Tag: Web application

Word Clouds on the iPad


I can’t ignore a good deal and I like visualizations.  Today, I had a chance to enjoy both!

Cloudart was available for free on Friday – so I downloaded it – I can’t ignore that.  I’ve had some people ask for recommendations for a word cloud generator for the iPad so it seemed natural to put Cloudart through its paces.  There are web based solutions and certainly they work wonderfully on a desktop – not so much on portable.  There are so many good ideas for the use of Word Clouds – here are 108 of them.  I think it’s quite natural to seek out a good iPad solution.  Cloudart looks like it will be a perfect fit.

Downloading was dead simple from the App Store.  Synching drove me nuts – I have so much stored on my iPad that anything new is an exercise in app / music removal so that there is room to perform the function.  But, a little while later, room was made and I’m ready to give it a workout.

Loading the application reveals the sort of regular utility desktop that you would expect.  The help was very interesting.  This is how help should be.  Short and to the point.

Certainly, there’s an assumption that you know what a word cloud is all about.  Who doesn’t in this day and age?

I asked to “Start a new cloud” but didn’t feel like creating from text.  Instead, I opted for the option to create a cloud from a web page.  What great choice is there than to tap into the wisdom of one of my lists of Ontario Educators!

Without any editing for filtering, I could see that this great group was doing a great deal of Twitter things.  As you know, the more frequent the text, the larger the words in the word cloud.  So, it should come as no surprise that there was a large number of replies, favouriting, and retweeting!

From the looks of things, @techieang, @acampbell99, and @rajalingam were pretty active when I took my snapshot.

(I was glad to see that “programming” appear in the list!)

Once created, there were a few options to rearrange the collection, edit a word, change the font, etc.  You know, the good things that you would expect to do with word clouds.  The “Share” option is create to get the production from iPad to anywhere you’d want it to go.

This app is definitely a keeper.  It’s got so much of what I would want for a word visualization tool.  Today, it’s back at its regular price -£0.69, if you’re interested.

 

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A First Look at Scrawlar


Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs are very powerful web-based products.

They work so nicely in the classroom – provided the students have email addresses, are able to work with the powerful products and find the menu items that do what they need to do.  Then, there’s the sharing and the hand-ins and …

From the fertile mind of Brian Aspinall, comes a collaborative word processor option for those that don’t need the high-end, high-powered options.  He’s called it Scrawlar.  Think of it as a word processor with just the right number of tools.

You have two options when you visit the site.  Log in as a teacher or a student.  (Students need to have a class code and password to get access to the system.  No password is required and you can make the code as simple or as involved as you wish)

TEACHER MENU

STUDENT MENU

There certainly are limited functions so that students and teacher can get right at it.  The editing environment is similarly straight lined.  No advertising or other distractions.  Just an editor with enough functionality.  I put them all to the test as you see below.

There is a “View Source” so that you can see the web language behind your document.  I’m not sure that many will have a need to use that.

The only real gotcha, at this point in the development, is the insertion of images.  The image must already be posted on the web and you provide the web address to the image.  Conceivably, the teacher would provide the image in the document being shared with the students.

Speaking of students, Brian has included a straight forward management system to handle the student accounts.

And, he’s has managed to make all of this available to you for free.

If you’re looking for a simplified interface, with cloud storage, and the ability to share word processing documents, make sure you check out Scrawlar.  It might be just what you’re looking for!

If you like what you see, check out my interview with Brian to see the other projects he’s created, all with ease of student use in mind.

Life in a Browser


Yesterday, Alfred Thompson posted an interesting article titled “Why Web Apps?”  I read it via mobile and was just going to let it lie but it must have been percolating in the back of my mind because I went back to it when I got to a computer and replied to his post.  It really had me thinking.

I think there would have been a time when I would have agreed wholeheartedly with him.  There really is something comforting about having an application installed on your local device to do the things that you like/need to do.  But then I thought about my own computer habits.  I do enjoy programming in Visual Basic or C# but haven’t had any pressing projects for quite some time.  For the most part, that machine seldom is even booted to Windows anymore except to update things.  For the most part, it runs Ubuntu and I’ll be honest – 90% of the time, it’s running Firefox and that’s about it.  My Macintosh computer runs Google Chrome and the FirstClass client.  Updates that are needed happen with little fanfare as Firefox and Google Chrome are configured to silently update themselves so that I seldom have to think about it.

My iPad is another thing.  As I write this post, there are 17 applications that require updating and I may set that to go while the dog and I check out the mailboxes up and down the road.  My daily use on that device involves a bit of web browsing but a great deal of time spent in applications so that @tgianno can clobber me in Word with Friends or any of the other Zynga games we’re playing.  Portable is still a maturing platform and I don’t see ditching applications there in the near future.

But, let’s turn back to the traditional computer.  Life here is indeed spent on the web.  Alfred laments the demise of the standalone Tweetdeck and I remember how I felt when the Seesmic Desktop stopped being supported.  I evaluated everything under the sun and ended up with what fits my needs perfectly – Hootsuite.  It runs on the web; the developers are constantly updating things and these updates don’t interfere with my use.

My documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations are all handled so nicely with Google Drive and Evernote.  In fact, I can’t recall the last time that I had to seriously use anything but a web browser to do anything.

Image Courtesy of Morgue Files 

As I write this, I just opened my Applications Folder.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of applications in there.  As I scroll through them, I guess I would have to revisit the last sentence in the preceding paragraph.  It’s all coming back to me.  Last Christmas, I did use Adobe Photoshop for some graphics work.  Do I really have to go that far back?  I guess I do.  Looking at the extensions and tools that I’ve added to extend the power of Google Chrome, it really has become my digital toolkit.  Ditto for Firefox on Ubuntu.

For me, Life with an App does seem to be relegated to mobile.  Maybe I just haven’t tried hard enough there?

There definitely are limitations to working solely online.  The internet needs to be there!  Privacy concerns encourage a second and third thought before signing up for anything new.

However, I think the writing is on the wall for me.  I could be writing this post using a local app in Qumana or I could be using LiveWriter, but I’m not.  I’m using ScribeFire in the Google Chrome browser.  It’s not quite a web app; it’s sure is not a local app; it’s really a browser app.  Times have certainly changed.

There is another aspect to all of this.  Every time a new computer needs to be purchased, it’s a total exercise in spec checking.  How much processor, how much drive space, how much RAM can I afford to buy to feed the habit.  At the Google Summit, I had a great conversation @mrfusco who has been living/working with his Chromebook.  If you like Google Chome and don’t mind working in an OS that works like a browser, is $250 all that you need to buy to stay on top of things?  Put the power mongering in the hands of the web service provider!

The bottom line for me includes a wonderful collection of extensions to my browser and the miracles that programmers are doing with HTML5.  It’s not a perfect world and this article provides a nice comparison.

Like it or not, I seem to be migrating to Life in a Browser.  It seems to be my new reality, Alfred!

An Easy Polling Program


On the heels of yesterday’s suggestion for an application for BYOD classes, I’d like to offer this quick and easy polling application.

Like yesterday, you don’t need “an app for that”; just access to the web.  kwiqpoll quickly and easily lets you create a polling question, open the poll, collect and display the results, and the poll expires either after 3 or 7 days.

No more clicking devices or complicated setup.  In fact, as I played around with this, I thought of my students who, in a practice teaching placement, would email me over and over in the evening trying to set up polls with another product.  They agreed it was too much for the benefit and just had the students put their heads down and raise their arms to vote.

To create a poll, just head over to the kwiqpoll site and start working…

Enter your question and up to five possible answers.  While the traditional way of doing a poll requires work in advance because of the complexity of setup, this poll could be done right in front of your class so they see it created live.

Once you fill out the poll (the mathematical question ensures that you’re a human…), you’re presented with a poll URL.

 Have your audience go to that URL and they’re ready to respond.

It’s just a matter of choosing the desired response.  Note the math question again to make sure this is a real person.

And…

The results are returned immediately.  What could be easier for collecting quick responses electronically.

You can try my poll by clicking here.

How sweet is that?

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A New Sketching Program (and why you need it)


From the fertile mind of Brian Aspinall comes another classroom ready application.  This one has special appeal as I think you’ll find as we dig into it.  You may recall a previous mention of another web application written by Brian, Clipkwik, that I had blogged about last November.

What’s unique about Brian’s efforts is that he’s both a programmer and a teacher.  As such, he’s got the ability to create a resource for his classroom when he sees a need.  He did that with Clipkwik a video search engine that looks for video everywhere and he’s done it again with Sketchlot, an online drawing tool.

So, why does the world need another drawing program?  After all, there’s an app for that.  Actually, there are quite a few apps for that.  Here’s why I think you need to take a special look at this.

First, it’s web-based, so load your modern browser, and you have two ways to enter the program.  One as a teacher and the other as a student.

As a teacher, you log in, create a class code and then add your students to that class.

As a student, you log in via class code and your password.  This gets you ready to do some drawing.  You’ll see my artwork above drawn on a trackpad.  Across the bottom, you have the ability to pick a colour, use a draw tool, eraser, line tool, box tool, move the canvas so that you’re not limited to the physical screen size, and the eyedropper to pick up a colour.  Then, clear the screen, step backwards or forwards through the steps to your current drawing, and zoom in and zoom out.  In the bottom right corner, you’re presented with a number to let you know the magnification level of your drawing.

Once a student has saved a drawing, they can share it with their teacher, pin it to Pinterest, Tweet it out, or take an embed code to insert it into their wiki.  There’s lots of drawing options – admittedly not as many as with Photoshop Elements but certainly full-featured enough for particular classes.

But, I think it gets better and that’s why we need to take particular note.  In a couple of back and forths on Twitter, Brian had sent this message.

That’s a pretty good indication as to where he’s headed with the development.  So, here in dougpete labs, I added a few more platforms to the mix.  I ran it on a MacBook Pro, a Galaxy smartphone, and on Ubuntu with a Wacom tablet.  All worked very nicely.

Why is this significant?  The response from some will still be “I have an app for that”.  Yes, but are you in a BYOD classroom where one student might have an iPad, another a Playbook, another a smartphone, another a Windows machine, a Mac, someone running Linux, … ?  Your app for that solution plays to one or two of the platforms.  View the source of Sketchlot and you’re in for some good reading…  He’s developing so that it’s universally available.  That’s why I think it’s important that people look for applications developed for all platforms rather that just head to your device’s store and grab an application thinking that it will solve all your problems.

Sketchlot is still listed as “Beta” so there may well be more features on the way.  During my testing, it all seemed to work nicely so I don’t have a hesitation in recommending that you take a look and see if it’s got a place in your classroom repertoire.  While at it, follow @mraspinall on Twitter and see the examples that Brian and his colleagues are tweeting as they test it.

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Deja Drop


 

One of the most read post on this blog occurred on August 27, 2011.  At that time, I talked about using Dropbox as a Hand-in Folder for the classroom.  It’s a great concept…a student uses the website Dropitto.me to send a file from your computer to her/his teacher.  No more relying on USB keys or email or other schema.  The original post appears at the bottom of this post to jog your memory or to introduce it should you have missed it the first time.

It’s a great concept but had one problem.  It didn’t work on the iPad.

Until now!

With the upgrade to iOS6, you now have have a working upload button!

If you can take a picture or use an application that stores its output in the Photos folder, you’re good to go.  This doesn’t make the iPad as functional as a regular computer for uploading – Apple doesn’t let you browse outside the Photos folder but it does let you go there.

ORIGINAL POST

Dropbox is a terrific utility for storing files online.  It’s accessible with any computer that can connect to the internet.  (Don’t ignore the fact that your portable device is also a computer…)  If you’re interested in cloud storage, this is the real deal.  Just upload to your Dropbox account and access it from anywhere.  It should come as no surprise that you can share those files with others as well.

But, that’s not the story here.  Cloud is cloud.  But, I’m thinking now of real-world classroom applications.  Many systems will have centralized storage so that students can hand in their work.  The problem, though, is that they typically have to be using a school computer attached to the school network at school.  There’s a lot of school there!  If you’re moving to a more open approach to assignments, this sort of logic is old school.  Consider the following scenarios that just spring to mind.

1)     A student is using her own personal device and is attached to a guest network at school;
2)     A student is using her own personal device and is attached to the wireless at her favourite restaurant or her network at home.

Old school logic says to email it to the teacher (which means giving out your email address to students) or put it on a memory key, remember to put it in her backpack, plug the memory key into a computer at school and then submit it.

Now, if you’re using a wiki or learning management system, uploading of files is typically built into them so run with that.  But, what if you don’t want the hassle or don’t need the functionality of managing that?  Head back to Dropbox and see what else you can do with it.

DROPITTO.ME
This is one sweet working web application.  It integrates so nicely with your existing Dropbox and you can be up and running literally in minutes.

1)     Create a Dropbox account.  (If you haven’t done this already, do it now.  Even if you don’t go further, you’ll thank yourself)

2)     Create a Dropitto.me account.

3)     Connect the two accounts.  When you create your Dropito.me account, you’ll be asked by Dropbox to authorize this new service so that it has permission to upload to your account.  Of course, you’ll want to do this – you don’t want just anyone uploading to your cloud storage.  At this time, you’ll also set an upload password.  This password, you’ll give to your students so that they can hand their work in from whatever computer or whatever network they happen to be connected to when they finally get their work done.

4)     Give the students the URL to your handin folder or just make it a link in your class wiki.  It should come as no surprise that mine is http://dropitto.me/dougpete.  Remind them one last time what the upload password is…  and then get ready to mark.  When the students enter the URL that you’ve provided, they’re challenged for the password and then asked to locate the file to upload.

They find the file and send it.  Work is submitted.  It’s honestly and truthfully as simple as that.

5)     On your end, a new folder called Dropittome is created in your Dropbox space and uploads are time and date stamped.  You’ll know exactly whether or not assignments or documents are submitted on time.  You just open the document like you would any other file on your computer to see the work.

Besides the techy approach here, consider some of the other aspects.

If you’re interested in going paperless, you’re potentially there.  I shudder when I see the assignments that take half a sheet of paper, or assignments that are one page and one line, or computer science printouts that are pages and pages long, or Photoshop documents that run through toner like water or the excess pages printed and recycled because the user wasn’t patient and whacked the print key many times.

It’s a great opportunity to talk about the cloud.  This is a wonderful and practical example for students to try to come to grips conceptually with just where their documents go when they’re sent “out there” and magically arrive to the teacher.

I see it also as a great opportunity to talk about security of documents.  What are the implications of sending files this way?  How can we ensure that the document is only viewable by the teacher?  Could you talk about file sizes and how to optimize or compress the file to speed up the process on the students’ end?  When ready, you could even talk about adding a password to a zip or tar file to achieve both security and size concerns.

But, is it always about the students?  Would you care to know how many times I drove back to school after supper to pick up marking that I forgot to take home?  Or, thinking that I’ve got it all done and arriving at school the next morning to find more to mark in my mailbox or slid under my classroom door?  In a culture where handins are all electronic and cloud based, all of this goes away.

I would encourage you to give this a shot.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly and effortlessly you and your students are firing files around.

 

Who do you follow – Apple or Google?


There has been much written about the new Apple Maps that comes with iOS6.  While there have been a few that are fans of it, the majority of the press has been negative.  I decided to take a look myself and see how it might impact my little world.  Mapping for the consumer is a fairly mature process.  It’s on your smart phone, the web, your portable GPS and an option in new vehicles.  Not only do I use it personally when going on trips to new places, it’s helped me find quicker ways to get around places that I already know about.

My first steps weren’t off to a great start.  I asked it to plot where I was – and it turned out to be half a concession away.  That’s not a great start but at least the concession road was right.  But, I know where I live so I guess that’s pretty much irrelevant.  Let’s try something more serious.

Like dog walking.  One of our favourite places to go for a walk is in the heart of town and we’ll often stroll down Fort Malden Drive to see the sights.  Uh oh.

Don’t you hate it when OCR goes wrong?  That would probably explain Collison Sideroad too…

Cute little finds and I didn’t have to look too hard.  Maybe not deal breakers but when you can’t find an entire town?  I decided to take a look around Huron County.  There are five major towns there – Goderich, Clinton, Wingham, Seaforth, and Exeter.  Sadly, only Goderich was found in the right place.

This was an attempt to find Exeter, ON.

When I did zoom out, I discovered I80 and further zooming out reveals this to be in Pennsylvania in a place that appears to be called West Pittston.

Not even close.  I can’t even comment on whether that’s up to date or recent.

So, while it may find Goderich, ON, it struck out with Exeter, ON.  Let’s spell it out… Exeter, Ontario.  This search does drop a pin in the right spot.  However, I’m not so sure about their phone number or website.

But, I can tell you this.  The town of Harrow, ON’s main intersection is County Road 11 and County Road 20.  This map has it labelled King’s Highway 18.  This was true – years ago until the province of Ontario gave up maintenance of highways!  The article dates it as 1997.  To the map’s defense, if you zoom in far enough, the road carries a double label of Highway 18 and County Road 20.  That’s not too confusing.

Sadly, all of this refers to places that I actually know about and wouldn’t be using a map application for anyway.  The same tests using Google or Bing Maps provide the right content.

Mapping problems have spawned all kinds of news stories of problems.  There is even a Tumblr page devoted to people identifying problems.  And, there are all kinds of alternatives.  Fortunately, I had already bookmarked the Google Maps Web Application and it was maps as usual for me.  If you are concerned, there are some good suggestions.

The unfortunate part of all this is that the implementation may also reflect badly on the partners that provide the content.  If you turn the leaf at the bottom right corner of the screen, you can see them.

It’s too bad that the original Google Maps application was removed.  It had been a good actor.  iOS6 could even have left it alone, installed the Apple Maps application and let the end user decide which one they would ultimately use.

For me, though, if I can’t trust the reliability of maps for places that I know, how can I rely on it to take me to new places?  The programmer in me really does hope that there’s a fix on the way.

But, for now, I’m going to stick to my Google Maps Web Application.