Category Archives: Tools

Google Breadcrumb: create interactive mobile learning resources

Google Labs has come up with Breadcrumb, a simple tool for creating web-based resources, hosted by Google, that are formatted for mobile access. Breadcrumb provides an online text editor where the text of the resource is entered. Simple markup characters are used to create new pages and links to them, in a manner similar to wiki markup. There are no tools for WYSIWYG editing: you need to use HTML to insert images and create formatted headings etc.

The Breadcrumb page also shows a sample (unformatted) output as it would appear on a mobile device, a ‘mind-map’ of the page structure and some minimal help. The sample output and mind-map are updated when the text file is saved. The page also includes a QR code that can be scanned directly off screen or used in print or a web page elsewhere to allow mobile users tor jump directly to your finished work.

The Breadcrumb screen


Teachers can use Breadcrumb to create interactive stories, scenarios and traditional ‘branching’ learning materials. For example, it would be easy to use Breadcrumb to create something like the Learning Design Challenge, a problem-based learning resource in the form of an interactive game-like story in Mediawiki. Breadcrumb can also be used to create decision tree resources.

Breadcrumb issues

  • The biggest issue with Breadcrumb is that there is no page security – anyone with the URL can change or delete all the text. So you really need to keep good backups of the resource code! Until this is fixed, Breadcrumb is really only useful as a fast and easy way to prototype a new resource.
  • Breadcrumb markup is similar but frustratingly different from other widely-used markup conventions. If you’re familiar with a form of wiki markup, learning Breadcrumb’s markup is easy. But moving resources between systems (eg using Breadcrumb to create a prototype as above) would be a chore.
  • Breadcrumb resources do not always display well on mobile devices – for example, on iPhone or iPod the text is very small and double-tap to zoom does not work properly. On Android the display is better but not perfect.

Breadcrumb tips

  • Backup constantly by copying and saving the text to a local file on your hard drive or an online tool such as Springpad or Evernote.
  • Plan before you start – eg create a mindmap or tree diagram on paper.
  • Use the Breadcrumb group to learn more, as Google’s documentation only covers the real basics.
  • Don’t use numbers for pages – one thing the Google documentation doesn’t tell you is that page names can be words. See my example in the diagram – I find meaningful page names much better to work with.

Breadcrumb has a lot of potential as a tool to allow non-technical users to create interactive, branching learning resources such as stories. Currently it seems to be not quite ready for real world use by teachers, but let’s hope Google Labs continues to develop this tool.

Android for teachers: simple, tasty photos for the web

One thing I really like about my Android phone (LG P500) is the camera feature. It’ll never replace my real camera but it’s always with me, so I can take a quick snap even when I’m teaching. Plus there are imaging apps which make it a great tool for fast and easy creation of images.

For example, Vignette is a camera app for Android which has a free demo version as well as a paid version. The free version is limited to .3M pixel images, but these are fine for small illustrative images on a web page. The software has a wide range of effects which are fast and easy to use. And they provide some useful tweaks for web display.

For example, some of these effects produce a small square image (about 500 x 500) with a white border. So it’s really easy to produce a web-optimised image that is small and fast to download and has a built in margin for text wrapping. The image shown here is just 49KB and uses the Velvia filter which increases colour saturation. It’s not a great photo, but I love how fast and easy it is to capture an image like this, all ready for sharing on the web.

And because Android is a very ‘open’ OS, once you’ve captured the image there are many options for sharing it. Vignette will send the photo to Twitter, Facebook, email or other apps you use. I use the WordPress app which allows me to edit posts and pages on my phone, and Android makes it easy to send the photo directly from Vignette to a new WordPress post. Again, fast and easy – and a lot more flexible than just having a ‘Send via email’ option which I got used to on an iPhone.

Where there is a need for high resolution and high quality images a phone camera is not going to be appropriate. But where all that’s needed is a quick informal snap, a phone camera can be a great tool. Many of the teachers I work with don’t find it easy to get to grips with optimising images for the web. An Android phone* with Vignette is an easy way to get images into a blog or an LMS like Moodle, and it also integrates well with many of the social software platforms they use. I’d recommend it as a useful tool for teachers wanting a simple and convenient way to enhance their online presence with images.

* Note: not all phone cameras are equal. I chose one with 3 MP resolution and macro capability, but no flash as I prefer to use natural light anyway. Others will have very different needs.

Is the iPad just too big?

The ideal form factor of a hand-held mobile computing device is always going to involve lots of trade-offs:

  • If you use it for reading and browsing, roughly the size of a book seems sensible. To me, the current iPad seems a good size for this purpose, although Paul Miller thinks the iPad is too big even as a reading device.
  • If you use it as a phone, you want something you can hold to your ear comfortably. The iPad is just too big. Anything much bigger than (say) an iPhone and you’ll need a bluebooth headset or accessory. More stuff to cart around.
  • If you use it as a camera, you need to be able to hold it up to your face. Again, the iPad is too big, so an external camera would be needed and more stuff to cart around.

Steve Jobs clearly states that the iPad won’t get any smaller and that for many purchasers it will replace the laptop computer. But one of the strengths of the laptop is the relatively open connectivity provided for both hardware and software. The iPad doesn’t (yet) provide such an open plug-and-play system.

The iPad is a beautiful device but is not yet the ideal touch-screen device for me. If it’s going to be this big, it needs to be more capable of real work and not rely on closed proprietary OS features. Personally, I’d prefer it about half the size it is now, all ready to go everywhere with me as a phone, camera, browser, email client, and app platform with no other devices or accessories needed. Maybe I need to look to Android rather than iOS?

The iPad: a tool for teachers

When the iPad was first announced I posted some brief thoughts about its potential for education. Since then, it’s been released and I’ve had the chance to spend some time playing with one. It’s been an opportunity to see to what extent the device itself and the software available would be a useful tool for supporting the work of teachers and lecturers.

My initial impressions that the iPad functionally resembles a giant iPod Touch have been confirmed. Still, I use my iPod Touch all the time, so all the advantages of a bigger display are very attractive. The key question for me is to what extent the bigger display makes the iPad a great device not just for consuming media but also for generating content.

The iPad is a great device to view content – it’s fast and the display quality is impressive. And of course there is a huge number of apps available for it,  given that it’ll run existing iPhone / iPod Touch apps as well as apps developed just for the iPad.

But as a working teacher I also want to generate content. And it has limitations here:

  • Want to edit online content such as Moodle or mediawiki pages? Results vary – you’ll almost certainly need to use HTML or wiki markup since the iPad is unlikely to work with wysiswyg editors. I don’t mind that – in fact I prefer to use HTML or wiki markup – but many teachers will find this a real drawback. And things are worse if you’re one of the many educators using the PBWorks wiki- at the time of writing it was impossible to edit a page with the iPad.
  • You can’t print. So you’ll need to rely on a desktop or laptop computer for this.
  • Using Google Docs? At the time of writing you can view but not edit using an iPad.
  • Want to create media resources?  There are useful apps becoming available, but the lack of native support for accessing the iPad file system and the use of proprietary file formats is likely to be a barrier. My two-year-old grandson loved using the built-in mike to make that cursed animated cat speak funny – but there is no obvious way just yet to record audio to standard file formats that can be moved easily to a desktop, edited in other applications and published.

In my mind, Apple has focused too much on the entertainment aspect of its portable devices and neglected their use for real-world work. I’d like to see both, and I don’t believe they need to be mutually exclusive. The iPad is not quite ready to meet my needs as a working teacher – can’t wait to see the next version.

Image: Glenn Fleishman

Getting started with PBWorks wiki

To my surprise, I’m still recommending PBWorks to teachers as a good way to get started using a wiki. That’s because the Moodle wiki is still not a very effective tool, and PBWorks is easy-to-use and provides some good features for developing and formatting content. It’s proprietary, of course, so it has to be used with caution, but it’s a good way to get started.

When I’m introducing teachers to the potential of wikis and other web tools, I naturally start by getting them to set up and work with wikis themselves. It seems to me like a set of core skills – how to plan and put together a collection of linked pages. This can be applied in reflective individual writing or as a collaborative exercise.

Here’s a 3-page PDF document on how to get started with PBWorks. It’s covered by the by-nc-sa licence so you are welcome to download and use it as you see fit provided it’s not used commercially and my authorship is attributed.

If you modify or adapt it, please add a comment to this post with a link to the new version.

Image: Andjam79