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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Voki….voicing a sad looking pink bunny

Name: Voki
Cost: Free
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

voki logo I’m not really an avatar type of person, which might be more personal information about me than you care about. But, this insight is relevant to the digital media tool I’m reviewing–Voki. With Voki, I can create an avatar to speak for me or with my own voice. Granted, we aren’t talking about super model quality avatars, though there are a few “realistic” options to choose from. Since I’m not an avatar type of person, I didn’t think I’d like this tool, but I quickly took to the humor that could be created through these characters. Voki kind of reminds me of Fotobabble, where it’s one image with audio, except that Voki’s images pretend to talk (kind of like Mr. Ed sort of mouth moving) and the graphics are already provided in Voki.

Goal: Try something different….create an avatar

Voki workspace 1

This is the workspace (with sad bunny already selected from the character list). Play around with the “Customize Your Character” options….pink bunny doesn’t have many variations, but other avatars can be modified.

Benefits:

  • There are multiple ways to create audio for the avatar, and not all require a microphone. You can phone in the audio recording or type text that is read by a “computer” voice (….think Speak-and-Spell if you’re as old as I am). If you type up text, you can change the language, though I have no idea if it’s accurate since I tortured the Spanish language enough in college that I’m banned from speaking it ever again.
  • I think it might be addictive to match up goofy characters with oddball voices or effects. My students may not think I’m funny, but I will.
  • You can adjust the avatar; not just hair, color, and accessories, but also body proportions and location on the screen can be adjusted.
  • There is a blog and help section for those who need insights on using the tool. Also included are classroom guides for teachers.
  • While I didn’t try it out, supposedly you can embed Voki in a PowerPoint. After finishing a project, there is an embed code provided (which is what I used at the end of this post).
  • I didn’t keep track of all the avatar options, but there seems to be a variety to try and represent different people, cultures, and situations. That said, there is a pay version that provides more options, but I opted for the goofy avatars to bypass any question of whether I’m represented by the graphic. (Note: sometimes I think of myself as a unicorn, but in fact, I’m not.)

Drawbacks:

  • There are some ads on the site, so you have to be careful where you click. The sidebars are generally ads that will take you to a different site.
  • The title of the Voki you create is limited to 20 characters.
  • Not all the voice options for typed text work. For example, Dave seems to play, but I don’t hear anything. Perhaps, though, Dave is speaking in a voice audible to dogs or the like.
  • Unless you have a paid subscription account, the audio recording limit is 60 seconds (and 600 character limit for text to voice).
  • Playing the recorded Voki relies on Shockwave Flash, which can be quirky at times.

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Fotobabble….for 60 seconds of babbling

Name: Fotobabble
Cost: Free
Type: Internet Tool (or iOS app)
Rating: 3/5

Fotobabble logoI have an addiction, which I torture my students with. I like to make supplemental video content for my online courses. Students have access to text versions of instructions and rubrics, but I like to make videos that detail the requirements. As with any addictive substance, the problem is that I overdo it. What should take 5 minutes to explain, I will continue to layer on information until I run out of things to say 10 minutes later. I don’t even willingly sit through 10 – 15 minute YouTube videos, so I’m pushing my luck expecting my students to have more time/patience/interest. Thus, my desire to find a tool that compels me to keep it simple, yet engaging.

Fotobable is one option I’ve explored. It’s a single graphic with audio narration. With only one graphic, I know that I need to be brief since there isn’t extensive visual interest to keep the audience from straying to Facebook or the like. Personally, I like to use this opportunity to show off my amateur photos, which may not be relevant to the topic, but I think they’re interesting to look at for a few seconds. As noted in the Drawbacks below, I only use this tool for non-vital information so that I don’t get dozens of emails when the site goes down for maintenance at night.

Goal: Add audio to single graphic and embed the graphic in my classroom

Benefits:

Fotobabble workspace 1

This is the initial screen as you begin the process. You need to first upload a photo.

  • Very easy to click to record after uploading graphic
  • Embed codes available, either with or without Flash.
  • FREE, online tool that allows you to upload your own photos and record or upload audio.
  • Free themes are provided, which essentially serve as frames for your photo.
  • Pretty extensive collection of tutorials and guides to help get you started.

Drawbacks:

  • The site seems to go down nightly, so students accessing the graphic at night receive an error message.
  • There is a 5MB limit on the photos you can use, which is reasonable, but it’s not unlimited.
  • I’m pretty sure the “view” counter is off, since I highly doubt I’ve had over 3000 views since the post is marked Private and I haven’t had even 100 students to view the photo I recorded.
  • There is a 60 second time limit on audio recordings.

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Random Tip #6: Pixabay

Snow Leopard photoThe snow leopard got your attention didn’t it? There is no question that graphics appeal to audiences, no matter their age. Color, layout, subject matter, tone….all are visual design qualities that engage the interest and imagination. When Microsoft Office did away with embedded clipart in their software, I had to turn to other “free” options, such as: 1) Clipart websites with popup ads; 2) Google image searches, which would require citations/attribution; or 3) Use my own photos. While #3 is fun, it’s time consuming. #2 is reasonable, but citations are cumbersome, and they don’t actually cover me legally for copyright infringement (though, citations do set a positive example for students). #1 = annoying.

I never really invested a lot of time in finding websites with free images that I didn’t have to worry about using, but when I accidentally found Pixabay through a design website I was using, it was like getting a “free pizza for life” coupon. I feel like the rest of the world knew about this website, but no one clued me in. So, if I’m not the last person to find this resource, go check it out!

Other than free and easy use of quality images, here are a few other qualities I like about Pixabay:

  • Details about the photo are provided (e.g., camera lens, shutter speed, etc.), which makes it a learning experience for photographers who want to take their own photos.
  • Three size choices are generally provided, so you can choose the file size and graphic dimensions without having to crop/edit.
  • There are three different types of media: photos, illustrations and vector graphics (think cartoons or clipart like graphics), and videos
  • License and use information are provided with each graphic. Generally, they’re CC0 Public Domain, free for commercial use, and no attribution is required. You can also modify the image, so that if you want to use Photoshop/GIMP to remove the background, then that’s fine.
  • Signing up provides an account where you can keep track of your favorite images (by clicking on the star as you roll over the image).
  • They have a Facebook page that updates daily to share a good looking photo. Since it doesn’t fill up my feed with senseless posts, I like it. Also, in December 2015, the website had some stability issues, but the site creators were on their Facebook page responding to our cries for access. So, if you’re having trouble accessing the website, check their Facebook page to see if it’s a major issue (or if it’s just you).
Caution signCaution #1….there are links to Shutterstock images, which aren’t always free or Public Domain. These are marked with the Shutterstock watermark. Look before you click.

Caution #2…..you can lose hours and hours of your life going through the website and downloading images for future presentations/projects. You have been warned.

Here are good insights about the use of the Creative Commons (Public Domain) images (Please ignore the article’s typos, as the rest of the content is worth your time.): Public Domain Image – What is allowed and what is not?

Here is the link to Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/.

I’ve included some examples below, but it’s best to just go and explore the website yourself.

Samples images from Pixabay

BeFunky….everyone can use a bit of funky

Name: BeFunky
Cost: Free for some features ($25/year for full features)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

BeFunky logoThe first draw towards this tool was the title: BeFunky. I’m not really the funky type, though I sometimes accidentally hit on funky and claim that it was intentional. The second draw was the website’s slogan: Photo Editing and Graphic Design Made for Everyone. Since I’ve spent more time as a student than not, I’m all for gaining ground on other careers without going back to school. The photo editing aspect is like PicMonkey, though perhaps with a few other options, such as adding mustaches to your photos. The tool allows you to create collages to bring together several photos (and perhaps add text), along with a “Designer” mode that provides templates for a variety of situations (e.g., creating a menu or invitation image). I am not at a “social” point in my life, where menus, invitations, and thank you cards are needed, but I’m realizing that perhaps my blog could use a bit of help. I generally let my photos and graphics speak for themselves, but the design aspect of this tool allowed me to consider how text can enhance the photos.

BeFunky's Artsy Options

Like PicMonkey, there are themes and overlays you can add to your photos. Here are a few options.

Goal: Find an easy to use tool for creating graphic design like projects or graphics (with text) to use in the classroom.

Benefits:

  • There is a brief tour when you first get started, though the tools are fairly intuitive. As you use the tool, there are pop-up windows with further insights, so just start clicking if you need more tutoring.
  • No login or registration is required.
  • There’s an app version.
  • Really easy to use. Start with a design template. Swap out the photo for your own (even adjust the photo coloring, etc.), if you don’t like the one in the template, and then modify the text as needed. Done.
  • Your completed photo can be saved as JPG or PNG to your computer or you can upload it to various social media options. Quick and easy.

Drawbacks:

  • Slightly addictive. There are several free templates and other features to play around with, so be prepared to drop into the abyss and lose hours at a time.
  • If you are even a little experienced with graphic design (and related tools), then this tool is too simplistic for you since you don’t need to start with simple templates to edit photos and add text. (But if you’re pressed for time, then see the Benefits listed above.)
  • Related to the previous point, the infographic templates are simple, yet tedious to swap out the existing information in the template. I would not use BeFunky for these types of projects. (See Piktochart instead.)
  • If Flash crashes while designing, your work is completely lost.
  • In order to access some graphics, you need to create a login. (But, the “free” options are pretty nice if you choose Pixabay.)

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BagTheWeb…best way to bag bookmarks

Name: BagTheWeb
Cost: Free
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 5/5

 

BagTheWeb LogoIf you still bookmark webpages, then this is a good way to ease into the modern era of social bookmarking. I’m going to skip all the technical jargon and break it down. So, bookmarks are typically saved to your computer and you need to be on that computer in order to access your bookmarks, and unless you’ve been hacked, you can’t share those bookmarks except by pasting them into an email or social network post. [Yes, for those very bright users out there, some web browsers allow you to set up a cloud account to access bookmarks and settings anywhere you log in.] I often come across articles that I feel might interest students who are choosing topics for my Composition II course, so I wanted a way to easily capture the dozens of websites I find in a semester and share them with students. I didn’t want students to have to log into anything or even need special knowledge figure out how to access the shared web addresses. I also wanted the list to be up to date every time they access the collection of links, even after they finish the course. Thus, BagTheWeb was my answer in 2012 and I still use it. [Note: Yes, I’m hunting for better options and will post my findings to my blog eventually.]

Goal: easy way to capture Internet addressed of websites for students to easily scroll through

BagTheWeb Workspace view 1

After creating a bag, this is what it looks like, though only you can add or modify links

Benefits:

  • Once the account is set up, the “bagging” is easy, especially with the tool bar button. (When on a website you want to save, there is a toolbar button that opens a box allowing you to choosing the “bag” to put the website under.)
  • Once you’ve created a bag, you can use social media buttons to share it.
  • It’s automatically set to open the clicked link within a bag in a new tab, so users aren’t taken away from the bag when opening a link.

Drawbacks:

  • If choosing to have the videos load in the list, it delays the loading of the entire list (so the screen skips around a bit).
  • It isn’t as popular as other methods of sharing Internet research, such as Pinterest or Zotero, which is not the fault of the tool, but may impact your “cool” factor with students.
  • The page listing the websites is a bit cluttered and unattractive. Not a big deal for me, but I’m trying to get students to read through the suggested sites and click those of interest.
  • Further sorting or organization within a bag is not possible.
  • Firefox and the BagTheWeb browser button are quirky, where you click the browser button to bring up the dialogue box to save the website, and the box either doesn’t load all the way or won’t go away when you’re done. Wired.com generally doesn’t play well with the BagTheWeb browser button.

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Random Tip #3: Google Image Search

I’m not sure how this tip would best serve my blog’s audience, as I used it in specific situations that turned out to make my life a bit easier. I will share the tip and then my story so that you can ignore the narrative if you don’t care how to use the tip.

Google Images screen 1I’m a Google groupie. I know there are other search engines out there, but Google has always worked for me. I’m preparing for when Google actually takes over the world, and then I can honestly say that I was there in the beginning of it all. I especially like the ability to search for images based on the characteristics of an image I already have. In other words, if I have a photo of the Eiffel Tower, but I want to see other images that are like the one I have, then I can do an image search with my image.

Once you get to the Google Images search screen, just click the camera icon in the search box. You can paste a URL for the website with the image that you want to base your search from or you can upload an image you have already saved to your computer. The search will yield “matching” photos and then you can access the websites that host those photos by clicking on the found image and clicking the “visit page” button. You can do pretty much the same search method with the Google app….snap a photo and search Google images. Google image search options

That’s it. That’s my tip. If you’re wondering why you should care, then here are three scenarios to consider:

  1. Imagine that you went to Chicago Botanic Garden and took 500 photos of a variety of flowers, trees, bushes, grass, and children running around unsupervised. While there may be posted signs for much of the vegetation (not the children), not everything will be marked or you may not notice the signs. When you get home and sort through your 500 photos, there is one amazing shot of a flower that you don’t recognize. Bring in Google Image search. This is not foolproof, since your photo needs to be similar to other photos uploaded to the Internet, but sometimes it works.
  2. Many years ago, I did not model good “citing” behavior by writing citations for graphics I included in PowerPoint presentations. Now, I’m a more responsible adult and will build citations for graphics I use in lecture presentations (well…okay, I am more likely to do this in courses that I teach citation formats in). I had a very cool World Wildlife Fund PSA graphic that I couldn’t seem to track down with a regular Google search. I used the original graphic from my old presentation and found the graphic on several different websites. I didn’t find the original WWF version, but I had enough information to build a citation for the graphic.
  3. Imagine you’re sitting in a local restaurant and a friend notices a poster on the wall that looks like Chicago (or wherever). You and everyone at your table spend the next 10 minutes arguing if the view is in fact Chicago. While they’re arguing, just take out your smartphone, take a photo of the poster, open the Google search app, and search for the image using the photo you just took. Then, continue eating your meal until you can’t handle the drama of “IT’S CHICAGO! NO IT ISN’T!” and then reveal your findings.

Animoto….putting my ideas in motion

Name: Animoto
Cost: Free (for 30-second videos)….Free “unlimited time” for educators!!
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 5/5

 

Animoto logoI’m a fan of trailers….not the mobile kind, but the movie kind. I like that the movie trailer breaks down the main concepts into very brief visual flashes set to music. Well made trailers capture your attention even more than the opening scene of the movie (and sometimes the trailer is the only good part of the movie). To me, Animoto, gives me the tools to create these brief presentations of information that are visually engaging. The tool provides a theme with an interesting background throughout the video, but then you add the graphics and text to interact with the theme. Like a movie trailer, I have to edit down my ideas to just the highlights, which is more of a challenge that using the tool itself.

Goal: create short, movie-trailer type of video that is visually engaging

Animoto themes

Here is a view of some of the available themes you can start with.

Benefits:

  • The tutorial makes it look pretty simple to get started, as long as your focus is on graphics (not text).
  • Free music is available; suggestions are provided based on the chosen theme
  • Educators get a FREE version that includes more templates and a longer video length

Drawbacks:

  • The preview of the templates does not give a clear indication of how text would work with the theme, as the preview is for a photo gallery presentation.
  • Each slide cannot have it’s own “time frame” (e.g., 5 second pause for one slide and 10 seconds for a different slide).

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Random Tip #2–Hitching a ride on the WAYBACK MACHINE

Wayback Machine LogoI have been researching my dissertation for so long that webpages have actually died of old age or other causes since I started gathering Internet sources on my topic. If I want to go back and see the page I have the address for, whether saved as a bookmark or cited in a source I’m looking at, I am left with a “sorry we missed you” sort of error message where the Internet page should be. Not even a ghost or echo remains. In dire situations, Google can’t find a newer version of the page. This is often the case with academic websites, where a professor posts a published article, but then doesn’t teach the relevant course any longer or has moved to a different university so the page is removed.

My first response is an aggravated scream at the Internet’s lack of fortitude to hang in there until I finally finish my research. My second response is going to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Don’t get distracted by that first link to the Internet Archive, as you will get lost in this virtual “library” and never get to the second link that I want to show you. The Wayback Machine is a collection of saved webpages from the Internet’s entire life (…okay, not that long, but back into the 1990s).

Put in the URL (web address) for your dead webpage, click Browse History, and you’ll get a timeline and calendar with access to pages that were saved on certain days throughout the website’s existence. This isn’t the Holy Grail, though. If there are copyright restrictions (e.g., YouTube, CNN.com), then the page likely wasn’t saved or was removed once the copyright violation was detected. Also, there aren’t always saved screens for the exact time you need. In other words, the webpage you’re looking for was posted in March of 2005, but there isn’t a saved screen from that time.

While the Wayback Machine doesn’t always produce what I am looking for, it is better than nothing. It’s also fun to look at how far we’ve come in webpage design….maybe only geeks appreciate that sort of retrospect.

Link: https://archive.org/web/

Class Badges…amped up versions of a gold star

Name: Class Badges
Cost : Free
Type : Internet tool
Rating : 4/5

Class Badges LogoWe all like gold stars. Even adults. Admit it. It’s what makes apps like Angry Birds and Candy Crush timeless….even if we finish all the available levels, we can go back and try for three star finishes. What if our work or schoolwork could still earn us gold stars? It might just be the pat on the back that gets us through the day (or an hour of a tough day). A colleague suggested creating badges instead of gold stars, since the badges can be tailored for specific accomplishments. I like the simplicity of gold stars, but badges are more creative and on target. I was a Girl Scout, so I can appreciate collecting a variety of badges to represent smaller accomplishments. Also, badging is/was a popular trend in education. The tool Class Badges allows me to easily create badges with their stock icons or search public domain graphics to make badges with. Yes, I can use a photo editing tool to make my own, but I’d never be able to keep up with writing blog posts if I was that thorough.

Warning….so, at this point, I should reveal that I do not use this tool as it was intended. I’m supposed to be assigning badges within the tool so that students receive the badges only within the badge website. But, I don’t want my students to leave the classroom to review badges, so I take a screen shot (with Jing) of my completed badge and attach it to my response in the classroom.

Class Badges Workspace 1

This is what you’ll see after creating a few badges. You can award the badges from here, along with editing them.

Goal: Give visual support to students in an online classroom setting with more than my generic gold star JPG (created in Word)

Benefits:

  • There is a tutorial, though the process is not difficult to figure out on your own.
  • Easy to use tool, for the most part (see Drawbacks). I created a half-dozen badges quickly, and only stopped because I ran out of feedback worthy of a badge.
  • Access to public domain or stock graphics, though I didn’t really find what I was looking for through the public domain options

Drawbacks:

  • Cannot download graphic file of badge and text
  • Requires login…okay, that’s not a big deal, but it’s just another place for my email and a password
  • The search function can be a bit quirky. It wants to match the word as you type, which may cause confusion while typing. The keyword search results list is pretty limited.

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