Gotta Be An Easier Way

Using technology to make your life easier!

Archive for April, 2009

Directory of Learning Tools

With 2872 tools and counting (over 2100 free) Jane Hart’s Directory of Learning Tools on the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies site will definately have something for everyone.

It is not necessarily easy sifting through more than 2800 tools to find the one that you want but because the directory is broken down into logical categories and even has a section dedicated to personal productivity, it can serve as an excellent starting place to see just what is available.

Many of the tools in the list will eventually find their way onto this site.

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  • Filed under: Learning, Search, Tools
  • Useful Social Networks for Students

    Everyone knows that social networks like Facebook are really popular with college age students but there are many other web 2.0 apps that can add to a students experience at college. Here is an article from Mashable that describes 10 of these applications. Enjoy.

    10 Must-Try Social Media Sites for College Students

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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Networking, Social Networking
  • Keepass

    KeePass is a free open source password manager, which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key file. So you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the whole database.

    Perhaps one of the best features of Keepass is that it can be carried on an USB stick and runs on Windows systems without being installed so you can take it with you and run it from almost anywhere. In addition, the database is a single file and can be easily moved or shared. Since the program is open source there is a version for Mac OSX, Linux, most other platforms. There are ports for the Blackberry, Windows CE and the iPhone version is just awaiting final export approval.

    The program is very widely used and there are many 3rd party plugins and utilities that can enhance an already exceptional program. I have been using this program (the Mac OSX and Windows) versions for over two years and could not imagine working without it.

    KeePass Password Safe site…

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  • Filed under: Backup, Security
  • Convert Anything

    While we may not need to do this everyday, we all run into a file, an image, video or something that needs to be converted from one format into another. Because many of us don’t need to do this on a daily basis we often can forget what program or site is the best for doing what we need to do–this is where sites like Conversion Central come in.

    Master lists of conversion tools that are well organized make it easier to to remember and bookmark not just one but literally hundreds of useful conversion tools in one or two clicks. Check out this latest list:

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  • Filed under: Conversion
  • In regards to URLs, size matters

    I am sure it has happened to everyone, you get a url link that doesn’t work and you have to type out the whole thing, all 213 characters of it. Or you want to point someone to a great resource but the url length is taking up 3/4 of your email to them. Well there are many tools out there that will take any url and shorten it. That is all they do and they do it with no sign up. I am giving you two different options for URL shorteners that work well.

    TinyURL is one of the more popular and is what Twitter uses automatically on longer URLs.

    Another tool that works well is Really whichever you pick you will get a service that works well and makes 300 character URLs into 15 characters.

    How can this be used in education?

    Well lets be honest, all it is going to do is shorten URLs which is a good thing most of the time. If you decide to integrate it into your content however you run the risk of the original URL becomes broken and you have no way of tracing its origins because of the tiny url. I would suggest you only use it when you have a good backup.

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  • Filed under: URL
  • iCue – Immerse, Connect, Understand & Excel

    The following is a cross post from and it is being re-posted to the easierway site because this clearly represents an easier or more effective way to learn history, civics and current events and should be considered a glimpse of what the future of learning may hold.

    iCue, which stands for “Immerse”, “Connect”, “Understand”, and “Excel”,  is a free, online, collaborative learning environment for students and lifelong learners ages 13 and up that includes discussion forums, games and activities, and hundreds of current and historic videos from NBC News.

    iCue was originally designed with Advanced Placement students in mind by NBC and the MIT Education Arcade who are conducting research study to find out how iCue can help students learn. Originally designed with Advanced Placement students in mind, students in high school through college and lifelong learners of all ages will enjoy watching the NBC videos, playing the games, joining discussion forums and trading Cue Cards while they learn.

    The system can be used by a wide assortment of learners at many levels but does offer the following courses as a starting point:

    • U.S. History,
    • U.S. Government and Politics, and
    • English Language and Composition.
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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Learning, Networking, Research, Social Networking, Video
  • Part 3: Search Engine Throwdown

    True Knowledge is a “question answering” search engine. You ask a question the way you do to any other person and it will give you an answer and the results (webpages) from which it drew that conclusion. So if you type in “How tall is the Eiffel tower?” I get a simple answer of “324 meters” I also get the specific article it got that information from, a list of other webpages that are relevant to the search and also an option as to if I agree or disagree with the answer.

    True Knowledge is still in beta (like the other 2 I reviewed) so not everything has an answer and on top of that you still need to sign up to be able to use it something that can take days before your account can be set up. That is not very good when you are just wanting to do a simple search. If you are very interested in this concept and feel you want to contribute you sure can add to the knowledge base.

    How can you use True knowledge in education?

    Really because it is in beta, and has been for over a year, it really isn’t suitable to use in education but is definitely one to watch out for and should be followed.

    So who is the winner of this throwdown? My choice as best search engine alternative is Hakai, and for these reasons:

    • Smoothest and fastest interface
    • verified search results
    • direct comparison with other search engines

    This isn’t to say that the other search engines are not good, they are good but I just prefer Hakia at this point.

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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Networking, Research, Search
  • Part 2: Search Engine Throwdown.

    hakia via kwout

    Hakai is a self proclaimed semantic search engine that spits out results based on web sites that are suggested by librarians. Because most search engines bring search results based on popular websites the results may not be credible but Hakai is trying to change that.

    Most search engines bring popular results based on what statistical ranking algorithms, the problem with this is that the popular results are not always credible. Enter Hakai, the self proclaimed semantic search engine that brings quality results based on 3 criteria:

    1. credible websites recommended by librarians
    2. relevance to the query
    3. up to date information

    Hakai takes it a step further by allowing you to compare ( your search to Google, Yahoo and MSN to see how effective it is as well letting you see if you find the search to be as effective as they say.

    No sign up required, no commitment of any kind is needed to use this tools so feel free to try it risk free.

    So how can this tool be used in education.

    • If you are tired of Wikipedia, Google and the like then you can test drive Hakai and it’s librarian approved search result out and perhaps only allow your students to use it when doing research.
    • It is another search engine option for yourself or anyone for that matter.
    • Use it to show your students how different search engines can offer different results, thus it becomes a teaching tool to demonstrate why extra research is usually needed.

    How would you use Hakai?

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  • Filed under: Collaborative, Networking, Research, Search
  • It’s a Search Engine Throwdown!


    Once again I am pitting three similar tools against each other to see who comes out as the victor. Three tools enter, one tool leaves. This go around is focused on search engines and ever since Google came in, stole the spotlight and made search engines cool everyone has been wanting their piece of the pie. The 3 tools I will be spotlighting are Middlespot, Hakai, and True Knowledge.

    The first tool up is Middlespot and though this tool doesn’t offer any complex search algorithms but this search engine boasts the added functionality of a thumbnail picture for every search result that shows up. These images can be zoomed in and out and are all laid out on a basic workspace and to the left is another workspace with all the text present.

    Another cool aspect of of Middlespot is that you get a thing called a workpad which enables you to:

    • save multiple pages to
    • change names
    • give it a unique url
    • add comments
    • email to people
    • it remembers your searches
    • it makes suggestions for other searches.
    • embed your workpad to your website or blog as I have done here

    Middlespot also allows you to search twitter, amazon and images for a bit more variety. It also boasts the ability to add (if you want, no requirement here) Middlespot to you firefox search engine list and of course the obligatory bookmarklet. And if you don’t like the algorythm that Middlespot uses you can save google searches to your workpad and look at them there.

    All of this is offered with no signup, plugins, logins, or kitchen sinks required so no passwords to remember, if you don’t want.

    All sounds pretty good but there must be a downside, right? Well there is, bringing up 25-50 thumbnail images of websites can be pretty taxing on your internet connection and things tend to slow down, something that can cripple a search engine because people want their search results like they like their coffee…fast.

    So how can Middlespot be used in education?

    • You can post links via the workpad
    • use it as a personal search engine
    • use the comment tool to document separate workpads, like an overview
    • and you can use it like any other search engine

    Stay tuned for part 2 of the search engine throw-down coming early next week.

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  • Filed under: Research, Search
  • Launchy

    spotlightWhen most people think of using a Mac they think of ease of use and a strong reliance on the mouse. Ironically or paradoxically , the Mac’s, or more specifically OSX strength is the keyboard control which is found in the tool system search tool called Spotlight which is essentially a search engine for your entire system. With the click of a button you can search through all of the images, contacts, emails, files, calendars, and applications on your Mac all at once. Spotlight has enormous power and it can even be used for calculations.


    Unfortunately there is no native search tool within XP or Vista that performs as well as Spotlight and after using OSX as my primary OS for the last 18 months the hardest adjustment I have to make when I go back to XP or Vista is lack of this tool. Fortunately, there is an open source equivalent to Spotlight called Launchy that has almost the same power and functionality.

    Launchy is a free windows utility designed to help you forget about your start menu, your desktop icons, and your file manager. Launchy indexes and launches your applications, documents, project files, folders, and bookmarks with just a few keystrokes and is one of the first tools I know install on XP or Vista. Like all the tools that we highlight on the blog. launchy-wikipedia

    Launchy is very easy to download, install and configure. It can be configured to open with any assortment of keystrokes and once it is open you just start typing the name of what you would like to access and Launchy brings up programs, files and even bookmarked websites that match the name. You open the item simply hitting the enter key. It is just that easy.

    Launchy website

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  • Filed under: Operating Systems, Search