Use Prezi as a memory tool

If you haven’t tried working with Prezi yet, you’re missing out on an amazing product. What makes it so useful is the break from that forced march from beginning to end you get with other presentation tools like Power Point. Prezi allows you to zoom in and out of a virtual canvas, revealing text and other objects in crisp detail as you move closer or further out.

This zooming feature makes it perfect for a memory technique known as the memory palace. Here is the technique in its most simple form. Think of a place you know well like the home you grew up in. In each room, you create a vivid image representing the idea or fact that you want to recall. To remember it later, just mentally move through the rooms until you find what you need.

You can create as many memory palaces as you need. Prezi can really help in this because you can create an online version of your palace and use it as a visual aid while you memorize the material.

To do so, get a picture of a house. Make sure you use something that is licensed for reuse and modification. I like to go to Google Advanced Search and filter my search by license in order to make sure I’m not breaking any laws or ticking someone off. Next, create a blank Prezi. Now, drag and drop your (copyright friendly) image onto the Prezi. It should upload automatically. Once you have the image, simple add text describing the facts you want to recall.

Here is a sample Prezi I made as an example.


Interactive tutorials with Google

Google presentations are great for a lot of reasons. Unfortunately, they are designed to go from one slide to the next in a simple, linear fashion. There’s a way to make them interactive. This post tells you how to do just that.

Short instructions:
1) Create a presentation.
2) Completely cover each slide with a transparent box.
3) Link that box to the same slide on which it was placed.
4) Add small transparent boxes over the portions that will make your "buttons" interactive.

Long instructions:

Create your slides
First create the entire tutorial minus the interaction. This includes any interactive buttons or clickable objects. Also, make sure you add any animations or slide transitions before moving on to step two. I'll explain why latter. I suggest making the tutorial in something like Powerpoint first, then copying it over to Google Docs. Powerpoint is far easier to work with. You’ll be better able to concentrate on architecture of the tutorial and be able to troubleshoot with less hassle. Google Docs will convert Powerpoints into a Google presentation, so there really isn’t much more work creating the tutorial in a separate program.

Once the tutorial has been created, uploaded and converted, it’s time to add the magic. First, we have to remove a feature that Google built into presentations. Normally, when you click on a slide it will automatically move to the next slide. You can stop that from happening by covering the entire slide with a transparent box.

Cover each slide
Add the box by clicking on “Insert”, then “Shapes”, then choose the square. You'll get a pair of cross hairs that you can use to draw whatever size square you choose. Start drawing just outside the slide, then click and drag to create a shape large enough to extend beyond the borders of the slide. Next, change the fill to transparent. Leave the line. This makes the box easy to for you see and since the box is outside the boundries of the actual slide, no one else will notice them. Now, click on that box, then click on the link button. One of your options will be to link to a specific slide. Choose the slide you are currently on. That way, when someone clicks anywhere on the slide, they'll stay on that slide and won't be able to move forward. You'll be giving them a way to move around in a moment. For now, you just need to prevent them from pushing forward every time they click on a slide.

Add invisible, linked squares
Finally,you’ll need to add the interactivity. Remember that you've already created the tutorial. All you're doing at this point is making your buttons and other clickable objects work. Once again, you'll need to create a transparent box and link it to a slide. This time, however you'll be linking to a slide
further along in your presentation.

In my example presentation, you'll see a "Next" button. I've covered that button with a transparent box that is hyperlinked to the next slide. When someone tries to click "Next", they'll actually click on my transparent box and be sent to the next slide in the tutorial.

Copy and paste is your friend here. For buttons like Next, Previous, Home and Exit, the transparent boxes will all be the same size and placed in same area on each slide. Once you have the boxes created for one slide, select all of the blocks (ctrl + click) then copy them all. Now all you have to do is go down from slide to slide hitting ctrl +v, pasting those boxes into position.

Publish or share
Don't forget that when you're all done, you need to change the privacy settings in your presentation to allow others to see what you've wrought. Below, I have an example of an very short interactive tutorial. It will give you an idea of what you can create.


Embed a video from Google Docs

In our school system, youtube is blocked, so I wouldn't be able to upload any class videos and share them with my students.
Fortunately, I can embed videos strait from Google Drive. Instead of explaining how it's done, I thought it would be more appropriate to put a quick video together showing you how it's done. I chose not to add sound, but you certainly could.

I would appreciate comments and suggestions on how this could work for a flipped classroom.


Awesome Note as a Classroom Tool

Source: http://sebastian.laxell.fi/files/awesome_note-300x300.jpg

Last time, I wrote about how great Awesome Note (aNote) is. Many of you loved it and I’m grateful to everyone who took the time to read that post. I left something out of it, though. This blog is dedicated to technological learning tools, and I never said a word about how to use aNote to either learn or teach. Let me correct that oversight now.


  • Grading bulky projects like the vinegar/ baking soda volcano- Take a snapshot of the project you need to grade. After syncing with Google, go online and grade the project. This way, you don’t have to stay after to grade nor do you have to worry about lugging the projects home.  
  • Opportunistic slides- Have you ever seen something that you would love to show to your students? Snap a picture and add it to your notes. After syncing with Google, you’ll be able to create a nice, classroom friendly visual aide.
  • Lesson Planning- If you teach more than one group of kids, you’re bound to ask this classic question: “Did I tell you all this or did I just tell it to the other students?” A lesson checklist gets around this conundrum. Typing the list in Docs ahead of time makes this a breeze.  
  • Share your notes- You can adjust the privacy settings in Google Docs. That means that you can make one or all of your aNote folders viewable by whomever you want. This way, you can easily add class notes to a shared folder by doing nothing more than typing a note and syncing.

Note: Evernote is much better for archiving information, since it recognizes and can search any words on any picture you upload. The problem is that it costs money to upload a large number of snapshots to Evernote at one time. If you want to upload more, be prepared to pay.

  • Making notes about what you read- Snap a picture of the book or worksheet and make some notes about that section.
  • Photograph the board, overheads- Photograph the teacher’s board while she’s lecturing. Later, you can go into Docs to add some notes.
  • Pics of handouts- Snap pictures of handouts or sections of the handouts for future reference.
  • Create reference cards- Create some simple notes in Google Docs and sync them to aNote on your phone or tablet. That way, you’ll always have them handy.
  • Share folders, share notes- I mentioned this in the section on teaching. You can share Google Docs folders. That means the folders you’ve synced with aNote can also be shared with whomever you like.
  • Online Study Groups- Google hangouts allows you to work collaboratively on a Google Doc with the people in the hangout. You could start a hangout with classmates and pull up notes that you’ve taken in class.

One more thing. Using aNote to collect all this data could take up gigabytes of valuable space on your device. It’s easy to transfer notes if you sync with Docs. Just move the notes out of the folder called Awesome Notes in your Google Docs account. It doesn’t matter where you put them. Maybe you could make a folder called “Old Notes”. Once those files are out of the Awesome Note folder, the notes will be erased from you device during your next sync and safely stored online.


Awesome Note +Google Drive

Source: http://sebastian.laxell.fi/files/awesome_note-300x300.jpg

Many of us organize our entire existence around our smartphones. I’m no exception. I depend on that little iPhone for my work and personal life. The phone, though is only as good as the apps I use. Recently, I’ve started using Awesome Note and I have to say it lives up to it’s name.

This is a note-taking, to-do and calendar app all wrapped into one. While it doesn’t do everything I want, Awesome Note is probably the best overall productivity app I’ve found. As a calendar, it can read/write your iPhone’s calendar and Reminders. The to-do function is alright. As you’d expect, you can add a due date, tell it to repeat and mark the status as in progress, pending or waiting. You can also change the relative importance of a task by marking it with 0 to 5 stars. Not fantastic but not bad, either.

As befits the app’s name, it creates fantastic notes that can be modified in dozens of ways. You can add checkboxes, dates and pictures. You can choose from plenty of backgrounds and fonts as well. Add a title and tag to each note and they become easily searchable.

The notes stay well organized in folders which can be be assigned a unique color and icon. Arranging the folders is as simple as dragging and dropping and adding spaces to separate the folders into groups. This app allows for an almost infinite range of customization, which is a double edged sword. You can adjust this app to work in exactly the way you need it to. On the other hand, you might also get caught up in tweaking the app so much that it cuts into your productivity.

Awesome Note syncs with either Evernote or Google Drive. The advantage of using Evernote is that it can read the text on any picture, making search a breeze. On the other hand, you have a data upload limit on the free plan. In other words, if you plan on syncing your Awesome Note on a regular basis, you should have a paid account with Evernote. On the other hand, Google Drive is free. Sync everything. Don’t pay a dime. There are two downsides that you should be aware of, though. First, Google doesn’t read the text on pictures the way Evernote does. The other issue is really a matter of preference. Google reads your stuff. All of it. It’s not that you have a funny looking bald man reading through everything. Computers analyze your emails and documents to find patterns that they can use to feed you personalized ads. I’m OK with that. I don’t pay attention to ads anyway. If privacy is a big issue for you, you’ll want to get an account with Evernote instead.

The other reason Drive is the clear choice for me is that you have a simple way to edit your notes online. To be clear, notes in Awesome Note can only become documents in Drive. Of course, it works the other way, too. Documents you make in Drive become notes. However, you won’t be able to sync Presentations, Spreadsheets, Drawings or anything else to Awesome Note.

There it is. Awesome Note in combination with Google Drive can create a fantastic system of productivity.


OnlineEducation's great graphic: Digital research

Please include attribution to OnlineEducation.net with this graphic, if you choose to use it.  Digital Research Infographic


Google Apps still free for schools

Google Apps has officially eliminated the free version of Google Apps for business. The company warned that this was coming for quite some time. The good news is that we can still utilize GAFE (Google Apps For Education) at no cost.

This shouldn't be surprising considering Google's business modle. They want people to look at the adds that accompany online searches. If thousands of school children are growing up with the Google environment, the company will essentially grow a whole new generation of loyal customers. Don't misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with a company making a profit while providing great educational tools. In fact, that is the only way great tools are ever going to be brought to students. After all, without financial support of some kind, how many of us would actually go into teaching?


iPads can email photos, PDF’s and a few other file types. This makes it possible to email items from student iPads to teacher email accounts. It is fairly straightforward to add a single email account to each student iPad. In fact, you probably already have an account that you used to register the iPads iTunes account. The problem is that every email will appear to have come from the same sender.

It’s possible to set up an iPad account so that each email will appear to have come from the device from which it was sent. In this blog, I’m going to explain how to adjust an iPad’s email settings to make that happen. I’ll also show you how to shut down the iPad’s inbox and finally how to monitor the emails that students send out.

To make this work, I recommend choosing “other”. You’ll see later why this is important.

When adding a mail account, you’ll always be asked for both a name and a description. The description is just for you, so it doesn’t matter what you put on that line. The name is for whoever is going to be receiving an email from that account, though. So, on the first iPad, you would enter the name “iPad #1”, or “Washington High iPad #1”.

The recipient of any email coming from that device will see that name in the from section of the email. This way, you can be sure of knowing the origin of anything sent out from one of the schools’ devices. You can rest assured that any prank email can easily be tracked down to the student who signed out the device using the date stamp and the name on the email.

The next step is to make sure your students don’t get access to the iPad account’s inbox. When you first set up an email account on an iPad, the device is supposed to start showing you any emails you’ve received. Normally, that’s exactly what you want. In this case however, you want each iPad to send email but not recieve it. This is going to take two steps.

First, delete the account password and enter in something random. This is going to prevent the iPad from receiving any emails from this account.

Second, enter in the account username and password in the “Outgoing Mail Server” section. That will give the iPad the ability to send mail through the iPad email account.

The last step is going to allow you to monitor the emails that students send out. In the student iPad email settings, turn on “Always Bcc Myself”. This the only way you’ll be able to keep a record of which email was sent from which device. While you do have the sent folder in the email account you set up, that cannot tell you from which device it came. That bit of information is only going to be recorded if the student account receives a copy of the email. Be careful here. In many cases, you’ll have a email account quota. If you have hundreds of students emailing from these devices, you’ll reach that quota pretty quickly. It would be wise to get an account with a substantial quota limit like Gmail.*

That’s it. You should now have a set of devices that can send out pictures, PDF’s and other items while still being relatively secure.


Digital content distribution and collection

One of the basic decisions any educator has to make is how get materials (notes, handouts, lectures) to students and how to get assessments (tests, homework, projects) from them. Here, I’m going to write about two general technology options and then talk about two specific products.

Two general options

One of easiest and most simple ways to work with digital material is a website. The most basic sites simply consist of lesson plans and contact information. Just a little more work will produce a site with a class calendar and homework downloads.  
Make a site for free:
General site builders

K-12 specific

This acronym stands for “learning management system”. This is a place to store all of your course content, online assessments and interactive tools like blogs and instant messaging. It works well to track student progress and guide participants through a course. Be warned-  there’s a bit of a learning curve for instructors who have never worked with an LMS. However, once a teacher or trainer understands how to use these online tools, their students benefit tremendously.
Create an LMS for free:
Blackboard coursites- https://www.coursesites.com

Two specific products:

You won’t get anything free here. It’s popular enough and powerful enough to include it in a post that’s primarily about free resources for content distribution and collection, though.
With Gaggle, you’re going to get safe student emails, online file storage and great teaching tools. For a school district, this is going to be one of the safest ways to provide your students with email access. Emails and any attachments are filtered for inappropriate words and images. If something is caught (like “breast”), it gets sent off to a human who reads the word in context and decides to let it go through or flag it and assign consequences to the student.
One great thing about this company is that they will go into action if there is a threat to the student (think suicide, abuse or violence). They will contact authorities and get help for potential issues.
In terms of digital distribution, Gaggle is a powerhouse. They provide space to store documents of all kinds and have partnered with Zoho to allow students to work on documents together, just like Google Drive. They also provide a class calendar, assignment creation and social tools like blogs. The most interesting thing tool they have is for grading. After a student submits a document, his teacher can digitally write on it, highlight words, comment and grade that document. No need to hunt for a pen. No more worrying about papers getting lost. Its all online and works beautifully.

You need Safari to create and manage courses through iTunesU and students will only be able to access courses on iOS devices (iPads, iPods, iPhone). If you use iPads for your students, you should sign up for an account. If not, this really isn’t for you.
That being said, this is a great way to distribute your digital material. Please note that it isn’t meant to assess your students’ learning. It is only a means of providing them with fantastic learning opportunities. Some of the great features include task checklists, interactive iBooks and the ability to take notes on specific sections of videos.
Aside from being able to create beautiful, interactive and effective content, this is probably the best way to conduct lessons involving an iPad. Your students will need instructions, explanations and tasks to complete for any lesson you do. They’ll also have to be able to find the app you’ll be using. With iTunesU, you can quickly and easily create a lesson which includes all of these elements. Teachers will find it easy to use and students will have clear instructions and an engaging lesson.


More control over Google Apps... for a price

The latest Google update alert gave us the exciting news that Google Apps administrators can now define how long your various suborganizations will retain emails. You’ll be able to say that deleted teacher emails are kept for ever, but deleted student emails are only retained for a year.

This would be some very exciting news if it were free. It isn’t. You’ll need to have the Google Vault app which costs $5 per month/user. For a school, that’s pretty pricey. For now, administrators will still have to manage accounts manually.


Google’s not Narcissus after all

Google is usually seen as a selfish search giant. Common public opinion is that Google will serve up whatever is going to bring the company maximum benefit. Type in “maps” and you get Google maps; “images”, Google images; “books”, Google books. I’ve always thought that Google searches were a bit biased, though I still use them to bring me the best results.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a hidden gem in the depths of Google’s digital interior. Try searching for “dead sea scrolls”. The top five hits have nothing to do with Google. A little more looking will reveal a couple of blog mentions on Google. Finally, you’ll notice the following link: Dead Sea Scrolls – Cultural Institute. This is a simply amazing site allowing you to read through these ancient texts without the need to study Hebrew.

While this little gem is awesome in and of itself, the implications are important. Here is a Google product with a relatively low search ranking. There is good evidence to infer that the biggest search business in the world isn’t focused totally and completely on itself.


Log on and let them mold you

Two of the most powerfully formative forces for our personalities are our memories and the people with whom we surround ourselves. Until recently, that statement would have simply referred to the stuff in your head and your neighbors. For better or worse, the internet has changed that.

First of all, many of our memories have become externalized. To-Do applications, cloud services and search histories are some of the ways in which we record information so that we don’t have to worry about storing it in our most fallible human minds. Whether you see this as a miracle or tragedy, there is no doubt its all part of our modern world. What you may not have considered are the ways in which this could mold your personality.

“This is where I come from. This is who I am.”
Let’s start with how your search history influences your future searches for information. Google (and other search companies) really want to be able to help you find what you're looking for. To do that, they track you. Got a GMail account? Youtube? Drive? I do. By their own admission, Google scans all of your emails and searches for keywords and trends. They don’t care about your dirty laundry. They want to know what kinds of results to give you. In a way, that's great, since it can help you find what you want more quickly. It’ll bias you though. People who click on left-leaning news links will get more left leaning commentary. Conspiracy theorists will get more fodder for their fantasies. Essentially, when you’re signed in, you allow Google to exaggerate some of your beliefs.

“Truth are us.”
The other issue here is that we are what our tribe tells us to be. There is great documentation that the best way to change public behavior is to convince people that everyone is already doing the thing you want them to do. When you log onto your favorite social network (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Edmodo, etc...) you’ll be submerging yourself into the culture of that network. The trends that you notice there will drive some of your behaviors. Unless you actively oppose a way of thinking or an attitude, it will almost inevitably make its way into your psyche.

So consider staying offline for certain chunks of time, like each weekend. Spend that time reading or chatting with family. The memories you get from those experiences will serve to balance out a lot of what’s going to creep into your mind while logged in.


Blogger plus Drive = Awesome

One of the great things about Google is that it uses largely the same platform for all of it’s services (Drive, Sites and Blogger). That means that you can use one service to create your content and publish it using the other service. I’ve mentioned this before here, but I thought it was worth mentioning again.
This post was not written in Blogger, but in Google Drive where I compose all of my posts. When I’m finished, all I need to do is copy and paste everything into Blogger and hit publish. The big advantage here are the editing tools that Google provides for you in Drive that are missing in Blogger. Specifically, I can add tables, move text around easily, change line spacing and format my document in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Google drive also makes working with images a breeze.
If you’ve been using Blogger for a while and would really like to have more functionality, try creating your work in Google Drive and just using Blogger as a publisher. I think you’ll be really pleased.