Dropbox…preventing computers from “eating” students’ homework

Name: Dropbox
Cost: Free, with pay versions for increased storage ($100/year for 1TB)
Type: App (web and mobile device), plus download for computer
Rating: 5/5

 

Dropbox logI’m old enough to remember floppy disks. In fact, I remember storing data on cassette tapes (or, at least attempting to). Oh, the days of limited storage. I had a variety of cases to store my floppy disks, and then not-so-floppy disks, and then CDs…just don’t ask me to find a file quickly. Thumb (flash) drives were a miracle….well, until I bumped one with my knee while it was plugged into my PC and could only access all my graduate school work if I jiggled the thumb drive just right. After that, I had several thumb drives so that I could still transport documents (from school, work, the library, and between my laptop and PC). The trick was remembering that work documents were on the purple drive, while school documents were on the red drive, unless I forgot it at home, and then they were on the blue drive. Enter “the cloud.” With cloud storage, I could save my documents to someone else’s servers and access those servers via internet access. Granted, this was a bit touch and go when internet access wasn’t as widely available as it is today. But since wi-fi is widely available, if a student has a question about feedback I provided on his research paper, I can access my saved version with my mobile device while at Starbucks. Don’t be fooled. I don’t just use Dropbox to work more, but I also store my photos and other documents that I don’t want to lose if my hard-drive crashes.

Goal: Ditch digging in my purse/bookbag for thumb drives.

Dropbox browser version

This view is of the browser version (i.e., log in through internet browser). To the left, you can see the view options. The Sharing folder shows just the folders you are sharing (or have been shared access to) with other users. As you can see, the screen and functions are pretty self-explanatory. It’s a good idea to organize all files into folders for easier access on mobile devices (with small screens).

Benefits:

  • I rarely get error messages with uploading to the cloud. Actually, only once, and that required me to uninstall and reinstall the desktop version. Once in the 5+ years I’ve relied on it daily isn’t bad.
  • Easy to use, especially the desktop version. I just save my files to the folder already linked to my Dropbox account and it is automatically saved to the cloud (and available on my other devices). The desktop version also allows me to drag/drop files into folders.
  • Access through multiple devices (e.g., PC, laptop, mobile device), along with web access on any device (e.g., a library computer). I like this for my photo portfolio, so that I don’t have to store my favorite photos on my phone, but can still show them off (when I have internet access).
  • Versioning is available, so that if you need to return to an older version of a file, you can do so through Dropbox (up to 30 days). I haven’t had to use this feature before, so I can’t comment on how well it works, but it’s nice to know it’s available.
  • Better security than what I had on my thumb drive (or floppy disks).
  • If you’re sharing files, the other person doesn’t need an account. You just give them permission via email link to access the folder. It can get tricky if the person isn’t familiar with Dropbox or similar cloud storage sites (see Drawback below).
  • Gives email alerts when you’re going to max out on available space, so you can either delete files or upgrade.
  • I can upload photos from my iPhone to Dropbox (and even choose which folder they should go in).Dropbox mobile device workspace views

Drawbacks:

  • I don’t think it always plays well with Office 2016. Opening an Office file from a Dropbox folder generally results in the file changing its name to something generic (e.g., W000001.docx) so that I have to do a Save As to get it back to the original file. I keep hoping for a Microsoft update to resolve the problem.
  • This isn’t Dropbox’s fault, but not everyone is familiar with this tool, so file sharing can be confusing to those who haven’t done it before. That said, there is a help center (and community), and it’s a popular enough tool that there are tutorials on YouTube and social media

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Random Tip: Creative Commons

Creative Commons log

Creative Commons (CC) should be in the vernacular of every college student and professional who relies on works created by others, such as music or images, to enhance their own work. In other words, if you need some background music for a video you’re creating, then CC and their licensing system should be familiar to you. Similarly, if you’re creating new content, you’ll want to know how to share and protect your work.

Legal Stuff (lite): Let me back up for a minute. I’ll try to keep this brief since it’s a common lecture I give. Copyright protects artists/creators from having their work distributed without their permission. Now, granting the right to distribute/use might come with a price tag–a creator can say, “Sure, use my photo however you want, but it’ll cost you $5 (one-time fee) to purchase that right.” Even if there isn’t a copyright policy or fee associated with the photo, it is copyrighted to the original creator by law as soon as it is documented/created (electronically or on paper). I’ll save the extensive explanations for a different post, but just know that just because something is accessible through the internet, does not mean the creator has given permission to use and/or distribute the creation.

Why CC? For creators who want to share their work, and want to be clear about what conditions they’re willing to share their work, Creative Commons provides the language and visual representations (i.e., icons) to be posted with the work. Per CC, “Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.” If you’ve read copyright law, then you’ll really appreciate CC’s approach to making the law easier to implement. Furthermore, CC’s approach makes it easy for audiences to interpret the creator’s copyright intentions.

CC icons view

This is the “normal” view of icons available through CC. There is also a compact version that just has the abbreviations (e.g., BY) and no icons.

Getting Started: CC makes it easy to get started with figuring out what license you want for your work. For those who really want to understand licenses, I’d start here: Licensing Considerations. It explains the purpose and details about licenses. For those of you (like me) who just want the license, you can get it within two clicks at License Chooser. There are even help buttons to give insights about the legal stuff.

Philosophical Stuff (lite): In a capitalist society, one might question why anyone would share anything willingly for free. Even charging a $1 would turn a bit of a profit for your work. I cannot speak for all artists, obviously, but I do share some of my photos for free (and this blog does not yet have any money generating ads), so I can speak to why I share my work without the expectation of financial compensation. The blog is ad-free at this point because:

  1. I’m lazing and don’t want to figure out what ads would do to my layout and overall appeal of my site.
  2. It was created with the intention to help my colleagues and students.
  3. Creating the posts are a form of stress relief and I fear that money will add stress.

As for my photos that I share on Pixabay, well, that’s all ego…I like seeing people like and download my work. Although users can donate payment through Pixabay, I recognize that users rely on Pixabay because it’s free. Ultimately, I like the idea that someone will use my work as a means to create something even better.

Hannigan Pixabay image screen capture

Here is my ego trip…I can see how many views my photo gets, along with downloads, approvals (thumbs up), saves (star), and comments.

Bonus Content: CC also provides access to content that users have shared (with chosen licenses). Go to Use & Remix to see recent additions to content that is being shared. Each image is marked so you know what you’re clicking into, such as an image, audio file, document, etc.

Screen capture of use and remix page

Here is a view of the Use & Remix section of CC.

Go forth and create! And, respect the copyright.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Random Tip #14: Awesome Screenshot (add-on/extension)

I have to go on a tangent for a bit before getting to my random tip, but I’ll try to keep the side-leg motion brief. Not everyone is aware of the ability to “add” features to Internet browser’s functionality. Back in the earlier days of Internet browsers (e.g., Netscape, Mosaic, AOL Explorer, etc.), the average user didn’t have have many options for changing or upgrading browser functionality. In other words, the browser worked the same for every user (unless you had programming skills to make modifications that are well beyond my general knowledge).

Along came Firefox, a browser that offered users the ability to “add-on” functionality through third-party developers who create these tools that enhance your browser’s abilities. One of the first add-ons that I added to Firefox was Cool Previews (no longer available), which allowed me to “peek” at a webpage without clicking it open. Yes, Apple didn’t invent the peek option. I’ve had a variety of add-ons since then, and my favorite right now is Evernote Clipper. But, we’re not here to talk about that. One last point I want to mention is that Google Chrome has a many add-ons (a.k.a., extensions), much like Firefox, though not all the Chrome options are free.

Awesome Screenshot LogoWhile I’ve done several reviews of screen-capture software (e.g., Screencast-o-matic, Jing, and Camtasia), there is a browser add-on that was one of my first add-ons and still available: Awesome Screenshot (here is Firefox add-on). What do I like best about this tool? I can take a screen shot of the entire browser page, not just what is viewable (without scrolling down). While Evernote’s Clipper is good for capturing articles I want to read, there are some whole pages I want to save. For example, if I’m shopping for a new Canon lens, and want to keep track of my favorites, I can keep screen shots as I browse different places online. More commonly, I capture my “home” page for my online classroom’s list of announcements so I can make sure I set the course up the same next term since the content doesn’t transfer one term to the next.

Awesome Screenshot doesn’t require a login if you want to just save the graphic to your computer. You can save it online and share if you sign up; you can store up to 30 images for free online. You can also annotate (i.e., draw on the graphic) prior to saving it. Their blog isn’t updated very often, but it’s available for a few more insights.

I suspect there are other (better) options, but this one has worked for me, so I thought I’d share.

Here are some screen shots of the tool:

Awesome screenshot annotation toolbar

There are the annotation options after capturing the screen you want to save. You don’t need to annotated (just click Done to move on to saving it).

Awesome screenshot save screen

Here is the save screen. You’ll need to be logged in to save it to the cloud.

Awesome screenshot sample

Here is the entire screen capture of a webpage, with annotations added.

Random Tip #12: TypeItIn

There are times when we have to repeat ourselves. Not because no one is listening, but rather because we’re faced with similar situations that require the same responses. As an educator, this happens often. For example:

  • The “Oxford comma” is required unless you’re a journalist or British; this is the comma that appears before the conjunction (e.g., and) in a list of items. For more information about the Oxford comma, see: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/what-is-the-oxford-comma-and-why-do-people-care-so-much-about-it/
  • Thanks for contacting me! The final project is due May 7, 11:59 p.m. EST. The requirements are noted in the classroom, under the Final Project icon in Unit 9. Please review the requirements, rubric, and sample and then email me if you have any questions about what is required. Late submissions are not accepted.
  • APA citation format requires the title of the periodical to be italicized in the full-citation. The title of the periodical should appear after the title of the article. Also noted after the periodical title is the volume number and the issue number.

I suspect educators and parents can relate to this situation where the exact same text needs to be conveyed multiple times (often, to the same individual). I can envision a Human Resources representative needing to often cite policy in email responses (e.g., “As noted in the Employee Guide, dress code does not permit open-toe shoes, including sandals, flip-flops, peep-toes, or worn out Converse shoes. It was brought to my attention that you have violated dress code, which resulted in this written warning.”) Other professionals in the fields of medicine, law, business, and IT may often need to reproduce the same text in emails/letters, reports, contracts, or websites/software.

If you have situations where you need to repeat yourself in writing (i.e., typing), then I would recommend investing in PasteItIn or TypeItIn. This software is not free, but it’s affordable. Mac has similar software, TextExpander, but I own PCs and didn’t find the PC version very user friendly. If you’re familiar with macros in Word, then it’s the same concept, but works on all forms of text-driven software (e.g., email, PPT, Internet forms, etc.).

typeitinpromoWhat does this software do? It sets on your desktop as a list of labeled buttons that you create. Clicking a button will insert text that you’ve associated with that button. You can change the coloring of the buttons so each will stand out in a glance. You can also create groups of buttons; for example, all of the grammar buttons are listed together, while all the responses to emails are in another group. The grouping prevents the button list from getting too long or confusing. Unlike macros or TextExpander, this software does not rely on “hot keys” (i.e., pressing a combination of keys to get a response, such as Ctrl+A) or a partial word that triggers a response (i.e., typing oxf would insert the Oxford Comma text). I’m not a big fan of either of these methods because I either need to remember the hot key combination or I may accidentally get the Oxford Comma text when I’m typing Oxford University.

TypeItIn sample

Here is what the tool looks like after creating a group and some buttons.

There are drawbacks (with the version I own), but the tool is simple and cheap, so the drawbacks are within reason and may have been addressed with more recent version. You cannot rearrange the buttons once they’re created, though you can copy or move them to different groups. Also, links are not active when inserted into certain situations (e.g., gradebook comments). Another issue with the tool is if you have too many groups, then it gets difficult to scroll down the list of groups in the dropdown box; I have have a scroll wheel on my mouse, which circumvents the difficulty.

I purchased TypeItIn many years ago, and it functions just fine for my needs. Although I like seeing my text typed out character by character, it’s probably a better option to go with PasteItIn (as it takes less time to insert text by pasting the whole text at once).

Screencast-o-Matic…automatically a success

Type: Internet tool (download version available)
Rating: 5/5

 

Screencast-o-matic logoGetting an audience to see what you’re seeing is ideal for photographers, videographers, trainers/instructors, and technical communicators. This is especially true for a society that has a “just show me” response to learning new things, as compared to “just explain it to me.” Screen capture software can take different forms, whether it’s capturing a static screen shot or recording movements (e.g., clicking, typing) and audio being performed on a computer. Jing has been my go-to screen capture software for many years, and for static screen captures, it’s still my favorite. But, Screencast-o-Matic is my new love for video recordings of my screen. Jing, Camtasia, and Snag-It all have quality issues with recordings; the text is sometime blurry or pixelated, which is frustrating for an audience who isn’t sure what they’re supposed to be seeing. For the record, this post is not my first encounter with Screencast-o-matic. I had looked at it several years ago and found it lacking, though functional, but dismissed it for Jing/Camtasia. Screencast-o-matic’s “new” look and functionality is a great improvement.

Screecast-o-matic start screen

This is the home page, and access to the tool. Very simple.

Goal: quality screen recordings for longer than five minutes

Benefits:

  • No need to sign up or login to start recording your screen. At this point, I haven’t see the value of signing up since I won’t store my videos to their site.
  • Records the computer screen or webcam view and microphone recording; for the pay version, you can record audio from the computer speakers, which makes it a good option for recording Google Hangout sessions or other video conferencing that doesn’t include a recording option.
  • 15-minute recording length, as compared the the five-minute limit for Jing. You can record longer versions with the Pro Recorder (pay), but you’re limited to 15-minutes if you’re uploading it to their cloud.
  • Recording can be downloaded to PC, or uploaded to YouTube of Sceencast-o-Matic cloud (i.e., hosting).
  • Clear (video) screen captures, even when the screen is moving.
  • Tutorials are available, though I didn’t review any of them since you can pretty much figure out what to do for simple screen captures
  • Unless you download the software, it runs from your Internet browser, yet records to your computer. There are two benefits here. 1) You have access to the most recent version of the software without further downloads/updates. 2) Your video is not saved to a cloud unless you want to; so, there isn’t public access to the recording unless you upload it yourself to a public area.
  • A yellow circle rings the mouse pointer so that it’s easier to follow when watching the recording. (See first sample below.)
Screecast-o-matic video options

This is the pop-up screen you’ll see after finishing the recording. You can make changes to the file type, filename, where it’s stored, whether the cursor is highlighted in your final version, and whether captions should be included.

Drawbacks:

  • If you don’t catch the enable/allow Java screen quick enough, the recorder won’t launch and you’ll see the link to download the software instead. If you catch the Java accept screen, though, you can click the box to not ask for permission in the future. I think that if you have a Mac, you’ll need to download the software as the Internet version wont’ work.
  • “Screencast-o-matic” sounds like something Calvin and Hobbes would think up. Okay, not really a bad thing, but it’s difficult to sell the concept to peers and managers with a straight face.
  • When making several recordings, and exiting the recorder each time, you have to click back the the website’s Home page to find the Record Screen button again. Again, not a big deal.
  • There is a watermark on all the recordings done with the free recorder. That said, it’s not obnoxious, as I’ve seen with other free software.
  • If you upload the video to their cloud, then there will be ads on the screen. Since I can save the file and upload it to YouTube, then I don’t have an issue with this. The free hosting plan is limited to a 15-minute upload, so even if you have the Pro Recorder (pay) version of the software, you’d need to invest in their Basic hosting plan for $96/year to get 2-hour recordings uploaded to their cloud.
  • No screenshot option for the free version.
  • No video editing abilities for the free version; you would need to save the video file and use a different tool to edit the video (e.g., Camtasia, Adobe Premiere, iMovie, Movie Maker, etc.)
Java screen

This is the Java screen you’ll need to accept (or use the download version of the tool)

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Create A Graph Tutorial

I have previously reviewed, Create A Graph, but I have created a very simple set of instructions for creating a Pie Chart using the tool. The instructions were originally designed as a sample assignment for my technical writing students, but I decided to re-purpose the text for my blog. It’s not as much of a tutorial than a set of instructions since there aren’t many insights included below. The tool is fairly easy to figure out, so I didn’t think a whole tutorial was needed.

Creating a Pie Chart with Create A Graph  Tool

The online tool, Create a Graph, allows users to easily use numerical data to generate various types of graphs. This set of instructions will focus on creating a pie graph.

  1. Open an Internet browser window (e.g., Firefox, Chrome, Edge).
  2. Access the following URL: http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph/
  3. Click Pie from the graph type box
  4. Click on the radio-button to choose the type of Shading you want: Solid, Pattern, or Gradient
  5. Choose the Background color by clicking on the white box and then clicking a color of your choice
  6. Click the Data tab on the right side of the screen
  7. Add a Graph Title in the first box
  8. Add a Source if you gathered the data from a source
  9. Click the dropdown box to choose the number of pie slices needed for your data
  10. Insert text for Item Label
  11. Insert numerical Value for that item
  12. Click the dropdown box to choose a different color for the pie slice
  13. Repeat steps 10 – 12 for all items/values
  14. Click the Labels tab on the right side of the screen.
  15. Change the settings if you do not just want the default settings.
  16. Click the Preview tab on the right side of the screen
  17. Review the Pie Chart to make sure the colors, layout, and content are what you want
  18. Click the Print/Save tab on the right side of the screen
  19. Click Download to save the completed chart to your computer
  20. From the pop-up window, choose the type of file you want to save by clicking on the dropdown menu and then clicking Download

Now, you have a Pie Chart that can be inserted into a Word document, PowerPoint, or website, if you saved the chart as PNG, JPG, EMF, or EPS.

Padlet…new school bulletin board

Name: Padlet
Cost: Free (subscription plans for $29/year)
Type: Internet (plus app)
Rating: 5/5

 

Padlet logoThere is something old school, yet appealing, with bulletin boards. Growing up, I remember looking forward to the beginning of the month since that was when the teachers would change their bulletin board content–new graphics, text, colors, and sometimes even new layouts. Some of the posters on the board might be funny, while other content might be a preview of what we’d focus on for that month. Ideally, the bulletin board would have “gold star” assignments posted for everyone to marvel at. I was always hopeful that mine would be up there, though I was more like a silver/bronze star student at the time, so my stuff was only posted if there was room or if it was parent/teacher conference week. Since I teach in a virtual environment and a college classroom on campus, I don’t get a bulletin board, which is probably fortunate since I’d obsess about what I would do with it each month. But, there are a few Internet options for creating a bulletin board sort of webpage, and Padlet is one of the more popular options. Padlet is an Internet tool that not only allows you to “post” text, graphics, and URLs, but also allows your users to add their own content. We used to get punished in school for “adding” to the bulletin board!

Goal: share text, graphics, and URLs in an engaging webpage (that would allow users to also post content, if I needed that feature)

Padlet workspace

This is a blank Padlet workspace. The “portrait” is just the icon that appears before the title and description at the top of your Padlet that you create. Wallpaper, Layout, and Privacy are the more important features under the setting icon.

Benefits:

  • Each “post” allows for a heading, whether the body of the post is text or a graphic. This allows me to label my graphics so the audience recognizes their significance.
  • There is a blog with insights and ideas.
  • The Padlet board can be exported to a file (e.g., PDF, JPG), which kind of takes away the appeal of the board, but perhaps it might make it easier for grading or offline distribution.
  • There is a Firefox add-on so that you can post Internet material to your Padlet boards as you explore the Internet.
  • Supports “audience participation” since you can allow users to post their own content to the board. For example, you can allow for classroom introductions, where students can post a photo and/or text about themselves; or groups can brainstorm ideas and post research for group projects.
  • The completely free-form, post-anywhere layout of a canvas makes me a little crazy, but some may like that chaos. Fortunately, I can choose a layout to be “stream” (one post under the next) or grid (lines them up in even rows). Even if you start with free form, you can change to stream or grid and the posts will be realigned accordingly.

Drawbacks:

  • This is just a reality of this type of tool, but you have to monitor what is posted since anyone can post anything (depending on the privacy setting). So, if you have students who cannot be trusted to act responsibly when posting, then you’ll want to have the “monitor” feature checked to approve additions before everyone can see them.
  • I can’t figure out how to change the font/style of the posts. I think it’s pretty much set for every type of Padlet to be the same. (There are some formatting options, but not as extensive as I’d like in the way of color or font style.)

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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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