Gotta Be An Easier Way

Using technology to make your life easier!

Mind Mapping on Steroids

The folks at Webdesigner Depot have posted 50 Great Examples of Data Visualization. These tools enable one to view large amounts of data in a visual spacial fashion that helps to reveal patters, trends and groups that are not easily observed in the traditional format. Unfortunately, this site lists 50 tools and while I have used several, but not all, I cannot make a recommendation on which tools is the best. Furthermore, the tool you choose or will need will also depend on the type of data that you need to view.

Educational Application:

Being able to present data in a visual spacial format will help most, if not all, learners get better grasp of what the data can reveal.

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  • Filed under: Graphics, Learning, Mind Mapping, Presentation, Research, Tools
  • Stamping Plagiarism out with Plagium

    Plagiarism can be a big problem in academic institutions and confirming something has been plagiarized can be just as difficult. Plaguim is a tool that seeks to help expedite that search process.
    Paste some text suspected of plagiarism into Plagiums text field and it spits out a nice timeline graph of all instances that it has been used along with a percentage which shows how accurate the two content chunks are to one another.

    How can Plagium be used in education?

    I think it is fairly obvious that the main purpose of Plagium is to see if any students are plagiarizing content. As an extension you could use it to check to see if your own works have been plagiarized when and by how much.

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  • Filed under: Research
  • WayBackMachine

    The Internet Archive was founded to build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format. Want to see what a website looked like 2, 3, 4 or more years ago–just use the Internet Archives WayBackMaching and type in the URL and see what it looked like.

    Educational application:

    Great source for a historical persepective on just how far the Internet has come.

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  • Filed under: Browsers, Networking, Research, Search
  • There has been plenty of buzz this past week regarding Twitters new search engine and I must admit I am impressed. I won’t go into in this article but I will be doing a post that will be specific to Twitter. This post is about the combination of the Google search engine and Twitter’s code-named Twoogle.

    Basically this is a search engine mash-up by our friends at Browsys. Browsys is a folder system for links and resources. Now I can’t say that I would recommend Brosys because Diigo does the same thing an much much more. But the Twitter and Google search engine that it provides is a very handy tool that can be used.

    How can this help in education?

    • Two searches at once saves time
    • Utilize the power of both search engines.
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  • Filed under: Search
  • Wolfram: A New Take on Search Engines

    This past week a new challenger arose to test it’s might against the very powerful Google. Its task is a great one as Google dominates the western world but it appears that Wolfram doesn’t intend to play by the same rules. Instead of the user (you and I) searching for webpages that can bring the answers that we seek, we simply type in the the question to the answer we seek and Wolfram gives an answer. Wolfram is a “fact engine”

    So how good is it? Actually very good, it’s math and arithmetic is exceptional and should be feared as it seeks to put mathematicians out of work, try it by typing in “x^2 sin(x)”. Also try typing in “n=np”, one of the most persistent unsolved questions within computer science. Or perhaps try typing in your name to see statistics on how often it is used in the world. I also typed in “how tall is the empire state building?” and it promptly gave me a very detailed answer. So instead of searching for several minutes and trying to find a well cross-referenced answer I have it in seconds with Wolfram.

    Will it replace Google? No, Google’s place is carved in stone but Wolfram may have a place of its own carved out if subsequent releases impress as much as this did.

    I think I should also say that Wolfram isn’t the first search engine to try it’s hand at this sort of searching feature. True knowledge has been out for a little over a year now and has the same sort of search functions (see my article on search engines). But so far I am more impressed by Wolfram.

    To test out some of the more humorous answers that it gives you try these searches on for size.

    • To be or not to be?
    • How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?
    • How old are you?
    • Where am I?
    • How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
    • 88 MPH
    • What’s the answer to life?
    • Hello
    • What’s the speed of an unladen swallow?

    How can this be used in education?

    Again I am going to refer you to the articles I wrote on search engines.

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  • Filed under: Search
  • 280 slides to a better course

    I have run across many online Powerpoint replacements but the one I like the most is 280 slides. Now just so I am not too biased I will list some alternatives at the bottom of the page and will likely write a review of them in the future.

    As I mentioned earlier 280 Slides is an online replacement/supplement for Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote and it is by far the sleekest and sexiest of all the online presentation tools. It is very full featured and allows you to add videos, pictures, text, shapes and even upload powerpoint files.

    280 slides also plays nice with online/rich media making it ideal for engaging presentations. It looks good, is easy to use, and you can even try it out without having an account. 280 slides even allows you to download your presentation to a Powerpoint file so you can use it offline in those instances that the internet connection is a bit sketchy.

    How to use this app in education?

    • Instead of posting your Powerpoint to an LMS just give a link to your online version.
    • Students don’t need to own Powerpoint and you will be the one that is saving them money.
    • Have your students create their presentations here and perhaps have them critique each others work.
    • You can have access to your presentation from anywhere and any computer, no more needing to have Powerpoint on all your computers saving you money.
    • You can use it less as a focal point for presentations and more as a supplement to presentations.

    These are just a few examples of how to replace Powerpoint with 280 Slides. In the future I will compile a list of how to effectively use any presentation application in your classroom without causing the yawn factor.

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  • Filed under: Presentation
  • Phone Fun for Podcasting

    Phonecasting is a simple way of creating podcasts, all you need is a phone and an account on Phonecasting. With both of those you can phone into the number that they give you, talk, and you are actively recording a podcast from just about anywhere through your cell phone. You can also set it up so anyone can listen to your podcast from their phone or cell phone just by calling a different number that you get from your Phonecasting account.

    But what about iTunes U? What if I want to use iTunes U as the way for my students to access my podcasts? Well you can easily download the podcasts that you create on Phonecasting (only the ones you create because we respect copyright) and then you can upload it to iTunes U. Problem solved, all the benefits of both these great tools.

    Phonecasting has many other options that allow you to create groups, rss feed, and other great social media goodies but I will leave that exploration up to you if you want to use the extra functionality. The reason I won’t go into that is due to it being slightly more difficult to set up, nothing too intense but I have a feeling people just want an easy way to create a podcast.

    How can I use this for education?

    Podcasts are great for so many different reasons so I will try to give a few examples of how they are good and a few examples of why to use Phonecasting to create your podcasts.

    Podcasts

    • Deliver lectures that are always accessible for the student
    • Deliver added benefits content (introduction to yourself, explanations, readings, daily course tips, etc ) to students like videos and audio
    • Record your computer screen (need to use a different tool like Jing) to easily show students how to do common or complex tasks on the computer

    Why use Phonecasting?

    • I can record almost anywhere, even on a bus or while I am walking the dog.
    • Its easy to record
    • I can still download my podcasts
    • People can listen to my podcast from their mobile device
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  • Filed under: Podcast
  • Eight Reasons Your Next Computer Should Be A Mac

    Harry McCracken of PCWorld offers the following Eight Reasons Your Next Computer Should Be A Mac:

    1. Macs are consistently consistent.
    2. The joy of predictability.
    3. Who needs security headaches?
    4. Crud, or the lack thereof.
    5. Details count.
    6. Apple is one of the world’s best software companies.
    7. The Apple Store’s Genius Bar rocks.
    8. Hey, Macs are PCs.

    While I must admit that I do use a MacBook Pro I also have to acknowledge that the primary reason I do use a Mac is because it is the one platform that allows me to run Mac OS, XP, Vista and Ubuntu all on one system.  McCracken refers to this in point eight of his article. His first point “Macs are consistently consistent” is really an explanation of Mac being very reliable and extremely easy to use–my second reason for using a Mac.

    Unfortunately, the folks at Apple believe that their uniqueness, ease of use and sexy design justify pricing the Mac at levels that are unrealistic. A base aluminum MacBook that has a Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB of RAM and an onboard video card starts at $1350 which is about $500-600 more than a similarly equiped HP, Toshiba or Sony. The 15″ MacBook Pro starts at $2500 and a fully decked out 17″ is well over $3400, so only diehard users or those who have the need and budget can afford these highend systems. The ardent Mac fans will quickly point out that you get so much more with a basic Mac (iLife suite) and other built in software that the addition cost is warranted.

    Regardless of the excessive cost, the Mac is one of the easiest systems to use and for those who are looking for an easier way the Mac does deliver.

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  • Filed under: Operating Systems, Tools
  • My last article focused on the compression side of image editors (Dwayne also threw a good tool in one of his posts) and I tried to focus on the easiest to use options for that specific purpose. While writing that article I felt that I needed to focus on image editors that act more like a full featured photo and image manipulation program like Photoshop. So here is a list of a few online editors in order of what I would be most likely to use.

    Sumo paint
    http://www.sumopaint.com/web/
    online painting/photo manipulation program. One of the most robust in its field with a focus on illustration and painting. It’s editing features are in the top of the online field and my choice as the best of the best.

    Adobe Express
    https://www.photoshop.com/express/landing.html
    A stripped down photoshop that is all online and free (limited). If you create an account you will get access to a few more options and it still remains free. It’s focus is on photo manipulation in a basic way.

    Splashup
    http://www.splashup.com/
    Online image editor that works really well but could be considered on the difficult side if you have never worked with image editors before. It also boasts easy sharing to popular picture sharing sites like flickr, facebook, and picasa. No registration is required to start drawing but to really draw the power of it you should sign up.

    Picnik
    http://www.picnik.com/
    Online image editor that works really well and is very easy. No registration is required to start editing but to fully realize the application requires a paid registration. This one has the most fun filters of them all but lacks some of the other features that make the others really great.

    Synfig
    http://synfig.org/Main_Page
    Synfig is an open source vector animation application very much like Flash. It works on a PC but not Mac as of now and will be a very difficult program to get into for novice and pro alike.

    Pencil
    http://www.les-stooges.org/pascal/pencil/
    Pencil has no image manipulation or fancy filters, its purpose is for frame by frame animation. It’s very old school but still a very fun, easy application and gives you instant gratification.

    How can you use these applications for education?

    • Create your own graphics for courses
    • And you can refer to my last article for some ideas

    What are your ideas for useful ways these types of applications can be used in education?

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  • Filed under: Editors, Graphics
  • Visuwords™

    Visuword

    Visuwords™ is an online graphical dictionary where you can look up words to find their meanings and associations with other words and concepts. The tool enables you to produce diagrams and learn how words associate.

    Visuword combines a web 2.0 type visualization tool with Princeton University’s opensource WordNet database to create an interactive click and drag type tool that is free for everyone to use.

    Educational Applications

    Because Visuword functions like both a dictionary and thesaurus it is ideal for writers, journalists, students, teachers or anyone else who has an interest in words.

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  • Filed under: Editors, Graphics, Learning, Research, Tools