Learn Chrome OS: The Chromebook Simulator

If you’ve ever looked for a quick, easy way for teachers, students, and even parents, to learn how to use a Chromebook, then you should take a look at Google’s free Chromebook Simulator. It’s an online learning site with step-by-step interactive tutorials that will teach you everything you need to know to get started using a Chromebook. Here’s how it works.

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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.

Setting Default Apps on the iPad with Google

If, like me, you are a Google Apps user who loves to use their iPad, you may have longed for the ability to have your favorite Google services set as the default apps on your iPad. Well, you can, to a degree, and here’s how.

DriveGoogle+ on iOSgmailGooglechrome

Today I saw a post on Google+ by Chris Betcher, a Google Certified Teacher and Trainer, that reminded me how to do just that. It’s simple really, and there is no need for workarounds or even jailbreaking your device, because Google has done all the hard work for you.

Whether you realize it or not, Google has updated its iOS apps so that they can talk to each other. For instance, it you click on an email link while inside Chrome, the iPad will automatically open the Gmail instead of Apple’s Mail app. The same applies for links that lead to a file in Drive. Clicking the link inside of Gmail will open the file in the Drive app, instead of Safari. Found an interesting link in Google+?  Tap the share arrow, and you can open it in Chrome.

Setting Default Apps on the iPad

Apple doesn’t allow you to set default apps on the iPad, so how is this possible? Well, it is all down to a bit of clever engineering from Google. If you navigate to the Settings in Gmail or Chrome, you will find a menu option called Google Apps. Clicking that, allows you to choose a Google iOS app to open something that may normally be opened by Safari or the Mail app.

So, all that is left to do is to wean yourself off some of Apple’s default apps. Mobile Safari is a great browser, and the Mail app is very solid too. However, if you find yourself in these apps when you would rather be in Google’s apps, all you need to do is shift your focus to using the Chrome and Gmail apps instead.

Using Google on the iPad can sometimes be a bit of an ordeal, but in case you haven’t tried it, the experience is very much the same on Google’s Android tablets. You can set default apps on Android, but if you use Chrome to access your Google Drive you will still be forced into the mobile view and warned that you are using an incompatible browser when in the Desktop view. Still, progress has been made, and Google’s commitment to mobile devices is clear, even if the support is not coming quite as fast as some of us might like it to! 🙂

For more information on setting Google’s apps as default apps on the iPad, watch Chris Betcher’s video below, and check out this follow-up post on how to set Gmail as the default mail app on iOS.

An Inside Look the New Snagit for Chrome!

As part of the Snagit for Chrome Beta testing group, I have had the chance to spend a few days with an early build of TechSmith’s latest product ahead of its official launch on November 19. I also attended a hangout with three of the developers yesterday as they answered questions and gave us a look at what to expect in the future. Here’s what we know so far!

Snagit for Chrome is based on the Snagit app for Windows and Mac that many educators know and love. It comes in the form of an extension and an app. The extension lives in your browser bar with the rest of your Chrome extensions, and is used to take screenshots of whatever you want to capture inside of Chrome. The app is launched as soon as your screenshot is captured and allows you the ability to add annotations or view previous captures.

Snagit for Chrome App

Annotation tools are a little basic right now, but they do the job, and a text tool is definitely in the works for a future release. Captured screenshots are automatically saved to a folder in your Google Drive called TechSmith, and to a Library view in the app itself. There is a share button in the bottom left of the screen that generates a link for you to share with others so that you don’t need to go to your Drive to get that. You can even go back and edit your annotations and the changes will sync to Google Drive automatically.

Snagit for Chrome Library

What else do you need to know? Snagit for Chrome will work in all instances of the Chrome browser, so that includes Chromebooks too, and it will also be free for all users. Paid upgrades may be available further down the line, but the core tool will always be free. Right now, it does not include the ability to capture video or audio. TechSmith say that there are just too many limitations on Google’s side to allow that to happen right now, but they will add that functionality as soon as it is made available to them. Another limitation right now is the ability to capture the omnibar, tabs and the bookmarks bar. You just can’t do that right now, but that may also be an option in the future.

Speaking of the future, TechSmith has all kinds of great ideas for future implementation, some of which includes the ability to collaborate on a shared screenshot, or the addition of a free draw tool. Better still, they are dying to hear what features educators want to see in future versions of Snagit for Chrome, so you can leave your best ideas over at http://feedback.techsmith.com and get notified when they are approved for inclusion in the next version.

Want to try out the new Snagit for Chrome Beta for yourself? You can! Sign up for the Beta test group right here, and take a look at the video demo below from TechSmith. It includes a lot of great discussion and has questions and answers from educators like me! 🙂 (The demo starts around the 12m 45s mark). Otherwise, the full launch is scheduled for November 19, so mark the date in your calendars!

Overall, I really like Snagit for Chrome. Right now it shares a lot of the same functionality with rival extensions like the Awesome Screenshot tool, but it is the potential of this product that excites me the most. When you have the backing of a company like TechSmith, you know that they will not be resting on their laurels. New features will be arriving thick and fast, and Snagit for Chrome will get better and better as time goes on.

Are you excited by Snagit for Chrome? What would you most like to see included in future versions? Leave a comment below, and be sure to share your feedback with TechSmith too.

The Top 10 Gmail Apps and Extensions

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaselabs/3306827131/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaselabs/3306827131/

Gmail is great. It comes with lots of unique features that put other email clients to shame, and has even more under the hood if you look through the experimental Gmail labs. However, if you spend some time in the Chrome Web Store, you can quickly find a plethora of other apps and extensions for Gmail. What follows are ten of the best.

1. Gmail Offline – If you don’t install any others on this list, try this one. It lets you access your Gmail offline. You can read your Gmail offline, and reply to emails too. Once you get back online, everything will sync up and and emails you wrote when offline will send to your recipients. For the most part it works very well, although the interface is different from the standard Gmail site. So, the next time you get stranded without Wi-Fi or access to the internet, fire up Gmail offline and get productive.

2. Send from Gmail – I use my iPad a lot. One of the things I love about it, is the ability to quickly share a link with others right from inside the browser. On my laptop, I could do that in Safari, but as a Chrome user, I used to have to copy the link, go back to Gmail, compose a new email, and paste the link in. You can avoid all that with Send from Gmail. Simply click the extension button and a new Gmail email will open with the subject line filled in, and the link of the site added to the body of the email. It works great. My only small criticism of it is that for some reason it does not add my default signature to the email. If anyone has found a way to fix that, please let me know!

3. Checker Plus – I love this extension, because it does a multitude of things. Ever clicked on an email link and had it open Outlook or some other desktop email client? This fixes that. It also notifies you of incoming mail with a chime of your choice, and a desktop notification if you want it. You can even have a voice notification read your incoming mail to you! Clicking the extension’s button in your toolbar lets you quickly preview your mail without changing tabs, and allows you to delete or archive mail too. So, it is very handy, and something I could not soon live without.

4. Add to Wunderlist – I am a big Wunderlist user, and I have written about that in the past. The Add to Wunderlist extension is great for me because it integrates seamlessly with Gmail. I used to use my inbox as a secondary to do list, but no more. This extension allows you to turn emails into tasks so that you can have all your important things to do on one master list. Simply click the Add to Winderlist button and you can choose which list you want to add that important email to. Next, delete, or archive the email as you work your way towards inbox zero.

5. Rapportive – This is a relatively recent addition to my Gmail, but one that grew on me quickly. When you use the rapportive Gmail extension, you get a customized bio of the sender of every email you get right next to the email when you open it. Ever wondered who this person is that emailed you, and how they know you? This can help. It pulls from LinkedIn and other social networks to give you a social profile of senders, so it is great for reminding you about who is sending you those important emails. It also has a notes section that lets you add your own private comments about each person in case you need to add some additional information about previous contact you have had with them.

6. Screenleap – Need a quick and easy way to share your screen with others? Well you could start a Google Hangout, and share your screen, but this is arguably quicker and gives you the ability to share with others who dont even have a Google account. Simply click the Screenleap icon in your Gmail, and it will generate a link for your sender to click on. Once they click it, you can instantly share your screen. This could be great for demonstrating how to do something on a computer or for troubleshooting someone else.

7. Cloudy – Gmail has a great attachment tool. It even  lets you browse through your Drive to find the files you want. However, Cloudy takes this one step further. It links with Dropbox, Box, and Skydrive. You can browse your Picasa and Flickr accounts, or take a picture or video with your webcam and add that straight to your email. You can search the web for an image or look through your Facebook and Evernote accounts for the file you need. You can even search through your Gmail to grab an attachment from another email. I love the flexibility it gives me for attachments.

8. Smartr – If Cloudy is the ultimate attachment tool, then Smartr might be the ultimate contacts app. It does all kinds of clever things like keeping a track of all the email conversations you have had with the person you are emailing. They sit there in a sidebar as you type the email so you can have them for reference. You can view your contacts Facebook and Twitter activity, even if you don’t follow them. The common contacts tab is a useful way to find people you have in common with others, and the search tool will quickly search through all your contacts from a number of services.

9. KeyRocket – Ok. Time to get your geek on. Gmail has a ton of keyboard shortcuts, but remembering what they are, is another matter altogether. That’s where KeyRocket comes in. It helps you learn what they are. Everytime you perform an action in Gmail that has a keyboard shortcut, (say composing a new email), a popup tells you what the keyboard shortcut is for that action. For some, this may get annoying pretty quickly, but for me there is no better way to train your brain for the multitude of keyboard shortcuts that there are. Just remember to turn on keyboard shortcuts in Gmail’s settings if you want to try some our for yourself.

10. Gmelius – If the stock Gmail user interface is not to your liking, Gmelius may be just what you have been looking for. It lets you tweak a number of different things to make your Gmail experience more aesthetically pleasing. For instance, it will block ads from public Gmail accounts. You can also replace the paperclip attachment icon in your inbox with Google or Microsoft equivalents so that you know at a glance what type of attachment is in that email. You can auto-hide or toggle the header (including the search bar) to get more room, and lose the footer too. You can even lose scroll bars if your mouse and trackpad is all you need. So, check it out if this sounds like the kind of tweaking you like to do. It is a popular app with those who like to tinker.

Do you have a favorite Gmail app or extension? Feel free to share it in the comments below.

The Awesome Read&Write Chrome Extension

The Read&Write Chrome browser extension from texthelp.com is a great accessibility extension for Google Apps schools. It includes text to speech, a talking dictionary, a picture dictionary, vocabulary tool and study skills tools that collect highlighted selections of a Google Doc. Best of all, it is free! You can get the extension here. HT to the awesome @mmcowell.

The text to speech functionality is particularly impressive, and is reminiscent of the Speak Selection or VoiceOver features found on the iPad. It has a choice of voices, and is a great feature for students who need text read aloud to them, or who would benefit from hearing their typed work read back to them for proof reading purposes. The speech to text also works on dictionary definitions of selected words.

The Picture Dictionary will pop up when you highlight a word and activate the Picture Dictionary button. Even if a student has read the dictionary definition, or had it read aloud to them, the pictures can be great for helping put things in context and give some visual clues to the meaning of a word. You can even use the images from the Picture Dictionary in your Google Doc by simply copying and pasting the image.

Study guides can be quickly and easily created with the vocabulary tool. Simply highlight a number of key words in a document, click on the vocabulary tool, and a new tab will open with a vocabulary table that includes the word, a definition of the word, and a number of associated clipart images. It works best, or causes the least confusion, with words that only have one meaning, but it is still a great feature to have.

So, if you are a Chrome user, and you have not yet taken Read&Write for a test drive, you absolutely should. It sits, unobtrusively, in your menu bar and only leaps into action when you want it to. The video below goes over its capabilities in more detail. Feel free to leave a comment on how you could use this tool to help benefit the students in your classroom.