Productivity

AccessApps is a suite of 41 free applications that can be downloaded and then run  directly from a USB memory stick on any Windows computer.  This means that anyone who needs these programs can use them anywhere–in the classroom, at home, at work, or wherever.

The list of applications is extensive, and it includes Open Office for word processing, programs that provide reading and writing support, visual support applications, accessible browsers, multimedia tools, and much more.  I’m not yet familiar with all the programs, but the ones I do know are of high quality.  I look forward to exploring the applications that are new to me.

Three download options are available–the entire suite of 41 applications (739 Mb), a ‘Lite’ selection of 20 (64 Mb), or ‘Pick n Mix’ where you choose exactly what you want.  I downloaded the ‘Works’, and that took a little over 2 hours.  It then took considerable time to extract all the files from the downloaded zip file and then copy them to my memory stick.  Once installed on the memory stick, everything functions flawlessly.

AccessApps has been developed, and is now distributed, by RSC (Regional Support Centre Scotland North & East)  They have also very helpfully made available tutorial videos that walk you through the process of downloading the applications and installing them on a USB flash memory stick.  Extensive text documentation is available in several formats–from the website, and on the memory stick itself.

The entire suite requires at least a 2 Gb memory stick, but a 4 or 8 Gb stick would be better because it would allow for storage of a significant collection of personal files along with the programs. Here’s what the user interface, or the memory stick’s ‘Start Menu’, looks like.

Access Firefox is a website that I’ve written about before, but I believe it’s well worth another mention.  Access Firefox is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in making the internet accessible to all learners.  Access Firefox details the built-in accessibility features of Firefox.  It also describes and links to numerous add-ons. The site is well organized and uncluttered.  It has been designed with accessibility in mind, and demonstrates what an accessible website can look like.

If you are in a position to exert any influence at all, please advocate for the use of Firefox on the computers that are being used in schools.  Alternative browsers available today don’t come close in terms of helping to meet the diverse range learning styles and learning needs that exist in every classroom.

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Accessibar is a toolbar that can be installed as an add-on for the Firefox browser with a set of tools to make the internet more accessible for people with special needs. Accessibar is especially useful for those with low vision. As with all toolbar icons in Firefox, the toolbar shown below can include text that names the function of the icon. All of the Accessibar functions can also be activated with keyboard shortcuts that can be configured by the user.

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In the words of the toolbar’s developers, here’s what the Accessibar tools will do for you.

  • Web page fonts and background colors can be changed from a selecton of 70 colors on current session
  • Icons with configurable shortcut keys to increase and decrease Font size.
  • Line spacing can be increased or decreased to five different spacing settings incrementally.
  • All images (including Flash) displayed on a web page can be selected as being hiden or shown.
  • All changes made to web page display can be restored to original page settings by pressing “Restore Page“.
  • Changes made to the currently displayed web page persist until “Restore Page“ is selected.
  • Integrated Text To Speech reader. Reads out strings hovered over as well as focused elements.
  • Reader settings can be configured allowing the selection of the voice, volume, speaking rate, pitch, and voice range.
  • Toolbar functions have configurable Hotkeys (keyboard shortcuts).

I tested Accessibar’s text-to-speech function, and I found it to work reasonably well. It does an especially good job of reading links and buttons. As a sighted reader, however,I much prefer to use CLiCk,Speak for reading passages of text. I wonder if it might be the same for individuals with low vision if they are able to use Accessibar’s tools to enable them to see the web page effectively. I added the CLiCk,Speak buttons to the Accessibar toolbar. The only drawback is that there are no keyboard commands for the CLiCk,Speak buttons.

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Advanced Diary (downloadable program) Here is a free standalone program that provides the tools you need to keep a journal on your computer. Actually, this software supports multiple diaries, and allows multiple entries for the same day. In Advanced Diary, you have several easy ways to find items that have been entered previously. There are also convenient formatting tools so that you can make your journal entries look the way you want them to. You can easily add pictures and insert html links. For more information, and to download the program, go to http://www.csoftlab.com/Diary.html.

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Alarm Me (downloadable program) This free offering is just a little program, in terms of taking up space on your hard drive and on your desktop, but it has several very useful applications. This program will sound an alarm whenever you need that. It gives you a countdown timer. You can use it to shut down or start up your computer. With Alarm Me you can also maintain an address list, and you can keep a diary or journal. This program, along with several others, is available at http://www.qytec.com/

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Animoto (online resource) Here’s yet another nifty Web 2.0 opportunity for digital story-telling. This one is a lot of fun and will engage plenty of learners, as well as many of their teachers. With Animoto, you can combine a set of still photos with a music track to create a free 30 second video with considerable dramatic flare.

You can select from 3 genres of music provided by Animoto (indie rock, electronica, hip hop). The application then blends the music with the way it presents the pictures. Or, you can upload your own music track. If you’re not entirely happy with the way it comes out, you can “re-mix” the video with touch of a button for something completely different. If you wish, you have the option of adding or deleting photos or of changing the order.

Animoto does not offer an option for including voice narration, but there’s nothing to stop you from mixing voice with a music track in Audacity and then uploading that.

Photos can be uploaded from your computer, or imported from online hosts. Animoto has provide quick links for importing pictures from flickr, facebook, smugmug and photobucket.

Of course, Animoto has made it easy to share whatever you create by offering a unique URL for each creation. Sharing work online is often powerfully motivating for the learners we work with. The embed code makes it easy to embed an Animoto video in a blog or on a wiki. There is also a “Post Online” feature which makes it easy to post your video to MySpace, FaceBook or Friendster.

If you wish to make a “full length” video (about 3 and a half minutes), you can do so for $3.00. A one year subscription that allows you to make as many full length videos as you wish costs $30.

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Audacity Sound Recorder and Editor (downloadable program) This is a free open source program that allows you to record live audio, convert tapes or records into digital recordings or CD’s, edit MP3 and WAV files, cut/copy/splice/mix sounds, change the speed or pitch of a recording, and much more. You can record with a microphone, use line input, or import files. People who should know say that Aucacity does all of this better than you can do it with some of the programs you have to pay for! This is software that you can put to use in creating high quality podcasts. Find out more and download from Audacity.

AutoMotivator is an online application that has been designed so that anyone can use an image to quickly and easily create a simple poster.  You can upload an image from your computer, import one from elsewhere on the internet, or use an image that AutoMotivator makes available.  You then have the opportunity to give the poster a title and to add a block of text.  You also have the option of adjusting the colours.

Although formatting options are limited, the user interface couldn’t be easier, and registration is not required.  Once you’ve created a poster, you can save it to your computer, or to your Flickr or ImageShack account.  I had a bit of fun trying AutoMotivator out with a couple of the photos that they make available.   The two resulting “posters” are shown below, and they are now in my  Flickr collection.

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Axistive (online resource) This site calls itself an “Assistive Technology News Portal”. It is that and considerably more. Although the website is ad supported, Axistive makes a serious effort to be objective and makes its resources available free of charge to those who need them. Resources include news, articles, product reviews, and vendor information. There is also a helpful section entitled “AT Basics” that lists assistive technology devices along with descriptions, illustrations, and related links. The site is well organized and divided into five main sections: vision, hearing, mobility, learning, communication. News is archived by month, and there is an editors blog that is updated frequently. If you are involved with assistive technology in any way, this site should be explored and bookmarked.

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Big Calculator (downloadable program) is an onscreen calculator for Windows. This is a talking calculator for basic calculations, and you can drag its edges to make its big as you want on your screen. You can do calculations by either tapping on the keys with your mouse, or by keying in the numbes on your keyboard. You can use this calculator to add, subtract, multiply and divide. This helpful utility has been provided by Sensory Software International. It is worth checking out their website for other free resources.

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Bloglines (online resource) is a highly rated free web-based service that allows you to subscribe to the RSS feeds of websites in order to keep up with new material as it is added. This is especially helpful for keeping up to date with the news from your favourite online sources or from blogs (like this one) that are relevant to your personal interests. With Bloglines, you can do this with relative ease and keep your various subscriptions organized.

The Bloglines interface is simple, and the folder options are extremely valuable if you wind up subscribing to more than a few feeds. Because Bloglines is web-based, you can have access to your RSS subscriptions from any computer that is connected to the internet. If you wish, you can even host your own blog on Bloglines. For a very helpful video tutorial on getting started with Bloglines, check out what Joe Freidhoff has put together at http://freidhof.fts.educ.msu.edu/Tech_Handouts/tech_handouts.htm.

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Bruce’s Unusual Typing Wizard (Downloadable Program) This is a full featured, and rather sophisticated, typing tutor. It offers introductory lessons, practice exercises, and games. Progress records and statistics can be kept for multiple users. There is also fairly extensive help available. This is an excellent typing tutor, but it is probably not appropriate for most younger children. Go to http://typing.qcalculus.com/ for more information and to download the program.

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bubbl.us (online resource) This online mind-mapping application bills itself as “brainstorming made simple”. I think that’s a fair description. Bubbl.us is indeed simple, with an intuitive user interface. In essence, bubbl.us, enables you to visually represent brainstormed concepts and then web the connections and relationships between them. The net result is quite similar to the brainstormed webs that teachers create on chalkboards, and that students are sometimes expected to produce on paper. If you click on the thumbnail below to see an enlarged view, I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

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There are some notable differences between bubbl.us mind-maps and paper or chalkboard webs. With bubbl.us it is far easier to make changes. Colour coding is also much easier. Perhaps most significantly, with bubbl.us it is possible to work collaboratively with others who are not physically present and to then share your work widely. Code is provided for embedding your mind-map on web pages. The mind-map you create in bubbl.us can be saved as an image file for use wherever you might find a need that. You can, of course, print hard copies of your bubbl.us mind-maps as well.

There are some things you can’t do with bubbl.us that you can do with other mind-mapping applications. You can’t import images, and there are no icons available to include in your mind-map. Nor is there a free-hand drawing tool. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine an easier way to brainstorm online, either individually or collaboratively.

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Cam Studio (downloadable program) If you ever need to make a recording of something on your computer desktop so you can share it, this free open source program will do a good job for you. Anything you can see on your Windows desktop can be turned into a standard AVI movie file. If you ever need to create a tutorial or demonstrate what a piece of software can do, this will do it for you . CamStudio is easy to use and offers considerable flexibility. One very handy feature is the option of adding sound with a microphone. You can download the program at http://www.camstudio.org/ For a very thorough and helpful review of Cam Studio, go to George’s Freeware Review Page.

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CD Burner XP Pro (downloadable program) is a free full featured CD and DVD burner that is well designed, with an intuitive user interface. I’ve tried it; and it’s also a program that works well. There seems to be consensus among those who rate free software that this is the best there is. Indeed, there is not much that this burner can’t do. The following is only a partial list of available functions: burns data to CD-R/CD-RW/DVD+R/DVD-R/DVD+RW/DVD-RW; burns video DVD’s with menus; creates bootable discs; allows erasing and overburning; creates audio CD’s from MP3, wav, ogg, and wma files; rips tracks from any audio CD to MP3, wav, ogg, or wma; downloads album information from online database; burns ISO files to CD; and a great deal more…So if you want functionality in a CD burner, here is a free one that pretty much does it all. As an additional bonus, CD Burner XP Pro comes with a particularly effective set of help files, including explicit screen captures to show you how to get the job done. You can download this program from http://www.cdburnerxp.se/download.php

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Click-N-Type (downloadable program) Click-N-Type is a versatile free on-screen keyboard. You can enlarge the keyboard, choose alternative layouts, and it will scan for switch users. Multiple languages are supported. For English, you can also add word prediction by downloading and installing a separate executable file. This program is from Lake Software.

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CLiCk, Speak (downloadable Firefox extension) CLiCk, Speak reads aloud any web page that is open in Firefox. The interface is incredibly simple and stratightforward. There are three mouse-activated buttons–one to read selected text, one to begin reading wherever the cursor is placed, and another to stop reading. To make tracking easy, CLiCk, Speak, highlights each sentence as it is read. I have downloaded and installed this extension, and have found it to work very smoothly indeed.
CLiCk, Speak installs as an extension to Firefox and adds a toolbar to the browser. Since there are only 3 buttons on the toolbar, these can easily be added to any other Firefox toolbar. This means it isn’t necessary to have the entire CLiCk, Speak toolbar open when you want to have CLiCk, Speak available.

Charles L. Chen, the developer of CLiCk, Speak, is doing a great job of supporting this extension. His website provides an installation guide and a user’s manual. Charles also offers helpful information on purchasing and downloading alternative voices–for reading in English as well as in several other languages.

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Cool Timer (downloadable program) This completely free program is a simple but effective countdown timer that is extremely easy to use. An alarm sounds to indicate that a specified time period has ended. Any wav, mp3, or midi file can be used as the alarm. You can watch the countdown from a window on your screen; or the program can be minimized to the system tray while counting down. Find out more and download the program from Harmony Hollow Software.

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Del.icio.us (online resource) Here is a free internet resource that is rapidly gaining in popularity. It is also helping to establish and maintain virtual communities of people with shared interests. With del.icio.us, you post internet bookmarks (or favourites) that you value to an online page that you can access from any computer. Your bookmarks can also be accessed by anyone else. If someone is interested in your collection of bookmarks, he or she can subscribe to it and receive notification whenever you add a bookmark. The phenomenon of sharing bookmarks in this manner has been dubbed social bookmarking. For educators, del.icio.us offers an efficient way of sharing resources and ideas. For students, it provides an effective avenue for pursuing and extending expertise in areas of particular interest. Bookmarks can be tagged with appropriate descriptors for convenient searching within del.icio.us, and users can subscribe to specific tags. I have recently created a del.icio.us account where I am listing the sites I mention on this blog. You can check out my del.icio.us bookmarks at http://del.icio.us/paulhami. For a more thorough discussion of del.icio.us you can read an article in PC World by Juan Carlos Perez.

Dia

Dia (downloadable program) is free open source software for Linux and Windows that is intended for drawing diagrams.  The developers say it is “roughly inspired” by Microsoft’s Visio.  I have downloaded and installed the program, but I have neither the time nor the talent to test it extensively.

Dia appears to be a powerful but stratightforward program with an intuitive user interface.  It comes with considerable built in help, including a Quickstart Guide.  The user interface is shown below.  Additional shapes can be downloaded from the Dia website and incorporated into diagrams as required.

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Dictionary.com (online resource) This is a handy free reference resource that is available to you anywhere, and on any computer, as long as the computer you are using is online. Enter a term at Dictionary.com and choose from the following tools: dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, or web search. This is a great study tool for both writing and reading. The only drawback is that you do have to put up with some advertising at this site.

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DownloadpediA This is a wiki built on the Mediawiki platform, and it bills itself as “The Software Encyclopedia”. The focus is on free and open source programs. Listings are helpfully organized with concise but useful descriptions. The screenshots below show the main menu and then the contents of the Free Software page. The listings under Education are not extensive yet, but I expect this section will grow considerably over time.

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Dragnifier illustrates the truth that even though wonderful new technology is arriving on the scene on a daily basis, some gems that have been around for a while continue to hold their value. Ed Halley, Dragnifier’s developer, describes it as a “quick dragging magnifier” for anything that’s on your computer screen. That sums it up nicely. A single click on its icon in the system tray brings Dragnifier to life, and another click puts it back to sleep. Alternatively, you can easily program a keyboard shortcut.

Dragnifier offers 3 magnification settings–2x, 4x or 8x. For the shape of your magnifier, you get 6 options–hand loupe, small rectangular lens, medium rectangular lens, large rectangular lens, round lens, or “handy reader”. These are illustrated below at 2x magnification.

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At a presentation, you can use Dragnifier to magnify your projected screen so that participants in the back of the room could read what’s on your computer screen. There are occasions when any of us can make use of a handy screen magnifier like this , especially those of us who are over 45. Whether we’re working with finicky graphics or trying to read fine print on the screen, Dragnifier can help.

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Dropload (Online Resource) This is a free online resource that allows you to upload and send files up to 100 MB in size to someone else. When you upload, you inlcude the email address of the recipient. The receipient then receives notification that the file is available to bedownloaded. Apart from Google ads, there is no advertising on the site, and Dropload commits not to share email addresses. The file remains available for download for 7 days. I have tested this service and found it to work well. Remember that if you want to send a folder (perhaps a folder of photos), you will have to zip the folder before uploading it.

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Edublogs.org (online resource) This site offers free (and ad free) blogs for educational professionals. Edublogs comes with relatively convenient tools on its WordPress platform for putting together and maintaining your blog. Available options allow for considerable flexibility. The blog you are reading is but one humble example of what can be done with edublogs, but there are now over 10,000 other registered users of edublogs. The range of offerings is quite remarkable. For helpful tutorial material on using Edublogs.org, check out what Joe Freidhoff has prepared at http://freidhof.fts.educ.msu.edu/Tech_Handouts/tech_handouts.htm. James Farmer, the founder of edublogs, also offers three separate blogging platforms for teachers to use with their students–learnerblogs.org for K-12, uniblogs.org (post-secondary), and eslblogs.org (ESL, EFL, and other English Language students).

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e-Learning for Kids is a systematic set of online drills, activities, and games to help children learn to use the computer keyboard effectively. This keyboarding program is engaging, as it combines a space and tournament theme. Lessons are learned and practiced in the Type-E-Chi Workshop. Then the learner must win a specified number of awards in the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Arenas to demonstrate mastery of the home keys, other keys, and number keys respectively.

e-Learning for Kids is a high quality resource. The activities have been well designed and presented . Each activity is introduced and explained by a very clear and expressive child’s voice. There is no advertising anywhere on the site.

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EverNote FREE (downloadable program) This free productivity tool offers a convenient way to take and store notes. You can take your notes in a variety of different formats. If you want to keep your notes private, encryption is an option. Once you’ve taken your notes, you can organize them by category. You can then search visually, by time, by category, or by key word. There are templates for such note types as expenses, shopping lists, phone messages, etc. Unless you are thinking of purchasing EverNote Plus, be sure to download the free version of the program. Download at http://www.evernote.com/en/

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FACEinHOLE is a website that offers some fun with image manipulation. The concept is simple. You upload an image and plug it into a “scenario”. Then you have an intuitive set of tools to adjust size, orientation, colour and contrast to make it fit. Any creative teacher will be able to find ways to make use of this application to enrich the classroom. It is easy to share what you create, either by embedding on a web page or by sending someone the URL.

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Firefox (Downloadable Program) There are good reasons that millions of people are now using Firefox as their web browser. Firefox is a much smaller program that is also much faster than Microsoft’s IE. Firefox is known as a “tabbed” browser because you can have multiple websites open simultaneously and move from one to another quickly via a tab. The tabs themselves can be arranged in any order you wish simply by dragging and dropping. You can customize the appearance of Firefox with downloadable themes. As for special and specialized features, there is a whole host of features that can be added to Firefox as downloadable extensions. There are still a few websites that cannot be accessed by Firefox, but the number is dwindling rapidly. Firefox has been developed by Mozilla, and you can download the browser from their website.

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Fire Vox (downloadable Firefox extension) This Firefox extension is essentially a screen reader that works seamlessly when browsing with Firefox so the user always has a live view of the web page. Charles L. Chen, the creator of Fire Vox, sums up what if offers as follows:

“In addition to the basic features that are expected of screen readers, such as being able to identify headings, links, images, etc. and providing navigational assistance, Fire Vox provides support for MathML and CSS speech module properties. It also works on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.”

For those of us who are light dependent, Fire Vox offers a very helpful feature. It highlights text that is being read. This is great for sighted educators. It may also be useful for individuals with low vision.

Charles L. Chen seems to be doing an excellent job of supporting Fire Vox. His accessible website offers an installation guide, tutorials, and a user’s manual. He says he’s also committed to keeping Fire Vox as up to date as possible.

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Free Educational Clipart from TeacherFiles.com (Online Resource) There are many websites that offer free clipart. Although the collection of clipart here is not huge, this website is a significant cut above the average clipart site. The authors of this site have created and made available some of their own clipart, and they have also combed the web to find and catalogue some of what they consider to be the best that is available from other websites. All the clipart offered here is appropriate for a classroom setting.

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Free Mind (downloadable program) is known as mind-mapping software. Wikipedia defines a mind map as “…a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, and decision making.” This is exactly what Free Mind enables its user to do on a computer. Ideas and concepts can be graphically represented and webbed on screen.

The potential applications of mind maps for both students and teachers is unlimited, especially for those with a bent toward visual learning. Free Mind is free open source software that enables the user to create and share mind maps with relative ease. Free Mind allows for considerable flexibility by offering a range of useful options. The user interface is straightforward, but built-in keyboard commands provide direct access from the keyboard for virtually all functions of the program.

Although the software comes with helpful and well organized tutorial material, the learning curve required suggests to me that for most students it would probably not be appropriate to introduce this software before the senior secondary level. On the other hand, primary school teachers might find this software invaluable in the preparation of units of study and for the organization of material to be covered over the course of a year.

To download Free Mind, go to http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page Java Runtime Environment must also be installed since this software is written in Java.
(This program runs in Windows, Mac and Linux.)

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Fx Software is a website that offers free downloadable software. There are two categories–Assistive Software and Other Software. It is the Assistive Software that is of particular interest here. In this category there are 11 free downloads with the potential to make computer use and internet browsing more accessible for individuals who face special challenges.

Assistive software titles include:

  • KwikLoupe — simple screen magnifier
  • RapidSet — allowing you to conveniently change font and/or background colour
  • Mouseketeer — mouse clicking/dragging
  • Vu-Bar 4 — tool for keeping a single line of text in view
  • Sonar 4 — provides a permanent ring around the mouse pointer
  • Edgeless — causes mouse pointer to wrap around screen
  • KeyCounter — keeps track of number of keystrokes to suggest need for rest
  • mmFollow – adds cartoon character to mouse cursor
  • Washer – adjusts screen for varying conditions of colour blindness
  • Bigger Cursors — set of large colourful cursors
  • Chunky Cursors – set of large chunky colourful cursors

Last week I wrote a post about Accessibar, which enhances the accessibility of web browsing in Firefox. Some of the tools offered here by Fx Software will also make web browsing more accessible. The programs from Fx Software, however, are designed to support all computer use, not just internet access.

I have not had a chance to download and test all of the Fx Software titles, but I’ve been favourably impressed by the ones I have downloaded. The programs download quickly because they are small. They are also easy to install. I particularly liked the potential of Vu-Bar 4 for some individuals who face reading challenges as a result of a learning disability.

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GIMP (downloadable program) “The GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is powerful free open source software designed for editing images. You can use it as a simple paint program, to do serious photo retouching, or for a host of more sophisticated and specialized editing tasks. The user interface of the latest version of The GIMP has made the program relatively easy to work with, but it still requires either past experience with photo editing or a significant learning curve. Fortunately, there is an extensive online manual. There are also helpful tutorials available from the GIMP community as well, and these are designated by level as beginner, intermediate, expert, and beyond. To lean more, for the support materials as well as for instructions on downloading, go to http://www.gimp.org/

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Gliffy.com (online resource) This is a free online diagramming tool. Symbol sets are available for creating diagrams to represent flow charts, networks, user interfaces, and floor plans. Gliffy is simple to learn, with an intuitive user interface. Diagrams can be saved and printed. Or, they can be published and shared. This makes Gliffy an effective tool for collaboration.

At the website, a helpful video is available to demonstrate how Gliffy works and some of the potential applications. As of late early October 2006, there is only a free version available. You must sign up for a free account. The developers say they intend to continue offering a free version, but eventually they will also offer a commercial version with a more extensive set of features.

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Google Calendar (online resource) Here is another of Google’s free offerings. This one is a feature-rich online calendar and scheduler that you can use to keep track of appointments, birthdays, special events, etc. You have the option of making your calendar available to anyone else who may need to know your plans or your whereabouts. Do you have several students, colleagues, or family members that you need to keep track of? With Google Calendar, you can set up multiple calendars. If you need to send out invitations to an event that you have scheduled, with Google Calendar you can conveniently do so via email. You need to set up a free Google account in order to use Google Calendar.

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Google Sketchup free (Downloadable Program) This is a remarkable free program that enables virtually anyone to do 3D modeling on the computer screen. You don’t have to be an artist or an engineer, and you don’t have to lean a complicated CAD program. The drawing tools in SketchUp are intuitive and easy to use. To make it even easier, Google has provided an excellent set of tutorials to help get you started. With a little learning and practice, you could use SketchUp to create a 3D model of almost anything–from a skyscraper to a dog house or from a giant space ship to a digital camera. You can use a variety of textures and shadows to add a sense of reality. Google has designed SketchUp to work with Google Earth so you can put buildings (or communities) you create into Google Earth. Google has also set up what they call 3D Warehouse, an online resource where you can store and share your models. From 3D Warehouse, you can also download objects created by others. To learn more or to download Google Sketchup, go to http://sketchup.google.com/.

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Hot Potatoes (downloadable program) is actually a suite of six programs developed at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. JQuiz is a program that creates question-based quizes in a variety of formats, including multiple-choice and short answer. There is JCloze for creating cloze activities. With JCross you can make crossword puzzles of just about any size. JMix allows you to create jumbled-sentence exercises. All four of the above programs offer hint buttons to provide prompts by giving helpful clues. JMatch allows you to create matching exercises, using pictures as well as text. The final program in the suite is called Masher, and it can be used to put together units consisting of related sets of activities.

The user interface is intuitive, and you do not need to know HTML to create the web-based activities. Help files are extensive, and there is a tutorial to help get you going.

Hot Potatoes has to be registered for full access, but registration is completely free as long as you work in public sector education and you do not restrict access to the material that you create. Of course, you can’t charge anything either. For more information, and to download Hot Potatoes, go to http://hotpot.uvic.ca/

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Inclusive CD Player (downloadable program) This is a free scanning CD player for individuals who access the computer with either one or two switches. This program offers a simple set of controls for the user to operate a CD player on the computer to listen to music. Although this program is no longer supported by Inclusive, you can download it directly from Inclusive Technology.

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Inkscape (downloadable program) If you need a vector based graphics editor as an alternative to a programs such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw, then you might want to check out this free open source option. As with most open source software, there is a farflung community of developers and users. A great deal more information, including galleries showcasing work created in Inkscape, can be found at http://www.inkscape.org/index.php

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Instructables bills itself as “The World’s Biggest Show & Tell”. It strikes me as an online paradise for people of any age who are interested in inventing, designing, and making things. I see huge potential for engaging countless high school students who are motivated by concrete application of what they study in school. In typical Web 2.0 fashion, Instructables offers a convenient forum for networking and collaborating with others of like mind. They even throw in additional motivation from contests that offer real prizes.

Instructables is built on the concept of posting step-by-step instructions. They provide a platform for putting up a visual image for each step, along with space for accompanying text. “Collaborators” are given the opportunity to comment on each step or on the project as a whole. The community therefore can have input on refining the process and/or the product.

Not surprisingly, Instructables hosts groups and forums. Major categories include: Art; Craft; Food; Games; Home; Life; Offbeat; Ride; Tech. There are currently 3 contests under way, including one called “Mashup” that is offering over $5,000 in prizes. Popular projects include a remote for an iPod, making a safety pin from a paper clip, and a mini airplane that actually flies. That’s the airplane shown below, and the entry in Instructables includes a video that proves it can fly!

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Irfanview is a powerful free graphics viewer and photo editor that is used and loved all over the world. In the words of Irfan Skiljan, the Bosnian author of this software, “[Irfanview] is trying to be simple for beginners and powerful for professionals.” Numerous additional plugins are available that enable Irfanview to work with major name-brand products. For more info, or to download the program, go to http://www.irfanview.com/

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iTunes (downloadable program) iTunes software from Apple is designed to enable you to download songs and movies that you buy from Apple. (Go to this link to download the latest version of iTunes.) This program is also a free and effective “podcatcher” that allows you to subscribe to podcasts and to hear and/or view them on your computer. As a podcatcher, iTunes is well designed for ease of use. It should be noted here that iPod software works just fine on a Windows platform. Apple has put together some helpful video tutorials on using the iTunes software. Check them out at http://www.apple.com/ilife/tutorials/itunes/index.html.

JamStudio.com is an online resource rich with potential.  With JamStudio, you are able to compose music by arranging chords to create a “score”, by selecting instruments and adjusting the sound of each instrument, by mixing the relative volume of the instruments, and by setting the tempo. The music you create can be saved; and it can be re-opened for editing.

With the free version of JamStudio, your compositions can be shared via a link in email.  An all access pass is available for $10/month.  The paid version allows you to save your music as downloadable mp3 files, and  otherwise extends the range of possibilities in JamStudio.

I am not a musician!  Still, I’ve spent a marvelous couple of hours exploring and creating.  You may question my musical taste, but you can listen to a short “composition” that pleased my ears by clicking HERE. (You’ll have to click the play button, just above the list of instruments.)

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Jing This is a powerful program from TechSmith, the company behind Camtasia. Jing makes it easy to capture still screen images or to create video screencasts, and then share them. This is invaluable if you want to help anyone else learn to use software, or do anything else on a computer.

With Jing, it’s a cinch to make a screen capture or a video that includes audio commentary. Once that’s done, the image or video can be saved to your computer and/or stored online. Jing makes it convenient to share the online version. You simply paste the URL into an email or chat and then send it along. Unless you are going to be sharing the screencast offline, there is no reason to save to your computer. You can go back to Jing any time to retrieve screencasts that you’ve made in the past.

The quality of both the audio and video on a Jing flash file is excellent. I used Firefox to open and view a screencast that I emailed to myself, and I was thoroughly impressed. The files you store on your own computer are just as good. Click here to check that out for yourself. I made a 30 second screencast just to show you.

There are numerous potential uses for Jing. You can use it to prepare a series of tutorials for a course. Or, you can use it for remote assistance when you can’t be there to help in person. When giving a workshop, you might want to leave your participants with a set of screencasts that they can go back to afterwards. I haven’t tried this yet, but I can even envision ways of using Jing for digital story-telling.

Kudos to TechSmith for providing us with a great resouorce! Let’s hope they decide to offer it indefinitely as a free resource to educators.

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Juicy Studio This website, which can be switched easily to a high contrast version for readers with visual challenges, offers tools for measuring several aspects of website accessibility. Free hosted services include the Readability Test, CSS Analyser, Luminosity Contrast Ratio Analyser, Colour Contrast Analyser, Image Analyser, and Link Analyser. The site also offers several downloadable tools and Firefox extensions designed to facilitate and enhance website accessibility. As well, the site hosts a growing collection of articles related to web accessibility. Anyone wanting to build accessible websites, which should ideally include all site developers, needs to be aware of Juicy Studio.

I’m going to focus here briefly only on the tool for testing reading level. It couldn’t be easier to use Juicy Studio’s readability test. You simply paste in the URL and click “Calculate Readability”.

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When I entered the URL for this blog, it took less than a minute to return the chart below after analysing the first page of my blog, including my 10 most recent posts. The chart was followed by a helpful explanation of the three measures at the bottom of the chart. The Gunning Fox suggests that a reader needs over 11 years of schooling to understand my blog. Flesch Reading Ease is a scale to 100, with higher scores being easier. Writers are encouraged to aim between 60 and 70. By this scale, my content is a little on the difficult side. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade measure is another rough estimate of how many years of schooling a reader should need to comprehend the material.

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Juicy Studio explains the algorithm for each of the scales in considerable more detail than I did above. It strikes me that it would be difficult to come up with anything more accurate. It is helpful that the test uses three separate scales and that it breaks down the data so clearly.

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Large Pointers (downloadable program) This is a free set of over 80 alternative cursors designed to facilitate improved access to the computer for individuals with visual or perceptual challenges. Available cursors include not only large pointers, but animated cursors, coloured cursors, I-beams, and circles. Once installed, these cursors are available via the pointers tab of the Mouse dialogue box in the Windows Control Panel. I have tested many of the cursors, and they have all worked flawlessly. This is just one of several programs developed and distributed by the ACE Centre in the UK for individuals with special needs.

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LibriVox (online resource) The mission of the folks at LibriVox is the “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain”. The ultimate goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books. This has resulted in an extensive, and rapidly growing, collection of books that have been read aloud and recorded by volunteer readers.

The audio files are available for download from the LibriVox website. There are three format options for each selection–64kbps mp3, 128 kbps mp3 files, or ogg vorbis. There is a separate digital file for each chapter of a book. (In the case of Shakespeare’s plays, there is a separate file for each act; and it is noteworthy that at least some of the plays are presented by entire casts of readers.)

I downloaded and sampled several files at random. In every instance, the quality of both the reading and the recording was excellent.

The LibriVox website has been designed to make it easy to locate any work in the collection. There is a convenient search engine which lets you search by title, author, category, genre, status (complete, in-progress, etc.), language, and reader. You can browse the entire collection, which is listed alphabetically. Or, you can browse one of the four sub-sections of the catalogue: fiction; poetry; non-fiction; dramatic works.

If you wish to keep up with what is happening at LibriVox, there are several options for RSS subscription. Of course, LibriVox would also welcome your contribution if you were to volunteer.

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Mega Sound Recorder (downloadable program) If you need to record digital sound–with a microphone, streamed from the internet, or from a media player–this free program will do it for you. The sound files you record with MSR can then be incorporated very easily into any multi-media project. The educational application are limited only by your own creativity. This program is not a sound editor like Audacity, but if all you need to do is make a recording, MSR is easier to learn and use. The user interface is straightforward. There is also a very useful set of Help files, complete with screencaptures, to get you going or to answer questions as they arise. For more information, and to download the program, go to http://www.globalsoftware.biz/ (This program runs only in Windows.)

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Mindmeister (online resource) This is another mind-mapping platform that facilitates online collaboration in real time. Mindmeister does not have built in voice or text chat functions, but it recommends using Skype for real time conversation while collaborating. Use of Skype is facilitated if you add your Skype ID to your Mindmeister profile.

With Mindmeister, each mind-map starts with a central idea on a card in the middle of the screen. To this, you can add as many related concepts or “nodes”. as you wish. You can then add sibling “nodes”. Once a “node” is created, you can drag it and drop it wherever you wish. Mindmeister provides convenient tools for zooming in and out, as well as for re-positioning the mind-map in order to focus on specific parts of it.

It is easy to format font, style and colour. Mindmeister also provides a set of icons that can be used on their mind-maps. Much in the manner of Inspiration, you can even create notes and add them to the nodes. Another helpful feature of Mindmeister is the ability to keep track of revisions. If you wish, you can choose to be notified whenever modifications are made to your mind-map.

Mind-maps can be printed or exported. You can also import mind-maps into Mindmeister from either Freemind or Mindjet (other mind-mapping platforms) Mindmesiter has made it easy to add tags and then publish your own mind-map if you wish.

Click on the thumbnail below to have a look at the user interface and an example of a Mindmeister mind-map.

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NOTE: Mindmeister is a free service, but they do want to sell you a premium version for about $4/month. You get this premium version for the first month. After that, you can only have 6 mind-maps on the go at a time. You also lose the ability to embed your mind-maps. Unless you pay for the premium service, you can also expect to start seeing some advertising.

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Mindomo (online resource) By contrast with Bubbl.us, Mindomo is a “full-featured” online mind-mapping platform. There are numerous available formatting options that allow you to customize the look of your mind map. Sub-topics can easily be collapsed or extended. Notes can be attached to any topic or sub-topic. You can embed links to websites. There are conveniently built-in collections of icons and images that can be used in your mindmap. You can also import images from the web, including your own images if they are stored on the web.

As is the case with the other online mind mapping applications I’ve discussed, Mindomo is designed for easy sharing and online collaboration. Mind maps are stored on the Mindomo server, and can be made available as you choose. As a bonus, Mindomo mind maps can be exported in a variety of formats: txt (plain text); rtf (rich text); pdf; image (png, jpg, gif). Mindomo will also import mind maps from Mindjet and Freemind.

It is a major plus that keyboard commands are available for all of Mindomo’s common functions. The Mindomo editing toolbar, shown below, has a familiar feel and is easy to use.

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This figure below gives a pretty good idea of what a typical basic Mindomo mind map looks like, without any icons or images. This is actually the Mindomo tutorial, and it is probably as good a way as any to explore Mindomo.

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It should be noted that Mindomo wants to sell you a subscription to a premium version. With the free “basic” version, however, you get almost all the functionality. You can’t export in Mindjet format, and you have to put up with a little advertising (just Google ads, as far as I can tell). Perhaps the greatest limitation with the free version is that you can only have 7 mind maps on the go at a time.

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Mixbook is one of a growing number of online applications that facilitate the creative sharing of digital images. Mixbook is different than most because of its book-like format, and because of its convenient options for including text. With this application, you can create books of up to at least 100 pages. Mixbooks can be created and shared online for free, but with Mixbook you also have the option of purchasing a hard copy of your book. Paper Mixbooks can now be shipped anywhere in the world.

I believe there are many occasions in the “classroom” when it would be powerfully motivating to be working toward the creation of an actual book. I think this might be especially appropriate for collaborative projects involving either entire classes or small groups. For example, a class might like to work together to create a “year in review” book, a special report on a class field trip, or even an anthology of student poetry.

For classroom use, I think it is especially helpful that any Mixbook page may contain images and/or text. Pages may contain only text, only images, or almost any imaginable combination of text and images. This allows for tremendous flexibility in presenting projects of all kinds. The screenshots below show only the first 48 possible page layouts from the nearly 200 that are available.

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I have not yet ordered a paper Mixbook, but I have worked on a couple of online Mixbooks. It is a snap to use sets of photos from Flickr to create a Mixbook. Although I was unable to conveniently embed a published Mixbook here on my Edublogs blog, I had no difficulty embedding it on a pbwiki page. [See below for new info on embedding in Edublogs.]

The screenshot below shows the cover of a Mixbook I put together with a set pictures of the Comox Glacier, a defining landmark of the community where I live. If you wish to see the original in Mixbook, click here. If you’d like to see how it came out when embedded on a pbwiki page, click here.

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[After I wrote this post, Andrew Laffoon of Mixbook, has posted instructions for embedding Mixbooks on Edublogs. He plans to add the instructions to the Mixbook site. Hopefully, he'll also be able to streamline the process. For now, click here if you want to know how. It may also be helpful to know that Andrew blogs about Mixbook blogs here.]

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Moodle (downloadable program) Moodle is a free open source course management system. In the words of its developers’ Moodle is “…software package designed using sound pedagogical principles, to help educators create effective online learning communities. You can download and use it on any computer you have handy (including webhosts), yet it can scale from a single-teacher site to a 50,000-student University.” Go directly to Moodle to download or just to find out more.

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MW Snap (downloadable program) This small and completely free program is simple and easy to use, but it is versatile and effective screen capture software. If you have any reason to create a screen shot–for a presentation, as an illustration in a document or on a blog, to create a tutorial, or just so you can show someone else a pesky error message–MWSnap will do it for you.

It’s a snap to take a “snap shot” of your computer’s entire desktop, an active window, a menu, or any other region of your computer screen that you choose. The user interface is intuitive and designed for ease of use. (See screen shot below.) Hotkeys facilitate the use of convenient keyboard commands. The program comes with a useful set of Help files, and it is currently available in 18 languages.

MW Snap also offers some helpful ways of working with your screen captures. You can flip or rotate images with the “Transform” tool. You can add frames, or even use the screen shot to create a button for a web page with the “Buttonize” tool. The “Cursor” tool enables you to add cursors to draw attention to specific places on the screen shot. Other tools include a color picker, a ruler tool, a zoom tool, and a tool to give you detailed info about your selected window. With MW Snap, screen captures can be saved as BMP, JPG, TIFF, PNG or GIF files.

The program can be downloaded from the website of its developer, Mirek Wójtowicz’s: http://www.mirwoj.opus.chelm.pl/winfreeware/mwsnap.html

Screenshots: (Click to enlarge)
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MW Snap runs only in Windows.

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NVu (downloadable program) NVu is short for “New View”, and it is free open source web authoring software that is intended for “non-technical computer users who want to create an attractive, professional-looking web site without needing to kmow HTML or web coding.” It is known as WYSIWYG for “What you see is what you get.” Ftp uploading and downloading has been built in, so you can use NVu to upload your web pages to a server. NVu has deliberately been designed as an alternative to Dreamweaver or FrontPage. Anyone who is familiar with either of those programs will have no difficulty getting started with NVu. More experienced web programmers also have the option of toggling to HTML mode if they wish. The developers claim that web pages created with NVu function reliably in most popular browsers. Detailed tutorials are available, as is an NVu forum. For a helpful review, created using NVu, you can refer to http://www.buzzys.net/nvu.html To download the program, go directly to NVu.

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Open Clipart (online resource) Open Clipart is an online community whose aim is “…to create an archive of user contributed clip art that can be freely used”. The library of free downloadable clipart that is available here is extensive. This is also a community that welcomes budding graphic artists and offers a forum for sharing their art.

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OpenOffice.org (downloadable program) Open Office is a free full featured office suite that includes word processing, presentation, spreadsheet, and database programs. All of the programs are fully compatible with Microsoft Office. In some instances you can do more with OpenOffice thanyou can with MS Office. For example, you can conveniently save files in pdf format in OpenOffice’s word processor. The user interface in Open Office is intuitive and extremely easy to learn, especially if you are already familiar with MS Office. For more information about Open Office, and to download visit http://www.openoffice.org/

ocsd-interactive-games.jpgOSCD Ineractive Games offers a platform for creating and sharing a variety of interactive online learning activities. The user interface for creating the activities is straightforward and user-friendly, with very clear instructions. Each activity is saved and assigned a unique URL. This means the activity is available for multiple users, and can be used again for review or re-enforcement at a later date.

OSCD Interactive Games is perfect for tailor-making classroom activities with specific content. It is ideal for differentiated instruction where content needs to be varied. It is probably best suited for learners at the elementary level, with most activities being some variation on matching. A multiple choice quiz builder is also available.

Here’s the link to a simple matching activity that I created in just a couple of minutes. The screen shot below shows the user interface for creating this activity.

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As a bonus, this site contains about 60 pre-made math drill activities. These may be used as-is, or they can be used as templates for creating your own activities.

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Paint.net (downloadable program) This is powerful free open source image and photo manipulation software. It was originally intended as a replacement for the basic “Paint” program that is a standard component of the Windows operating system. This program has an intuitive user interface that was designed to be easy to learn by anyone familiar with Paint or Photoshop. Still, this program is complex enough to be challenging for the neophyte. Fortunately, extensive online help files are available. In Paint.net, you can layer images and apply special effects. Multiple formats are also supported: PNG, JPEG, BMP, GIF, TGA, and TIFF. If you need a program to edit images, this may be what you are looking for. It is more than enough to get you started. For Paint.net, you need Windows 2000, XP, or Vista, and at least 128 MG of RAM. You can download the program from http://www.eecs.wsu.edu/paint.net/download.html. Before installing Paint.net, .NET Framework 2.0 must be installed on your computer. You can download this from the same site.

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Papunet Games is a website with an engaging set of activities designed specifically to work well for individuals who use switches to access a computer, including those who use two switches for step-scanning. The range of activities is extensive, and there are varying levels of challenge within many of the activities.

Among the numerous high quality puzzles and games on the site, what I found especially exciting was the set of “drawing activities”. These activities offer an opportunity for children who cannot hold a crayon or paint brush to paint or colour with their switches. The art work created on the computer can then be printed out, perhaps for Mom to put up on the kitchen wall.

The site is uncluttered and ad-free. It is also worth noting that the activities on Papunet are great for kids who can use a computer mouse. The site can therefore be used to facilitate inclusion.

I’ve recently discovered a couple of other sites with worthwhile online activities designed for switch-users. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to blog specifically about them, so I’ll just include links here: HelpKidzLearn from Inclusive Technologies and CBeebies from the BBC.

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Partners in Rhyme (online resource) describes itself as, “Your Audio Resource for Multimedia Projects”. This is a commercial venture, but it also offers a substantial collection of very useful free audio resources–sound effects, drum loops, midi files, even some audio software. There are also some helpful tutorials for using audio effectively in multimedia projects.

The free resources offered by Partners in Rhyme are clearly identified, but they are not to be confused with the “royalty free” products that PIP creates and markets. In my experience, this site is a significant cut above virtually every other website that claims to offer “free” sound effects. Apart from a few unobtrusive Google ads, the only advertising on this site is for PIP products, and tastefully done at that.

PDFCreator (downloadable program) This is a handy little program if you ever need to convert a file to pdf format so that it can be shared easily without being easily altered. PDFCreator is a free open source program that allows you to make this conversion quickly and conveniently. Once you’ve installed this program, you will find PDFCreator listed as one of the printers in the Print dialogue box on your computer. To convert a file, simply open the file in its original program and select Print under the File menu. Then choose “PDF Creator” from the pull-down menu. When you print the file to the PDF Creator “printer” it will open onscreen (probably in Acrobat Reader) and you will be given the option of saving it as a pdf file. The new file that you create can be printed as hard copy or attached to email. To download PDF Creator, visit http://sector7g.wurzel6.de/pdfcreator/index_en.htm.

PhotoPeach

As I’ve used it recently, PhotoPeach has emerged as one of my favorite online multimedia applications.

  • It is extremely easy to use.
  • Photos upload relatively quickly.
  • Photos automatically pan for dramatic effect.
  • Text captions can be added to any slide.
  • Full screen viewing works well (if resolution of originals is high).
  • Music available from PhotoPeach library or Youtube video.
  • Easy to share via email, Twitter, facebook, MySpace, embed code, or URL.

I particularly like the way that adding text captions has been facilitated.  Music does not have to be added, but the choices here are interesting.  If you don’t wish to use any of the selections from PhotoPeach’s library, you can search for the sound track from an appropriate Youtube video to be played along with the slide show.

Click HERE to view a sample, I took some slides from our recent road trip to Mexico and used them to create a PhotoPeach show.  You can jump easily to a full screen view.  (This does not who up in Google Reader, so you may need to click, or go to my original post if you wish to check it out.)

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PhotoShow is fairly typical of applications for creating online slide shows. You bring in pictures, choose from available themes and presentation modes, choose musical accompaniment from a a range of genres and moods, and add captions if you wish. The choice of themes is not extensive, but each one I’ve tried has created an effective and engaging presentation.

I think PhotoShow is perhaps easier and more straightforward than many of the alternatives I’ve explored. It would be even better if you could upload your own music and if you could import more than one picture at a time from online photo sites such as Flickr. You can do multiple uploads from your own computer.

PhotoShow has also made it easy to share your slideshows. Options for embedding on blogs, wikis, or other web pages are especially convenient. Of course, embedding here in the Edublogs version of WordPress was less stratightforward, and I needed help from Patricia Donaghy to turn off the auto play function.


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Photo Story 3 (downloadable program) This free stand alone program from Microsoft for Windows XP offers a convenient way to create impressive multi-media slide shows with digital images. The step-by-step and wizard-driven process for creating slide-shows is straightforward and extremely easy to use. You simply import the photos or other images that you wish to use, then add text, special effects, audio narration, transitions, and music as appropriate.

There are two features of Photo Story 3 that stand out. First, there is the way the program pans each image to bring it to life and add dramatic effect. Then there is the music. You can import sound clips and/or record narration to accompany your show. Or, you can use Photo Story 3 to “create” your own musical sound track from a wide range of instrumentation, styles and moods. I’m not a musician, let alone a composer, so I’m really impressed with this.

I put the following slide show together immediately after downloading Photo Story 3. Since it was my first attempt with the program, I didn’t try any special effects, transitions, or narration. There has, of course, been considerable loss of original photo quality in the upload to YouTube.

[Incidentally, the photos were taken in Victoria, British Columbia, on Monday of this week. This kind of winter scene is a rarity in Victoria. I was trapped for the day at my B&B which is known ironically as Wintercott. The Braille notetaker workshop that I was supposed to attend was canceled.]

[youtube]nPJVL27HMxM[/youtube]

The file format for Photo Story 3 slide shows is .wp3, and file conversion is not particulary easy. Since Photo Story 3 creates a “project” file that can be saved separately from the final rendered slide show, I was able to open the final project file in Windows Movie Maker and create a regular .wmv movie that could be uploaded to YouTube. Photo Story 3 also plays .wp3 files in Windows Media Player, and it must be at least version 9.

It is noteworthy that Priory Woods recommends using Photo Story 3 with SwitchIt! Maker 2 to create single-switch activities. They have put together a helpful tutorial for doing this at http://www.priorywoods.middlesbrough.sch.uk/subject/ict/training/switchvids.htm.

For more information, and to download Photo Story 3, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/photostory/default.mspx

Photo Story 3 runs only in Windows XP.

The following screenshots, which you can click to enlarge, show the Photo Story 3 wizard dialogue boxes.

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Picasa2 (downloadable program) Picasa2 is a free program from Google that enables you to edit and organize your digital photos, conveniently and effectively. Picasa’s organizational tools are its greatest strengths. You can apply multiple labels to a single picture, and with Picasa you get Google’s amazing search capability. Go to http://picasa.google.com/index.html for more details and to download.

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Picnik is an online photo editing application. A premium version is available for paid subscription, but there many editing functions and features available for free. The function I like best is the convenient option of adding text. Currently, there is also a free collection of Christmas shapes that can be added to your pictures.

Another feature of Picnik that I appreciate is its ability to link directly to my Flickr account. I can edit photos that I’ve uploaded to Flickr and then either replace the original or create a new file and add it to Flckr. You can also link Picnik to photos that you have in Picasa Web Albums, facebook, photobucket, or webshots.

Here’s a Christmas card for you that I’ve created with Picnik.

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Picture2Life

Picture2Life is an online photo editor that offers three sets of functions with an impressive ability to customize within each.

  • image editing with an extensive range of both basic edits and photo effects
  • creation of collages from sets of images
  • creation of animations from sets of images

Photos may be uploaded from your computer or imported from online sites such as Flickr.  Because there are so many available editing choices, it takes a little time to become  familiar with the user interface.  Since it’s all intuitive, it isn’t difficult to figure out.

Uploaded and imported images, as well as edited work is stored in your own “Gallery” on Picture2Life.  You can also organize your work into collections.  Numerous sharing options are available.  The site is set up as a typical social network.  Work created on Picture2Life can be downloaded to your computer, or conveniently  embedded almost anywhere else on the net.  Images created in Picture2Life can even be auto-saved directly to Flickr, Facebook, or just anywhere else you might want.

I’ve embedded the results of my exploration below.  I made a simple animation with a set of photos I took of my 6 year old grandson Isaac as he followed instructions to build Lego on Christmas eve.  There’s a little basic editing I did on a portrait of myself.  The third example is a collage that I put together from some pictures I took at Niagara Falls during the last week of December.

Animation


Basic Editing with Photo Effect

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Collage

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Postalz is a service that enables you to create and “send” postcards online. This is a typical Web 2.0 application in that you can share your work in a gallery, send it to friends via email, or embed the creation elsewhere on the web. You also have the option of keeping your work private, and available only to designated friends. Comments and “friends” are facilitated within the Postalz network. Also typical of this sort of application, you need to register and sign up for a free account.

As you create your “postcard”, you can choose from backgrounds, themes, and banners. You can add text, and even include “handwriting”. Or, you can link your Postalz account to your Flickr account to import digital photos as backgrounds for your cards. That’s what I chose to do for the card I just made, and which I’ve embedded below. I used a picture I took from here, on the BC mainland, of the sun setting over Vancouver Island, where my wife is.

This is the sort of application that engages me. It may just engage some of your students who are otherwise less engaged than you’d like.

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ReadTheWords.com is a free and extremely versatile online text-to-speech service which allows you to enter text with the keyboard, to copy and paste it, or to upload text files in a variety of formats from your computer or from other websites.

Speech is generated quickly, and you then have a choice of 15 high quality voices whose reading rate can be varied easily. You can listen online, download an mp3 file for use offline, or embed your speech file elsewhere online. It was very straightforward to embed the audio player from ReadTheWords.com on a wiki page. Unfortunately, it isn’t so straightforward on edublogs, and I haven’t been able to embed it here on my own blog.

ReadTheWords.com offers text-to-speech in French and Spanish as well as in English.

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ReadPlease FREE (downloadable program) This free program will read e-text aloud to you. All you have to do is copy the text you wish to hear and paste it. You can adjust the reading rate as well as the size of the font that you see. With this free version, you can also choose from several basic reading voices. Additional features are available if you purchase the commercial version. The free version, however, will not stop working after the trial period. If you know that you will not be purchasing the commercial version, you can choose not stop working after the trial period. If you know that you will not be purchasing the commercial version, you can choose not to have the trial version installed during setup. Download it at http://www.readplease.com/

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Recuva is a free Windows utility that can be downloaded and used to recover deleted files. Here’s how the developers describe the software:

Recuva (pronounced “recover”) is a freeware Windows utility to restore files that have been accidentally deleted from your computer. This includes files emptied from the Recycle bin as well as images and other files that have been deleted by user error from digital camera memory cards or MP3 players. It will even bring back files that have been deleted by bugs, crashes and viruses!

At less than 1 megabyte, Recuva is a small program. It was quick and easy to install, and then a snap to use. When you run the program, you just select the drive or device that you wish to scan for deleted files, and it proceeds to show all the files that it finds. As long as you can identify the name of the file you are looking for, it can be restored instantly. Recuva’s website offers a set of step-by-step screenshots that demonstrate how to use the program. The user interface, however, is intuitive and very easy to use.

You never know when Recuva could be a life-saver, so I think you would be wise to add it to your toolkit–before you need it.

Click here if you’d like to see some photos of our family time last weekend. To see an Animoto video I made with these pictures, click here. Finally, you can check out a PhotoShow here. The PhotoShow may take a while to load, but from my biased perspective it is well worth the wait.

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TheSage (downloadable program) TheSage is a free standalone integrated dictionary and thesaurus program with a unique user interface and multiple search and reference features. The collection of vocabulary is extensive, and the developers indicate that it is growing. Only legitimate terms are included. The customizable tabbed interface is clean with a clear presentation of information. One helpful feature is the easy access to your ongoing history of word searches. Once opened, TheSage can run from the system tray for convenient access. Or, you can choose to run it “always on top”. There is a help file designed to enable users to learn the various features. On the whole, this software seems to be of unusually high quality from a user’s perspective. Download the program at http://www.sequencepublishing.com/index.html (This program runs in Windows.)

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Scratch (downloadable program) This is one of the most exciting free programs I’ve come across in a long time. Scratch enables a user to create interactive computer animations, games, art, music, and digital stories. Creating these programs and activities is as easy as snapping Lego blocks together onscreen. Scratch creations, however, can range from basic to complex and sophisticated.

Although the program has been designed as a “programming language” for children, it can also be used to create activities for children. I didn’t have as much time to explore as I would have liked, but it was enough to discover that I could easily create custom math activities for some of the special needs children that I support.

The color-coded interlocking building blocks for putting together programs include blocks for: motion; control; looks; sensing; sound; numbers; pen (drawing and stamping); variables. Many of the individual blocks can be programmed to offer an infinite range of possibilities. The Scratch user interface, pictured below, is straightforward and intuitive. Blocks are simply dragged from the panel on the left and dropped into the middle panel, where they are fitted together. What you see in the middle panel is the program for the activity that can be seen on the right. You do have the option of making the activities full screen.

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Programming with Scratch requires a significant learning curve. I suspect that in most instances it should not be introduced much before the middle school level.

The “Scratchers” at MIT, however, have provided some very helpful video and pdf resources to help get started. These can be accessed via the program’s Help menu or from the Scratch website. Perhaps the best way of learning to use Scratch, however, is by looking at how others have put their programs together. When you download and open a Scratch activity, you can see exactly how it has been made. In fact, you can make your own modifications to create variations and new activities. For those with limited access to the internet, Scratch comes with a significant range of sample activities.

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Sketchcast (online resource) This application may not be for everyone, but for anyone who can sketch to express thoughts and ideas, Sketchcast is a powerful option. With Sketchcast, you use your mouse to sketch on screen; and if you wish, you can use a microphone to talk while you sketch. This is great for presenting and visually illustrating a lesson or for sharing something you’ve learned. Sketchcast can also be used effectively to create digital art. In other wores, Sketchcast is yet another effective tool for digital story-telling.

As a Web 2.0 application, Sketchcast makes it easy to share what you do by assigning URL’s. They’ve also facilitated embedding Sketchcasts in blogs or on websites. Of course, you can also explore what others have created right on the Sketchcast website.

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slideshare (online resource) Here’s a quintessential free Web 2.0 application that consists entirely of user-generated content that is shareable, searchable, and often downloadable. As its name suggests, slideshare hosts slideshows; and anyone can create a free account and upload to slideshare. Uploads can include PowerPoint, pdf, or OpenOffice (odp) file formats.

Uploaded files on slideshare can be tagged to facilitate topical searching. As well, slideshare facilitates comments, favorites, etc. It also provides forums for specific communities built around shared interests.

This summer, slideshare became even more powerful by introducing the concept of “slidecasts”. You are now able to upload audio commentary and/or musical accompaniment. The audio file must be hosted elsewhere on the net, but this isn’t difficult to do, and there are several sites where audio files may be hosted free of charge. Our Media and MediaMax are two examples.

It doesn’t take much imagination to envision ways of using slideshare for professional development and collaboration. I believe it also holds great promise as a platform that learners can use at all levels for digital story-telling.

Check out my first attempt at slidecasting. If putting this demonstration and tutorial here helps get the word out about WordTalk, then so much the better. Just click the green start button. You may have to wait for buffering.

[slideshare id=77433&doc=word-talk1763&w=425]

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Software.For The folks at “Software for Starving Students” are people after my own heart. From their website, you can download a CD full of free software for installation on your own computer. I’ve contemplated doing something similar with some titles from my own collection of free software. Now I at least know that it can be done. Here’s what SSS says about what it is doing.

“Software for Starving Students is a free collection of programs organized for students (but available to anyone). We’ve gathered a list of best-in-class programs onto one CD (one disc for OS X, one for Windows), including a full-featured office suite, a cutting-edge web browser, multi-media packages, academic tools, utilities and more.”

I used uTorrent to download the Windows CD. The download of the ISO file worked flawlessly, and took remarkably little time. Then I used the instructions provided by Petri IT Knowledgebase to turn the ISO file into a self-booting CD. The download even included a pretty cool CD label that I printed and used.

The following software titles are included on both the OSX and Windows versions of the CD: Audacity; Blender; Celestia; Firefox; GeoGebra; Stellarium; Thunderbird. There are quite a few other programs specifically for Windows or OSX.

The work being done by SSS deserves to be publicized and supported. I think I’ll probably make a donation to their noble cause!

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SoundSnap (online resource) Here’s an online community that offers an invaluable free resource to anyone who wants to use sound effects or audio loops in digital projects. SoundSnap is worth checking out, whether you are creating a podcast, a presentation, a website, a science project, or a custom activity for a program like Clicker 5 or Classroom Suite. SoundSnap has literally thousands of well organized and searchable audio files available for download.

Click on the thumbnail below to view the 16 main headings under which the sound files are organized. You’ll also see the total number of files currently available under each heading. (Click on the thumbnail to enlarge it, and use your browser’s back arrow to return to this page.)

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The next thumbnail is for a screenshot that shows the download interface. You’ll notice that you have the option of listening to a clip before deciding whether or not to download. You are told the duration of the clip. You can see how many times the file has already been downloaded and how it has been rated by other users. At the top of this screenshot, you see the sub-headings under the major category of Animals.

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If you have audio files that you would like to contribute, SoundSnap would welcome them.

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Speakonia (downloadable program) is a free text-to-speech etext reader built using Microsoft Speech Technology. Speakonia offers considerable flexibility and several useful features. You can copy and paste text into the Speakonia interface and have that text read to you. Or, you can have Speakonia read any highlighted text. Speakonia also offers a “Read the Web” feature, but I find that it works best to highlight text on a webpage and then have the text read. By dragging the bottom of the interace up, Speakonia can be collapsed on your screen to leave a convenient toolbar. This “toolbar” can be positioned wherever you wish on the desktop while highlighted text is read. You then have access to buttons that allow you to pause and resume reading at will. You can choose from standard Microsoft voices and adjust both pitch and reading rate. Speakonia even gives you the option of saving text as audio wav files.

Speakonia can also be used as an invaluable editing tool for your own writing. You can type directly into the Speakonia interface and then hear it read what you have written. You can either save what you have written as a text file or copy and paste it into a document in another program. Speakonia has been developed by CFS Technologies, and you can download the program from their website.

Split Browser is a Firefox add-on that enables you to view multiple open tabs (websites) on the same screen.  In practical terms, this works just the same as tiling multiple open programs into “windows” so that they can be seen at the same time.

There are many ways that splitting the browser can be helpful.  It makes most sense if a learner needs to make comparisons when doing research.  To illustrate, let’s say that I want to compare the specs on two cameras that I’m considering.  It helps me greatly to see the specs for both side by side, as shown below.  The image is too small to see the actual specs, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Once Split Browser is installed, you can split the browser with context menu options that appear with a right mouse click.  These options are shown below.  A ‘Split’ menu is also installed on the menu bar, and that can be activated with a keyboard command.  It seems that you have to use the Split menu to close split browsers.  Finally, it seems that you can split the screen into as many “windows” as you wish, and these can be sized and shaped in almost any way imaginable.

Sqworl enables you to create web pages where you can embed visual links to other web pages.  I don’t think the process could be any easier.  After you have registered and created your Sqworl account, you simply  log in, add a new “group” and paste the URL’s of the web pages that you want on your Sqworl page.

You are given a new URL for each Sqworl page that you have created. Links to Sqworl pages can  be shared conveniently from within Sqworl via email or your favorite social networking site such as Twitter or Facebook.

Sqworl enables you to create a home page for yourself, or for any learner that you are supporting.  The home page can contain the web pages that the user visits frequently.  Or, you may set up purpose-specific pages for any number of reasons.  These can be tailor made for specific individuals, or for perhaps for groups of learners.

The screen shot below shows a Sqworl page I’ve created with 6 science books from Tar Heel Reader.  Clicking on the screen shot will take you to the actual page where the links are live.

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Stock.xchng Photos (online resource) This site is offered by a community of photographers who have developed a forum for sharing their work. In the process, they have created an online gallery of over 180,000 photos that are available to be downloaded free of charge, as long as the downloader doesn’t try to sell the photo that is downloaded. Many of the photographs are of exceptional quality. New photographers are welcome to join the community.

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Sunbird Calendar (downloadable program) Sunbird is a free standalone calendar and daily planner that is being developed by Mozilla, the same people who have brought us Firefox and Thunderbird. This calendar has an interface that is easy to use. If you need it, you can set Sunbird to remind you of scheduled events. You can download Sunbird at http://www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/sunbird/download.html.

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SUPER (c) (Downloadable Program) This Windows utility does a great job of converting audio and video file formats. It’s completely free, and it is current. The latest build was released on January 4th, 2007. It is annoying that we need a program like SUPER, but there has been such a proliferation of file formats that files often don’t work with available equipment.

SUPER is easy to use, and almost unbelievably flexible. You simply drag and drop the file you want to convert, then select the required options. No matter what you need by way of audio or video file conversion, it is a fairly safe bet that SUPER will be able to do it for you. All codecs are built in. The trickiest part may well be figuring out exactly what you do need.

I have recently used SUPER successfully to convert a set of wmv files to MPG as well as MP4. I have also used SUPER to create some DVD compliant home movies so they can be watched on a TV with a regular DVD player. Apparently, I’ve just scratched the surface of what SUPER can do. For example, you can extract audio from video or save streaming media from the internet

Although SUPER really is easy to use, it should be noted that the developers have assumed a modicum of computer savvy and experience. If your technological expertise is limited, you may want to find a mentor to help you get started with SUPER. There are no handy help files, and no tutorials that I am aware of. There is a “demonstration” of what the program can do at SUPER’s website.

Here is a screenshot of SUPER’s user interface. (Click to enlarge image, and use your browser’s “back” button to return to the blog.)

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To download the program, go to http://www.erightsoft.com/SUPER.html.

SUPER runs only in Windows.

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SynthaSite has assembled a set of online tools so that anyone can create a professional looking website. Since the tools are online, teams can easily work together to create web pages. SynthaSite goes a step further by also offering free hosting. I used SynthaSite to put together and host a 5-page trial website, where I posted a variety of media. (http://digitalstuffbypaul.synthasite.com/) Although there are some significant limitations (eg. no real options for sidebars), my overall impression of SynthaSite was positive.

The Synthasite user interface is straightforward and reasonably intuitive, with lots of dragging and dropping. Still, SynthaSite is probably not intended for the complete neophyte. For example, there are convenient widgets for embedding video from major players such as Youtube or Google Video. On the other hand, to embed video from Animoto, VoiceThread and PhotoShow, I had to paste the embed code into the “html widget”, and I had to figure this out for myself.

As an experiment, I decided to try and replicate my SynthaSite website with Google’s Page Creator. I was somewhat surprised to discover that while the Google alternative may be a little slicker, it is even less user-friendly in some respects. For example, despite the fact that they are part of the Google pantheon, there isn’t a convenient option for embedding Youtube or Google Video on Google Pages. In the end, I didn’t complete my site with Google Pages because it was going to take too long–at least as long as with Synthasite.

There is one additional, and potentially major, bonus with Synthasite. If you wish to use your own server to host your site, it’s easy to download from SynthaSite as a zipped file for that purpose.

Tech-Ease describes itself as “…your source for just in time answers for classroom technology questions”.  It is a resource that is well worth exploring and bookmarking by anyone using technology in the classroom.   Tech-Ease consists of sets of answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” about classroom use of  technology.  Information is clear, concise, well written and accompanied by helpful external links.

Tech-Ease is available separately for Mac and Windows.  For each platform, information is organized under the headings:  Internet; Hardware; E-Mail; Files & Sharing; Chat & Conferencing; Images; Classroom Practice.  For each platform, there are also sets of video and pdf tutorials.

Tech-Ease is just part of a much larger collection of resources from Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse. There is a set of over 100 videos demonstrating exemplary classroom use of technology  with wireless laptops across the K-12 curriculum at No Strings Attached. Videos are organized by subject area and grade level.  Finally, screencasts and pdf tutorials are also available by subscription via iTunes.


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Thinkature (online resource) This is a shareable online mind-mapping application that is appealing both for what it can do and for its straightforward interface. Thinkature has kept things simple by not offering an extensive range of options. The tools that are available, however, make for very effective mind-mapping, with a great deal of built-in flexibility.

With Thinkature, you can pile cards on top of each other as well as cluster and connect the ones that are visible. It’s a snap to add graphics either from your hard drive or from the web. There is also a convenient tool for free-hand drawing. For the student who can be online in the classroom, Thinkature could be a terrific note-taking tool.

The picture below, from the Thinkature website, gives a pretty good idea of how it all works. The picture does not show the convenient chat functions that are built into Thinkature. You have the option of using text or voice to chat in real time while working collaboratively. Any changes made to a mind-map by any participant also appear immediately on all screens.

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Mind-maps created in Thinkature can be made public, or they can be restricted to invited participants. You can also print your mind-map.

The following Thinkature video tutorial by “bclothie” appeared on Teachertube after I posted this. I’m embedding it here for your convenience.

Download Video: Posted by bclothie at TeacherTube.com.

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Thunderbird (downloadable program) This is a free e-mail program from Mozilla, the same people who brought us Firefox. PC World magazine describes Thunderbird as, “…the best e-mail application for your electronic correspondence, regardless of price.” It’s a piece of cake to import your address book and saved correspondence from other e-mail programs. In my experience, Thunderbird’s interface is as simple and intuitive as any. You have to teach Thunderbird to recongize what constitutes spam for you, but once it learns what you want, it deals with it effectively. The security features of Thunderbird are excellent, and it is designed to receive automatic security updates as required. With Thunderbird, you can also customize the look of the interface and install additional features that may be of value to you. As of early August, 2006, there are rumours that Mozilla will be releasing a beta of version 2 for Thunderbird shortly. Download the current version of Thunderbird from
http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird/.

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TKexe Kalender (downloadable program) Here’s a free program that is designed to facilitate the creation of custom photo calendars. TKexe offers considerable flexibility and provides several calendar formats or styles to choose from. Of course, you can substitute any image file if you prefer not to use photos. The set of Help files is somewhat limited, but the program is not too difficult to figure out. The program can be downloaded from http://www.tkexe.de/kalender/. Be sure to specify your preferred language. This program is available for download in 12 languages! (This program runs in Windows only.)

UDL Tech Tool Kit is a well organized collection of effective free digital tools that can be used to facilitate success for learners of all ages.  These resources are shared on a wiki that is maintained and updated regularly by Joyce Valenza and Karen Janowski.

My passion is to remove the obstacles to learning for all students and these free tools offer opportunities for struggling learners that promote academic success. When material is digital or electronic, it is flexible and accessible. It is our responsibility as educators to provide materials that promote success. Please encourage all educators to consider using these free tools.

I share this passion, so well expressed on the wiki, for helping to remove barriers to learning.  Ideally, these digital tools are introduced to all learners, not just those with designated “special needs”, so that those who benefit can adopt them as their own.  Engaged learners take ownership of their learning and and of the tools they use.

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Viscosity describes itself as a “modern art generator”. The term generator may give a mistaken impression. While Viscosity allows you to generate a creation with ease, it also provides tools that can be used skillfully to great effect. Skill, of course, requires learning and practice. Full size versions of the art work below can be seen in Viscosity’s gallery. Each of these pieces involved considerable effort and no small measure of skill.

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“Desert Rose” by Ahmed and “Arctic Seagul” by LOL

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“Revolutions” by fra

Viscosity’s interface has been well designed, and its tools are easy to learn and use. For a great overview and demonstration, I highly recommend Molly McDonald’s 5-minute screencast at DemoGirl.com. Viscosity has made it easy to download your creations in .png format. Once downloaded, you can print a hard copy, convert the file format, and share your work in any way you choose. Each piece of art, of course, has its own URL so that it can be viewed by anyone anywhere.

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Webnode is a free online service for creating and hosting websites that is rich in features. I don’t have time right now to use it to create a sample website, but I have spent enough time testing Webnode to recommend it. Not only does Webnode have a richer feature set, it is also considerably more veresatile and easier to work with than Synthasite. The user interface is powerful and intuitive.

Because I like to post video from sites such as Animoto and VoiceThread, I tested this on Webnode. I found it easier to embed them on Webnode than on Synthasite. The one possible advantage of Synthasite is that websites created there can easily be downloaded to be hosted on your own server.

In the interests of time, I’m taking a shortcut and including screenshots of what Webnode says about its own offerings. I have quickly tested many of these features and found them to work well.

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wikimindmap.jpgWikiMindMap (online resource) This is not mind mapping software that allows you to create your own mind maps. Instead, it is a remarkable online resource that enables you to find and visually represent the links between concepts. Wikimindmap also provides a quick way to find more information about any related concept that is represented on its mind map. This can be used as a tremendous research tool.

You simply type in a term to get started. (Unless you need your results in another language, be sure to select “en.wikipedia.org”. The default language is German.) Then WikiMindMap searches Wikipedia, and uses what it finds there to create a mind map. The mind map below shows what WikiMindMap created when I typed in Web 2.0. Once the mind map is on your screen, you can zoom in or out and drag the mind map to position it where you want it.

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When you drag your cursor over the central concept, you get a quick summary as shown below. When you click on the term, you are taken directly to the Wikipedia article on the concept. You are also taken to the relevant Wikipedia article when you click on any of the related terms. If you click on the green circular arrows beside a related concept, then that concept becomes the central one, showing other terms that are related to that.

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Winamp (downloadable program) Winamp has been around for a long time as a popular MP3 player, and it continues to be one of the best media players available. It now steams video as well as audio, and the latest version supports synchronization with portable devices such as iPod. With Winamp, you have convenient and flexible access to online media. You can customize the interface from a huge selection of skins. To find out more and to download the program, go to http://www.winamp.com/ You can purchase a “Pro” version of Winamp, but the free program has always worked fine for my needs.


[Winamp was first released in 1997, when its author, Justin Frankel, was still a teenager. At the age of 20, he sold the program to AOL for $86 million! Fortunately, AOL has continued to support the development of Winamp By the end of 2005, Winamp boasted 55 million monthly users. I have a soft spot in my heart for Winamp because I’ve used the program almost from its inception in 1997, and it remains my favourite player.]

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Wink (downloadable program) This is a completely free program that can be invaluable for anyone who wants to help others learn to navigate new computer programs. Wink allows you to create animated step-by-step screen captures and then add text and/or voice narration to explain what is shown. Audio narration is one of several helpful new features that have been added to Version 2.0, released in 2006. When I say that tutorials are animated, I mean that you see the cursor moving, menus opening, screens changing, etc.

Wink may not have all the bells and whistles of some commercial alternatives, but it does have a good range of practical features that are easy to use. For example, it’s a cinch to add buttons to allow a user navigate through a tutorial. You can create and use templates and import background images to standardize the look of your work and to work more efficiently. You also have a choice of input methods, depending on your requirements. Efficiency is further enhanced with keyboard commands.

Wink tutorials are created as flash files that can be viewed on any computer with a flash player. Wink flash files can be added to web pages, or they can be shared as stand-alone executable Windows files that do not need to be viewed online. As well, an html file is created automatically along with each flash file. Alternatively, Wink makes it easy to save and share a Wink tutorial in pdf format for printable manuals.

Wink’s user interface is intuitive and easy to learn, even for relative beginners. With Wink, there is a learning curve, and practice enhances competence and efficiency. The learning has been facilitated by two tutorials (created with Wink) to take a new user through the steps of putting together a Wink tutorial. There is also a concise and well organized manual that comes as a pdf file. Wink can be downloaded from http://www.debugmode.com/wink/.
Wink runs in Windows and Linux.

The first two screenshots below show Wink’s user interface. The next two are from a tutorial created with Wink. (Click on thumbnail to enlarge, then use browser’s back button to return to blog.)

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Word Web (downloadable program) WordWeb is a free comprehensive dictionary and thesaurus that can be used to look up words from within most programs. You simply click on an icon in your system tray to bring up the dictionary/thesaurus, no matter what program you are working with, or even if you are reading from a website. Download from http://wordweb.info/free/

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WP Clipart (downloadable and online resource) This is a clipart site with some significant differences, and it offers the user considerable flexibility. You have the usual option of browsing online and then downloading an image. Or, you can download the entire collection, along with a very handy viewer, and have the whole collection available on your hard drive. WP Clipart contains an extensive collection, with more than 12,000 images, and the collection is updated regularly. Because all the images are in the public domain, they are truly free and may be used for any purpose, even for commercial purposes. All images have been optimized for use in word processors and for printing on inkjet printers. The collection has also been carefully designed for effective searching. Paul Sherman, deserves kudos for maintaining a very practical site of exceptional quality. To download the collection, or to access it online, go to http://www.pcbypaul.com/wpclipart/index.html

xtranormal bills itself as a ‘Text-to-Movie’ application.  Their tag line says, “If you can type, you can make movies.”  You also need to be able to choose from a range of available characters, facial expressions,  animations, settings, sound effects, etc.  The possibilities are unlimited.

There is a helpful set of Quick Tips to guide the novice movie maker through the process.  The quality of the text-to-speech is remarkably good, as is the range of available creative options.  Movies can be shared and easily embedded elsewhere on the net.  You even have the option of re-mixing movies that have been made by other film makers.

I hope there will always be a free version of this application.  There are indications that once the product is out of beta, there will be a paid premium service available.  I did a random check of movies on the site for inappropriate content, and apart from some foul language on one movie, nothing jumped out at me as totally inappropriate.  Still, I can’t vouch for the school-suitability of all content on the site.

I’ve held off on posting about Xtranormal because I was unable to embed a sample video here on Edublogs.  I’ve exchanged email with Xtranormal‘s developers, but we haven’t yet worked out what the problem is.  There seems to be no problem using the embed code elsewhere, so I’m giving up here for now.

So Click Here to see a 30-second movie that took me about 30 minutes to create.  That included working through the Quick Tips to figure out how it all worked.

YAKiToMe! offers a free online text-to-speech service that allows you to enter text directly, input document files, include feeds from RSS subscriptions to online periodicals (blogs, wikis, etc.), as well as  receive input directly from email accounts.  Supported file formats include .doc, .pdf, .txt, .html, .xml, and email.

The audio output files created by YAKiToMe! can be either .wav or .mp3.  You can listen to these  audio files online at YAKiToMe!‘s website.  Or, you can download the files for use either on your own computer or on a portable mp3 player such as an iPod.  In fact, you have the option of “podcasting” your audio files directly to iTunes.

YAKiToMe! creates your audio files with either AT&T Natural Voices or Microsoft Windows voices.  You select the voice, and you can set the rate at which the text is read.  YAKiToMe! offers even more that you may wish to explore.

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YouSendIt (Online Resource) This is a free online service that allows you to upload and send files of up to 1 GB in size to someone else. When you upload, you inlcude the email address of the recipient. The receipient then receives notification by email that the file is available to be downloaded. YouSendIt’s site is ad supported, but YouSendIt says it will not share your email address with anyone. The file may be downloaded up to 100 times, but it remains available for download for only 7 days. I have tested this service and found it to work well. Remember that if you want to send a folder (perhaps a folder of photos), you will have to zip the folder before uploading it.

10 thoughts on “Productivity

  1. Pingback: cerebral odd jobs » Paul Hamilton tutorial links

  2. Pingback: at Personal Inquiry Project

  3. Hi dear Hamilton
    It is a nice and usefull site I have never seen befor.
    good luck

  4. Hi Paul,
    I just found your site while looking for other Comox Valley twitterers. This is a fantastic resource!
    Thought I might note down the apps I use most regularly in my work…
    I’ve recently started using iGTD. It’s a Mac app – free – for implementing the Getting Things Done productivity system. I’m loving it. I’m also loving Dropbox – similar to Dropload which you’ve listed here, but allows for much bigger files – up to 2GB, I think.
    Also On The Job is a fantastic timekeeping app – but it costs $25 (free trial).
    And Adium is the best connector for allowing you to log into and use multiple IM accounts from one window – AIM, Windows, Gchat, etc.

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