Category Archives: Tools

Prezi and PowerPoint: the same but different

In all the discussion about Prezi and PowerPoint and which is a better tool, the basic fact remains: if you use either badly the result will be learners who are bored and turned off:


A learner overwhelmed by PowerPoint

A learner overwhelmed by Prezi

Jokes aside, students of education technology can learn a lot from analysing these two tools and how they can be used. A comparison allows for exploration of concepts such as:

  • The use of technology as a tool – as opposed to a ‘teaching machine’
  • How a tool is used is a crucial issue – tools have a degree of neutrality as well as bias
  • The use of technology as a cognitive tool – to aid thinking
  • The use of technology by learners to author and publish content – a constructionist learning strategy
  • Strategies for expressing information – eg visual metaphors and structured text
  • The role of media (eg sound, graphics, animation) in the expression of information – what helps and what hinders?
  • The advantages / disadvantages of cloud computing

PicMonkey – simple, user-friendly online image editing

PicMonkey menuWhen I deliver professional development activities with teachers, I often need to point them to easy and effective online tools for working with media. Typically, they need to learn how to optimise images for the web (eg cropping and sizing), do some simple tweaks to correct exposure problems, or add some simple labels to images. Most don’t have the budget or inclination to commit to ‘proper’ image editing software such as Photoshop or Gimp.

Picnik has been a favourite since even those with limited skills and confidence find it an easy way to get started on working with images for the web. And since it is an online tool accessed with a browser, no installation is necessary. It was well-deserved recognition when Picnik was acquired and incorporated into Google+. Unfortunately Picnik has now announced it is closing its stand-alone site on 19 April 2012, so those without a Google+ account will be out of luck.

The good news is that in the last day or so, PicMonkey has become available. PicMonkey has a very similar interface and feature set to Picnik (see the screenshot) so those familiar with Picnik will find it easy to use. Like Picnik, PicMonkey has a set of free features and some which require registration for a premium account.

The really good news is that PicMonkey seems at first glance to be better than Picnik – it’s significantly faster to load and apply edits. From now on, I’ll be pointing teachers to PicMonkey as a fast and simple tool for editing and optimising images for the web.

Google + now has improved photo editing

Google+ Instant Upload is a great feature – in fact it’s a good enough reason on its own to use Google +. I used it every day on a recent three-week tour of the Peloponnese: whatever photos I took on my Android camera phone were automatically uploaded to my Google account whenever I connected to a wifi network. Since most accommodation now has free wifi, uploading the hundreds of photos I took was absolutely painless.

Where Google + has fallen short in the past has been the editing tools, which have been so limited that it’s usually necessary to move the photo first into a separate photo editing package. But Google has now added Picnik editing tools into the Google + photo library page. See the screenshot on the right for what’s available.

The Halloween menu doesn’t interest me, and the Effect menu is somewhat limited – I would probably still choose to add effects using Android software on my phone such as Vignette or Little Photo. But the Basic Edits menu provides a very useful set of tools to fix the commonest problems. For example, the rotate tool now has a free rotate option to straighten photos as well as simple 90° rotation.

Editing photos in Google + was previously very limited but the set of tools imported from Picnik make this a much more effective package now for managing photos.

 

Zapd: fast and easy websites

Zapd Screenshot
Teachers and students often need a fast and easy way to create a simple website to share text and photos. A full-featured blog can seem too complex or unwieldy for some situations. Zapd is an app for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad which has a limited set of features but which makes it really easy and fast to create a good looking site.

Once you’ve download the app and set up your profile, you can quickly create a new site using one of the supplied themes. The themes are generally clean and clear and can be changed at any time. Then it’s just a matter of adding content – note from the screen shot that there are only 3 content types available: text, photo or link. Content items are normally added to the bottom or top of the page, but you can drag the items to re-order them.

Each site created in Zapd has a unique and short URL – my test site is located at http://59x.zapd.co. It took me about 10 minutes to make my simple online portfolio of photographs – that is, about 1 minute to add the photos and text, and the rest of the time playing with the themes :-) Fun.

The bottom line

Why use Zapd? I do like the flexibility and much greater feature set of Tumblr, but I would recommend Zapd to any teachers who want an entry-level tool for creating simple sites. It lowers the barriers to creating online content for both teachers and students.

Android for Teachers: easy APA referencing

QuickCite is a simple app which uses your android phone’s camera to scan a barcode from the back of a book. The app then looks up the barcode in an online database and emails you a reference to the book in a standard format.

What I like about QuickCite

  • The app is generally fast to scan the barcode and return a result.
  • The app seems mostly reliable in returning a result for non-fiction books.
  • QuickCite is very simple and it’s easy to set set up. On the configuration screen you enter your email address and select one of the four available formats: APA, MLA, Chicago, and IEEE.

What I don’t like about QuickCite

  • QuickCite is not so good at returning a result for fiction books. If you need to create APA references for lots of novels, you might be disappointed.
  • The app doesn’t always behave as you’d expect of an Android app – eg the back button on your phone does not work when a scan is completed.
  • The only option for sharing the reference is via email – one of the strengths of Android is the ability to easily share content with social networks tools or cloud services.
  • The only option is to receive each reference as a separate email. A much better option would be for the app to save each reference into a file which you can then send via email at the end of a scanning session.

Overall, the QuickCite app seems a little unfinished for a paid app, and it doesn’t appear to have been updated since its initial release. But if all you need is a simple app that scans a single book and emails you the reference, it could be for you.