Simplenote: Cross Platform Note-taking

Try Simplenote for Free, Cross Platform Note Taking

I’ve used a lot of note taking apps over the years. I was an Evernote user for a while, I took a look at Google Keep, I jumped in and out of Notability (and still do), and finally settled on OneNote. It’s free, works on all devices, and has the features I need for organizing and searching through my notes. I’ve been very happy with OneNote, but if I’m honest, it has more features than I will ever use. I know I can just not use those features, but it made me wonder what it would be like to use an app that had less bells and whistles. What if the app was more…simple?

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One Best Thing: Free Lesson Ideas for Apple Classrooms

one best thing ibooks

While going through some of my curated articles in Pocket the other day, I came across a link to an iBook created by Dan Goble called Six-Word Story, Six Unique Shots: Enhancing Writing Through Multimedia. In it, Don outlines a creative digital storytelling exercise that combines film making skills with the power of language to compile a six shot, six-word story.

So, impressed with what I had read, I shared it on social media and in my iPadography for Educators Google+ Community. Before too long, I received a message from Cyndi Danner-Kuhn telling me that this is actually part of a larger series of iBooks from Apple Distinguished Educators called One Best Thing.

one best thing ibooks

The books are on all kinds of curricular topics. Each one represents a lesson or unit that highlights an innovative use of (Apple) technologies, and readers are encouraged to use any of the ideas they see in their own classrooms as a way to improve teaching and learning with technology.

Some highlights include Don’t Create a Book, Create a Field Trip, by Sean Junkins. I saw Sean give a presentation on how he created this project at ISTE in 2013 and was impressed by his take on how to build engaging, interactive textbooks with iBooks Author. I also enjoyed Photographing History: Archiving With Apps by Cheryl Davis where she describes how to empower students as historians on a quest to archive the secrets of the past with multimedia evidence they capture in the present.

photographing history by cheryl davis

Each of the One Best Thing iBooks are freely available in the iBooks Store. They are short, practical, and creative ways to use technology in the classroom. So, if you are using Macs or iPads with your students and are looking for some new ideas on how to integrate technology into your existing curriculum, you should take a look to see what is on offer. You can find all the books in this series by searching for One Best Thing in the iBooks Store on a Mac or iOS device.

iPads vs. Macs & PCs in Education: Pros & Cons

It’s a question you will often hear debated when schools look to buy new devices. iPads? Macs? PCs? Chromebooks? Which is best? The short answer is, it depends. None of them are bad devices, at least not any more, so it usually comes down to what is the best fit for students, teachers, and the ways that a school is looking to advance teaching and learning with technology.

For this post, I joined forces with Stephen Lai, from teachingwithipad.org. Together we compiled some of the more popular advantages and disadvantages associated with using an iPad when compared to a Mac or Windows laptop.

Why iPads?

1. Speed – We have all become accustomed to how fast our iOS devices wake from sleep. They rarely need powered off and the instant on gratification you get is hard to beat. In fact, if your laptop doesn’t have an SSD drive, the iPad will beat it every single time whether it is opening an app, waking from sleep, or performing some basic tasks.

2. Apps – Cut price iOS apps are getting better all the time and they are looking to rival expensive desktop software. Finding quality educational apps that will consistently enhance teaching and learning is the tricky part, especially when there are so many apps available, but it doesn’t take long to find the best ones. So, spend time researching and talking to colleagues about which apps are worth the money, and which of the free ones are really free!

3. Camera – According to Chase Jarvis, the best camera is the one you have with you. The iPad camera will never rival that of a dedicated DSLR, but it sure beats the webcams on a Mac or a PC! It’s a one-stop solution that lets you shoot, edit and share photos and videos captured on your iPad. It is also capable of producing special effects like stop motion movies or even green screen captures. This kind of creativity makes it perfect for a modern multimedia classroom.

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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.

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Bring New Life to Classroom Projects with Movenote on the Web, iPad & More!

I always told my students that there was a difference between creating a presentation, and giving a presentation. The creation part was easier for them. They had time to research, build, and revise their work, but when it came to presenting their findings while standing up in front of a room full of people, nerves often got the better of them. Thankfully, there are free, multi-platform tools like Movenote that can make that easier, but it’s not just for students. It is also a great way for teachers personalize their screencasts for a flipped classroom, or other online learning opportunities.

movenote

Movenote lets you record a video of yourself talking about a presentation via your webcam, and it syncs it to the slides you are talking about. Here’s how it works. Laptop or desktop users start by creating a free account at movenote.com. Next, you need to give Movenote permission to access your webcam so that it can record the video to accompany your presentation. However, you also have the option to upload a pre-recorded video if you prefer.

Your presentation can now be added to Movenote from your computer, or  your Google Drive account. Recommended file formats are PDF, PNG, or JPEGs. PowerPoint files also work, but are sometimes more reliably converted when first saved as a PDF. If you have a Google account, you can bring a Google Presentation over too. Click the Re-order button on any of the uploaded files to rearrange the order of your slides.

movenote record screen

The final step in the creation process is recording your video, so clicking the red Record button will quickly get you under way. You can now introduce your presentation on your webcam and move through each slide with the navigation buttons at the top of the screen. (If you uploaded a pre-recorded video, all you need to do is advance your slides in time to the video you uploaded). There are no annotation tools per se, but if you click and drag with your mouse, a virtual laser pointer can be used to highlight areas you deem most important, and you can pause the video at any time to collect your thoughts.

Continue reading “Bring New Life to Classroom Projects with Movenote on the Web, iPad & More!”

How to Share and Collaborate with iWork for iCloud in the Classroom

If you watched Apple’s latest special event, you will no doubt have heard the news about new iPads, new Macbook Pros, and even the new Mac Pro. However, amid all the hardware announcements, Apple revealed the ability to work collaboratively on iWork documents. So, how do you do that, and are there any restrictions? Here’s what I found out so far…

iwork for icloud

Q. How to Share an iWork Document

You can share documents you created on the iPad, the Mac, or online at icloud.com in very much the same way. Just look for the new share button on the toolbar, click it, and choose to share your document. You can copy the link, or email it to someone. On the iPad you can also tweet it, post it on Facebook, or send via an iMessage. When the document is shared you will see a green triangle on the corner of the file in your document manager view.

The shared link works in most browsers, and although Safari, Chrome and IE9+ are the officially supported browsers, I did get iWork to run well enough in Firefox and even on a Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. So, it should be easy enough for students to share a link to a document with a teacher/classmate and have them make the changes they need. Apple notes, however, that to share an iWork ’09, or Microsoft document, you need to open it in iWork for iCloud beta first.

share a document in iWork

Q. How to Collaborate on an iWork Document

To collaborate on a shared document, you simply click on the link that is sent to you by the document owner. After that, you are free to work at the same time on the same document together. However, real time collaboration is a hard thing to crack with an online office suite, just ask Microsoft. Nevertheless, Apple has done a pretty good job so far.

When two people are working on an iWork document inside a web browser, the changes occur very close to real time. It is not quite as slick as Google Apps, but it’s close, and the lag is minimal enough not to be a real issue. If two people happen to be working on the same paragraph at the same time, iCloud will temporarily store both versions and ask the owner which version of the document they want to keep.

However, things are a little different when you are working between a browser and say the iOS version of an iWork app. You won’t see real time changes in this scenario, at least not yet. Instead you need to wait for iCloud to sync on the mobile device before changes are pushed to and from the web. Once iCloud syncs, the changes will be viewable on an iOS device, but sometimes I found you have to exit the app and return to it later to force an iCloud sync. Hopefully this will get snappier before too long.

collaborate with iwork for icloud

Q. How to Stop Sharing an iWork Document

The time may come when you no longer want or need to have your document shared with another student or teacher. No problem. You can quickly and easily rescind sharing privileges by opening the document, and clicking on the Share icon. Then click (or tap) Stop Sharing. The link you shared previously will now no longer work, and the green sharing icon in the top right hand corner of the document will be gone. As the owner of a document, you can stop sharing from your Mac, iPad or the web.

stop sharing iwork document

Restrictions with iCloud Sharing

Apple are new to the whole cloud sharing arena, and although this product is a great start, there are definitely some things to consider before you go live with this in the classroom. These are not necessarily the only issues, but these are the biggest ones I have found so far:

  • No sharing permissions. When you share a document you can’t set the link to be “view only”. Those in possession of the document link will always be able to edit your document. Recipients do not even need to have an iCloud account. Bear that in mind if the link gets sent around social networks, and remember what you need to know in order to stop sharing  document.
  • Collaborators are anonymous. Say you shared the link with four people. You have no way of knowing exactly who is in the document with you at any one time. Google has a handle on this. Apple does not.
  • No comments or chat. The document chat window that Google has is a great way that teachers and students can instantly communicate back and forward on a given document. Even if they are not in the same document at the same time, comments can be used to leave feedback. Apple has neither of these features yet.
  • No revision history. If you are tracking changes in a document, you cannot share the link via iCloud. This is strange, because once the document has been shared with others, you will likely want to be able to check and see who did what on a given document, a la Google’s revision history. So, because iWork for iCloud does not support tracking changes, you have to turn that off on the Mac or the iPad before you can share.
  • No iPads online. If you get sent a link to a shared document and try to open it on the iPad, you will be greeted with a screen that politely informs you that you cannot be a collaborator of said document on your iPad. To edit, you need to open the link on a Mac or PC. Alternatively, you can edit a copy of the document. But if you do that, no edits will appear to the person who shared the original document with you, because it is a copy of the original document.

ipad sharing

Summary

Remember that this is version 1.0 of a Beta product. There will be improvements, there will be bugs, there will be changes, but right now if you are thinking about using it in the classroom with students, you need to be aware of its capabilities and its restrictions. iWork for iCloud has a huge amount of potential, and could one day offer some real competition to Google, but like the first draft of an essay, there are still a few things to work on.

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.

 

Instashare: Free AirDrop-like File Sharing for iPads and Macs

Instashare

Instashare is a new app for iOS and OS X devices that lets you share files wirelessly for free over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. I’ve been playing with it on and off for the last week, and I have to say I have been impressed with its capabilities. More importantly, it could have some great uses for a tech savvy teacher in the classroom.

How does it work? Simple really. The Instashare app acts like a bridge between your devices. You send files from your device to Instashare, and Instashare sends it to a device within Bluetooth range, or on the same Wi-Fi network. Best of all, it works with almost any file on your iPad via the sharing menu. Simply select to open your file in another app, and then send it to Instashare.

It works with Pages, Keynote, Numbers, and anything you can put in your Camera Roll. It works with Google Drive, Notability and just about any other app that lets you open your final product into another app. Notable exclusions include the likes of Garageband and Educreations.

Free iPad Files Sharing with Instashare

In the classroom, this could certainly add flexibility to the use of the iPad. Imagine a collaborative writing project where each student writes a part of the story and then sends it to the next student via Instashare. The same could be done with a collaborative video project. If all students need access to a video shot on one iPad, the owner could share it with others so that they can work on the media in iMovie or other video apps.

Videos taking up too much storage? Students can share their iMovie or ExplainEverything projects with the teacher’s Mac, and then have them saved to a flash drive or burned to a DVD. Want to add a video from your Mac to a Keynote presentation on your iPad? No problem. Send it to your Camera Roll via Instashare. It could even be a useful way for students to hand in assignments to their teacher, although currently it does not support more than one transfer at the same time. Still, it does mean no printing, no email, no fuss.

The iOS app is free, and so is the Mac app (currently listed as BETA). A Windows app is in the works, and so is an Android version. It is unclear right now as to whether they will all communicate with each other, but I am sure that would be the plan. Transferring files from iPad to iPad was almost flawless for me and worked almost every time. Going from my Mac to an iPad was a little more inconsistent at times and occasionally produced an error message, but it is a BETA app so it will surely become more reliable in time as they continue to develop it.

So, if you are looking for a quick and easy way to transfer files between iOS devices, or to and from a Mac, take a look at Instashare. The free version of the iOS app is ad supported, but these can be removed for a 99c in-app purchase.

An Educator’s Guide to AirPlay on iPads and Macs

Image courtesy of Apple.com
Image courtesy of Apple.com

What is AirPlay?

AirPlay is a technology that Apple baked into their more recent devices to allow them to wirelessly mirror the content of one screen to another. This content can be music, movies, or other multimedia content. A teacher, for instance, can use AirPlay to wirelessly present their lesson to a class or demonstrate an app, while students could use it to share their work with their peers.

What devices can AirPlay?

  • iPad 2, iPad3, iPad 4, the iPad Mini, and the iPad Air
  • iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and the iPhone 5s
  • iPod Touch (5th Generation)
  • iMac (Mid 2011 or newer), Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer), MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer), and MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer)
  • iOS devices need to be running iOS 4.3 or newer
  • OS X devices need to be running OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion)

How to Set Up AirPlay

In order for your device to be able to take advantage of AirPlay, it needs to be able to connect to an AirPlay enabled device. The default Apple device is the Apple TV. Connect this to your projector via HDMI (or use the Kanex ATV Pro if you have a VGA projector).

For a cheaper option, you can turn an existing laptop or desktop computer into an AirPlay device by installing the Reflector or AirServer app. There are version for Mac and Windows computers. Once installed, run the program and connect the computer running the software to an LCD projector.

Reflector vs. AirServer

Reflector (or Reflection as it was previously known) was essentially the first desktop app for turning your computer into an AirPlay receiver. AirServer is a licensed version of Reflector, so essentially they are pretty much the same. However, AirServer does offer educational discounts for schools, so this may help keep costs down. I’ve also found that the developer for AirServer is very receptive to new feature requests that can improve the classroom experience.

AirServer app

Connecting to Airplay on an iPad

1. Before you attempt to mirror your iPad’s screen, you need to first ensure that your iPad, and the AirPlay device you are connecting to (Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer) are on the same WiFi network. If they are not, the devices will not “see” each other.

2. Next, Swipe up from the bottom bezel on your iPad to reveal the new iOS 7 Control Center, (see image below).

3. Tap the AirPlay button, (the rectangle with a triangle on it) and select the device you want to connect to – the Apple TV or the computer running Reflector or AirServer. Turn Mirroring on to send the image of your screen to the projector.

4. Press the home button to close the Control Center, and bask in the glory of your wireless media connection! 🙂

AirPlay

Connecting to AirPlay on a Mac

1. Again, before you attempt to mirror your Mac’s screen, you need to first ensure that your iPad, and the AirPlay device you are connecting to (Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer) are on the same WiFi network. If not, the devices will not “see” each other.

2. Look for the AirPlay symbol in the menu bar at the top of your screen, (next to the WiFi indicator, date and volume icon)

3. Click the AirPlay button, and select the device you want to connect to – an Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer.

4. Your Mac should automatically connect to the AirPlay device, and you can bask in the glory of your wireless media connection! 🙂

Connect to AirPlay Mac

Password Protecting Your AirPlay Connection

Regardless of whether you use an Apple TV, Reflector, or AirServer, it is important to be aware of your option to protect your AirPlay connection with a password. After all, you won’t necessarily want someone connecting to your AirPlay whenever they feel like it. On the Apple TV you go to Settings > AirPlay > Set Passcode. The passcode is great if you have just one class, but if your students leave for another class, they can still hijack your AirPlay if you have previously shared a password with them in order that they too can AirPlay.

You could change the passcode every lesson, but this would be a pain, so I recommend going to Settings > AirPlay > Onscreen code. This adds an onscreen code so that you can only AirPlay to this connection if you can see the onscreen code, (ie. you are in that classroom). If you are using Reflector, you can also set a passcode. If you are using AirServer, you have the same options as with an Apple TV – a passcode or onscreen code.

Recording your AirPlay Connection

Ever seen those YouTube tutorials of people demonstrating iPad apps and wonder how they did it? Well, the chances are high that they used some kind of AirPlay connection and recorded it with a basic screencasting tool. Apple included screencasting options for Mac users in Quicktime X (10). Simply open the app and go to File > New Screen Recording. MakeUseOf has a nice tutorial on how to make a great screencast with Quicktime X. Don’t have a Mac? Try Screenr.com or Screencastomatic.com and you can quickly flip your classroom for free.

Troubleshooting AirPlay Connections

If you are having trouble with your AirPlay connection, consider the following:

  1. A successful AirPlay connection requires that you have both devices on the same WiFi network. If there is more than one network to connect to in your school, this could be an issue. 
  2. Firewalls can block an AirPlay connection, and some networks are configured to limit certain outgoing connections, so check with the Technology Director to see if he or she can check that for you.
  3. Make sure that all your AirPlay devices and software are updated to the latest version. This will give you the best stability across your devices.
  4. Speaking of stability, if your WiFi network is slow, or prone to going down unexpectedly, AirPlay will not work well. A strong and consistent WiFi network is required for reliable AirPlay connections.

Resources