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 #13: Usability.gov

As has probably become very apparent by reading my blog, I like free options for educators and professionals. While teaching at a for-profit university, I also had to start seeking resources that were not only free, but also didn’t violate copyright restrictions that would otherwise not be an issue for non-profit universities (i.e., fair use for education/learning). I was specifically challenged when designing a technical writing course that didn’t rely on a textbook, so that I had to either write the material, find library sources, or copyright “free” sources on the Internet. I couldn’t even provide students with a URL to a site that did not give us permission to do so.

usabilitygovOne comprehensive and free to use source is usability.gov. As the URL implies, the focus is on usability testing, which is a cornerstone of effective technical communications. Since it is a government website, I don’t have to worry about copyright issues (which is noted in their About page). The site doesn’t just cover usability, but also design, project management, accessibility, and content strategy. It has templates and tutorials. There’s also a blog, but it’s buried under the Get Involved link (…not good design, by the way). It’s worth exploring the site, but here are a few of my favorite pages:

The site was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, but the content is general enough to apply to almost any field and situation involving design and usability testing. The site is not only for educators looking for “free” content, but I would advocate web designers and other professionals who create content viewed by a large audience review the site for insights. Some of the articles have further links embedded, so you can continue researching topics beyond what is offered at usability.gov; just a caution, though, that not all the external links are active. While the site isn’t as robust as a textbook might be, it’s still good supplemental materials to get a conversation started.

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).

Random Tip #11: GCFLearnFree.org

YouTube…the chaotic bazaar of videos, where you can find quality and awful within a few clicks of each other. It really reminds me of the local video rental place we went to when I was young (…I know, I’m totally dating myself). It was a small shop, with poor lighting and shelves running all along the walls (with a set of shorter shelves running through the middle of the store). While the videos were somewhat organized by genre, with one step you could move from Labyrinth to Goonies to The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.

So, my point is, as an instructor, I don’t want to send my students to the sometimes unenlightening world of YouTube if I can avoid it by providing more specific recommendations. This is especially true when I ask students to use PowerPoint or Prezi to make their messages more dynamic. While many students now have been creating PowerPoint since they were in kindergarten, those without early experiences are panic stricken with the thought of clicking on the PowerPoint icon and facing a blank slide. Telling these students just to search YouTube for a PowerPoint tutorial might push them completely into technophobia. Lynda.com is also an option, but not everyone has access to the full video content, which can be frustrating if you get through the introduction and still need more information.

I recently came across a reliable and useful website that provides access to 125 free tutorials about technology (and other topics, such as Reading, Math, and career advancement). It’s the Goodwill Community Foundation: www.gcflearnfree.org. I’ve listed some of my favorite resources, but it’s worth sending students to browse the whole website to see what other useful tutorials and insights they can find. GCF Logo

My favorites include:

Most of the videos are short so that you can just review one video per topic, versus a long video with a variety of topics that you have to watch or fast-forward through. Not all the tutorials have videos, which is helpful for those who need to move through the content more slowly than what a short video can accommodate. I also like that there are share buttons (e.g., Facebook, Google +) buttons, along with a button to print or a button for a “single page view” (if the article is extensive). The content is professional, without being intimidating, and access is free.

GCF tutorial list sample

This is what a list of related tutorials looks like on the website. Clicking on a blue square will reveal the tutorial. Some tutorials provide further suggested links at the end of the article.

Random Tip #10: CNET.com

For those folks new to downloading software from the Internet, it can be a scary prospect, especially when your anti-virus software goes haywire after detecting malware and other nasty items you didn’t intend to download. One option to see if other users have downloaded the software and found “extras” embedded in the software is to read reviews posted on CNET.com. CNET has a specific area for downloading software, which should add an extra layer of protection from malware, but it isn’t foolproof. Rather, I rely on the reviews of the software to see if others have already encountered issues with the download. CNET logo

CNET.com is an all around good website for reviews and insights about new software and technologies. I really like that there are “editor” reviews, along with “user” reviews. The interesting part is that the editor reviews don’t always match the user reviews, but you can sort of average them out to see where the software or technology falls. The editors’ reviews are generally comprehensive and easy enough to follow; the user reviews may have more jargon and personal preferences (e.g., “I liked the software, but hate the background color for the menus.”). When looking to purchase new technology, I will watch the editor videos since they often have a realistic view of the product (as compared to the company website for the product).

CNET screen shot of review

This is a view of a review found on CNET. As you can see, you can download the software from here, but the most important part is seeing that the software only got 3 out of 5 stars. This is because users reported excessive malware with the software; there are other free video editing options that aren’t as troublesome.

CNET also has technology related news, so you can keep up to date with the fast-paced changes of this field. The How To section is a little disjointed as the tutorials are not always about technology/software (e.g., “Save Space and Organize Spices on Your Fridge“). It might be easier to head over to the Video section and look at the How To videos there, rather than just read How To articles. These videos are generally better produced than what you find on YouTube, since anyone with a webcam can post to YouTube without professional lighting, audio, or editing.

Like most popular websites, you need to be careful where you click as there are banner-ads and “you may also like” links that take you away from CNET. But, the ads aren’t too overwhelming, though they slow down the page from loading, which is a pain.

[You may be wondering why I’m providing information about a website that reviews software, when my blog focuses on reviewing software. Well, CNET doesn’t always have reviews on the digital media tools I use and review (e.g., Canva). Besides, I feel that my audience should have all available resources on hand when deciding to use software, either personally or professionally. I’ve also found that it’s generally easier to search and find reviews on my blog than CNET.]

Random Tip #9: Embed.ly

In an online environment, many of us have become accustomed with seeing “extra” content, such as videos or interactive content, along side the text we are reading. I find it necessary to embed content in my classroom announcements, which is the only place that my ecollege platform will allow me to embed content. You’ll also see embedding in my blog when I provide samples of digital media creations. Essentially, embedding doesn’t force your audience to leave your webpage in order to access the relevant video or other content. As an educator, I’m always afraid that my students will get distracted and not come back to the lesson content. If I give a link to a YouTube video, they might then continue to browse further videos that aren’t necessarily related to the lesson. Who can resist the “guilty pet” videos?

 

Embed.ly logo
I hope that you didn’t just prove my point in that video links take audiences away from my website and they don’t come back. Most video hosting sites and Internet digital media tools will provide embed codes for you to use, but there are times when they’re not available. I’ve found that I want to embed links to websites or documents in my classroom in order to have the same “don’t leave this page in order to access this other content” approach. There is an Internet tool to help create embed code for those who don’t have the programming skills to do it themselves: embed.ly. It’s kind of like a screen capture with a link, if you’re just embedding webpage content. It’s a better option for PDFs and videos. If you have some programming skills, or patience to figure programming stuff out, then the tool can do a bit more than just provide embed codes. For this tip, I just went with the basic version.

 

Here are a few things to know about Embed.ly
  • It’s free to use for up to 5,000 URLs per month, requests that are 15 seconds apart. I suspect there are some tech savvy folks who have great use for more URLs at a faster rate, but I know that I won’t intentionally exceed the free version. If you have many users accessing your content often, then you’ll probably max out. I’m happy when a few students access the content every once in a while.
  • There is help and tutorials available, though the tool is pretty easy to use for basic purposes. There is also a blog.
  • You don’t need to sign up or log in to start using the embed code generator. If you want to “customize” the embed code content, then you need to log in.
  • Really simple to use once you find the content you want to embed, since you just copy the URL into the embed.ly tool and copy the code.
  • The tool is not perfect. If there is a video on the page you want to embed, then only the video will appear in the embedded content, and users will still need to go to the link to access the full page.
Embed.ly workspace

After you click the copy to clipboard, if you’re signed in, you’ll see an option to customize your embed view. This is the workspace view for that customization.

 

Since most videos I create or want to otherwise share will provide embed codes, I mostly use this tool for embedding PDFs or documents that are posted on the Internet. The first sample is to a PDF. The second sample isn’t as helpful since it only provides a brief view of content, and then requires the reader to click the link for the full content; the advantage I see here is that the embed code at least entices the reader with a graphic and some content.

IEEE

IEEE.org serves technical professionals and students who are looking to both foster working relationships and gain access to the latest technical research and knowledge.

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

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