So long for now, and thanks.

Hello friends,

Some big changes are coming to Stratepedia. I wish I could say they’re exciting changes, or at least changes I’m happy about, but they’re not. I don’t want to get into too many details right now, because they’re still being sorted out–but the long and short of it is we’re not going to have the time to carry on this blog as we have for nearly five years (yes, it started more than five years ago, but it was June of 2007 when we started posting news-you-can-use-type stuff).

So for now Amber and I are going to need to take a break from blogging here. We’re bouncing around a couple of ideas of how to keep you as informed as possible about everyday technology–not promising anything yet, but keep an eye out here and on Facebook and Twitter for more information (in other words, don’t unfollow us just yet–wait a few weeks, at least).

Thanks to everyone who’s paid attention to what we had to say over the years. I hope we’ve helped you make good use of the technology you’ve already got, and push to bring educational technology into the 21st century. Keep fighting the good fight. Thank you also to Amber, Nate, David, and Julie for their contributions, and to everyone who kept us motivated over the years by leaving a comment or sending an email. Believe it or not, those little touches do mean a lot.

Aaron

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Stratepedia picks for April 6, 2012

Aaron

  • Dropbox Referrals Now Earn You Twice as Much Free Space: Need more space on Dropbox? Still have friends and colleagues not already using the insanely popular file syncing and sharing service? You can now get a cool 500 megabytes of space by referring someone to sign up, for a maximum of 32 GB. (If you’ve signed up for Dropbox’s pro level, you can get a whole gigabyte per referral–not too bad!) If you’re using Dropbox to share video, you’ll want to take advantage of this.
  • Grid-it!: After pulling a mess of cables, adapters, and plugs from my backpack for the umpteenth time last week, I remembered something I’d bookmarked last fall. This clever organizer helps you keep all that stuff neatly together. It’s not just for computer stuff–I may get a second to keep things in my car (and a third to keep things in my truck).

Amber

  • 40 iPhone Features and Shortcuts: This blogpost lists some tips and tricks to try on your iPhone with iOS 5. I’ve had my new phone for a few months now and didn’t know about several of these handy features. These tips cover everything from using your volume button as a camera shutter to adding italicized text in an email.

image credit

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CRL Learns: Tools for Effective Slide Presentations


Last week David Gnojek, Art Director here at the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas, talked to us about the principles of good design.

About the presentation…
Colors, fonts and images are too often an afterthought when it comes to presenting important information. Thoughtless use of design can confuse or bore your audience and, at worst, make your presentation forgettable. A visually engaging presentation will reinforce and clarify your message to your audience as well as help you keep on track when presenting. By learning a handful of basic design principles, you can create clean, beautiful slides that any LCD projector would be proud to display. This talk will discuss practical ways to pair meaningful content with eye-catching design to create effective and enlightening slide presentations.

Visit the CRL Learns website to check out David’s 30 minute presentation titled A Phone, a Tennis Ball, and a Wardrobe: Tools for Effective Slide Presentations.

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How to share video directly from your iPhone or iPad with Dropbox

Last week I mentioned an update to the online sharing service Box, allowing you to directly upload video and photos from your phone to a shared folder. It turns out you can do this with Dropbox as well–and since I know most of our readers are currently more familiar with Dropbox than Box, I’d like to share with you how to go about setting this up with the former (then I’ll mention a few reasons you might want to consider the latter).

In this scenario, let’s pretend that I’m a teacher and Amber is my instructional coach. I want to share a short video clip of myself (recorded on my iPhone) introducing a new Learning Strategy. Here’s how I can use Dropbox to make this happen. (By the way, this will also work on an iPod touch with network access, or an iPad with a built-in video camera.)

Setting up

I’ve created a new folder in Dropbox called Coaching, then given Amber access to the folder. (If you need a refresher on how to do that, take a look at Dropbox’s help documentation.)

Now, onto my iPhone. I’ve got the Dropbox app installed and connected to my Dropbox account–download it now if necessary. Before I start sending video up to the cloud, though, I need to double-check some settings by tapping the Settings icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen.

About halfway down is a menu labeled Upload Quality. There I can select my photo and video quality. Dropbox sets both to Medium–and for our purposes that should be more than adequate. Note that switching to High or Original will chew up more of your precious Dropbox storage space–but unless you plan on watching clips on a huge, high definition television, you’re probably not going to notice any difference by sending video at Medium quality. If you’ve got a slow network and/or are tight on space, switch down to Low.

Quality

Just for comparison’s sake, here is a clip I’d recorded during an impromptu Final Four celebration in downtown Lawrence, at Medium quality:

QuickTime PlayerScreenSnapz001

And here’s the same clip at Low quality.

QuickTime PlayerScreenSnapz002

Depending on your needs, Low may be just fine.

Sharing video

OK, we’re all set up–now it’s time to actually share some video. First, though, we need a clip to share. So go ahead and record a clip. As a general rule of thumb you should keep this under 10 minutes. If necessary you can use the iPhones built-in video editing features to trim the overall length.

So now I’ve got a clip I want to share with my coach. Back in Dropbox, I’ll select Uploads, then tap the + icon to select the video from my camera roll. From the photos and videos currently stored on my computer, I can begin tapping any items I want to share.

Chooser

Next I’ll choose a folder within my Dropbox account to upload to. In my case I’ll pick the Coaching folder that I’m sharing with Amber. Once I’m in the folder I want to use I’ll tap the blue Choose button in the bottom-right corner.

Selected folder

Finally, I’ll tap Upload to finish.

Uploads

Now Dropbox does some behind-the-scenes preparation, compressing my high definition video down to a more manageable size. Then it transfers the file up to the Coaching folder in Dropbox–and within moments Amber, my coach, has access to the clip.

Pretty neat, huh? Note that I didn’t have to sync anything back up to my computer. That’s the beauty of having a network-capable camera–don’t try doing this with your old Flip camera.

So, why might I consider Box for this instead?

Four possible reasons:

  1. The person you’re sharing with is already using Box and you want to make it easier on them.
  2. Box gives you more free space out of the gate (5 GB of storage versus Dropbox’s 2 GB).
  3. You want to take advantage of Box’s collaboration features, such as commenting on shared documents.
  4. You want to be able to rename your video files before or after you’ve uploaded them.

Whichever option you choose, though, sharing video with others has gotten easier than ever. Welcome to the cloud, right?

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Stratepedia Picks for March 30, 2012

Aaron

  • PDF Pals: This list of apps, reviewed and ranked by the editors of MacWorld, is worth looking at if you’re in the market for an app that will allow you to annotate PDF files on your iPad.
  • BrowserQuest is Pure HTML5 Gaming Goodness: You may know we’re all-in on HTML5 technology for developing the next versions of our suite of applications. This modern web technology (or, more accurately, collection if modern web technologies) is a great bet for any small development shop looking to support a variety of devices (computers, tablets, phones) and deliver a modern computing experience at the same time. If you’re skeptical about what HTML5 is capable of, though, take a gander at BrowserQuest. This online game is 100% HTML5–no Flash, no native “there’s an app for that” code.

Amber

  • Lumosity: I saw a commercial for this website to help ”reclaim your brain” and thought I’d give it a try. Lumosity uses different puzzles and games to improve memory, problem-solving, flexibility, speed, and attention. Take a short quiz to determine which areas need the most attention and receive a free, three-day trial. Each day you are given a quick lesson to improve your skills. It took me about 5 minutes to complete today’s free lesson and I look forward to tomorrow’s activities. It appears the paid account allows you to track your progress over time and see how you compare to others. In your account settings, you can opt-out of emails from Lumosity or sign-up for daily reminders to complete the lessons.
  • HandBrake: We’ve talked about HandBrake for a few years now but I still think its one of the best free video conversion tools available. Its available for Mac, Windows, and Linux and they just released a new update. I mostly use HandBrake to convert videos to different formats, but it also allows you to add features to videos such as chapter selection, chapter markers, subtitles, and closed captions.
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Boost iPad productivity with the new Box OneCloud app

Some clouds for you

Box, an entrant in the Dropbox-style file syncing and sharing game, on Wednesday introduced a pretty exciting new service and corresponding app for iOS devices.

First, the app: Box has been available for iOS for awhile, but this update offers some key new features. In particular, with the new app you can now upload photos and videos directly from your iPhone or iPad to your Box account, from which they may be accessed by other devices or other Box users with whom you’re sharing. I have a hunch this could go over like gangbusters for anyone who needs to collect video from remote sources–say, reporters, educators, and researchers. Amber and I are going to get to work experimenting with this.

Second–and this is where the productivity comes in–is Box’s new OneCloud service. OneCloud is a platform for other mobile apps to build their own storage needs on top of. So instead of mobile app developers all needing to build their own storage/syncing capabilities, or being limited to only supporting Apple devices, developers can use OneCloud as a centralized storage place for both retrieving and saving documents. That’s a major improvement over the status quo–I currently use my Dropbox account to get files from a computer to my iPad or iPhone, but I can’t work in reverse. OneCloud is available now for iOS and coming soon to Android.

All in all, a couple of cool developments–I’m looking forward to playing with these new tools and seeing what partnering developers release to work with OneCloud. Look for followups in the coming days and weeks as Amber and I share what we’ve learned.

Image: Thanks to Lenny R on Flickr

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On the road with Scrivener, Simplenote & iPad

Last week, my family spent four beautiful, mostly unplugged days in the bayou in Louisiana. Because I am the early riser in our family, I wanted to take advantage of that alone time while the boys were sleeping to make progress on a couple of long writing projects I have in the works. In the past, that would have meant packing a bag full of legal pads and pencils or dragging along my ancient laptop. This year, I wanted to keep stuff to a minimum, so I decided to experiment. I took only my iPad, outfitted with an external keyboard. The result was better than I expected, and I learned a few new tricks for using my iPad and laptop together productively.

 

Tools

The setup for my Great Bayou Writing Experiment.

 

In addition to my iPad, three tools made my Great Bayou Writing Experiment a success:

  • The afore-mentioned external keyboard (Logitech Keyboard Case for iPad 2 with Built-In Keyboard and Stand). Writing and editing my work was a breeze with this full-featured keyboard, which is almost as comfortable as the keyboard on my laptop.
  • Scrivener. Scrivener (software for writers) allows me to chunk long writing projects into smaller, manageable pieces. Pieces of a project are stored in a “binder” and can be rearranged with drag-and-drop ease. I’ve been using Scrivener for about a year and haven’t even begun to tap the potential of this product. Unfortunately, Scrivener is not an iPad app. It resides only on my laptop. Fortunately, with a little research, I found another tool that works with Scrivener and made this whole experiment possible.
  • Simplenote app for iPad. Simplenote syncs with Scrivener, letting me edit files using the Simplenote app while traveling and then update the project in Scrivener later.

 

How It Worked

Before I left home, I synced my Scrivener project with Simplenote, uploading all of the files I thought I would work on to the Simplenote server. My project currently has about 50 individual pieces, but I only uploaded the 20 or so that I thought I might reasonably get to during the week. Simplenote uses the first few words of a document as its file name, so I took the precaution of adding numbers to the beginning of each file to keep the pieces organized.

Simplenote is as easy to use as any word processor, but it has some limitations. The big one for me is that it is a straight text app and doesn’t allow for italics or bold or other types of formatting. For my experimental week, that wasn’t a problem, but I could see where it might become annoying.

During my early morning creating sessions, I modified about a dozen files from my Scrivener project—adding text, deleting text, re-writing text, or making notes for more extensive edits in the future. I also added several files to integrate into the project once I returned to my laptop. I labeled the additions (using “27a” to indicate the file fell between 27 and 28, for example) so I’d know where to drop them in the Scrivener binder.

When I returned home, I fired up Scrivener and went through the syncing process again, re-integrating all of the pieces I worked on during my week away into the main binder. I also moved the new additions (27a and the like) into their proper places in the project.

The result was fantastic, and I now know I can move back and forth between my iPad and laptop almost seamlessly to finish this project, making the project much more portable. Whenever I have a few minutes—track meet, orthodontist, wherever—I’ll be able to continue writing.

All in all, I was really satisfied with the amount of writing I was able to accomplish with these tools and my iPad. One thing I wish I had done before leaving home: I should have installed Simplenote on my iPhone, too. A couple of times when I left my iPad behind while we were out and about, I had ideas I needed to capture before they faded away forever. Because I didn’t add Simplenote to my iPhone, I ended up typing the ideas using the Notes app and then copying and pasting to Simplenote later. (Why didn’t I install Simplenote when I realized I needed it? Because I couldn’t remember my account information. D’oh.) Anyway, I’ve now remedied that situation for next time.

The view from my temporary office.

 

 

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Stratepedia picks for March 23, 2012

Aaron

  • Fitbit: Looking to live healthier, through data? Check out the Fitbit (pictured above). I picked one up to see if it could be used in a proposal idea we’ve been knocking around, and have been wearing it for most of the month. Entering everything I eat or drink into an app is a little tedious, but Fitbit tracks pretty much everything else–the number of steps I take, the number of miles I walk, the flights of stairs I climb, and the number of hours I sleep. Fun little gadget.
  • Videos to help you rethink education, learning, & school: Preface 1: I haven’t watched all of these. Preface 2: If you actually click this link, and you actually watch some of the videos, you may get irritated by what more-or-less outsiders are saying about schools and what’s wrong with them. Regardless of how you feel about the state of education in 2012, I hope this set of short video clips (curated by Garr Reynolds of Prezentation Zen) sparks conversations in your own schools.

Amber

  • Timeline for Facebook Pages: This photography blogger created a handy diagram to help make sense of the new Timeline format for your organization’s Facebook page. She uses a photography business as an example, but I think the information applies to most businesses or groups.
  • PhotoDropper: This free WordPress plugin is great for anyone who uses WordPress to manage a blog or website. This makes it super easy to add photos by reducing the process to four easy clicks. The photos are free to use under a Creative Commons license. We currently do not use this plugin, but I am interested in exploring it further.

 

image credit

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2 useful and free email-based publications


The following two resources are free email-based subscriptions that I’ve signed up for and find useful. Each resource sends a few emails a week with news, upcoming webinars, and interesting articles related to business, technology, and/or education.

1. Learning Solutions magazine - This free subscription to Learning Solutions gives you access to many articles and the bi-weekly Update newsletter. During the registration process, you can opt-in (for free) to join The eLearning Guild. This is an excellent source of information, networking, and community for professionals interested in learning and technology.

2. University Business - These guys crank out a lot of nice webinars with topics such as “Is room-based lecture capture better for 21st century learning?” and “Employing successful retention strategies.” You can pick and choose what kind of information to receive including webinars, conferences, promotions, and new products. Too much email? Try adding these different feeds to your RSS reader.

 

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5 Safari extensions I use every day

SafariScreenSnapz001

I’m not ashamed to admit that, even as a web developer, I prefer Safari to Chrome and Firefox on my Mac (Windows is another story). Many of you who use Macs may use Safari by default since it came installed on your computers, but you may not have enhanced it using add-ons called Extensions. I wrote about Safari extensions a couple of years ago but thought they’d be worth revisiting–specifically, I want to share five extensions that make the web a more productive environment for me on a daily basis–in fact, these are the only five extensions I have installed; I’m not just rounding to a convenient number.

1. 1Password

I should try to measure how much time 1Password saves me on any given day. I’ve plugged this product a number of times in the past, and while the actual app is a useful tool for generating and organizing passwords for all your online accounts, it becomes a daily utility when you install the Safari extension. Once added, you can quickly call up account information for whichever site you happen to be visiting at the moment–and if you don’t have an account on that site, you can generate and store a secure password for it in mere moments. The 1Password extension is included with 1Password, which starts at $49.99.

2. Shut Up

Another non-secret: I think most comments sections on websites (even this one, sometimes) are worthless. Thank goodness for Shut Up, a simple little extension that does a pretty good job of hiding anything labeled as a comment in a page’s behind-the-scenes HTML. If for whatever reason you need or want to check them out, turning comments back on is as simple as clicking a button.

3. ClickToPlugin

It’s not pretty, but ClickToPlugin does a very important job: It keeps annoying (and battery/bandwidth-hogging) Flash files and videos from loading by default.

4. Pinbar

My social bookmarking site of choice is Pinboard (I moved from Delicious when Yahoo! started talks of shutting it down, and felt services like Diigo were too heavy for my needs). Pinbar enhances Pinboard with a couple of basic buttons to simplify adding new links and accessing my current links. There’s also an optional toolbar to give you some additional features, but I never use it. (Note: While the Pinbar extension is free, Pinboard is not–how much you pay for it depends on how early you sign on. As I write this, a lifetime Pinboard account will set you back $9.70.)

5. Do Not Track Plus

Most recently, I’ve installed Do Not Track Plus is an indispensable extension that helps you spot how many services a given web page is using to track you, block them by default, then notify those services if you’d prefer they not track you. While often these services work to provide some convenience to you, the user/reader, other sites are merely interested in your information for marketing purposes. (Full disclosure: There are currently anywhere from two to six services reported as tracking you when you visit our blog. We only pay attention to one of them–Google Analytics–and even then only to monitor site-wide activity–for example, to see which posts are popular on a given day.)

There are lots more Safari extensions available for you to download and install; these are just the five I use. Visit Apple’s Safari Extension Gallery to check out more.

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