Category Archives: Chromebooks

ScreenChomp, Snagit for Chrome, and Knowmia Retire

ScreenChomp, Snagit for Chrome, and Knowmia Retire

TechSmith announced today that they are ending all support and services for ScreenChomp, Snagit for Chrome, and Knowmia in order to focus efforts on their Mac & PC desktop products, Snagit and Camtasia. This will come as a blow to many educators, especially those using Chromebooks & iPads, but their rationale does make sense. In a statement on their website, TechSmith said:

“Over the last several months, TechSmith has been reassessing how we can best serve the millions of amazing customers that use our tools to create remarkable images and videos everyday for their customers, colleagues, and classrooms…By retiring these products, TechSmith will be in a stronger position to develop tools that serve the needs of our customers. We remain dedicated to teachers, students, and instructional designers all over the world who use Snagit and Camtasia to create learning materials for the classroom, from K-12 to higher education.”

A full FAQ that outlined their decision making process is included on the same website. However, to soften the blow, TechSmith say you can use the code DESKTOPDISCOUNT in their web store through June 10, 2016 to receive 50% off a single EDU license of Snagit or Camtasia. Both are excellent products and I use them regularly.

So, are there free alternatives that can be used in place of these popular products? For the most part yes, although many now come as “freemium” products. For a browser based screencasting solution, Screencastify is a very decent alternative and it works on Chromebooks. If you have a Mac or a PC then screencastomatic.com is another free option that is well worth looking at. Microsoft fans with PowerPoint 2013 or later should check out the Office Mix add-in for Windows for some excellent screencasting options.

iPad users have a lot of decent alternatives to Screenchomp and Knowmia. Things like Educreations, ShowMe, IPEVO Whiteboard and Doceri are all free, or have free versions, you can use for screencasting in the classroom. There is also the extremely versatile ExplainEverything that can be bought for $5.99 (or $2.99 VPP).

Will you miss ScreenChomp, Snagit for Chrome, and Knowmia? Have you found some good alternatives to take their place? If so, feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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How (and Why) to Zoom In On PC, Mac, iPad & Chromebook

zoom screen title

Have you ever wanted to zoom in on your Mac, PC, Chromebook or iPad screen? As an educator, and facilitator of professional development, I do this a lot and people often ask me how I do it. So, here is a quick rundown of how (and why) to use a screen zoom on Macs, PCs, iPads and Chromebooks.

Why I Use Screen Zooming

For the most part, I zoom in on my screen to draw people’s attention to a specific area or feature that I want to highlight. It helps eliminate distracting elements, and is ideal for large rooms of people where the projector screen may not be as large as you might want it to be.

The other reason I show educators screen zooming is in the context of assistive technology. For students with visual impairments, the ability to zoom in on your screen is a very useful accessibility feature. It helps make text more readable and can give those students a much better way to access electronic materials.

How to Zoom In On A PC Screen

If you are using Windows 7 or later, you can take advantage of the screen magnifier tool. This is built-in to the operating system so no additional software is required. So, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Hold down the Windows key and tap the plus sign repeatedly to zoom in.
  2. Use the Windows key and the minus sign to zoom out.
  3. To exit the screen magnifier, hold down the Windows key and press Escape.

When working with the Magnifier tool, there are three viewing modes to choose from – Full Screen, Lens or Docked. Each have their own uses so feel free to experiment to see which one will work best for you. You can also customize the amount that you zoom in when you first activate the tool. For more information on the Windows Magnifier tool, read this support document from Microsoft.

How To Zoom In On A Mac Screen

Mac users have a couple of options for zooming in and out of their screen, depending on whether they want to zoom with keyboard shortcuts, or with the trackpad on your Macbook.

To zoom with the keyboard:

  1. Navigate to System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom.
  2. Check the box that says Use keyboard shortcuts to zoom
  3. Hold down the Command and Option keys, then tap the plus sign to zoom in
  4. Hold down the Command and Option keys and tap the minus sign to zoom out

To zoom with the trackpad:

  1. Navigate to System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom.
  2. Check the box that says Use scroll gesture with modifier keys to zoom
  3. Hold down the Control key and scroll with two fingers on your trackpad to zoom in and out.

Both options work well, but the latter is the one that I prefer because it is much smoother. Some versions of Mac OS X will let you choose the zoom style. This is also found in System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom. It lets you choose to zoom in on the whole screen, or just a framed area, (similar to the Lens view on Windows). Learn more about zooming your screen on Mac in this Apple support document.

mac ipad

How To Zoom In On An iPad Screen

Can you zoom your screen on an iPad? Indeed you can. In fact, it is one of the many reasons why special education teachers like the iPad as an accessibility device. However, it is great for demonstrating new apps too. Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Zoom and flip the Zoom switch on.
  2. Then, double tap on the screen with three fingers to zoom in or out.
  3. When zoomed in, drag three fingers to pan around the screen to pan and move.
  4. You can change the zoom percentage by double tapping with three fingers and dragging up and down on the screen (it takes practice, but it does work!)

On the same settings screen you will find additional options like the maximum zoom level and the ability to do a full screen zoom or a window zoom. There is even a neat on screen controller that you can use to zoom and pan without the three finger taps.

How To Zoom In On A Chromebook Screen

Chromebook users need not feel left out because Google has a built-in screen magnifier for Chrome OS. As you may have guessed by now, the option lies in the accessibility settings. Here’s how to find it.

  1. Go to Settings > Show Advanced Settings > Accessibility
  2. Check the box next to Enable Screen Magnifier
  3. Hold down Ctrl and Alt, then use the brightness up and down keys to zoom in and out.
  4. Alternatively, you can hold down the Ctrl & Alt keys and then scroll with two fingers on your trackpad to zoom in and out.

BONUS: How To Zoom In On A Desktop Browser

This is a well-known trick, but if you only need to zoom in on a web page, you can do so without using any of the options above. This works with all major browsers. Simply use Ctrl and the plus sign (Cmd + on a Mac) to zoom in, and Ctrl and the minus sign (Cmd – on a Mac) to zoom out. To reset your screen to the original size use Ctrl and the zero key (Cmd 0 on a Mac).

Polarr: A Great Free Photo Editor For The Web & More

POLARR Editor for the web

With more and more companies harnessing the power of the web, our reliance on traditional desktop software is not always what it used to be. Photo editors are a great example of that. Photoshop is amazing, but infinitely more powerful than 90% of us need. That’s why free apps like Polarr are becoming so popular. It is available for iPhone, iPad, Android and the web, and it is easy enough for anyone to use. Here’s how it works.

The web version is available at www.polarr.co. It works in all modern browsers, as well as Chrome OS. You can upload images from your computer, or connect cloud accounts like Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Flickr or Instagram and grab images from those accounts. There’s even a browser extension for Firefox and Chrome that lets you open any image on the web into the Polarr editor. While this is great for free images, it does have some obvious opportunities for abuse. However,  Polarr does remind you to respect the intellectual property of copyright holders.

The editor is very intuitive if you have used any kind of image editors in the past. In fact, if you have used Lightroom before, you will be right at home and be up and running in no time. It may be a little daunting for beginners, but it is easy to navigate and quick to get used to.

The left panel has a selection of image filters, as well as a History tab that lets you step back in time to reverse any edits you make. The right panel has a wealth of image adjustments. On the Basic tab you get access to sliders for temperature, tint, exposure, highlights, shadows, saturation and more. Further down, you will find a tone curve, HSL adjustments, split toning, sharpening, and other effects like vignettes and film grain.

polarr editor interface

There are also a number of tools available to help optimize your image to your liking. The cropping tool will be familiar to most people, but the radial or graduated filters are usually reserved for premium photo editors. With Polarr, you get those for free. There is even a histogram to help you see the true effect of the adjustments you make.

Not sure what the clarity slider is for? Need some help understanding curves? Fear not. Polarr has you covered. A simple help guide is available with jargon free explanations on each of the sliders and features that area available to you. There are before and after examples as well as a live preview of what happens when you apply a given effect. See the Polarr guide here.

vignette help

Is Polarr good for schools? Absolutely. It’s free, doesn’t require you to set up an account in order to use it, and it interfaces seamlessly with all your favorite cloud services. It is also available for iOS and Android devices, as well as the web, so the chances are very high that you will be able to use it in some form or another regardless of your device. Here’s a video of Polarr in action…

 

A Digital Worksheet is Still Just a Worksheet

digital worksheets

Recently, there have been a number of tech tools that have been created to help enhance teacher productivity and improve assignment workflows in the classroom. Take, for example, the excellent OneNote Class Notebook Creator. It is an ideal app for Office 365 schools who want to quickly distribute materials to a whole class, have students work in a paperless environment, while also providing a collaboration space for the whole class to work in.

Google Apps schools are flocking to Google Classroom – a management tool for teachers who are looking to consolidate and simplify the flow of electronic files. It lets you make a copy of an individual document and distribute it to students with permissions configured automatically so that only the student and the teacher can see the document. There is also a discussion feed for students to communicate inside your Google Classroom.

iPad classrooms are using workflow apps like Showbie as a way for students to turn in assignments created on the iPad so teachers can grade them and give feedback. Similar apps like Skaffl, Handouts, and Turnitin do much the same thing, while others are turning to cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive to meet the same need.

Then there are the many learning management systems that were created to take your classroom to the cloud. Canvas, Moodle, Schoology, Blackboard, Haiku, BrainHoney and many many more exist because teachers are looking for simple ways to unify the experience of delivering content and working online with students.

However, there’s a problem with all of these systems. The problem is, that they make it too easy for teachers to do what they always used to do – assign worksheets that don’t challenge, engage and empower students in their learning. A digital version of a paper worksheet is still just a worksheet, and it is not taking advantage of the powerful technologies that students have at their fingertips today.

It doesn’t matter whether you are using Chromebooks, Macbooks, iPads or Surface tablets. A low-level worksheet is a low-level worksheet whether it is in paper form, a PDF, a Word Doc or a Google Doc. Whether they type on it, or write over it with digital ink, it makes no difference. I know it is quick, easy, and convenient to assign. I know because I did it myself when I was in the classroom. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher, but your students deserve better.

None of these tools are inherently flawed. In fact the majority of them are fantastic because they  offer multiple solutions to a very real digital problem. However, I would encourage you to use them in a way that is most befitting a modern digital classroom. Use them to collect authentic assignments that demand creativity. Use them as part of project based or inquiry driven learning projects. Use them to showcase learning in a way that can only be captured with an electronic device.

Consider collaborative projects in Office Online or Google Drive. Have your students write a blog post or create a website to showcase their learning. Have them create a screencast or an Office Mix presentation. Assign them a video project that combines other multimedia content or take advantage of stop motion and green screen effects to communicate their learning. Have them create a Thinglink, an interactive timeline, or a custom Google Map. Challenge them to some App Smashing (it’s not just for iPads by the way), tell some digital stories, create some Kahoot quizzes, or reach out for new ideas like augmented reality, QR codes, and makerspaces.

I know there is a lot out there, and I know it gets overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and help is at hand. The chances are high that someone in your building is already doing this, and if they aren’t, there are thousands of educators on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that will be more than happy to help you out and share their ideas.

Start small. Begin by replacing just one worksheet with an idea like the ones above and see how it goes. Watch the reaction you get from your students. As time goes by, continue to look for more ways to leverage the power of your digital devices and integrate meaningful digital experiences to demonstrate learning in new and innovative ways. Trust me. It will challenge your students, motivate them, and engage them in something deeper, and more meaningful, than any worksheet you can lay your hands on.

Google’s Classroom LMS App: What We Know So Far

Today, Google took the wraps off a brand new free app for Google Apps for Education users called Classroom. It is designed to meet the needs of teachers and students in the same way that an LMS like Canvas, Haiku or Edmodo might do. Here’s what we know so far.

UPDATE: Google Classroom is now live for all Google Apps for Education domains. Read my hands-on review and step-by-step guide here.

In a press release on their blog, Google listed the following features as part of the new Classroom app for Google Apps for Education users:

  • Create and collect assignments: Classroom weaves together Google Docs, Drive and Gmail to help teachers create and collect assignments paperlessly. They can quickly see who has or hasn’t completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback to individual students.
  • Improve class communications: Teachers can make announcements, ask questions and comment with students in real time—improving communication inside and outside of class.
  • Stay organized: Classroom automatically creates Drive folders for each assignment and for each student. Students can easily see what’s due on their Assignments page.

Google Classroom Screenshot

Screenshot of a student dashboard in Classroom

Teachers can add students to a class they create, or issue an enrollment code to students. When teachers create an assignment, they can choose to share it as a single document or create a copy for every student in their class. Teachers can see at a glance who has turned in the assignment, and who hasn’t, as well as send announcements to the whole class. Students can also post questions to a classroom stream for everyone to see or comment on.

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Free Chromebook Screencasting with Snagit for Google Chrome

snagit for Chrome

Today was an exciting day for fans of Snagit for Chrome, because TechSmith finally took the beta tag off the screencasting abilities that this app has had for some time now. This is great news for educators, because although there is not a lot of new functionality, the setup procedure is much simpler than it was before.

If you are new to Snagit for Chrome, you should know that it comes as both a Chrome Extension (for capturing screenshots) and a Chrome app (for capturing screencasts and storing the media you create). Both are free, but both are required to be able to capture images and videos.

Because they are Chrome apps, they work on Macs or PCs running the Chrome web browser, as well as on Chromebooks. However, screencast performance is not ideal on some of the earlier Chromebooks with ARM processors, like the original Samsung Chromebook or the HP Chromebook 11. Intel processors deal much better with the demands of screencasting.

To record a screencast, launch the Snagit for Chrome app and click the “+” sign in the top left-hand corner, select the window you want to record, and you will instantly start recording your screen. Once you are done, click Stop Sharing at the bottom of your screen to finish your screencast. Completed videos are stored in the app, but they can also be shared to YouTube.

Snagit for Chrome Screencasting App

Snagit for Chrome is quick, simple, and ideal for teachers and students who wish to create good looking screencasts, for free, on a number of different devices. Watch the video below for a quick walkthrough of how it works in practice. For more help and ideas about screencasting on a Chromebook please see 3 Ways to Screencast on a Chromebook.

 

The Best Free Interactive Presentation Tools

There are lots of great presentation tools for the classroom and these days they are being used by both students and teachers. So, in this post I have decided to round up a few of my favorites from the last few months in the hope that you find something new to use in your classroom the next time you want to engage your students with something a little different.

1. Nearpod – iPad teachers know that Nearpod is synonymous with engaging, interactive presentations. In fact, some would say they wrote the book on it. However, it is no longer just for the iPad because you can use it on Android, Nooks, Chromebooks and Macs or PCs via the web. Top features include the ability to add quiz tools, videos, photo slideshows, drawing tools, a PDF viewer and even a live Twitter stream.

nearpod

2. EverySlide – Building on the success of apps like Nearpod, EverySlide has some other unique features that make it a great tool for the classroom. As the presenter moves through the slides on their device, the audience slides move at the same time. However, you can build in interactive elements like polls. You can also create quizzes based on interactive hotspots that you add to your slides. Everytime the audience clicks (or taps) on an area of your slide it is recorded for you to view later. Oh, and its web-based and works on any device!

everyslide

3. Movenote – With an eye on the flipped classroom fans, Movenote lets you add interactivity to your presentations via a webcam video of yourself! You upload your presentation to movenote.com, authorize your webcam, and flip through your slides like a screencast as you record a live video feed of yourself at the same time. If you prefer you can record your video ahead of time, then use movenote to sync the slides to the video. Still not convinced? It integrates with Google Drive, so you can pull over your favorite Google Presentations and use those too.

movenote

4. Swipe.to – It may officially be in beta, but Swipe is still a polished performer. Simply upload your presentation as a PDF and/or add some image files are you are good to go. There are no limits on the number of files you upload, or the size of the files you add. YouTube and Vimeo videos can be added with just a URL, and all your decks are private until you are ready to share them. When you are ready to present, share the presentation URL so your audience can follow along on their devices in real time. There are no limits on the number of people you can present to at one time, so if you happen to get called to give an ISTE keynote, this might be a tool worth considering! 🙂 You can even give your students a coding challenge and get them to write their slides in Markup.

swipe

 

5. ClassFlow – Promethean made their name with interactive whiteboards, but when they launched ClassFlow you can see that they are now starting to look beyond the board. The teacher creates interactive lessons like they would for a SMART or Promethean whiteboard, except students interact with it via a mobile app or the web. Videos, websites, documents and more can be added and they are all stored in your cloud account so they are accessible on any device you want to use. Polling tools give teachers instant feedback and the data is stored for future planning.

classflow

6. Slideidea – I have blogged about Slideidea before, but it remains a great presentation tool for iPad teachers. It lets you create and present your slideshow and includes a variety of interesting features to make your presentation stand out. There is a digital whiteboard for drawing up some ideas, an interactive polling tool, and even the ability to record your presentation as a screencast. So, if you you are looking for a change from Keynote or Haiku Deck, give it a try. You won’t regret it! Read more about Slideidea here.

SlideIdea iPad Presentation Templates

Which is your favorite interactive presentation tool for the classroom? Is it listed above? If not, feel free to add it to the comments below to share with others!