Making a video that keeps the viewer’s attention

I have certainly seen and made my share of boring educational videos, but there are ways that each of us can opt out of this process and make some that actually keep the viewer’s attention. Leila Meyer wrote an article For Campus Technology titled “5 Lecture Capture Hacks for More Engaging Videos” that nicely captures some of the ways that we might make better videos.

Search Techniques video

I have some experience with four of these approaches that I’d like to share:

  1. Dynamic green screen: An example of this is the YouTube video I have embedded at the top of this post. Since I have made about 50 of these for a class, it’s probably pretty clear that I like this approach: the slides are clear, my facial expressions are obvious, and it was easy for me to highlight items on the slides. I made these using a green screen setup in my basement plus Techsmith Camtasia video software for my Mac — not the easiest thing to create but, once it was setup, very easy to use.
  2. Virtual green screen: This uses the approach of the previous point but does not require an actual green screen setup — it is all handled with some specialized hardware and software. Check out Personify.
  3. Lightboard: I got to use one of these in a demonstration and it was simply outstanding. If you like to write on a board while explaining a topic, then this is the approach for you. It requires a studio and some specialized hardware, but once your school has set this up, it is extremely easy and natural to use. Highly recommended.
  4. Multi-perspective video capture: MediaSite has created an enterprise video solution that allows you to capture a lecture from a class. It requires a good audio capture for a classroom and, of course, a good video capture set up as well. It is relatively easy for the faculty to do but it doesn’t provide a specialized experience for the student — it feels just like sitting in a class (without having to be there). This is more of an enterprise solution to this situation.
  5. Interactive video: Both eduCanon (for an individual teacher) and Techsmith Relay (more of an enterprise solution approach) are tools that support the creation of interactive videos. It probably makes sense to experiment with the first, see how it works for you, and then (if enough people at your school support it and there is enough money in the budget) think about getting Relay.

A couple of options were also pointed out in the comments to the above article that I want to be sure to highlight:

  1. Office Mix: This add in for PowerPoint seems to be tailor made for educators to create interactive presentations for a flipped classroom. I don’t have any experience with this but it looks like it’s worth investigating.
  2. Zaption: Zaption also provides a tool for creating interactive video lessons. Be sure to check out their gallery of examples.

If you find yourself creating videos that simply show PowerPoint slides while your voice drones over them, and you think you can do better, you are right. Several of these examples are available for teachers to experiment with on his/her own, some with very little up-front cost. New tools are appearing all of the time so flexibility and a sense of experimentation are probably both key if someone is looking to making engaging videos this year…and next. This software is not going to stabilize for some time so just take the leap and start trying out some of these tools.

My favorite iPad apps for reading

I am writing a series of articles on my favorite iPad apps (starting here). In this one I am focusing on my favorite iPad apps for reading. I love reading on my iPad! I have lots of reasons for appreciating this tool for this purpose:

  • I can take a ton of reading with me. Actually, that’s probably literally true. Given the five magazines (the last six months of each), three newspapers, and dozens of books that I have on it, I have a good start — and there’s lots of space left.
  • The magazines are absolutely gorgeous. The colors are bright, the graphics are clear, and the photos and videos are abundant. The magazine editors are also learning how to take advantage of the additional freedom that publishing electronically affords them.
  • In combination with the Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG, the iPad can be put in either landscape or portrait and set on a table so that it can be read hands-free and in a good reading position.
  • The screen on the iPad 3 is bright and clear. Until you’ve seen it, it’s hard to understand what I mean when I say it looks like “electronic paper.”

In the following I describe three types of reading applications that I use (in addition to the newspapers, magazines, books, and Web browser that are on the iPad): for information gathering, for productivity, and for fun & exploration.

Information gathering

I use these two applications in my information gathering process for my teaching and research.



I use this application almost every day. For one thing, it presents a beautiful reading screen. Its main purpose is as a receptacle for articles that I want to read but for which I don’t currently have the time. When I am reading articles on the Web (on either my iPad, laptop, or desktop) and come across one that I want to read later, I click on a bookmarklet that saves the text of the documents in my account. The next time I open the iPad app, the documents download themselves into my iPad so that I can read them later, either online or off. I have used this app many times for offline reading (such as when I am in an airplane).

Recently I have begun to use the email feature. Many apps allow the user to email an article of interest. Well, now Instapaper has an email address for collecting articles. If I send an email with the article to that address, then the article gets added to my app just as if I had used the bookmarklet. This has greatly expanded the sources of the articles from which I add to Instapaper.

This app has several features other than the Read Later feature (which I just described) but it’s the only one that I use with any regularity. Its Feature (um, feature) provides some type of curated content that is supposed to be the best articles saved using Instapaper.

This is one of the foundational apps for my iPad usage. When I add new apps to my arsenal, one of the things that I check for is interoperability with Instapaper.

Feedly Feedly screen


Feedly is my RSS reader. I used to use Google Reader (and still do on my laptop), but I have used Feedly for the last six months or so on my iPad. I am a big RSS user; for the last 5+ years I have subscribed to over 100 feeds so this is a big deal for me. There are a lot of different things that I like about this app:

  • It provides a good overview screen for individual articles. (See the screen to the right.) I like the bold headline with the short teaser text and associated image. It is a good place for skimming for content.
  • It has an attractive reading screen.
  • It has an easy-to-use set of icons on the reading screen for liking, saving, sharing on email or Facebook or Twitter, or opening in Safari. These are bold, easy to interpret, and easy to click on.
  • It has two different ways of getting to articles from a specific RSS feed. With the menu in the bottom left corner, the user can click on a folder of feeds and get a list of feeds (and then the user can click on a feed link on the subsequent page), or the user can click on a specific feed and get the articles from that specific feed.

Finally, if you end up liking the Feedly app, you can also download the Feedly app for Chrome.

As I said above, I am a big time user of RSS feeds. I tried out a good number of iPad reader apps until I settled on this one. Since I have moved to it, I have stopped looking for another one. It simply does all that I need.


I read lots of PDFs for all sorts of reasons, the main ones being:

  • Information from some article I downloaded or that someone emailed me
  • Journal submission article I am writing a referee report on
  • Student homework that I am reviewing

For the first type of document, many times the standard PDF reader (in the browser or email app) works just fine. For the other two situations, I generally want a dedicated reader that supports annotations. The following two apps are the ones that I have used for quite a while for these purposes.

iAnnotate PDF iAnnotate PDF partial tools listing iAnnotate PDF email options

iAnnotate PDF

This is the app that I currently use most often for these tasks. I had been using GoodReader for quite a while but I have, for the most part, switched to this app. The main reason for the switch is the accessibility of the features. Again, as above, I have a feeling that the problem isn’t necessarily with the app itself but with my reaction to it. For some reason I have found the tools, toolbars, and features in iAnnotate to be easier to use, access, and set up for my own work style.

iAnnotate has 80+ tools that the user can place on its multiple toolbars; see the middle screen shot for the ones that the app classifies as “document” related. Basically, there’s everything here that you could possibly want, including tools for:

  • Annotating with typed notes (in different colors), with pencil annotations, or underlines, or highlights, or strikouts, etc.
  • Go to specific pages, next page, next annotation, next level of outline, next search item hit, etc.
  • Email the document, print it, add or remove pages, rotate pages, etc.

My absolute favorite feature, and the one that put it over the top for me, is iAnnotate’s document sharing tool; see the screen shot on the right (no, really, take a look at it). Picture yourself having read through a 10 page PDF, and you have added annotations on a couple of pages within the document; now you want to get these back to the author or editor or whomever. With iAnnotate you have four separate ways that you can get this information out:

You can choose to set the format as either

  • Annotated PDFs with annotations that can be viewed or edited in Preview, Adobe Reader, etc.
  • Flattened PDFs with annotations that are viewable, but not modifiable, in iPad or desktop apps. The notes are put at the end of the PDF.
Pages to include
In either format you can choose to send the whole PDF or just those pages that contain annotations! This is an awesome feature for the recipient of the document, if nothing else.

These four combinations cover most possible needs that I have — not that there aren’t other possibilities under other buttons elsewhere in the program. But this is the one that I use the most.

In short, I recommend that anyone who annotates and passes along PDFs should get iAnnotate PDF. It is a powerful and easy-to-use app.



I am not going to have as much to say about this app. Let me quote the top of their help file:

GoodReader is a file viewer with many powerful features, most of which address PDF and TXT viewing. GoodReader is a very complex application. It incorporates a lot of non-obvious features and solutions. We strongly encourage you to read this manual, otherwise, it will be hard for you to enjoy the full power of GoodReader.

That is a pretty good description of my experience with the application. There are buttons and toolbars scattered throughout the app, only some of which are obvious or visible. I was pretty lost using this app for any purpose other than simply reading a document. Once I spent some time with the manual (not something that I usually do) then I began to get a sense of its usefulness and underlying organization.

Even though I mostly use iAnnotate these days, I still keep this app around because it basically is the kitchen sink of document reading functionality. I always know that I have an application that will do whatever I might need; I may not use it all the time, but I have it just in case.

Fun & exploration

I use these two applications strictly for fun and exploration. Where RSS feeds are for following writers and publications that you have previously discovered, these applications are more about finding the unexpected.

Zite Zite screen


This is my go-to reader for fun and exploration. As you can see by the screen on the right, it presents an attractive magazine or newspaper-like interface. I set up the app by telling it the general topic areas that I’m interested in — that is the list on the right side of the screen. Then, some way of the other, it goes out and finds articles on those topics. Generally, I really like their selections; however, they also have a means of improving these selections over time. When you click on an article to read it, on the right side of the screen is a Personalization section. It asks if you enjoyed reading this article, and if you would like more articles from that source or that author — this last one is a particularly good touch, I think. Further, it asks if you want to see more articles about the topics discussed in that article (and it lists several appropriate terms).

This app also has all of the expected ways to share or save an article but some other ones as well. Of course it has Twitter, Facebook, and email, but it also has Instapaper, Delicious, and Evernote (among others). It also provides convenient ways to change the type size and view the article in a Web browser.

All in all, if anyone commits even a little thought to using Zite well, he or she should be rewarded with a string of interesting, useful, or fun articles (as appropriate). BTW, there’s no reason that this app can’t be used for work purposes; given my habits, I simply have added topics that fit more into my “for fun” interests than my “for work” interests. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the app.

Flipboard Flipboard table of contents Flipboard


This is my other reader for fun and exploration. I don’t like its interface quite as well as Zite’s, but I think this has more to do with me than with the app itself. It provides a super convenient way to access top articles from lots of well-known sites from all over the Internet.

The reading on this app is what I would call “source-centric.” That is, articles are grouped by their source as opposed to by topic (as is done in Zite). Thus, if the way that you work is to think “I need to make sure that I am up-to-date with what is going on at [a list of 10+ sites],” then this is definitely the app for you. From a quick glance it appears that this app receives articles from well over one hundred high quality sources.

After downloading the app, you will want to spend a few minutes configuring the app by telling it which sources from which you would like it to get articles. From the middle screen shot here (BTW, as with most of my screen shots throughout my blog, you can click on the image to get a larger version), you can see just one page of sources that I have indicated. By clicking on one of those blocks, it brings up a screen like the right screen shot, containing the first of several pages of article teasers from that source.

This app is not as good as Zite at sharing and saving — but that is not to say that it’s not perfectly adequate for me. It provides links to share the article on Twitter, to email a link to the article, and to store it in Instapaper. If you are a big Twitter user, you will find that this app actually is quite advanced in how it interface with that world. Again, this is perfectly adequate for me.


Well, that’s it for this super-summary of my iPad reading apps. I can’t imagine that you didn’t find something in here that would serve you well in your daily work or personal life. As always, let me know with a comment or tweet if there’s something that I missed.

Video tools for cheap introduction to movies and screencasting

The tools for creating movies and screencasts have changed, and are changing, quite significantly. The time-frame for looking for significant changes in the market place is a couple of months at most; if you last looked at this area a year ago, then you need to get on it and see what else is out there.

In the following I provide a quick overview of a few of the top tools for capturing screencasts (from your Mac or iPad or even from a Web-based tool) and then assembling these into published movies. However, before we get started, I need to define a few terms that I use in specific ways:

This is the fully-assembled final product that we all watch on YouTube (or similar site). The video going into the movie can come from screen captures, webcams, or digicams. It can also contain movies, subtitles, credits, and transitions between scenes.
This is a video that captures what is happening on a screen, and usually a narrator is describing the action.
This is the camera either directly attached to or built in to your computer. It captures the by-now iconic view of a “talking head” looking directly into the computer.
This is a video camera or point-and-shoot camera that can also capture videos away from the computer and then be downloaded into the computer for processing in the form of an MP4 or AVI file.

Web-based screencast tools



Screencast-O-Matic is a tool that you can start using on either a Mac or Windows machine without installing any software. You can use it for free in order to get an idea of its capabilities. Access to all of its capabilities costs only $15!! It can use video from either a screencast or a webcam but I didn’t see how to import video from a digicam.

With the free version you can record up to 15 minute videos from your webcam and screen capture, upload them to YouTube, and publish to MP4 and AVI (among others). For the additional fee, you gain access to some editing tools, a very nifty screenshot tool (I didn’t know that I needed this either until I looked at this video), plus the watermark gets removed from the videos. (Check their homepage for a more complete description of the features of this software.)

This is an amazingly full-featured tool given its ease of use and the ease with which you can begin to use it. With this tool, students and professors can easily experiment with publishing and creating videos of all types. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least give it a try.



Screenr is another Web-based tool that works on either a Mac or Windows machine. Just like Screencast-O-Matic, it uses a Java program to control the recording process. However, this tool is quite different from SOM in that it is quite limited in its functionality. It allows the user to create a screencast (in one cut), attach a text description, and then publish it. There aren’t any editing tools, nor is there any way to integrate video from a webcam or digicam.

Think of this tool as a quick-and-dirty, I-need-to-show-this-stuff-on-my-screen kind of program. In this role, it excels. It could not be easier or quicker than this Web-based tool: go to the Web site, click on the button, record what you want, stop the recording, and then publish the result. No extraneous things to think about. This is a great tool if that’s all you need.

Screencast tools for a Mac

QuickTime Player

The free QuickTime Player now has the ability to record a movie, audio, and a screencast. (See this article about this last feature.) It is actually quite simple to use this program. Go to the File menu and choose either New Movie Recording, New Audio Recording, or New Screen Recording. This then creates a media file that can be imported into other programs or published on YouTube as appropriate. For Mac users this is the natural place to start with their multimedia explorations.


If I were going to cover all screencasting and movie-making tools, then I would definitely include both ScreenFlow and Camtasia for Mac (or Windows). These are powerful tools with lots of functions and capabilities. However, since I am focusing on the inexpensive end of the spectrum, I will leave these for another day. But if you feel you have outgrown the programs I mention here, or if you need some features that aren’t provided by them, then these are great programs to look at next.

Screencast tools for iPad

Screencasting on the iPad results in a different type of video. Laptop or desktop-based screencasting is focused on showing what is happening on the screen — usually a PowerPoint presentation, a Web page, or even the operations of some other program. On the other hand, iPad screencasting is focused on capturing written input on the iPad along with recordings of direct manipulation.

A tool that is essentially a mix of the two types of screencasting tools is Doceri. It virtually connects an iPad to a computer screen, thereby allowing direct input and writing via the iPad interface but on the computer screen itself. I like this tool so much that I made a video demonstration of it.

Movie-making tools


iMovie is the reference moviemaking tool for the Mac. It is the tool for integrating video and audio from multiple sources into a single video which can then be published in all types of formats (from DVD to YouTube).



Animoto is a tool for creating a slideshow of photos set to music. It is quite like the slideshows produced by iPhoto (if you are familiar with that product) with the addition of text that the user can add throughout. The resulting video can be shared in all the usual ways, DVD to YouTube.



Qwiki is the most intriguing tool that I discuss in this post. It produces very slick, polished videos that are a combination of videos, photos, and other information. They have demo on their Web site. As they say on their Web site:

Each “Qwiki” is easily created through a browser — enabling users to combine pictures, videos, infographics and their own voice into a beautiful, interactive presentation describing anything.

And it’s free! You owe it to yourself to check it out and see if you can take advantage of what it has to offer.



YouTube is the all encompassing video publishing site; however, it also has the ability to capture and edit video. If you go to your video upload page, tools are available to record video off of a webcam (as well as, of course, upload videos off your digicam). YouTube now also offers tools to edit your video after you have uploaded it (including trimming and shake removal); here is one video among many describing the site’s capabilities.


So many choices are available to you now for your video and screencasting needs. Things could change soon, and will. Some of these free or cheap programs could become more expensive or disappear. Others may survive, but it’s unclear which ones are which. Your best bet is to retain familiarity with a variety of tools, and don’t become too dependent on one of them. Be flexible!

In the meantime, you have to do something. If you are beginning to explore video, I recommend that you start with Screencast-O-Matic. It is cheap and you can begin to get an idea of what the process is like. As your demands increase, you should move on to using QuickTime (for free) to import video off your digicam; you might also compare its screencasting tools with those of SOM.

Now you might also have some slightly different needs. You might want to explore the iPad-based screencasting tools; it gives much more of a sense of demonstrating some task to a viewer. If you want to present photo-based information, Animoto provides a tool for creating polished slideshows.

As for assembling the final movie, YouTube is turning into a reasonable alternative for handling simple movie assembly. However, for Mac users you really can’t beat iMovie for a moderately advanced movie production studio. (I’m not even going to mention Final Cut Pro.) Finally, Qwiki provides a great tool for possibly taking the production values of your videos to a completely new level.

The most important recommenation: do something. Get in the game, or be left behind.

Podcasting and Screencasting (ISTE12 workshop)

On Sunday morning I attended a session on Podcasting and Screencasting at ISTE12 led by Robert Craven (twitter at @digitalroberto, Web page). This was a seriously hands-on session in which we covered lots of software. The following are a listing of the software we used, my key take-aways, and then lots of detailed notes about the software that (possibly) only I will be interested in, but I included here just in case.


This is the software that we touched on during the session:

Web sites
Mac software
  • GarageBand
  • iMovie
  • QuickTime
iPad apps

A little context

Podcasting involves creating an RSS feed that delivers a series of media files that can be listened to or watched on a wide variety of devices (ipods, ipads, iphones, smart phones, computers). Podcasting has been around since September 2004. There are three varieties of podcasts:

Just an audio recording
Essentially a series of pictures with accompanying audio discussion
A more complex audio/video lecture or discussion

The process of podcasting involves creating a podcasting stream (empty at the beginning), creating the media file, attaching the media file to the RSS podcasting stream, and then subscribers to your RSS podcasting stream actually receiving the media file automatically.

BTW, of the 30 people in the session, only about 3 used PCs; the rest used MacBooks and iPads. Apple has quite a market share in education.


Here are the main points (outside of the detailed software knowledge that I gained) related to this topic that I learned. Note that I focus on Mac software and iPad apps since that is what I use; his Web site has lots of details about PC software.

  1. GarageBand is a great piece of software for creating audio and enhanced audio media files. It has all that you need, including the abilities to:
    • Manage the process of recording the different voices in the podcast (including volume, trimming and otherwise editing),
    • Insert music clips to be provided as background for the podcast,
    • Provide a full library of freely available music clips,
    • Provide integrated access to iPhoto, and
    • Publish the podcast to your computer-based iTunes.
  2. QuickTime (free with OS X now) provides an easy way to create a screencast. This is a great starting point before getting into more expensive software such as Screenflow and Camtasia for Mac. This also provides the abilities to capture the screencast and export it into iTunes.
  3. BTW, MacBundle, MacUpdate, and MacHeist periodically have bundles of software (for maybe $40) that includes Screenflow so it might be worth it to wait around before buying it at full price.
  4. Screencast provides a great way to create the podcasting RSS feed once you have created the media files. This is the tool that creates the RSS feed URL that anyone can put into iTunes when they want to subscribe to the podcast.
  5. The Display Recorder app (currently $1.99) is a screenrecorder for the iPad. You can export the screencast to your Photo Library or open it another app on your iPad (iMovie, Dropbox, EverNote).
  6. The ShowMe app enables the creation of a whiteboard type of screencast. It allows you to write on the screen, take a picture, record a voice. You can also do a little editing within the app. You can only post the resulting screencast to the site.

One of the attendees said that AirServer provides a good way of mirroring your iOS device onto a Mac or PC.

Also, be sure to check his link about digital storytelling from his Web site. This is less about the technology, and more about the process of telling stories.

Robert did a great job with this session, and I walked out with a much clearer picture of just what is involved in screencasting and the following creation of the podcasting RSS feed. None of the software is expensive, and all of it is easy to use given the underlying complexity of the process. I will be using all of this software in my classes next year.

Detailed notes

The following are my personal notes from the session. You will probably not find them useful but they provide a more detailed picture of what we did during the 3 hour session.

  1. GarageBand to create a podcast (New Project/Podcast). Can have multiple layers of sound. Be sure to pay attention to the icons in the bottom right corner: the loop (garageband library), the “I” (for real instruments), and the iLife suite (for iPhoto, iMovie, etc.). This seems to not work with the combination of my Plantronics520 and my old MacBook Pro.
  2. Use the playhead (triangle at the top) to cut a track (Split or Apple-T) at the point where the playhead is located.
  3. You can use the “+” sign to add a track for another person’s voice.
  4. When recording your voice, check the Recording Level so that there is no red, and so that the peak is about half way in the bar. This is available by clicking on the “I” icon in the bottom right, and “Recording Level” slider at the bottom right and the colored bars in the upper left.
  5. It’s real easy to use your iPhone as a microphone. Then you can import those clips easily into GarageBand for podcast creation.
  6. At the beginning and end of a track put an audio loop. If you have a series of podcasts, then use the same ones each time. Have some music by itself for 2-3 seconds before your voice begins (and into the beginning of your speaking) and then after your voice ends (and after you stop speaking, and through the credits, if there is such a thing).
  7. To adjust a track volume, use the inverted triangle at the left of a track. You can adjust the whole track at once, or you can adjust for a special segment of the track by clicking on segments of the line.
  8. To preview the podcast, and to see any images that you have imported, click on the image box to the right of Podcast Track in the upper left.
  9. When you are done, make the menu choice Share/Send Podcast to iTunes — this is the iTunes on your computer, not the big iTunes in the Cloud. This will open iTunes and begin to play the track.
QuickTime for screencasting
  1. Choose File/New Screen Recording to create a screencast file.
  2. After finishing the recording, you can use Edit/Trim.
  3. When done, choose Share/iTunes to put it in iTunes on your computer.
  4. Jing is the equivalent application for a PC.
  1. Go to and sign in.
  2. Each folder is a separate podcast channel so that they can be subscribed to separately.
  3. Create a folder and be sure to make it public and check “RSS Feed”.
  4. Click “Upload content”.
  5. Once it is uploaded, then go to the folder in screencast, click on the “Share” icon. Copy the iTunes Feed URL.
  6. In iTunes, choose the menu item Advanced/Subscribe to Podcast. It should begin to download almost immediately.
  7. Click on the podcast, and then click on the “Settings” button at the bottom of the screen. Change the settings as appropriate.
DisplayRecorder (for iPad)
This app (currently $1.99) is a screenrecorder for the iPad. You can export it to your Photo Library or open it another app on your iPad (iMovie, Dropbox, EverNote).
ShowMe (for iPad)
This allows you to write on the screen, take a picture, record a voice. You can do a little editing within the app. You can only post this to the site.
Provides a way for multiple people to comment on an image that has been uploaded to a Web site.

More Web Apps, a workshop at ISTE12

Notes from the “More Web Apps” workshop at ISTE12 in San Diego. This session is being run by Jim Holland, an Instructional Technology Specialist at Arlington ISD. Everything that they do in this presentation is on this page. Or you can look at

  • Going to use EdModo for backchannel communications. It’s on iPad as well. Going to use this to share links with the audience. It will be a record for what we have done. This is a closed system. They can only register if they have a code from the teacher. Students can’t message one another; they can post to the wall or to the teacher. [SAM: what does this do for me?] You can create as many of these as you want. Can create Note, Alert (less than 140 characters), Assignment, Quiz, Poll. Strictly text quizzes (m/c, short answer).
  • Sqworl is a Web app that provides a clean and simple way to visually bookmark multiple URLs. They created a set called “ISTE 2012”. Can use a bookmarklet for sqworl. This feels kinda like pinterest but there is no commenting.
  • Explaining Flickr. Most here have not used it. I’m kinda shocked. Can use this to find photos to use under a “Creative Commons”-license (under Advanced Search tool). Be sure to get an understanding of the Creative Commons licenses.
  • iPiccy is an online photo editor. Use this to crop, resize, rotate, change exposure, etc. This is Flash-based so you can’t use it on an iPad. They use it to add text to an image (for attribution).
  • Voki allows users to create a speaking avatar. This is pretty cool, but I’m not sure how to use it in my class. Four ways to get it to speak, but text to speech looks fairly promising.
  • EggTimer is a good online timer. The URL sets the time!
  • Socrative is a student response system. It’s free. You can have teacher-paced or student-paced quizzes. Students can respond via just about any device. The professor can control the process via ipad or computer. The professor can track who responded in what way to what questions; a report about responses can be delivered via downloaded Excel file.
  • TitanPad is a group document editing tool. Don’t have to log in. Can make them password protected but don’t have to. Can follow what is going on in all of the pads. There is an accompanying chat box next to the document. Even if you’re not looking when something ugly is typed into the Pad, the “Time Slider” records every keystroke that is made within the document. You can create a public pad by typing “” or whatever and it will create that pad. You can import or export documents from lots of different formats. You can also get your own private space. This is an alternative to Google Docs.
  • Tagxedo makes word clouds, but it has more options than Wordle. (Don’t forget about Tagul.) This allows you to do custom shapes.
  • SpicyNodes is a mind mapping tool. Can sign up using Google account. Think of this as a possible assessment tool, a report-making tool. This is a freemium model.
  • Vocaroo is a voice recording service. (Or “tape recorder”…what’s that?!?!) They use it as a pretest/posttest kind of thing: tell me what you know now, before the class. Now tell me what you know after the class. The recording picked up a lot of background noise, but it might have been the room I was in.
  • Quizlet is a tool for making flashcards.
  • TodaysMeet is a way to create a private backchannel. This allows an audience to ask questions of the speaker.

Here are some non-educational resources that they really like:

My favorite writing instrument

Yep, I love this pencil!

I come from a long line of pen and pencil lovers. I remember my dad’s dad having a pocket full of pens and a drawer full of pens and pencils. He was 6’6″ so not too many people hassled him about it. My dad is the same way. I’m the same way. I love a good pen or pencil.

I was a long-time user of a Pentel mechanical pencil. However, I have given that up for this Alvin DM05 mechanical pencil. I have had this particular pencil for a couple of years now and I always have it with me. Yes, I love my iPad but there are still times that I need to take notes on a piece of paper. Why do I like this pencil so much?

  • It fits in my hand.
  • The silver grip provides a comfortable, non-slip surface that doesn’t become uncomfortable over time.
  • The writing is comfortable on a sheet of paper, apparently providing a slight amount of “give” when writing. This makes it more comfortable and keeps me from breaking so many leads when I’m writing.
  • The barrel holds a sufficient amount of lead so that I don’t run out at the wrong time.

That’t it. If you like mechanical pencils, I highly recommend that you give this a try. Enjoy!

I want this chair in my classrooms

This chair did get me excited, no joke.

A group of us from Ross went to Steelcase to learn about their educational solutions on Monday. It was a great trip. I’ll write more about this later, but I’m sorta busy as I prepare for ISTE12, so I am going to keep this short and focused (for once).

I love this chair! It’s the Node chair from Steelcase. (No, I’m not getting any kickbacks or anything on this; I don’t have any relationship with this company.) This chair is comfortable, it turns easily, and it has built-in storage underneath for backpacks. Students never have a good place to put their backpacks; they always end up in the aisles. Whenever I decide to walk through a room, I am taking my life into my own hands unless I walk around with my head down. And that sorta puts up a barrier between myself and the students if I’m not looking at them. Or I can create a plan of navigation like Marco Polo going to the Orient. But that can be distracting. Problems, problems.

Enter this chair. Problem solved! Woo hoo! (BTW, I’m being totally serious about this.) It is such a simple idea, but I think it’s genius.

My favorite iPad apps for the news (part 1)

How we got our news in the olden days

I read lots of news every day, and I have a variety of needs within the news realm. In this article I will describe what I look for in a news app, how I use those apps in my daily life, and which apps I use most often.

The following news sources are relatively expensive, but they are the gold standards of daily business news. I’m a business professor, so it’s sort of a requirement to read these. This means that I have to read The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Financial Times. Each goes about its business differently, providing a different experience for its readers. Here I’ll try to give some insight into how they differ.

These are generally great apps that make it easy to read the news. There’s also nothing to throw away afterwards.


In addition to business, I also have interests in technology, real estate & automobiles but I’m not particularly interested in theater. This leads me to prefer a news app that both has the stories put into sections and allows me to re-order, or at least choose a subset of, those sections. In addition it has to be easy for me to save a story in some way; each application approaches this in a different way, but it has to be straight-forward. Because of the volume of news that I read, the app must also make it easy for me to scan the news quickly. Finally, I prefer it if the news story is available to the public because much of what I save is for either my students or my blog. It isn’t as useful for me if I can’t rely on the story’s general availability.

Work flow

I have found that my workflow is different than other people I know. As I am scanning the news, I periodically find a news article in which I am interested. My preferred method of saving an article for later reference involves mailing it to myself. I put a keyword of some type at the beginning of the subject line for the email; these keywords are things like “technews”, “201topics”, and “edtechbiz”. Notice that these are not real words; I don’t want random incoming messages to match my filters. I then have a filter defined in my email program that sorts incoming emails into the appropriate folders.

The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal iPad app provides an experience superior to reading the paper version. I have definitely read the WSJ many more times and in more depth with the app than the paper version. On the iPad 3, it provides an absolutely beautifully rendered page. The sections are well-organized and appear consistently on specific days of the week (the middle screenshot below). Within sections, the article headlines are easily scannable and it’s easy to swipe from page to page.

App on iPad

Section menu

Daily editions

A distinguishing characteristic of this app is that it organizes the news in daily versions (notice the right screenshot above). This is in contrast to the NYTimes (as it is described below). This means that if you want to read an article from a couple of days ago, you need to bring up the Start Screen and then choose the “paper” from the day on which the article was published.

The New York Times

The New York Times is the first app I go to in the morning when I get up. I had never subscribed to this paper before it was on the iPad. Now it is my favorite news source I wouldn’t give it up easily.

My favorite feature is the re-orderable sections (see middle screenshot below; click on it to bring up a larger version). The NYTimes presents its news in a wide variety of sections, many of which I am interested in (to varying degrees) though some of which I am not. I am able to order the section list so that it lists my favorite sections at the top — Top News, Most E-mailed (highly recommended!), Business Day, Technology, Science, etc. — and puts less-frequented sections at the bottom. Only about 40% of the sections appear in the screenshot below.

NYTimes iPad app
App on iPad

Section menu

Integrated section

You can move from section to section by swiping up to get to the next section or down to get to the previous. Side-to-side moves between articles within a section. As with the WSJ, the slide shows that accompany the articles are simply excellent; however, I have the sense that the NYTimes carries more of these on a wider range of subjects (if only because the scope of the paper is so vast). For example, their Fashion and Real Estate slideshows are well-done and quite in-depth. The Old Gray Lady has clearly moved way beyond feeling restricted by print and accepts that digital presentation offers more options.

I really appreciate how the NYTimes organizes itself. This paper (I can’t stop calling it that; it’s like I can’t stop saying that I “dial” the phone) presents its articles within sections from newest to oldest, without any clear indication that an article appeared on a previous day other than the fact that it is furthest back within a section. Thus, if you want to find a Technology article that appeared a couple of days ago, then you should simply go to that section and swipe through the pages of that section to find the article. They are also flexible enough to put some articles within multiple sections; for example, frequently articles on Microsoft appear in both the Technology and the Business sections.

I like the fact that every month a person can access 10 articles for free. I subscribe, but I like to reference articles from this source.

Financial Times

The Financial Times is clearly my alternative news source. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t as good or thorough; it is simply the one that I go to only after I have finished reading the previous two. It is distinguished from the above two by its global focus; for example, on the screenshot below of its front page (left), you can see the Global Market Map that appears every day showing the change in a significant market benchmark in markets around the world.

The front page

Section menu

Scroll down a page

The iPad app is an HTML5 application rather than an application that you buy through Apple’s App Store. The company did a remarkable job of creating this unique app; I am surprised (I’m not sure why) at how bullet-proof it has been. You would simply never know that it is nothing more than a fancy Web page while you are using it. (To get some sense of the controversy of this technical move, read this article.)

To bring up the list of sections in this paper, you click on the name of the section at the top of the screen (just as in the WSJ). You then click on the section name you want to go to — no surprise there. FT has an organization scheme that is different still again from the previous two news sources. Similar to the WSJ, this paper is organized into editions so if you want to read an article from yesterday’s paper, you need to go to that edition.

The big difference is that each section is contained on just one page (see the right screenshot above). This can lead to lots of information being presented in one place; those who appreciate Bloomberg News would feel very comfortable on these pages. In the above screenshot I have moved to the Companies section and scrolled down the page:

  • In the upper left, the list of major news articles from the day are listed.
  • In the upper right corner is the bottom of the list of market movers from the Paris Stock Exchange.
  • At the bottom of the screenshot, a tabbed box shows 10 industries with each tab bringing up a separate list of articles related to that industry.
  • Below that box (not shown in the screenshot) are more articles in the left column, columnists in the right column, and another tabbed box at the bottom of the page containing bloggers (who, in this instance, are essentially less significant columnists as far as I can tell).

While their pages contain a lot of information, I find them to require a certain level of commitment in order to find information in the page. It tends to be easy for me to miss information that is contained within the boxes unless I take my time. The word “skim” doesn’t apply very well to FT.


I highly recommend each of these news sources. There is apparently a reason that they have the reputations that they do. However, each brings a different slant and covers a different subset of the news. Depending on what you’re interested in, one of them should be in your daily routine. I can’t tell you which one — you will have to make that choice — but each has done a great job of providing a superior experience on the iPad.

This is part 1 of my review of iPad news sources. In part 2 I will look at a series of apps that won’t lighten your digital wallet to such an extent.

My favorite iPad apps for writing

iPad 3

I use my iPad quite frequently for writing (for example: right now). I am a highly dedicated user of the Logitech keyboard (as discussed in a previous article). I create text files in all different forms: plain text, HTML, CSS, LaTeX, and word processing. I also program in Python, PHP, and JavaScript (and lots of others, but that’s another story entirely), but I’ll mostly be writing in this post about text file creation outside of pure programming.


What I absolutely require out of a writing app that I am going to use most of the time is an ability to easily store, access, and work with files that are not stored on the iPad. It is much too easy to have an iPad stolen (which I have had happen, though it was returned — that’s another story again) or to lose it (which is much more likely with me), so I don’t like having anything of any value (and, really, what file that you create isn’t of some value?) locked up on the iPad. My favorite way of providing this off-machine (cloud) storage is with Dropbox. The University of Michigan recently came to an agreement with Box, a company that provides a service similar to this. (Here is a comparison of Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and others as of April 2012.) For now, since I recently made a commitment to putting files on Dropbox, I’m mostly looking for Dropbox integration, but you might have a different such requirement. I simply emphasize here that you should store your files in the same way — off of the iPad and into the cloud.

Another requirement that I’m looking for is the ability to work on or offline with files. I am almost always online so it’s really the main focus but I recently took 4 cross-country flights and it definitely was something of a necessity to be able to create files while not connected to the Internet. After re-connecting, I also want the ability to change the file from storage on the iPad to storage in the cloud.

As a piece of context, I have been a loyal user of BBEdit for at least 15 years. I use it for all of the same things, and in all of the same ways, that I am requiring of my iPad writing app.I expect it to be less feature-laden but equally adept and creating text in different languages and for different purposes.


textastic iPad app

The Textastic app has definitely become my favorite general text creation app. Look at all of the features it has:

  • Save files remotely to Dropbox, (s)ftp, and WebDAV.
  • Work directly with files stored locally on the iPad.
  • Code syntax highlighting for just about every language that I have ever heard of. Further, it is compatible with TextMate so that you can add your own syntax definition file if you so desire.
  • Has settings for font, font size, screen and text colors, line number display, tab width (and visibility), word wrap, auto correction, auto capitalization, code completion.
  • Integration with TextExpander.
  • Preview HTML as it would look in a browser.
  • Find and replace within the file.
  • File properties shows the number of lines, characters, and words.
  • Send file as an email attachment.

This app does all that I need and more. It starts up quickly, makes it easy to write, and saves files to all the places that I want them saved. I use it often and heavily.


PlainText iPad app

Until about 3 months ago, I would have heartily endorsed the PlainText app. It is a very stripped-down app that simply works. If you are looking for a text-editing app that integrates with Dropbox, then this app deserves serious consideration. I used it for over a year and was very happy with it. However, I have recently discovered Textastic and it just fits my needs a little better. I have not uninstalled PlainText because I am so comfortable with it. If you find that Textastic just seems like too much for you, then I definitely recommend that you give PlainText a try.


Pages iPad app

When I’m in the mood to create a more common word processing file (like that produced by Microsoft Word or Apple Pages on the Macintosh), then I head over to the Pages app. It provides a perfectly usable facsimile of the Mac Pages application on the more limited computing environment of the iPad. If I were so inclined to create such files more often, I would feel very comfortable working in this environment. Now that it provides near seamless integration with iCloud (Apple’s file storage service), it is much improved.


Notability iPad app

Notability is an extremely competent multimedia file creation application. Its primary distinguishing feature is that it enables synchronized audio recordings while you are typing into the file (as you might while taking notes during a class). Later, when you are reviewing your file, you can then click on any part of the file and hear what was being said while that part of the file was being created. This is very useful for any student.

It has many features above-and-beyond an application such as Pages or Word:

  • Create formatted text such as in Pages (different fonts, font colors, bullet lists, etc.).
  • Allows the user to freehand draw — with all the associated editing capabilities — within the document.
  • Insert photos with captions and text that automatically flows around the photo.
  • Full annotation ability with any PDF file.
  • Import RTF and PDF files.
  • Save/export files to RTF or PDF.
  • Save files in Dropbox, Box, iCloud, or WebDAV.
  • Email files as attachments.

When I am in a lecture, this is the file that I use and that I recommend anyone to use. Having the ability to listen to the words spoken in the lecture with little fuss is a feature that is easy to get used to.

Yes, I love my iPad

iPad 3

I figured that I would just get my feelings out of the way right here at the beginning. I love my iPad. I purchased the original iPad when it first came on the market, then I passed on the iPad 2, and now I have the iPad 3. I carry it with me basically everywhere I go. I don’t have an iPhone (yet; waiting for the iPhone 5 and then it’ll be mine!). I have a 4-year-old 15″ MacBook Pro that’s just about done (and will be replaced, maybe, with anything from a 13″ Mac Air to a 15″ next generation MacBook Pro), and I have a MacPro tower with a 30″ monitor. But the iPad has become my tool of first choice. It is very light weight; it has a “so good you have to see it to really believe it” screen; the applications are abundant and very cheap; developers are working like crazy to add new capabilities every day. This is a tool that gets better — significantly better — with every passing month.

The key for me to making the iPad a key part of my working life is the Logitech Keyboard case by ZAGG. It is slightly smaller than my laptop keyboard; specifically, the Q-P row of the iPad keyboard fits in the space for the Q-O letters of my standard size MacBook Pro keyboard. I have relatively thick fingers and they fit, though just barely. But they do fit, and I type on the keyboard for hours on end.

This keyboard also acts as a case, covering and protecting the screen when it’s not in use. The iPad fits into the case with pressure and no other mechanism. I had one of these keyboards for my original iPad for 1+ years and it never failed me. And now I have had this keyboard for several months and it has been amazing. The Bluetooth connection between the iPad 3 and this keyboard has been much more reliable and stable than with the original iPad. In the couple of months that I have owned the pair, the keyboard has yet to lose a connection during the iPad sleep session; this happened at least daily with the original iPad.

Logitech Keyboard case by ZAGG

With the combination of the iPad and the keyboard, I basically use the pair for everything. I read and respond to all my email. I read the newspapers in the morning. I write notes during meetings. I create and revise presentations. I show photos to my friends. I take photos and videos when I’m out. I write my blog posts. I write tweets and monitor my twitter feed. Basically, I use it for all my general purpose computing tasks.

When my family goes on vacation (4 of us), this is the only computer that we take. The WiFi picks up a good signal, and the Verizon 4G is typically faster (by a factor of 3-5x) than WiFi. Further, geographic coverage for Verizon (and even 4G) has been quite good. The apps for Netflix and Hulu allow the kids to watch the videos they want at very good resolution, and all of us can check our email, Facebook, and Twitter while we are away from home. It works great as the sole computer while on the road.

Given my heavy-duty use of this platform, and given that other people don’t use it as heavily as I do, I have to assume that others just don’t know where to begin or know about the options available to them. I can’t imagine why anyone would use a big, clunky laptop when they could use this iPad setup. So, what I’m going to do to remedy this is to write a post a couple of times a week about my favorite iPad apps. Of course, these will be written from the point of view of someone working in higher ed, but many of the tasks that I complete with the iPad are applicable to any working professional. Here are the posts that I have planned:

  1. My favorite iPad apps for writing
  2. My favorite iPad apps for the news (part 1)
  3. My favorite iPad apps for reading
  4. My favorite iPad apps for presentations
  5. My favorite iPad apps for photos & videos
  6. My favorite general utility iPad apps
  7. My favorite iPad apps for watching videos
  8. My favorite generally awesome iPad apps

If you are a new user of the iPad or someone who doesn’t use the iPad to its fullest extend (but would like to), I think you will enjoy this series of posts. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the iPad, please post them and I will do my best to address them.