What’s Your Backup Plan? Part 1: Cloud Storage

May 17th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Fluffy Clouds
Train Wreck

Not unlike giving a toddler access to your computer keyboard and files.

Last year at the beginning of the Winter term, I went to check my lecture notes the night before the 1st day of the term.  You can imagine my surprise when I was not able to locate them on my hard drive, and also had some files re-name in my folders.  I later found out that my toddler son’s curiosity in conjunction with me inadvertently giving open access to the computer led to this situation.  What saved my bacon was the use of a file hosting service (Dropbox) which allowed me to fully restore the changed and missing files (and my sanity) back to a usable state in short order.  There are quite a few services out there, with one of the big ones being Dropbox.  Google just entered this field with their rollout of Google drive.  I would like to talk about what each of these represent to me and how they may be a valuable addition to your workflow.


Dropbox works as a file service that is primarily interfaced to any computer you install their application on.  Once you install the Dropbox app on your Windows or Mac computer, Dropbox creates a folder on that computer’s hard drive.  Anything placed in that folder exists on that hardrive, but also gets copied to your account online in the background.  No explicit actions are needed to upload files to the Dropbox servers.  If you have the Dropbox app installed on another computer at any other location, be it at home or in your office, all files placed in your Dropbox folder gets replicated/downloaded to each location.  This is one of the features that make this service so powerful.  If your hard drive crashes on one workstation, your files are still available on your other computers.  If you only have one computer, your files can be restored as soon as you install the Dropbox application on another computer or individually accessed online at the Dropbox website.  Dropbox has a free service, offering 2 gigabytes of online storage.  In this age of 8 GB flash drives being commonplace, you can easily burn through that allotment if you are not careful.  Beyond 2 GB, you can either convert referrals for additional storage or pay for service starting at $99/year.

When my files disappeared, I was able to log on to the Dropbox site and search through my deleted files.  The Dropbox gives you 30 days of “undelete” service with any account as a default.  As soon as I discovered this feature, I made sure to add the “packrat” option to my subscription to enable unlimited deleted file to be recovered.

There are some concerns about Dropbox and security, and I am not really able to speak to their security structure.  What I do to protect my sensitive data, is to keep valuables frombeing placed in my Dropbox folder (no copies of important documents, no tax returns.)

Since I have started using Dropbox, my commonly used files get placed into my dropbox folder so that I can access them easily and have the peace of mind that they will be available when I need them.  This has not done away with my regular backup strategies.  I still save to my Time Machine volume daily (on an automatic basis) and bi-monthly do a SuperDuper backup of my entire startup drive.  I know that this seems very paranoid, but I am allergic to downtime, and I find that if I am unable to access materials when I need them, I experience a host of unpleasant symptoms.

Google Drive

As much as I am a fan of Dropbox, Google Docs has also become a big part of my arsenal of tools.  I find myself using it frequently to collaborate with colleagues, do collaborative exercises with my students and additionally have replaced my use of  other office suites about 95% of the time.

Recently, Google announced their Drive application.  This is also a file hosting service with free and paid options and is poised to become the biggest competitor of Dropbox.  Once you download and install their application to your Windows or Mac computers, Google Drive contacts the server and downloads all the documents and files in your Google account to a Google Drive folder on your computer (sound familiar?).  Any files added to your Google Drive folder get synced with the Google server as well as any other computer you have also installed the Drive application on.  The main difference is price:  Google gives you 5 GB free to Dropbox’s 2 GB.  Additional storage on Google starts at $2.49/month for 25 GB and goes up while scaling down the price.  Dropbox needs to consider this if they are going to stay competitive.

I haven’t gone very far into sharing (both services support it) or iOS/Mobile support (good for Dropbox, getting better for Google Drive).  If your time is valuable to you then you should investigate how these storage options can help save you time and aggravation.  In future iterations, I will focus on backing up course information at the end of the term (you have been doing that, right?).  I will also talk about backing up Macs to local (hard disk) storage instead of cloud based storage.


May 8th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The Ink2Go Website

The Ink2Go Website

There are an ever increasing number of desktop screen recorders and we all have our favorites.  We in AT at Lane have recently made a switch to recommend Screencast-o-matic.com’s software because it is feature rich, free and easy to use.  That said, there are other excellent alternatives out there and I would like to I direct your attention to a piece of software that I think is worthy of consideration. Ink2Go is not explicitly intended to be screen recording software, and instead should be viewed as a tool for creating computer-based whiteboards/blackboards and can be used to markup or highlight any application open on your computer. This includes PowerPoint and/or Keynote as well as movies that are playing back and of course images or PDFs. In addition to all of these features you can either create static screenshots or record your desktop as you are using the markup tools. Ink2Go is available for both Mac and Windows operating environments and the cost of a single license is less than $20 (at the time of this writing.)

Ink2Go’s Website

UPDATE:  Anyone who has tried to screencast while using a computer based whiteboard knows that using a mouse to draw or write is frustrating.  For anyone looking to get a drawing tablet, Monoprice has some inexpensive ones that have been recently reviewed very favorably.



April 19th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

CaptionTube is one of YouTube’s TestTube projects and was brought to my attention by Brad Hinson via @russeltarr on Twitter.  You may have guessed that it’s primary goal is to help users easily create captions for anyone who may benefit from a text stream that mirrors any spoken content in a video.  Obviously this is necessary for anyone who is hearing impaired, so kudos to Google for trying to help us all out with accessibility.

What I like about CaptionTube is that they allow you to not only caption your own videos, but also any other video on YouTube that has dialog or narration.  This could be helpful in our situation where Disability Resources could help out with the captioning of an instructor’s video for any student that needed this resource.  This is provided that the instructor already has videos on the site or is open to uploading them there.

CaptionTube has opportunities for further development by tightening integration with existing YouTube technologies.  Few would find the existing (beta) auto-captioning integrated with YouTube  ready for prime time but it does have one redeeming factor, captions can be downloaded, edited, and re-uploaded back into a new captions track. This means you can use the basic tool as imperfect as it is, to give you a starting point. I find it easier to work in that way rather than starting completely from scratch. I hope that in future versions of CaptionTube, the software engineers can give us the ability to import captions generated from another source including style of captions that YouTube creates.

One Approach to iPads in the Classroom.

January 1st, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Apps for Education

Happy New Year!

With the rise of mobile devices, it seems inevitable that the majority of students will use tablets and other non-computer based devices as the primary means to access online content and course related materials. I have been doing some loose thinking about what this means to my teaching and in particular this course. How would you use mobile devices to introduce new students to the world of content creation and digital creativity?

My holy grail is to have the course text be a native, interactive app that could be downloaded and installed onto my students devices. Conduit Mobile will allow me to get closer toward that goal, but I will need to become a better programmer to get a truly interactive mobile app. In the meantime, their app building suite allows me to deploy an app that aggregates blog postings, web pages, audio playlists and YouTube channels.

Ideally,  students would use mobile devices (iPads, smart phones, or just tablets in general) to connect to the class, generate content, and connect with one-another.  What makes the iPad a good choice for use in the classroom is due to all of the free infrastructure available for use in the form of apps. Here is a list of what I feel would be good apps to start with:

Twitter – Let’s start with the app that students either love or hate.  I like twitter as a tool to investigate rapidly changing resources through searches.  I can look for trends and fixes that arise when dealing with issues like Pro Tools or Final Cut Pro.  Yes, there may be a higher than normal amount of inane chatter, but that is true of many web-based resources.  Your results depend on your search queries.  With over 300 million users, I find it hard to believe that there is nothing to be gained from this tool.  Just remember that twitter is best thought of as a collection of bread crumbs to find your way and should not be your meal.

Facebook – This may seem counter-intuitive for many educators.  Why introduce the very app that we struggle against for our student’s attention?  I can think of a few off the top of my head, although I am sure you can come up with others.  The first is that it is probably the most ubiquitous piece of software around (operating systems excluded);  nearly everyone is familiar with it.  Last term I surveyed my students to see who was using Facebook and 22 out of 23 responses polled “yes”.  Those that are new to Facebook can figure it out in a short amount of time and posting or linking to media (images/video/music) is easy to learn.  For classes, I create pages in Facebook for students to post work to.  Students can then comment on one the work of another in a way that they feel comfortable with.  The result, discussions that happen more organically than what I see take place in traditional LMS forums.

Flipboard – Flipboard is a great app to roll your own magazine.  It can aggregate items from your social networks like Twitter and Facebook.  You can choose from news sites or other blogs to create a very compelling way to read that takes advantage of the swipe features of mobile devices.

Diigo & Diigo Browswer – So now that you have gathered all of this information and are successfully building your personal learning network, how can you access your resources/links on multiple computers or devices and keep it up to date?  Diigo is a social bookmarking service.  My first approach to this tool was to use it as a simple method of accessing my links no matter what browser or device I was on. I wasn’t so concerned with the social component when I first started using social bookmarks.  I am slightly more interested these days, but I also like being able to share them in places like my blog through the generation of RSS feeds.

Other apps that ideally would be pre-loaded for students to use would be:

  • Facetime -OK, I know that this comes with the iPad, but I wanted to highlight it’s importance in conferencing/communication, especially when it comes to online instruction.  This app is a nice way to add a bit of your face to the course you are teaching, allowing students to put a live face to what can seem like an impersonal course.
  • 123D sculpt – Maybe not necessary, but this app can give an easy (and currently free!) introduction to 3D sculpting
  • PhotoShop Express – to do simple image adjustments.
  • Evernote – Evernote is one of those must have apps that always makes top 10 lists and for good reason.  It allows you to take notes, record audio, video, and take pictures in a notebook format.  It functions like you wish Google Docs would function on the iPad.  Any notes or documents that you put into Evernote can be synced to any device or computer you have Evernote installed on or in other words, a cloud app, reducing the need for reliance on thumbdrives and lost access to data (provided you don’t accidentally delete notes).
  • Kindle – The only reason I chose this app over the already installed iBooks is because of the price of some books that I want to use in the classroom.  I know that some folks may have reservations about Amazon, but when it comes to reducing the cost of textbooks, they are a factor to be considered.
  • TED – Technology, Entertainment, Design.  If you haven’t heard about TED talks, be prepared to lose a few hours checking out some great talks by some of the folks at the cutting edge of technology and cultural production.
  • WordPress – A native app for creating and editing WordPress template blogs, be they on the WordPress.com server or hosted on your own.  The cool thing about this app is that you can use media created on your iPad, although the HTML view vs. WYSIWYG view may be difficult for newcomers.
  • Prezi Viewer – If you take your presentations beyond PowerPoint/Keynote and use Prezi, your audience will need this viewer to see your “slides” on the iPad.
  • Dragon Dictation – It’s not Siri, but it can do speech to text, allowing the more dilatory students to type using only their voice.  It is not perfect, but for those that speak clearly, it may be slightly less work than typing by hand, especially since typing on the iPad can be slower for some.
  • Google Search – In addition to giving easier access to Google Docs and Gmail, Google Search also has some interesting tools such as search by voice and search by image.
  • lynda.com – If you take advantage of the excellent (subscription required) software training libraries at lynda.com, then this app makes a lot of sense.  Having this app running in conjunction with a computer with the subject being studied allows users to follow along with tutorials instead of just watching them.
  • Dictionary.com – A native version of the dictionary.com website, replete with trivia, history and of course, the word of the day, which can be pushed or made a notification.
  • Meriam-Webster Dictionary – Like the name informs, another dictionary app.  Like Google, it has search by voice, and audio files so the user can hear pronunciations.
  • Pocket WavePad HD – A multi-track audio recorder for iPad, including effects processing (reverbs and compressors).  Files can be exported uncompressed, or to MP3.
  • Scan (QR code reader) – There are other QR code readers with more frills, but this is a good functional app.  Not sure what a QR code is?  Click here to find out.
  • Feedly – Similar to Flipbook, Feedly allows you to create an electronic magazine out of your Twitter, RSS feeds (like Google Reader uses) and Facebook accounts as well as content aligned along searches such as Design and Science.
  • ScreenChomp – It may look like it is geared towards younger users (it is), having a whiteboard that can be recorded as a video should be a useful tool for students that need to demonstrate that they understand problems.  It creates videos with audio narration, much like screencasts, but using a whiteboard that can import images and use different colored “pens” for markup.
  • coloruncovered – A cool app that talks about the science and theory of color.  This is really a lesson in an app, produced by the Exploratorium.
  • SoundCloudSoundCloud is becoming to audio and music as YouTube is to Video.  Have some lectures in audio format?  Post them on SoundCloud (up to 2 hours on a free account) and your students can ask questions and comment at any point in time on your recordings.  The SoundCloud iPad app allows you to record using the built-in mic or attached mics.  It also provides for interaction, sharing and commenting on other users work.
  • neu.Draw – new.Draw is a free, easy to use vector drawing program.  I chose this as it gives students an easy introduction to the creation of vector graphics, or graphics that are resolution independent.
  • VimeoVimeo is a premium video sharing service.  I have found that the typical video producer that uploads to Vimeo is a bit more exacting in their production and choose Vimeo because it can be easier to get good looking web video.  If your students care about video, they will probably know about Vimeo.  This app allows users to upload, edit, title, view, comment and share video content. (iPhone native app)
  • InstagramInstagram is a photo sharing program and a social network at the same time.  Users can use this app to take photos, apply effects and share them.  The app can also work with existing photos. (iPhone native app)
  • Bamboo Paper – A simple sketch application (with paid upgrades).  This can be a great resource if students are using a stylus.
  • Photosynth – Want an easy to use panorama creator? Photosynth makes it as easy as moving your device around and letting it take the images for you.  This great free app is produced by Microsoft (revealing that fact seems to elicit surprise). (iPhone native app)

Nice to have apps:

  • SketchBook Pro – A great, inexpensive drawing/paint progam.
  • Eazel – A watercolor like program from Adobe.  It could use a few more features, but is an interesting approach to graphics creation.  A bonus is that you can “beam” your images to Photoshop CS5.1 or later.
  • iMovie – For video editing, there are not many that are easier than this iPad native app.
  • Garage Band – Arguably easier than the computer based app and for my part, more fun to use.  This is a great music and audio recording app.
  • Pages – For document creation and page layout, this is my go to app when on the road with only an iPad.
  • iDraw – A really feature rich vector editing program. This may not be Adobe Illustrator, but it has a large subset of what you are able to do with a high level program like AI.  If you are serious about creating vector graphics on the iPad, this is a good start.