. I draft all my ideas in Evernote weeks in advance of posting to my blog. I also have individual notebooks for course ideas, creative writing ideas, publication ideas, feedback on courses that should be revised, and (of course) dissertation ideas/research. I can easily save Internet articles to any of the notebooks I’ve created. By far, this has been my favorite tool for organizing my ideas and research. Graphic showing fireworks

Goal: find a tool that takes the place of ideas on post-it notes that make my office look like it is a sit-in for square-winged butterflies

Benefits:

  • Cloud technology allows for updating on a variety of devices, but Internet connection is not required if the software is downloaded to your computer…I can put information in my app version and see it on my laptop and PC
  • Simple, no-frills organization of notebooks and notes. I can bounce between notebooks very easily.
  • You can share notebooks/notes….I don’t, but you can
  • Search function looks in individual notebooks or all notebooks or tags
  • Reminder feature will send an email on a chosen day to nudge you to work on a task listed as a note
  • In a note, you can insert a URL, table, PDF, or graphic. You can then annotate the attached PDF or graphic.
  • Web-clipper….allows saving URLs, whole articles, and screenshots of websites. I don’t have time to read all the interesting articles in my Facebook and RSS feeds, so I can save them in Evernote to read later (i.e., after graduation). LOVE THIS FEATURE…especially since I can use the Evernote app on my phone and read those saved articles when I’m standing in line at the Post Office (for example)
  • You can combine notebooks into a “notebook stack.” I have several notebooks for my blog (e.g., “to post,” “posted,” “random tips”), and each have their own notebook since there are many notes for each. I can create a notebook stack for my blog, and all the related notebooks (and notes) are organized together. Think of it like a main folder with subfolders with documents.
  • You can put notes in the Shortcut section at the top of the Notebook list. I put the notes there that I rely on most or that I don’t want to forget about.
Evernote workspace 1

Here is one view of my Evernote workspace. the note has a table (…I love organizing information with tables). These notebooks are not stacked. I started with a simple layout until I figure out how I want to organize my notebooks better.

Drawbacks:

  • Evernote sometimes freezes for a moment when syncing or otherwise saving content. You can change the settings to sync less frequently if the momentary freeze is bothersome.
  • Every once in a while I’ll get pop-ups that I should invest in the pay version.
  • The blog doesn’t entirely focus on Evernote insights, but also has articles related to a variety of situations (e.g., running a small business, writer’s block). I don’t like having to scroll through articles just to find the gems related to using Evernote. (With some scrolling, though, I did find a helpful post: Tools That Write Well with Evernote. That’s on my list to read in the future.) They have an email newsletter that you can subscribe to. Most of the emails are about the perks of subscribing, but I do find a good tip every once in a while, especially if it’s a newly added feature.
  • There is a monthly limit to the size uploads (60MB) and note size (25MB), but I haven’t run into the limit as of yet. I suspect that if you clip many articles from the Internet per month or you have a group working all in the same account, then it’ll be an issue for you.

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