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: [Royalty] Free Music from Incompetech

Incompetech logoBackground music can make a video seem more professional, especially if you don’t include voice-over narration or other audio components in the video. While some music can be distracting, choosing the right piece of music can help the audience stay engaged with the text/graphic content in the video.

I’m not a musician, which would be pretty convenient if I could not only play music but also score original pieces to add to my videos. While I own copies of music that would work well for my purposes, I don’t actually own the rights to reproduce that music. Copyright primer…purchasing or downloading a copy of a song does not give the purchaser rights to use that song for commercial purposes. While Fair Use might extend to educators/students at nonprofit institutions, YouTube and other hosting sites do not typically honor Fair Use and will remove videos that violate copyright by using music without clearly indicating copyright permission. Sorry for that legal aside, but I’m from a generation that gloried in the beauty of “file sharing” music only to have it ripped away from everyone and described as theft (with extreme consequences).

Kudos to Kevin MacLeod for coming to my rescue! I don’t have to take music lessons now because he’s willing to share his amazing background music clips on his website: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/music.html. At first I felt a bit guilty for benefiting from his musical talents, but he explains his willingness to share as a means to help out those who don’t have budgets for music.

MacLeod's philosophy graphic

This is an excerpt from Mr. MacLeod’s website (FAQ section). Here he explains why he’s willing to share his work without requiring financial compensation, just attribution.

The website is really easy to use. I know I could get lost for hours just sampling his music, so I just randomly picked some to listen to and made my decision quickly.

Incompetech music preview screen shot

Here is a screen shot of what it looks like when looking and previewing available songs. I love his descriptions of the music…not just the instruments, but the feeling that the music should elicit.

Please respect Mr. MacLeod’s request to give him credit for his work. As someone who shares her work with others for free, I can attest to the faith artists have that their sharing won’t be abused. Giving credit is very simple since the copyright language is provided and can be copied into the credits of the video or other location in the work you’re creating. Should you prefer to not provide attribution, then you can pay for the no-attribution license. If you feel better about using an attributed version by donating to the artist, there’s that option if you have a PayPal account: Donate.

Incompetech copyright and crediting language

This excerpt is also from Mr. MacLeod’s website. Be sure to follow his suggestions for providing attribution.

You can even find him on YouTube, as seen in the clip below.

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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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Prezi….pushing me past PowerPoint

Name: Prezi
Cost: Free (pay version available, reduced cost for educators)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 5/5
 Prezi logo

Death by PowerPoint (PPT). It happens. Prezi is the answer to a slide presentation that doesn’t look like a slide presentation. Caution….if you get motion sickness, then Prezi might not be a great option, though the zooming in/out and around is not as bad as other tools (e.g., Emaze).  I suspect the animation of zooming out and over to the next “slide” is the most appealing feature, but it does also allow the audience to see the whole presentation at once and then choose a direction to head in (or just use the arrows to take the path you set). Prezi is fairly popular with students and educators who are familiar with PPT, but seek a different way to navigate. Having PPT experience is helpful, but not required. So, if anyone has ever suggested that you need to “think outside the box,” give them a Prezi presentation and see if that does the trick.

Update, February 2016: I had recommended Prezi to students, but they reported back that it was too expensive to use. I really thought it was free for everyone, not just educators. It takes some work to find the free version since you keep getting flipped to the free-trial version. Here is the link to the “public” version that is free: https://prezi.com/signup/public/

Goal: Create a dynamic presentation that is mostly text driven (no audio, few/no graphics) and can be embedded in an online classroom

Prezi Desktop view

This is what the prezi workspace looks like with a theme applied, but no content.

Benefits:

  • Many templates and styles to choose from, especially with the pay version, but still enough to choose from in the free version
  • Allows embedding of media (e.g., video clips, webcam video, graphics)
  • Can link to online version or embed in website with HTML code
  • There is an app, so audiences can access presentations on mobile devices
  • Can be downloaded as a whole presentation or saved as PDF

Drawbacks:

  • I get a little frustrated when I deviate from the templates and want to add/delete sections. I have to remember the nuances of each step to building a new section, which might be overwhelming for someone with limited experience with Prezi.
  • The printed version of the presentation isn’t as well designed as PPT. I inherently wanted a “whole” view to print of one my shorter presentations, but the text became distorted or too small.

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