Office Lens: Scan, Snap & Share!

Scan Snap Share Office Lens

If you use a mobile device, a scanner app is a very useful app to have at your disposal. There are lots to choose from, but my go to app is Office Lens by Microsoft. It is available for iOS, Android, or Windows Phone, and it could quickly become one of your favorite apps due to its versatility and time-saving features. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Do I Need a Scanner App?

I find all kinds of good uses for scanner apps, and I expect you would too. They are great when you don’t have access to a desktop scanner or don’t want the hassle of using one. I am also notoriously bad at keeping track of paper handouts. I invariably don’t file them and end up losing them, regardless of how useful they might be. So, I scan them and add them to my digital filing system instead. Business cards and posters can be quickly captured with Office Lens and it could be a great way to make some digital copies of student artwork.

What Makes Office Lens So Good?

Office Lens uses an intelligent scanner to automatically recognize and crop any paper document that you place under your mobile device and as you will see in the image below, the before and after results are quite remarkable. Regardless of the angle of your device, the final image is cropped, straightened and enhanced to look just the way you would want it to. Office Lens can even take your scanned image and turn it into an editable Word or PowerPoint file with some clever OCR technology.

Scanning Documents with Office Lens

However, I don’t just use Office Lens for documents. I often use it at conferences and other PD presentations to take pictures of a speaker’s slides. The same perspective cropping applies when taking pictures of a presentation and it works equally well, if not better, on notes you have written on a whiteboard. This could be extremely useful for both staff and students because it is a great way to capture some brainstorming ideas or some notes from class. Take a look at the example below that I captured while attending a Jim Knight instructional coaching workshop at Grant Wood AEA.

before after office lens

Where Can I Share My Scanned Images?

One of the great features of Office Lens is the variety of places that you can share your scanned images. You can export as PDF, send as an email, or save it to your device. You can also share directly to a number of Microsoft’s mobile apps like OneNote, OneDrive, Word, PowerPoint or Outlook. Office Lens works with personal Microsoft accounts as well as your work or school accounts in OneDrive for Business.

Completed scans can also be saved to Dropbox or sent to other apps on your phone as required. You will also have quick access to your favorite social networks so that you can share those awesome presentation slides the right way, as you can see below.

tweet

So, the next time you need a digital copy of a document, business card, whiteboard, presentation slide or any number of other things, reach for your mobile device and fire up Office Lens to help you complete the job.

Nuzzel: The Social News Feed for Connected Educators

Nuzzel for education

I first learned about Nuzzel from Tony Vincent, and today I use it more than ever. What is it? Nuzzel is a way to see the most popular links and stories that are being shared by your PLN. It basically filters out the noise and lets you see what the people you follow are most interested in right now. Nuzzel is updated frequently, and is a very efficient way to aggregate the best of the web so you can stay current with the latest conversations. Nuzzel is available for free on iOS, Android, and the web. Here’s how it works:

1. Connect to the app with your Twitter and/or Facebook accounts. With your permission, Nuzzel will analyze your respective feeds and compile the most shared and talked about stories from the people you follow.

2. Along the top of your screen you see four tabs. The first is the default feed, “News from Your Friends“, which as mentioned above, is a list of stories that your friends on social media are sharing right now. The list is sorted by the number of shares, with the most popular stories at the top of the feed, and newer (or less popular) stories towards the bottom. You can click or tap on any of these stories to read them, and also share them to your favorite social network.

Nuzzel for iOS screenshot

3. Another interesting option is the “News from Friends of Friends” feed. As the title suggests, these are popular stories that are being shared not by people you follow, but by friends of the people you follow. This can give a very different feed, with different stories, but is often still very relevant to the kinds of things you are interested in. It can also be a great way to find new people to follow based on the kinds of stories that they are sharing.

Nuzzel friends of friends

4. The remaining tabs at the top point to News You May Have Missed and your Recently Read Stories. Both are useful features that help you get more out of this useful app, but personally, I don’t use these features nearly as often as I use the first two.

5. The last thing I am going to highlight is the column on the right-hand side of the screen – Your Friend’s Feeds. This lets you view the news feed of your social media friends who are also using Nuzzel. This is akin to browsing through their Twitter or Facebook feed, but it picks up the stories that were curated for them by Nuzzel based on who they follow. I find this a great way to find specific content based on the special interests of some of the people I follow. The screenshot below is a snapshot of Tony Vincent’s news feed!

Tony Vincent's Nuzzel feed

Nuzzel is great for lots of reasons. It helps you stay connected with the best of social media without the need to be “connected” all the time. It also filters out a lot of the noise that some people complain about when they are using social media networks. Lastly, Nuzzel is a great discovery tool that gives you lots of content that you can share with your own followers. So, if you haven’t tried Nuzzel before, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

How To Take A Screenshot on Macs, PCs, iPads, Androids and Chromebooks!

Screenshots are a useful, if not essential, skill for both students and teachers to have, but with so many devices out there, it can be hard to remember how to take a screenshot on an iPad, a Chromebook, a Mac or whatever else you might be using in your classroom. So, here is a quick rundown of all the native methods to do this, as well as a couple of recommendations for third-party services that will give you even more options.

Macs

The native screenshot tool on Macs is based around a number of keyboard shortcuts, but once you learn the ones you like best, you will be screenshotting all over the place. So, here is a rundown of what you need to know to take a screenshot on Macs:

  • Command+Shift+3: Takes a full screen screenshot and saves it to the desktop.
  • Command+Shift+4: Lets you select the area to capture, then saves to the desktop.
  • Command+Shift+4+Space: Click an active window to save it to the desktop.
  • Command+Control+Shift+3: Takes a screenshot of the screen, and saves it to the clipboard.
  • Command+Control+Shift+4: Lets you select the area to capture and saves it to the clipboard.
  • Command+Control+Shift+4+Space: Click an active window to save it to the clipboard.

Mac Desktop

Windows 7 & Windows 8 Desktop Mode

Many keyboards will still have the PrtScn (Print Screen) button. Pressing this will copy a full screen screenshot to the clipboard where you can paste it into another application. However, a much more versatile tool is the Windows Snipping Tool. It lets you capture all, or part, of your screen and save or email the capture right from the app. It comes free with all Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers. Learn more here.

Continue reading “How To Take A Screenshot on Macs, PCs, iPads, Androids and Chromebooks!”

Is Google Play for Education a Superior Version of Apple’s VPP Store?

android-edu-2

At the Google I/O developers conference today, Google announced plans for the new Google Play for Education. In many ways, it sounds a lot like what Apple do with their Volume Purchasing Program for iPads, but Google are looking to take it to a whole new level with some very interesting features for educators looking to manage Android tablets in a school environment. Here’s what they have to say:

Schools will enjoy the ease and portability of tablets together with highly engaging educational resources. And whether it’s one classroom or one thousand, schools can easily manage tablets, and discover, purchase, and distribute content and apps with ease.

Now, I appreciate all that Apple have done with the VPP Store and their efforts to provide management software for iPads with Apple Configurator, but how many school districts can say that this is a process that they manage “with ease”. Critics may well point to the fact that this has yet to be proven, but if you have had any experience with managing Chromebooks in a school setting, you already know that Google has already shown that it has the knowledge and expertize to break down the barriers of device management and make it a seamless, user-friendly experience.

In their information for Android developers looking to add their apps to the new Google Play for Education, Google offers some insight into what else we can expect from the new education storefront.

Google Play for Education provides a simple and secure environment in which educators can buy apps in a way that’s easy for schools — through purchase orders. Your apps must support this environment by ensuring that they:

  • Sell all content and services through Google Play for Education
  • Permit Google Play to offer teachers limited free trials before purchase (through business terms only, no development work is needed)

In addition, it’s highly recommended that your apps:

  • Disable in-app purchase in any UI accessible to students.

More information is included in their “safety first” section:

To participate, your apps must be designed to be usable and appropriate for the K-12 market. The basic requirements that your apps must meet are:

  1. Apps and the ads they contain must not collect personally identifiable information other than user credentials or data required to operate and improve the app.
  2. Apps must not use student data for purposes unrelated to its educational function.
  3. Apps must have a content rating of “Everyone” or “Low Maturity” (apps with a “Medium Maturity” rating are allowed, if they have that rating solely because they allow communication between students).
  4. App content, including ads displayed by the app, must be consistent with the app’s maturity rating. The app must not display any “offensive” content, as described in the Google Play Developer Program Policies and content-rating guidelines.

Apple undoubtedly has some of the same kind of requirements for iOS developers, but one or two of the recommendations above stand out as being somewhat unique to Google. For instance, the chance for teachers to get a free trial before they buy, or the recommendation to disable in-app purchases. I am sure there are many iPad schools that would love to have those options.

I’m a fan of the iPad. I love its potential for the classroom and I know first hand that it is one of the most versatile devices a school could buy. However, managing these devices is in no way as easy as it could be. Without a dedicated IT dept, it can be very frustrating for schools who are looking to push out apps and update devices.

So, the new Google Play for Education might be the best thing that happens to the Apple Education program, because for the first time in a long time, Apple has some competition, and may just be forced to raise the stakes further in order to compete. Let the games begin!

Why Wunderlist is Wonderful for Teachers, Students, and Me!

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Wunderlist 2

I’m big into to-do lists. As such, I have tried a whole plethora of apps to try and organize the chaos that is my life most days, but only one has truly met my specific criteria. I need something that works on every platform, something that syncs seamlessly, and something that is quick and easy to use. It has to be easy on the eye, offer sub-tasks, and give me the option of setting reminders and repeating events. Oh, and it had to be free. Enter Wunderlist.

I’m a fan of Getting Things Done, so I have a lot of lists. These lists keep me productive and stop me going insane over the little things that I fret and worry about on a daily basis. However, once it is on my list, I can relax because I know I will get to it. Yesterday, Wunderlist released a new browser extension that will increase my productivity even more, and it could be a great tool for the classroom.

Add to Wunderlist is a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Safari that lets you add a whole lot more to your Wunderlists quickly and easily, just like you can with Evernote, Diigo and sites like that. Need to bookmark a website to read it later? No problem. Once installed you simply click the Wunderlist icon in your toolbar and add it to a list of your choice. Tired of using your email as your to-do list? Click the custom “Add to Wunderlist” button inside Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or Outlook and you can add an email to your task list so that you can streamline your workflow, clean up your inbox, and barrel headlong towards inbox zero. You can see more of these custom buttons at Amazon, Etsy, YouTube and even Wikipedia, but the toolbar button is always there for adding almost any other site to your Wunderlist.

Add to Wunderlist

At school I can see a lot of creative uses for Wunderlist. Teachers can use it to help organize the multitude of tasks they complete on a daily basis. Ideas for lessons, interesting articles, and a list of things that have to get done can all be put into Wunderlist. Teaching in a team? No problem. Lists can be shared with other Wunderlist users, or emailed to anyone. You can also set a recurring reminder to yourself about that team meeting you always forget every second Wednesday. Smart Lists can show you what is due today, or reveal all the starred tasks across all of your lists.

If you use Wunderlist on a mobile device you don’t have access to the Add to Wunderlist extension yet, but you can get close to the same functionality  You can email URLs or forward emails to me@wunderlist.com, and it will quickly arrive in your Wunderlist inbox for sorting, so long as you email it from the same account you use for your Wunderlist account. Clever, eh?

Students can use Wunderlist as a homework planner because tasks can have a due date, and reminders can be set for upcoming assignments. They can even have lists for every class that they attend so that they can keep track of all that they want to get done. Students can gather research for school projects by sending links to articles or YouTube videos to pre-defined lists in Wunderlist, and again share these lists with others if they need to. The built-in Activity Monitor will notify you if someone has added something to a shared list, or completed a shared task. Planning a project? Wunderlist lets you have up to 25 sub tasks, so it is easy to plan a step-by-step action plan.

There are lots of task list managers out there, but if you haven’t tried Wunderlist, you should. It might look simple, but it can do a lot for you if you take advantage of all the features it has. In my opinion, there really are very few free options that compare as favorably. Do you have a favorite task manager? Feel free to add it to the comments below and tell us why you like it so much.

 

Can the Amplify Tablet Make Some Noise in the Mobile Learning Market?

Amplify Tablets

There’s a new tablet in town – courtesy of Amplify, an educational media company backed by News Corp. The Amplify Tablet, unlike a lot of popular slates, has been designed exclusively for the education market, and now goes head to head with devices like the LearnPad and the Kuno.

A tablet tailored specifically for the schools is an appealing prospect for a lot of educators. Apple’s iPad is the dominant player in this sector, but it is not without its drawbacks. Managing apps and imaging devices, for instance, requires a dedicated techspert, and Apple haven’t done a whole lot to make that easier.

The device itself looks to be based on the ASUS Transformer Pad TF300TL, and it runs Android’s Jelly Bean software. It has a 10-inch screen, a 5MP camera, and an NVIDIA® Tegra® 3 quad-core CPU with 4-Plus 1™ architecture and 12-core GPU. The battery life is rated at 8.5 hours, and it comes with headphones and a protective case.

teacher featrues amplify tablet

Teacher features include the ability to block apps on student tablets, conduct quick polls, spot check understanding, see what a given student is using on their tablet, or even send a message to all students to move their eyes to the teacher. They can also build and share lessons with students. The tablet comes preloaded with Encyclopaedia Britannica, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Google Apps for Education, Desmos graphing calculator, EverFi’s digital literacy curriculum, Project Noah science tools, Common Sense Media and education-specific tools that allow teachers and students to take advantage of millions of multimedia resources aligned to the Common Core Standards. However, you can of course add to this software selection.

Perhaps most interesting of all, is the ability to manage all of your school’s Amplify tablets from a secure online dashboard. From here you can manage devices and configure them en masse or on an individual student basis. Devices can be tracked, locked or wiped from this online management console.

So, how much does it cost? Maybe less than you might think. The Wi-Fi tablet is being priced at an introductory rate  of $299, (from now until June 30, 2013), plus a $99 per year subscription fee for two years. Over a two-year period, that puts it right up into the same price category as an iPad, so it will be interesting to see if it can stand out enough to sway schools away from Apple’s tablet, which is already well established in schools. I am trying to schedule a demonstration of the Amplify tablet next month, so if I get that confirmed, I will return with more thoughts after I get some hands-on time with the device.

You can find out more by visiting http://amplify.com or by watching the video below.

BlueStacks App Player: Android Apps on your Mac or PC for Free!

So here’s an interesting idea. What if you could use mobile apps in the classroom without actually having any mobile/tablet devices? Well, you can, thanks to BlueStacks. With the BlueStacks App Player you can run a huge number of Android apps on your Mac or PC, and right now, you can try it for free.

BlueStacks App Player

It’s an interesting proposition, and one that could have some very real advantages for the classroom. In theory, you get the best of both worlds – access to a huge and growing app store, and the power and flexibility of a desktop/laptop computer when you need it. You could even run these apps on an interactive whiteboard, and interact with them in almost the exact same way you would on an Android tablet.

How does it work? Right now, there are four app stores that you can search through for apps of your choice. You can browse the app stores themselves, or search for an app title across all four stores and choose where you want to download it from. Apps are added to a central dashboard area (see pic above) and can be launched from there after they have been installed on your computer. Do all apps work? No. Snapseed, for instance, did not install properly for me, but many other apps I tried like Evernote, Zite, Twitter, Pulse, and…yes…even Angry Birds Star Wars, worked just fine! 🙂 I didn’t perform an exhaustive test of available apps, but it looks like most of the well known ones you could want would likely be able to run on the BlueStacks App Player.

Angry Birds Star Wars

So, by now you are probably starting to get interested, maybe even wondering how you can sign up. Well, you absolutely can at the BlueStacks website, but I would be remiss if I did not add a word of caution. In theory, this could be a great thing for educators, but right now, it is more of a proof of concept than anything else. BlueStacks is in Beta. It is currently free for anyone who wants to test their innovative creation, but you do so at your own risk.

The apps themselves can be a little frustrating. Unlike the iOS App Store, many Android apps are simply not designed for large screens. Many are still optimized for a smartphone display, so they can be just plain awkward to use in their skinny, rectangular aspect ratio on the BlueStacks App Player. Some can be forced into a tablet sized view, via the settings, but others stubbornly refuse or crash when you try this.

There is also the issue of media. If you have an app like the Aviary Photo Editor, and you want to edit some photos you have on your computer, it is not as simple as just clicking browse and finding the photos you need. There is some behind the scenes work that needs to be done to achieve this, but like I said earlier, this app is still in Beta, so the developers will still be working out some kinks and improving the user interface as they go.

BlueStacks App Settings

A final issue for education would be management. If this app was to be used in a school that was 1:1 with Macbooks or PC laptops, the school IT department would want some way of enforcing restrictions, and a way to push out apps to students and staff. This is not currently an option, and may never be an option.

BlueStacks is a very enticing idea. It looks like it could open the doors to a much more open and flexible learning environment in the classroom, but right now it remains to be seen how stable, reliable, and easy to use it really could be in the classroom with students. Have you tried it? Do you think you would use it? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.