Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thing 23 Evaluate 23 Mobile Things

The timing of this offering could not have been more serendipitous. My district had just purchased iPads for staff, and we were all just beginning to get our feet wet learning how to use them--and how to make them relevant to the needs our of own departments.

Some Changes as a Result of Participating in 23 Mobile Things

(1) I barely knew what apps were or how they worked before taking this course. So on a personal level, I feel much more confident and comfortable downloading and using apps. They may not always work the way I want them to, but as free apps, they were often very impressively designed and easy to use.

(2) In my position as media specialist, I'm expected to be on the forefront of technology and to share that technology with other teachers. This course has helped fulfill both of those criteria in addition to improving my relevance in an ever-changing library environment. It's fair to say that I've shared a number of apps with teachers in a wide range of departments--in fact, it's difficult to identify a department that wouldn't benefit from the use of apps: for enhancing teaching, providing resources, organizing materials, sharing ideas--and the list goes on. The distribution of apps that I've reviewed in this course helps improve my professionalism and possibly my job security.

(3) In particular, as budgets are always under pressure, I enjoyed finding apps that might be interesting to students who like to read free e-books or audio books. It's always something of a thrill to discover resources that I had no idea were both available and free.

My cruising through this course should not be construed as trying to finish it quickly just to get it done. On the contrary. I felt a sense of urgency in finishing each lesson, probably because I felt as though I was slipping behind a commonly used technology (and thus becoming a dinosaur) and because I wanted to get the news out to others as quickly as possible in my role as curriculum and technology support.

I believe that 23 Things on a Stick was offered around 2010, so having the opportunity to participate in 23 Mobile Things is definitely due. And would I take another course with similar objectives? Absolutely. To me, it's nothing less than a job requirement in order to maintain both my relevance and professionalism in serving staff and students. Thanks for the opportunity.

Thing 22 Discovering Apps

For reference: Quixey

Quixey--The Search Engine for Apps: The first thing I noticed about Quixey is that it has a clean, simple homepage that is reminiscent of Google. The second thing I noticed is that it allows you to limit your search by platform, such as Android, iPhone, iPad, etc., which can make a search more efficient.

After exploring the site, and trying some searches, I came to the following conclusions: It gives you a number of difference ways to search apps, including those that are trending or those for work vs. play, and the categories are broken down further from those points, allowing the user to really pinpoint the app desired. I tried a search "free books" and came up with a number of apps with a lot of free books. I tried another search for editing photos and again came up with a lot of good free apps. Definitely two thumbs up on this site. It should serve as a tremendous resource.

Apps Gone Free: The opening page of Apps Gone Free states, "AppsGoneFree is all about finding the best free apps each day. No paid listings, just hand-picked, genuinely free apps." That's a bold claim. Did this app live up to the claim?

It's simply laid out with individual dates on the left margin and the selected apps on the right. Eight are offered each day. The problem with this app is that it may be a little too simple. For example, the apps listed for Monday, March 3, ranged from leveling children's books to games to science to planners and shopping lists. In other words, you may have to sort through a lot of apps you have no interest in just to find one or two that may be relevant. This app would be better if it had an internal search function for key words or some sort of filter to help exclude apps that you wouldn't want to review. But it does play to serendipity, and it's also fun to find new apps purely by accident. If you enjoy doing that, this may be the app for you.

I'm a bit ambivalent about it. Two out of four stars.

Reference for finding apps online

Monday, March 3, 2014

Thing 21 Free-for-All

Daily Stocks: Perhaps for the "hobby" or "personal enrichment" category of apps, Daily Stocks is extremely useful for the active trader, but can also provide useful information for DYI investors. Since my own style is a hybrid of the two, I found this app really appealing, especially since it pulls together several different kinds of information that might otherwise be found on a variety of financial/investing/trading Web sites. (A site that performs some of the same functions is finviz, (which assumes intermediate to advanced knowledge in trading). Daily Stocks does not offer advice. To me, that enhances its credibility.

It opens to a menu that includes the following headings: (1) Stock Scans, (2) Japanese Candlesticks, (3) Reversals, (4) Watchlist, (5) Market Pulse, and (6) Candles vs. Candles.

(1) Stock Scans: This feature creates lists of stock tickers based on several categories, such as performance, overextended, crossovers, volume events, and gaps. (Current stories and reports help provide context for the stock performance, but overall it is heavily dependent on technical (vs. fundamental) analysis. As has already been demonstrated and will continue to be an issue in the following headings, this app requires a fair amount of background knowledge and understanding of terminology.

(2) Japanese Candlesticks: If you've never heard of Japanese Candlesticks, first, they have nothing to do with setting the mood for an Asian dinner, and second, a fuller understanding of them can be found in such books as How Technical Analysis Works. This heading is all technical analysis and indicates via a stock's chart whether it is in a bullish, bearish, or indecisive trend. Clicking on a symbol will lead you to short-, intermediate-, and long-term charts, which are all useful for establishing the strength of a stock's trends. In the process, you will also have to learn some very strange terms that all center on technical analysis: dark cloud cover, evening stars, morning stars, 3 black crows, engulfing patterns, haramis, dojis, and many others.

(3) Reversals: This heading is a little more straightforward than Japanese Candlesticks, and it illustrates what you might assume it does--when stocks reverse direction, either in a bullish or in a bearish way. But it also includes how the reversal compares to the SMA50 or SMA100 or SMA200 because those also need to be factored in. You'll also need to know that SMA means simple moving average, and you'll also need to know the implications of the simple moving average, along with the relationship between moving averages. (This is why financial advisers and mutual funds may now look very appealing to the investor quickly becoming overwhelmed; but if you put in the time, the terms become second-nature.)

(4) Watchlist: The Watchlist is also straightforward and requires your participation. It simply allows you to create a list of stocks--from those that appear under the other headings or from those you can find by using the search tool-- that you might be interested in but want to watch their performance for any clear indications of a compelling pattern. Watchlists are important to develop, if for no other reason than to avoid just investing on a whim without having some sense of the stock's direction (although a somewhat different strategy, scheduled investing, or dollar cost averaging does seem to disregard this advice because it doesn't trust technical analysis).

(5) Market Pulse: This feature provides a snapshot of the major market indices, along with a list of up-to-the-minute stories that have an impact on the market. For example, in light of the Russia action, both oil and gold are up today, so if you invested in these sectors, you can thank Putin. That's the other thing you'll learn from this app and from other investing research, not everything tends to go down at the same time: Even when there's terrible news, there are opportunities to make money in the market.

(6) Candles vs. Candles: This is not a feature but an opportunity to receive even more finely tuned information. It costs about $50 and is more comprehensive and responsive than the free version. I wouldn't recommend buying it unless my previous discussion bored you because you already knew it all, and then some, and you're a very active trader--and my guess is that most folks in education don't have the opportunity to do so--until summer rolls around.

As I noted above, I really like this app, but that's with the understanding that it is only one tool that I would use in making investing decisions; it's also obvious that this tool doesn't include the ever popular ETFs or mutual funds or commodities or closed end funds or bonds or bond funds, so information in those areas would have to be found elsewhere. But, on the whole, as a free app, it offers at a glance a great deal of useful information--to people who have the knowledge and experience to use it appropriately.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Thing 20 Games

For reference: Games Page

DrawQuest: One of the features I enjoyed about this app was that other examples of works by kids (and adults?) are included. For example, I chose "Give the fairy wings" and found that lots of the examples were superior to anything that I could draw; I also liked the playback feature, which shows the progression of an individual drawing. That was impressive to watch. Overall, with the many simplistic drawings and child-like themes, it seems to be geared primarily for elementary children (though that didn't stop me from playing with it for a while). I could see a child creating a drawing on this app and then sending it to his or her parents, grandparents, or other relatives--or even their friends. It also allows you to post your drawing in the gallery along with all the other examples.

Below is an example of a project that I spent considerable time working on (seriously).

Word Collapse: The music, the sound effects, and the various levels and word categories make this game a good opportunity to develop word identification and spelling skills. Though not as much fun at DrawQuest, it's probably appropriate as a school game because it clearly has educational value. I also liked that you had to use some strategy in getting the letters to align in order to form words, so that also required a bit of hand-eye coordination. This is a good app for students who are done with their class work and want something else to do. In that sense, it could be the teacher's little helper with classroom management.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thing 19 Hobbies

MyGarden: The plant overview lists plants alphabetically--without categorizing them. The search function, to some extent, overcomes this problem. I searched the term "green beans" and found three subheadings on the bottom of the page: Info, Tasks, and Pictures. I tapped on Info and nothing happened. I tapped on Tasks and nothing happened. I tapped on Pictures and found one out of focus picture of green beans. Now gardening is a passion of mine, so I wasn't ready to abandon this app yet, though on first impression it's unimpressive. I tried "tomato" and received slightly better information. The problem is--take tasks, for example--the information is so generic and not tied to a specific growing zone that it is virtually useless. I did like the feature that allows you to ask questions or share information with other gardeners, but overall, that's not a compelling reason for this app. Finally, when I tried to register, I received an internal error warning--twice! For these reasons, I give it a thumbs down--and not a green thumb either. I will keep looking for gardening apps and suggest alternatives if I find any.

Sibley eGuide to Birds of North America LITE: I liked the menu organization--the taxonomic and alphabetic index, the Smart Search, and the inclusion of My Location. After exploring this app for several minutes, I came to these conclusions: (1) It's a good beginner's tool for science classes at almost any level; (2) the inclusion of a map, bird labels, text, and bird calls reminded me of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in that it's very comprehensive in scope (for the birds included); and using the My Location feature, which limits searches to just your own state, is an efficient way to search for birds that you might find in your own back yard. Although it doesn't supply all the birds you're likely to spot, such as blue jays, chickadees, and cardinals for central Minnesota, it's a fun app and might possibly motivate you to buy the more expensive version. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about birds.

Spotify: Free music. What could be better than that? I was able to find Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." 'Nuff said. I think I'll be using this app for mood music in the media center. Despite the commercials, I'm glad they make this app available free of cost. To take on the challenge, I've made a playlist of Led Zeppelin's music. For now that will be my private list for my "office" hours. I'll have to think about how to create a library list that students will like but that won't offend administrators or parents. That may take some time.

Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite apps. I'm glad that you included it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thing 18 Education

Even before blogging, I emailed a number of these apps to teachers (especially in languages, sciences, math, and FACS) in the hopes that they would begin using them--or passing them along to students--for the potential benefits they might offer for either in-class use or homework helpers. There's a tremendous amount of material under this category, and it begs for return trips--even if they're not officially cataloged in this blog. My link to Education apps

3-D Brain: An excellent app for a biology or anatomy class, 3-D Brain takes an enormously complicated structure off the 2-D page and makes it comprehensible; seeing the parts in relation to each other; using the sidebar "Structures" to isolate in on a single region; reading the content and seeing the x-ray views--all of these features enormously enhance the study of the brain. The Research reviews and the supplemental links offer a useful starting point for anyone who wants to do further research on the brain, its functions, and its disorders. Deceptively simple, this is the kind of app that can really engage students.

Advanced English Dictionary & Thesaurus: Now this is the kind of app that can be useful in the library, especially when helping students learn words, spell words, or use the right terms in their searches. (I have never been a big fan of using a thesaurus based on the assumption that a person needs to understand the connotations of words before attempting to find alternatives; when students attempt to use a thesaurus, they often use wildly inappropriate substitutions just for the sake of sounding like they have larger vocabularies.)

When I tried looking up "abashed," I found an extremely short definition, not sufficient to be useful for the advanced user, and the Wordnet feature, which found antonyms, similar words, was really abbreviated. I was somewhat disconcerted by the usefulness of this app, although I did like how the app used the term in various quotes to give the reader a sense of how it might be used. Beyond that, I was not quite sure why this app would have a camera feature--maybe to snap a photo of a word in a poster to look up later?

artCircles: Just plain fun, this app allows a person to use thematic circles of words, colors, nature, art movements, inspiring insiders, or textures to go on art tours, or slide shows with extensive examples. It also has galleries for viewing. I could spend hours on this app. One thing is for sure about it: Just spending a few minutes on it is like getting a primer on a wide world of art. It's impressive. And it could certainly supplement an art class's lessons--with detailed information about each piece of art, an opportunity to build your own gallery of favorites, or ways of sharing your favorites through social media.

A quick note: Although time does not allow further blogging on this post, I also downloaded and explored the following apps: Google Earth, iTranslate, Khan Academy, Life for iPad, and Today's Document. If I could summarize what they all have in common, I would say that for the right class each one has a useful application, and I will continue to send more apps along to teachers who are likely to benefit from incorporating them into their classes. My personal favorite and probably one of the largest free cross-curricular multimedia collections is Khan Academy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thing 17 Connecting to Community

UpNorthExplorer: To put it bluntly, this is the only app a person needs to plan an adventure up north. If that's an overstatement, then a revision might say: This is the first app a person should use in planning a vacation up north. Its menu has 9 categories--everything from Explore to Entertainment; it has weather updates; it has a search function, and it even has a camera feature so that you can not only find places and activities and events but photograph them as well.

So let's say I want to visit Grand Rapids. A search produces a history center, a liquor store (could come in handy), Judy Garland House & Museum, Old Central School, eating establishments, lodging, articles from "Explore Minnesota," a weekly trails update, and a farming tourist stop. If I were to visit Grand Rapids, there are a lot of possibilities that I might not have otherwise known about. Let's say I just want to do some cross country skiing with no particular destination in mind. Just for fun, I clicked on Explore, which led me to Snow & Ice. From there I was led to Washburn County Tourism and Pair O' Lakes Lodge, along with explanations of what I might find in those locales. I didn't think that amount of information was very impressive, so I tried cross country skiing as a search term: That yielded another result for skiing in Wisconsin.

Overall, this app should definitely be incorporated into the vacation planning process; it's comprehensive in scope, well organized, and extremely easy to use. I enjoyed using it. Two thumbs up.

Going Out: This app has a similar layout and menu structure compared to UpNorth Explorer. Its main menu has 7 categories of entertainment, plus a search tool. I clicked on family entertainment and was offered a search tool by keyword or zip code; it also narrows the search by venue and schedule. I tried my own zip code and found one event--which isn't surprising since it's a relatively small city. I returned to search and tried skiing, just to stay in sync with my above searches. I received no results. So apparently ongoing activities aren't considered events. I also tried the search term gardens to see whether there were any tropical indoor events to help shake off the winter doldrums. Success! I found 18 possibilities. This is a fun little app; if a person is bored and doesn't have a clue about what's going on and wants to go out, I would recommend Going Out. Personally, I especially liked the movie category with movie reviews and information.

If this app doesn't find a source of entertainment for you, you're just not trying. Two thumbs up.

Minnesota 511: If you're going to be out and about, it makes sense to avoid the hassles of running into road construction or related problems. Minnesota 511 is just the app for the commuter/traveler on the go. Its main page is simply a map of Minnesota. Upon closer review, you will see various signs indicating different kinds of issues; for example, there is an exclamation point sign near Rochester. If you press on it, you will find a warning that driving conditions are fair and to look out for icy patches. If you click on a yellow diamond near Burnsville, you will find another bulletin about driving conditions. A legend at the bottom of the screen identifies the issues involved. While most of the app is simple and straightforward, one feature--the highway cameras--gives you an immediate feel for how the road conditions appear. That part is really fun to use. Overall, it may not be the most exciting app to use, but it may be one of the most useful for the traveling teacher.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thing 16 Audio

ipadio: Two ideas come to mind in making this app useful for school purposes: The first is to use it to archive lectures--assuming teachers still lecture these days--for the sake of review or students who may have missed class. The second is to use it to have a book review spot on a library Web site with a link to ipadio.

How did it work when I tried it out? It is remarkably easy to use; attaching an image, creating a title, and writing a summary all help to describe and categorize this audio presentation. This has clear applications for the classroom, and for something so easy to use it has tremendous potential as a presentational tool. Two thumbs up.

SoundCloud: This app seems to be the complement of ipadio: Instead of just creating audio presentations for the user, which it has in common with ipadio, it offers a library's worth of audio materials. When you first register, it allows you to pick from a list of music genres and from a list of audio, such as business, humor, education, etc. Compared to ipadio, I would have to say that SoundCloud is the far more sophisticated and flexible app, especially in its potential to download music or other audios from a wide array of sources. This is one impressive app, and again, it has many possibilities for classroom use, from content to background music, to name just two. Three thumbs up. Not to mention that it can be shared very easily--which is the case with just about all of the mobile apps. Just one note: It does take some time to process your own audio tracks. So patience is a must. As is discretion. There are obscene materials included in the list of "Who to follow." Just one for example: "Never Not Funny." Definitely adult entertainment.

It's interesting to think about the sharing feature of apps. What does that say about apps in general? The assumption is that since they're so easy to share they are likely to be shared, and if sharing is a given, that may mean that we all may soon--or already have--experience "sharing fatigue." The other issue is the relationship between sharing and time: Does the assumption that if people expect others to experience what they share, no matter how insignificant, then we are also obliged to sacrifice our own time to avoid offending the great mass of online app-led sharers? Does this all lead to another discussion about effective time use, personal freedom, and the need for restraint in sharing, especially considering age and sensitivities? Just some thoughts . . .

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thing 15 Infographics

Infographics: When I first opened Infographics and looked at a number of the samples, they reminded me of miniature posters of factoids surrounding a given topic. Then I tried the search tool looking for topics related to books. Nothing showed up, so I went to the Favorites menu and looked under the heading of Education--and it had more to do with issues surrounding education than with specific educational topics. One Infographic that grabbed my attention was called "The Life of a Cow." As I scanned down the page, I kept thinking that the information was clearly from an advocacy source--partly because I was becoming vaguely uncomfortable about the hamburger I ate last night. Then as I scrolled to the bottom of the page, I found that PETA had sponsored the information.

Overall, I liked the visual approach to presenting information and Infographics' ability to share your findings. That the posters are often accompanied by a long list of resources makes them a natural springboard for student research projects. They might even serve as graphic models for students to present information in much the same way. There's a lot of poster-making in this building.

Beyond that, I'm going to have to do some thinking about how it can be more broadly used.

Visualize Free: This app is the next logical step from Infographics in that it moves from just viewing displays to actually creating them. I played around with this app for longer than I care to admit and took a screen shot of it. Here it is, not that I spent a lot of time on this one image alone . . .

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thing 14 Videos

Vine: After watching the tutorial video on Vine, I thought that the purpose of the app was to create a kind of jump-cut, disjointed video presentation. After all, only 6 seconds doesn't allow for much content. That's sort how it plays--a series of photos or short video clips that create motion through quick scene changes. I tried it out, doing a library tour of new books. It ran through the books very quickly, because I took too many shots. But you can stop the action by tapping the screen. On the whole, it worked out well, and it forces a person to be efficient in the use of time. This is sort of a fun app to use, but I'm hoping for more versatility, so on to the next one . . .

Viddy: I liked how easy it was to set up an account and explore features of Viddy. I also liked the sharing feature and its flexibility to find videos by others in a variety of ways. I especially liked the search feature and had fun finding videos in my own geographical area. Now for the bad part. I didn't--and I mean really didn't--like how Viddy crashed every time I tried to use it, either to take video directly or to refer to clips. I tried it several times, and each time I tried to produce a video, Viddy sent me back to my menu of apps. I reviewed the tutorial video just to make sure that I wasn't doing anything wrong--nothing that I could tell. (P.S.--Viddy did work when I returned to it several hours later. Patience may be the catch word for some of these apps. After using it, I thought that it was sort of a watered down version of Magisto.) So far, I need to find a video editing app that is reliable and flexible. On to Magisto . . .

Magisto: This app actually let me get to the stage of making a movie. So that's a big plus for it. As I'm waiting for the movie to render, here is a list of things that I hope Magisto will be able to do for me: allow text between clips, allow transitions, allow a change of music, and allow text pages after the video clips. I'm in the middle of making a short story using Magisto, and it will not work unless these additional options are available. I'll get back to you just as soon as the movie is ready . . . While I was waiting, I noticed that Magisto also lets you create a movie on a laptop, so it's not limited to a portable device. I was also disappointed to see that Magisto didn't allow enough editing options to create the kind of video I wanted. It was fun to use, but too limited in its range of options. Thumbs not quite up, somewhat sideways. Compared to Socialcam, however, I'd say that Magisto is the better app: It creates some very interesting effects with its stylized editing and music--which should appeal to students.

Here is a sample of a book promotion video using Magisto:

Here is another one with a slightly different flavor, also using Magisto:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thing 13 Presentations

Having already considered Google's presentation tool as a necessary evil--if the circumstances forced me into using it--until the full-fledged version became available, I am approaching these mobile presentation apps with a jaundiced eye. They are going to have to prove to me that they are worth the effort, the hassle, and the frustration of using them. In other words, they are going to have to prove me wrong. I hope they do . . .

Deck Slideshow Presentation: I spent a lot of time "playing" with this app--it's that much fun. I liked its features: themes, basic pages, images, graphs, and tables as the main visual items to use. I liked how all the information is decided upon on the main page and then each line becomes a separate slide; I also liked the lively animation between pages and the close-up or zoom in on individual images for better viewing; and finally, I liked how easy it was to reorder the slides or to add more slides if needed. The export tool was also useful in maintaining the sharing/collaborative aspect of this app. It's not PowerPoint, but for free, it offers some impressive features. Now for a potential problem: When I emailed the presentation to myself as a PPTX,the images did not follow the rest of the presentation.

Haiku Deck: The positives about this app are that it has a nice step by step tutorial that guides you through each step and allows you to use its features and that it has some fairly impressive graphics; the negative is that after I used it once the screen went black and hasn't worked again. Curious. I rebooted my iPad and even went back to try to download the app again--no luck. Thumbs down.

Educreations: This deceptively simple looking app could serve as an effective learning tool--either as a dynamic tool in live demonstrations or as a recorded presentation for later viewing. Some of the features that make it worthwhile: options including a plain white to lined to graph paper to grid background; the ability to draw right on the screen with your finger or to use the text function to type in information anywhere on the screen; the options of using a camera, photos, dropbox, or the Web--which quickly finds images to insert into the page; and the ability to add audio over the presentation. It takes almost no time to learn how to use, it's fun, and it would be fun for students to use in class. I can see elementary students enjoying this app, along with art, biology, engineering, math, and a host of other subjects.

This app has a wide variety of potential classroom applications, and I give it a thumbs up.

Like the old Meatloaf song goes, "Two out of three ain't bad." Maybe it will soon be three out of three. I'll return to Haiku Deck again to see whether the glitch has been resolved.

Thing 12 Books, Books, & More Books

Wattpad: This single app could save libraries a ton of money and at the same time provide a rich diversity of reading materials for virtually all readers. It is fantastic. That this app gives writers a chance to share their work makes it a natural opportunity for language arts students who want to connect their reading and writing skills and for others who just want to practice and share their craft. This app has tremendous potential for expanding and improving students' writing and reading skills.

After further exploring this app, I noticed that it has some especially intriguing features: (1) a library and reading lists for organizing and grouping books you're interested in or are currently reading; (2) Discover--features stories, categorized by genre and written by pros or submitted by readers; (3) Create--a place to write and share your own work of art; (4) Newsfeed--latest recommendations on books; and (5) Search engine--to find materials of individual interest.

Overall, this is the kind of app that can save schools money while expanding access to books and integrating reading with writing. It would also be useful for sustained silent reading or other class activities. It is impressive in scope, versatility, and usefulness. Four stars.

Free Books: (Since I liked Wattpad so much, I had to keep going by exploring Free Books.) Much of what has been said about Wattpad applies to Free Books. It provides greater access to books, often to the more serious books studied in high school or college or simply read by those of use who especially enjoy the classics.

Noted features: It has a library similar to Wattpad designed to store downloaded books. On the homepage there is a sliding table of genres and authors of classic literature listed in alphabetical order--a useful tool. It also identifies literature by title, author, popular, and rating. Just for the fun of it, I tried F. Scott Fitzgerald and found a short biography about him along with some of his famous quotes. Four books were available: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Beautiful and the Damned, Tales of the Jazz Age, and Flappers and Philosophers. Conspicuous by its absence was The Great Gatsby. I then clicked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, found a quick blurb about the story and ratings by other readers. Moving from that to actually navigating through the story was quite easy and enjoyable. Its layout and tools were reminiscent of OverDrive--another e-reader (see Thing 11) that works impressively.

YALSA's Teen Book Finder: Having access to catalogs of books is one thing; having a tool that helps direct students to related books is a complementary tool worth having. So that is what I was looking for when I downloaded this app. The app opens with "Today's Hot Picks," just to get the blood flowing a bit. The search tool offers several ways to find books and related books--title, author, genre, year, and booklist. I found the booklist feature most useful in that one of its choices is "Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers," often a group that has little experience in both reading and finding books that might motivate them to be less reluctant. Interestingly, if you want a book listed, the app will show a map of nearby libraries that have it. And finally, it has a "My Favorites" list that helps you organize books for reference or, possibly, for sharing with the reluctant readers. A nice app. I could see myself walking around in the middle of a group of students using the app to help them find books targeted to their interests.

Not an app but a good resource for finding that next good read: Check it out.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Thing 11 Library & Reference

ELM Mobile App: Now info on the go, the ELM Mobile app has the look and the feel of the original Web site designed for traditional use. Navigating around in it is easy and intuitive. It's a great tool for the serious or beginning researcher. I have always liked ELM services, and this app simply expands what is already a necessity for doing research or just casually finding information.

In terms of professional/personal use, in my capacity as a media specialist, I would feel that it's my obligation to share ELM Mobile with both teachers and students. Having the mobile app increases their flexibility and should further motivate truly intensive exploration and information seeking--at least by many who enjoy its "research on the go" capacity.

I give it two thumbs up. Congratulations to Jennifer Hootman.

An App found on the Great River Regional Library Site--OverDrive Media Console: I regularly use GRIVER (Great River Regional Library with the homebase in St. Cloud) resources and wanted to find out what kind of new app it has to offer. OverDrive Media Console offers several features that might be of interest to lovers of book in multiple formats. After spending about two hours with it, I confidently give it two thumbs up. It's definitely worth using.

Here's what the download icon looks like:

This app has three key features that I liked: (1) It works with a wide variety of platforms: iPad, Android, Windows, Blackberry, Playbook, Kindle, Nook, and Mac. (2) It comes with a library finder to locate the nearest library with a digital collection, thereby increasing access for the would-be reader. (3) It syncs bookmarks across devices so that the reader can enjoy the flexibility of moving from an iPad to a laptop to a mobile phone--all without losing place in the book. On a related note, I really like how the reader does not rquire scrolling; everything shows on the screen, and then a quick swipe is all that's needed to get to the next page. The text is large and takes full advantage of the screen width; the lighting is adjustable and can be toned down with a sepia background option; text can be justified, enlarged, or shrunk, margins changed, vertical spacing enlarged or shrunk, along with a variety of other features. (Okay, that's more than three key features . . . )

While it does take a little time to adjust to--including downloading an Adobe reader--this app will get easier to use in the long run and is the kind of thing that students will want to use instead of relying on hardcopy books. So it's well worth the effort of playing with this app to discover all of its features, and a little trial and error will resolve questions or problems that seem annoying.

Ultimately, I believe it's critical that we in the library/media business start acquainting ourselves now about the tools that students are undoubtedly already using. If we're left behind, who will lead?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Thing 10 Sharing Photos

Instagram: After a few glitches, I was able to get Instagram to work--sort of. One of the recurrent problems was that it repeatedly said " . . . couldn't refresh feed . . . " but beyond that, I can see why it's a popular app. It's clearly set up to share in multiple ways. Though I prefer other photo editors for the variety of things they can do, Instagram does not have that as its central purpose. So below I have an Instagram image to demonstrate how this app can be a sort of graphic "telegram" or "postcard."

Another problem: When I tried to search for images using Instagram, I received the "could not load results" response. So possibly today is not a happy day for Instagram. I'll return to the app and try again another day--it seems to have tremendous potential for sharing and finding images that--again from a research focus--could make creating a presentation far more interesting than using the usual stock footage. Just a thought.

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InstaCollage is another nicely organized app that allows the user to create albums, display them in a gallery, and then share them with others. You can take photos listed on your Camera Roll and place them in individual albums, which can then be shared with others. Similar to Photo Editor, it has frames, filters, special effects, text, and little stickies that can be added to the image. It's definitely fun to explore, and I could see students having a blast with it.

Although a little tricky to use at first, and a little glitchy, it shares similar menus with other apps, and the learning curve is relatively short. Though I don't know whether I'd personally use this app, it does have possibilities for those who love to take tons of photos and share them with others.

I'll return to this post and try downloading Instagram again to see whether I might have better luck next time. If anyone has any helpful hints, please let me know.

Or possibly a book collage . . .

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thing 9 Taking and Editing Photos

Line Camera: This does not seem to appear in the app store. Has it gone away? Today's date is January 30, 2014. Maybe I'll come back later and see whether it mysteriously reappears.

For now, however, I'll move on to Photo Editor by Aviary. This is a fun little tool that I suspect I'll be spending too much time playing with. As I've been saying with most of the apps, this one is really easy to use in a variety of ways. In fact, it's one of the easiest, and, for the money, one of the best. And as has been mentioned, it could be an effective marketing tool for the library.

This photo used a variety of editing tools: cropping, sharpness, contrast, color saturation, distortion,framing, and high definition, and probably a couple more that I missed. Unfortunately, the printer did not capture some of the subtlety of the actual print--something to keep in mind.

Here is another sample of a book cover altered somewhat. This editing is done through Photo Editor and has endless possibilities for marketing books.

And a final sample using Photo Editor with a willing victim . . . Taking and posting photos (and giving them away to the "victims" are related ways to build goodwill and a positive attitude toward the library--so long as your photo subjects are willing and not embarrassed by the results.

ColorSplurge: Having enjoyed Photo Editor by Aviary, I decided to go on to ColorSplurge by first watching the tutorial video, which demonstrated how a background can be in color while the subject is in black and white and vice versa for dramatic effects. The narrator pointed out that you can use a postcard feature, which is a nice plus, and that you'll obtain better results if you take your time in using the color tools.

My results: I enjoyed using ColorSplurge, but was annoyed by the constant requests for product upgrades or related products. Pop-up windows for advertisements were a headache. I also couldn't figure out how to save the results to transfer them into PhotoEditor, so I emailed the colored photo to myself and then added it to this site. Here is the result of just coloring the people and leaving the background in black and white:

While I just focused on their faces, I could have used another color and colored in their clothes. The the app is versatile and fun to use--although, as one reviewer pointed out, it does have a habit of crashing.

Thing 8 Social Media Management Tools

Having accounts with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, I decided to try Google+ to see whether it offers anything compelling enough to add it to my list or to replace any of the other tools--which admittedly have not been all that active lately, especially in the case of Twitter, which I prefer to follow rather than to post my own information or ideas. From what I understand, Facebook is becoming boring to its teenage users, and it has always been boring to me: Looking at people's selfies or their kids or their pets or their parties or their latest vacation (especially since I haven't been on one for a while) does lose its charm after a few views. (Perhaps politically incorrect, I've often thought that a lot of social networking sites were little more than exercises in narcissism, and with the chronic displays of narcissism in sports (think Superbowl), entertainment, etc., more opportunities for narcissism may create an epidemic of ME! ME! ME!) LinkedIn, as a networking source, doesn't seem relevant to me in education, where there are already MEMO--I mean ITEM--and EdPost, and other listservs. So onward to Google+ . . .

Google+: Before exploring the app, I read three reviews that were all glowing, which is a good sign, but, depending upon who wrote them (i.e. Google employees), I remained somewhat skeptical. After all, while it received a 4+ rating, so did Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

My review: Let me express a bias. Generally, I've been impressed by most things Google: Gmail, the Chrome browser, Google Maps, Google Alerts, (not so much Google Scholar) and Google Earth. So I go into this exploration of Google+ with relatively high expectations. After signing up, I read a notice that Google+ would back up all the photos in my iPad camera and privately archive them, which is a nice service in case I ever need to refer back to them. When I first entered the homepage, I experienced a Pinterest-like deja vu with an overwhelming array of photos and sidebars and wasn't quite sure what to do next. The menu at the bottom of the page provided some guidance; it listed Photo, Location, Link, and Write. They were easy and useful to use. The menu on the left also helped the user navigate around the site. Beyond that the site contained communities and trending topics and a lot of things that looked similar to other popular homepages. Again, as with several other apps, Google+ creates opportunities using Following, Acquaintances, Friends, and Family for sharing in a Facebook-like fashion. The user can even create an event to see whether others are available to attend. Perhaps my favorite part: Animal videos with people texting captions. Funny, cute, edgy. Google+ lives up to its rating of 4+. In the school setting, Google+ could be useful for collaborating and gathering information for group work, reference, and studying purposes. I'd be curious to know how many teachers incorporate it into their courses and how the students respond to it. I could imagine that Google+ could be used as a content manager in a class that studies trends or current events or updates on the latest changes in such topics as science, technology, or engineering. I could even imagine that a media specialist could use it to track trends in reading--hot new books, and the like. Clearly, there are productive possibilities.

Thing 7 Content Saving & Sharing

Pinterest: This is reminiscent of the original 23 Things on a Stick, and I remember then that having one place for all bookmarks--organized and categorized--and accessible to any other computer--but not mobile device at the time--seemed very appealing. I recall exploring Del.icio.us and PageKeeper for Teachers. Now that capability has been taken to the next step by making bookmarks accessible to any device, whether mobile or stationary. In that context, what do I think of Pinterest?

What I liked about Pinterest, beyond its ease of establishing an account and setting up, was its intuitive graphic layout and a sort of catalog of topics from which to begin, which, however, can "feel" a bit overwhelming at first. I created a couple sites on two hobbies of interest and pinned photos and Web sites to them. It's an interesting process. There are so many features that it does take a bit of playing with to catch on, but that seems to be the point. Again, like so many other apps, Pinterest seems to make as part of its focus the ability to share items of interest with others and to have others share their stuff with you. That has tremendous possibilities for information sharing, saving time, and collaborating. On the whole, I enjoyed Pinterest and can see using it for my own personal collection of resources and for collaborating on a professional level, just as students could use it for collaborating for assignments or for just sharing their own interests.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thing 6 Creating & Editing Docs

Quickoffice: This app has the iPad versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and a text file creator. It allows the user to create folders for organizing documents, and it can email and create zip versions of documents. I tried the Word application and found that it is a stripped down to the bones version of a word processor; it will create a document, check spelling, provide basic fonts and styles, and allow printing and creating PDF files--and, beyond a few other minor things, that's about it, with the exceptions that it does allow the user to drop it in Dropbox or other apps, and it has features, such as comment boxes and change tracking that might be useful for sharing and collaborating by students or teachers. To put it mildly: No frills. I also played with PowerPoint and Excel and found them a bit awkward to use, especially Excel. While I'd be more inclined to use a laptop for any of these functions, Quickoffice will work in a pinch or on the run, and since it's free, that's not all bad.

Its main value, then, seems to be in its ability to start the ball rolling in creating a document, sharing it for the sake of making revisions, and then doing the fine tuning with an actual laptop or other computer.

SignNow: This is another app that may be useful in a pinch. I liked how easy it was to set up and to apply a written signature to a document. No scanner needed. That's a genuine plus. Just two issues come to mind: First, as one user noted, signed documents tend to be sensitive in nature, and it might not be wise to let them "float" around on the cloud, where other signers may be involved with the document, especially with the risk of hackers. Second, and not nearly so important, I could never get my "signature" to look like my actual signature--not sure about the legal implications of that, but it was a little concerning.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thing 5 Notetaking

Springpad: Springpad is easy to set up and to use. I enjoyed the personable tone of the instructions and the search tool to find notes that I had written. That's a fast way to find things without paging through documents. I also liked how it uses the homebase of your iPad as a starting point for finding such things as nearby restaurants. What strikes me about this app is its wide range of functions. It basically works as a personal assistant, and I could see using it for collecting my own thoughts or recording ideas for personal use. It could also be used professionally as a kind of reference; in fact, this app is so multi-dimensional that I think it will take something of a shift in thinking to switch to using it. The barcode feature, for example, could be used to gain instant information about a book, whether for personal or professional purposes. As another example, I tried the TV feature and typed in Bates Motel to see when the series will resume. The app brought me to TheTVDB.com; from there I opened the site in Safari, which gave me a full-screen view of the Web site. Overall, this app works fast and is easy to use, and a person could play with it for hours. Its features for sending notes to others and following other Notebooks were additional bonuses, and I got a kick out having the ability to attach audio to a message. I give it two thumbs up.

Bamboo Paper: This app is fairly limited in scope, appearing as little more than a blank notebook page; it has the usual sharing and e-mailing features common to, it seems, just about all the apps I've tried so far. The usefulness of this app, beyond keeping handwritten notes, may be in its ability to demonstrate a process, a drawing, or anything else that can be demonstrated from scratch to completion; it might even be useful in demonstrating cursive to students, if anyone still practices cursive any more. A word of caution: If the user has large hands or fingers, this app could well prove frustrating to use. I know I couldn't get many words on a single page. (It charges for its tools, which is a disincentive for using it, considering all the free apps out there.)

Dragon Dictation: I tried dictating into Dragon Dictation three times and found that overall it produced a fairly accurate transcription. When I read a passage quickly into it, I found that it could not capture all the words, so it may be accurate to state that a speaker has to speak slowly and clearly in order for this app to be effective. But for a free app, it's not bad at all--and could serve as a notetaking/sharing tool for students who are not good/fast writers or for those students who would like to save time by dictating as they're reading a text or some other document for which they may need notes. I can see an app such as this as a serious time saving device in taking notes--or as a device that can serve disabled students unable to write. Other features: As with many other apps, it allows for easy sharing via email, Facebook, or Twitter. On the whole, it's a clever little tool.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Thing 4 Keeping Up

Zite: This reminds me of the RSS feeds that we explored for 23 Things on a Stick, only that it's a kind of flexible graphic aggregator that is far more visually appealing and intuitively easy to use compared to the old versions that were slightly clunky in nature. I also liked the Quicklist, which focuses in on a person's particular interests on a whim.

Note: There is a similar app called Side by Side that aggregates information sources and allows the user to self-select content as well. On the whole, however, Zite is a slightly more appealing app, but Side by Side may be more efficient for the serious searcher of related news and information from a variety of sources.

What I'm not so sure about is whether there's any value added by this app. By that I mean lots of homepages allow viewers to customize them in such a way that the homepages will cater to their interests in a way that allows a broader visual sweep of information. So would I take the trouble to create yet another source for finding information that appeals to my interests and then visit it in addition to or to the exclusion of other sources, such as Yahoo or Google? Probably not. It's nice, but not unique. And that leads me to another issue I've been thinking about concerning online resources: There's increasing competition and overlap among online tools (apps), so much so that one motivation for using one app over another is simply because it is newer or more novel. That to me may lead to a lot of technology churning--learning and relearning for the sake of the next new device when a critical attitude may need to be applied instead: Is the new tool better than an older tool? What are the unintended consequences? These questions really become relevant when sharing and online collaboration are involved.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thing 3 Utilities

Wi-Fi Finder: I downloaded this app for the times I'd like to use my new iPad away from my school site to broaden my opportunities to access online resources and to do professional and personal tasks in the field, so to speak. The features I especially liked about this app were the map (which showed how to find hotspots), the filter (so that I wouldn't have to end up in a bar in order to use my iPad), and the save feature in the event I might want to refer back to the listings. I also liked that the app pointed me toward using the strongest Wi-Fi signal. When I tried it for the first time, it indicated that I should use my school's signal instead of those in the surrounding area, which made sense since the signal would be far and away stronger than others. Is this app critical to have, considering that one could just go under settings and find another network? I believe so because it allows a person to navigate toward a signal if none is in the current area. Relying on settings is flying blind and could prove unsuccessful.

RedLaser Barcode & QR Scanner: This free app could put a lot of money back in the consumer's pocket. It allows for price comparisons among stores, show specials, and indicates the availability of a product at a particular store, thus saving the consumer in both time and money. In another sense, it could save the shopper money by comparing store prices with online prices, which could lead to matching the lower price. Now I just wish I had a smart phone to carry around in stores rather than an iPad.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thing 2 Mobile Device Tips

Focus: iPad tips and tricks Link: Support Essentials Areas covered: (1) Connecting to a Wi-Fi network to all sorts of other tools, from Siri to Troubleshooting: This doesn't make the most interesting reading until it's needed, so it's reassuring to know that this information is available as a backup. Its descriptions and visuals make it very user-friendly, and I know that I'll be returning to the site often. The Communities feature is an added bonus for interacting with someone who could solve a problem in a few quick sentences. (2) iPad Tips & Tricks Overview Video: This brief video gave a good overview into some of the features of iOS 7 and is a good starting point for understanding how the iPad offers multi-tasking features. (3) The Best Tips & Tricks link: Since this source has so much information that may need to be accessed at any time, I'm putting here as a link to make it easy to find for future reference. This is an excellent, easily understandable reference.

Thing 1 Getting Started

As a high school library media specialist, I've just begun learning how to use the new iPad that my district purchased for all of its staff, and I'm interested in apps that are related to library media center uses and that may be useful beyond that for my own professional and personal interests. I also believe it's my responsibility to be current on technology applications relevant to education and to not just use but to share my knowledge with staff and students.

Here's to mobilizing to new uses of technology--and to having some fun along the way.

To 23 Things