Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Hunting down learning tools

May 28, 2010 1 comment

Most of us use software tools like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint to develop teaching and learning resources, but what if you want to do something a bit more creative or innovative, what other tools are available?  A good place to find out is Jane Hart’s website, Centre for Learning & Perfomance Technologies (C4LPT). Jane used to work in Higher Education and is now a Learning Consultant and regular speaker at learning events and through her website she shares free resources about learning trends, technologies and tools.

One of the popular features of Jane’s website is the Directory of Learning Tools, which details hundreds of both commercial, free and open source tools.  You can browse for tools under different categories such as instructional tools for creating online content, image, audio and video tools, blogging and wiki tools and also collaboration tools.  Each category has tools organised in A-Z lists so if you’re looking for something specific it’s easy to find.

Another feature of the C4LPT is the ‘top tools’ feature.  Jane invites teachers to submit their top 10 teaching and top 10 learning tools each year and then compiles an annual top 100. You can see which tools made the top 100 for 2009, based on contributions from 278 learning professionals worldwide, in the presentation below and read more about  the individual contributions to the list here.

Categories: General, Tools Tags: , ,

Evernote: a tool for your PLE

February 9, 2010 1 comment

I’m kicking off my series of blog posts focusing on tools you might want to consider having in your PLE with a look at Evernote. If you follow educationalists and teachers on Twitter one of the tools you’ll often see them tweeting about is Evernote and you’ll notice they are giving it a positive press.  Evernote is a free app (though there is also a paid version available), which works a bit like Microsoft’s One Note. It allows you to take clippings of websites, files, images, photographs, videos and audio recordings and tag them for easy retrieval and organise them into notebooks.  Also everything you clip and store is easily searchable, including handwritten notes and text in images. You can also share your clippings so if you’re working on a group project it’s easy to share the resources that you find.

The real beauty of Evernote is that you can use it as a web service on any web browser, but you can also install the application on your own personal Windows or Mac desktop, your iPod Touch/iPhone.  It also works on Android phones, the Blackberry,  Palm Pre and Windows mobile. You can synchronise your Evernote account with your desktop or mobile device and access your notes offline. This ability to access your notes without an internet connection is what I really find helpful, particularly on a hand held device like the iPod Touch, I have all my notes and helpful resources at my fingertips even when I can’t get a wireless connection.

There’s a helpful overview of how you can use Evernote as a tool in your personal learning environment that’s been put together by a US medical student Ryan McDonald.  Ryan calls Evernote his ‘medical peripheral brain’, unfortunately I can’t embed his video here but you take a look at it on his screencast page and see how he uses it to support his medical studies.

The Evernote website has a series of videos which give an overview of its features and how people are using it.  There are several videos which include students talking about why they use Evernote.  You can use Evernote for all sorts of things, I use it to support my ongoing life long learning but the more I use it the more uses I find for it.

If you want to find out more about how people are using Evernote here are some additional links you might want to take a look at.

Evernote: Redefining my organisational thinking – Academic Life in Emergency Medicine Blog

14 Practical Ways to Use Evernote – Guy Kawasaki

Ron’s Evernote Tips

Personal learning environments

February 7, 2010 2 comments

In my last post I mentioned the concept of the personal learning environment (PLE), which is essentially an individualised learning space that makes use of a variety of tools and resources.  A PLE can help you gather and organise resources and information, support reflection and learning, as well as facilitating connections with others.  A PLE can include both formal and informal learning opportunities, so the institutional VLE might be part of your PLE as well as other tools which are available via the web.

With the growing number of Web 2.0 tools that are free, accessible (and easy to use for those of us who aren’t computer geeks) developing your own PLE doesn’t need to be a daunting experience.  Most individuals will have some sort of a PLE but perhaps aren’t aware of the range of tools that can now be used to support their learning or their teaching.  Here on Dundee e-MedEd I’m going to start a series of blog posts looking at some of the tools that you might want to take a look at, which could support your learning and become part of your learning environment.

To find out a bit more about PLE’s take a look at this presentation by Stephen Downes.

Whiteboard or Whitewash

February 1, 2010 4 comments

The ITA staff, and the medical computing staff, have arranged a trial of a SMART-board – an interactive whiteboard.  What is an interactive whiteboard?  The idea is this:

A normal, standard projector, projects an image against a specialised board with a “sensor array” behind it.  Specific “pens” can be used to draw on the screen, or move anything projected onto the screen; basically think Minority Report, but in 2D.  It’s more like the screens they use in CSI, or Silent Witness.

So why should we be excited about an interactive whiteboard?  The obvious advantage is to be able to combine high fidelity images and slides, with hand drawn annotation, or doodling; a combination of a flip chart/blackboard with powerpoint/keynote.  More interaction with the presenting material.

So how did it go?  I have to admit to being fairly thoroughly underwhelmed.  Problems:

  • The projector/board set up has to be set up and calibrated every time it’s moved.  This might not be a big problem if the system is set up permanently in one place, but one of the main attractions of the system is that it is portable, moveable between sites, and around the room.  The more expensive versions have built in projectors above the screen, but they still need recalibrating every time they’re moved.
  • The projector, no matter whether it is in front, or above the screen, casts a shadow.  We’ve all been in lectures where the lecturer decides to forgo the mouse pointer, or the laser pointer, and use a finger at the end of an arm to point to something on the screen.  A bloody great shadow appears over the screen, obliterating what we’re trying to see.  This is inherent in the system of projection, and I think might be a big stumbling block
  • The calibration is not perfect.  Today the finger needed to be a good 3 cm below where one wanted to “click”.  I found myself using the trackpad on the MacBookPro, as it’s accurate.
  • The software is complex.  Very complex.  I’m told that the presentation given by the rep was a magical tour de force of Minority Report standards: grabbing youtube videos, clipping flash objects, pushing and pulling objects around, exporting as a PDF, recording a video of the presentation.  But today, sans rep, we couldn’t import a PowerPoint presentation, struggled with the tools, and I left feeling as though we’d spent 40 minutes faffing around.

That all seems a bit negative, but it is my first impression of the technology.  There are potentials for improvement: I’m told that there is an overlay to put on a large screen TV which allows the finger to be used on the screen, in the aforementioned interactive manner.  This is a much more attractive proposition to me – no shadow on the screen, permanent calibration (once the overlay is laid), and it can be moved about, so long as the screen is on a stand with wheels, of course.  But the presenter still has to stand in the way of the screen to write on it.

So, what alternatives would I propose?  Powerpoint already has an overlay solution – a click of the semi-transparent pen button allows the presenter to doodle on the screen, albeit with a mouse, rather than a pen.  The doodler stands at the computer screen, not the big screen all the learners are trying to see.  So it’s hard to write with a mouse, but it is built in,  on the PC version of PP, at least.

What about “just” Powerpoint/Keynote?  I put a lot of effort into my Keynote presentations – I know what I’m going to do during the lecture, so I make the appropriate animations, focuses, and builds to make the presentation interesting,  or I like to think so.

So why do I need an interactive whiteboard?  I don’t think I do, to be honest.  I do my version of Just In Time Teaching with a flip chart and a connection to the internet – it fits the way I teach, so why complicate things?

This is my wish-list, for a presenting tool :

  • It needs to be better than what I have now; better, that is, than Keynote, Powerpoint, a flip chart, a connection to the internet, and me.
  • I want to be able to write on the presentation: using a mouse or trackpad is cumbersome, and my handwriting is bad enough already.  I am a doctor, after all.
  • I want to be able to do the writing/moving/annotating/doodling without obliterating the presentation.  Ideally I want to doodle on a separate screen, ideally hand held, and the image appear on the TV or projected up on the wall.

I think this is already in (near) existence. I know I’m an Apple maniac, but surely the iPad has a massive potential in this regard.  We heard from Uncle Steve last week that the iPad will connect to a projector (I already have the connector, to connect my iPhone to the big TV in our seminar room), and we saw the Keynote app. demonstrated ably on the iPad, and the big screen.  Was I the only person who, on seeing the drawing app. immediately thought of overlying the drawing app onto Keynote?  Immediately we have the ultimate interactive presentation tool – I can move my Keynote presentations to the iPad, connect to a projector, wander with the iPad in hand, and use my stubby index finger to point, draw, animate, and navigate my presentation.  Over 100,000 apps on the app store – someone with an SDK *must* be working on “my” app, mustn’t they?

The trial of the SMART board continues, and we will try to climb the steep learning curve.  I think there is a will to get this kit for the medical school.  If we do get them, there will need to be a significant investment in staff development to get anything like the most out them.

And me?  I’ve put in a note of interest for an iPad, of course.