Tag Archives: Google

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.


Watching learners with laptops – what’s really going on?

Jonathan Martin is the principal of a 1:1 laptop school school in Arizona. In a recent issue of Connected Principals he reports on his experience with observing students at work by Standing in the Back, Watching the Screens.

This article raises all sorts of  issues – including what (if any) internet filtering schools should implement. But what really interested me was his observation that students changed what they were doing on their laptops depending on what else was happening in the classroom:

When the topics appeared relevant to students, the note-taking pages appeared; when the topics veered to the arcane and irrelevant, the screens veered to facebook, gaming sites, and other distractions…

When [the] teacher moved towards more discussion, though, asking questions to facilitate conversation… Nearly half of the screens veered away from both note-taking pages and distractions; appearing instead were google, wikipedia, and other information source sites.

This seems very positive – students appeared to be responding to classroom discussion activities to maximise their own ability to contribute. However, the report does raise a few issues:

  • In my experience, students don’t always know what is relevant information and what is ‘arcane and irrelevant’. So there is a risk that a student with little prior knowledge will assume something is irrelevant when it is not.
  • Discussion is not always about ‘finding the right answer’, so searching the web is not always a good strategy. For example, a teacher may want to explore learners’ prior knowledge in order to help them acquire new learning – a sound constructivist learning strategy. If learners immediately turn to an external information source rather than reflect on their own understanding and experience this would tend to undermine the effectiveness of the activity.

I’m not arguing here that students should not be in charge of their own learning. But teachers do need to take a proactive role in guiding the learning process. Both issues suggest that making the learning process explicit is important:

  • If something is likely to seem irrelevant to students, point out why it is in fact important. And if it really isn’t important and relevant, drop it!
  • Make it clear that not all learning is about ‘finding the right answers’ from an external source. Discuss why making prior knowledge explicit is an important stage in the learning process.

What do you think?

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

How secure are your course materials online?

If you’re using an online service such as Google Docs to share your teaching materials or for students to publish their work, you’ll never want to see a news item like this:

Gurgle Docs Is History

Disgruntled employee pulls the plug

Earlier today, a Gurgle spokesperson expressed regret that the popular document sharing service is no longer available.

“Everyone kind of assumed we had a big server farm running Gurgle Docs, but actually it was all on an old iMac in someone’s office. When that employee was laid off recently, he formatted the hard disk on the way out.”

The spokesperson continued that while the company had no backup and no way of restoring users’ documents, he was sure that users did have backups of any important files.
(cont on page 3)

Tongue in cheek, of course, but there’s a serious issue here: how to ensure the security and continued availability of online resources. Whether they are resources developed by the teacher or the learner, if there is only one accessible copy the resource is not secure.

While the incident described in the spoof news item above is very unlikely, a number of things can go wrong with online services. Firstly, the service can withdraw or stop developing a feature, such as Google did with Notebook which is no longer available for new users. If you’re lucky (as with Notepad), the service provider will let you export your data. Another example is the withdrawal of an RSS feed service by Facebook.

A more serious problem is when a service fails for business or technical reasons – this happened recently when ma.gnolia had a serious technical failure and user data was lost. Even if you were lucky enough to retrieve all or some of your data, this would clearly be a major disruption to a teacher relying on the service for course delivery.
(See also http://mashable.com/2009/01/30/magnolia-data-loss/)

Some learner-contributed content (such as forum postings) tend to be reasonably transient, and their loss might not be a disaster. But imagine the problems caused by loss of access to data where learners are encouraged to create an e-portfolio directly in Google Docs. As I’ve suggested elsewhere in relation to YouTube’s Quick Capture, it’s much safer to create local files and upload them than to work directly in the online service.

When incorporating the use of online services into a course, I recommend that teachers:

  • Check the terms of service – who owns the copyright of contributed content? Can the service provider start changing for the service? Do they have the right to withdraw the service without notice? Do they have the right to delete any content without notice?
  • Advise learners on clear strategies for ensuring backups of all files, and on any limitations imposed by the terms of service.

Loss of data can cause irreparable damage to a student cohort. Online services can prove to be very valuable components to teaching and learning, but we do need to take a few sensible precautions to ensure security of content and ongoing access. Most of us have experienced loss of data through careless backup procedures: the loss of teacher-generated and learner-generated content for a whole course could be much more embarrassing!