011413_0209_BackingupDr2.pngThere is nothing scarier than opening up Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 to get an error message saying there’s something wrong with your user profile. (Well, I suppose your computer not booting up is pretty scary too. Or, when your hard drive crashes and you lose all of your family photos, that sucks.)

If you’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for a while to dictate your computer, then chances are you’ve spent thousands of hours logging in corrections and helping the voice-recognition software to recognize your voice little better. You probably don’t want to lose that hard work. Thank goodness for backups.

My Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 user profile broke today.

  • Something got corrupted somewhere, but fortunately, I was able to restore from within Dragon.
  • This month, I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8, but I don’t think that caused any problems.
  • I recently wrote this post, and this post just fine with Windows 8 (64 bit). The new enhanced Bluetooth headset still seems to be slow, but the Plantronics Calisto BT 300 II wasn’t working well under Windows 7 either.

I’m writing this post with Dragon, as we speak. Everything seems to be okay. So what have I discovered about backing up with Dragon Naturally Speaking?

  • Restoring a user profile seems to work just fine. Good to know.
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 doesn’t like it if my user backup location is in my dropbox folder. I have to temporarily pause dropbox or Dragon Naturally Speaking can’t actually backup my user profile.

I wonder how many students actually backup their user profiles.

Then again, do user profiles really make a difference?

Maybe, losing your Dragon user profile isn’t such a big deal, after all. 

Could your students guess your computer password? Top 10,000 passwords in a WordleTeachers live in a digital world. We use computers and email systems to store and communicate student information to parents, teachers, and other colleagues: marks, assessment information, tests, special education data, etc.

Could one of your students guess your password?

Obviously, this isn’t a problem if you teach grade 1, but if you teach in middle school or high school, you have a lot more tech savvy students with a lot more time on their hands.

Is your password, “password”, “123456”, or “12345678”?

  • Apparently, almost one out of 10 people use one of those three passwords.
  • It stands to reason that one out of 10 teachers uses one of those passwords as well.

Security expert Mark Burnett has published a list of the 10,000 most common passwords. He’s been collecting passwords for over 20 years from public sources. (These passwords are real passwords that are from lists that have already been made public and can be found by anyone. You can read about how he collects passwords here.)

It turns out from Burnett’s data that 91% of people have a password from the top 1000 passwords. (You can look at the list of 10,000 most common passwords here.)

Barnett has a visual of the top 500 passwords as a tag cloud on his site, but I created a Wordle with all 10,000 passwords – see the image at the top of this post. (Wordle is a cool cloud-based visualizing website that lots of teachers use for poetry or language arts projects. Before you think about using this password data in the classroom, you should know that there are a lot of inappropriate words in the list.)

Here’s a Wordle with only the top 50 passwords used by people. Can you find your password?

So how can teachers come up with more secure passwords?

A lot of computer security stuff is managed by your school board.

  • Sometimes they generate student or teacher passwords that you can’t change.
  • If you are allowed to come up with their own passwords, sometimes you are forced to come up with a password that is a certain length and uses certain characters.
  • I’m sure there’s a lot of other behind the scenes security policies to prevent brute force password guessing. (Have you ever had to call into your IT department because you guessed the wrong password and your account got locked?)

But choosing a strong password is also important.

Guessing a computer password is a lot like finding a needle in a haystack. The question is, how big is your haystack? Computer hacking expert Steve Gibson has a tool which shows you how long it would take to guess your password if a hacker use every possible combination of letters, numbers, and then symbols. (Even though, it would take 17.33 centuries to randomly guess “Password”, password crackers will use dictionary tools first.)

Here are two things that teachers (and everybody else) can do to come up with more secure passwords:

1. Come up with your own personal secret that you add to the end of your password to make it stronger.

Gibson asks the following question on his haystack website:

The first password is easier to remember and stronger. Here’s why:

  1. It has an uppercase character (D)
  2. It has a number (zero 0)
  3. It has a lowercase character (g)
  4. It has a special character (.)
  5. It is one character longer.

In this example, they added a bunch of periods to the end of their password. If everyone started doing that, then attackers could simply start adding dots their guesses. Security expert Gibson tells us that we just need to invent our own personal padding policy.

  • Come up with a system to add special characters to the beginning, middle, or end of your password.
  • Just as your personal funny face: ^-^ 😉

2. Use a password manager so you can have different complex passwords for different websites

playstationnetworkA lot of people use the same password for all of their different websites because it’s easier to remember. The problem is that a lot of large website companies get hacked and information gets dumped onto the internet.

Last year, 77 million Sony PlayStation network accounts were hacked. The information included names, addresses and other personal data, including potentially credit card information. Data was leaked as a torrent so anyone could grab a copy.

Password managers like LastPass are programs that lets you create, manage and enter passwords into your web browser. If security experts do it, then it should be good for the little people like us.

You may not be allowed to install programs on your school computer, but online services like LastPass or 1Password have an online website so you can login and access your passwords.

How secure are your school passwords?

010413_0259_CrashPlanfo1.pngSomeone once told me, there are three things that are inevitable in life: death, taxes, and hard drive failure. If you’re like most of us, backing up your hard drive is a chore that you never quite get around to. Until disaster strikes.

We live in a digital world. Our kids have been photographed since birth. How do you take care of your digital life?

Recently, my hard drive crashed and we’ve lost an entire year of family photos. Yes, I’m a computer geek kind of teacher, and yes, I did have a backup plan. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough.

    • I have a Windows home server backing up our personal computers every night.
    • Important files were in a dropbox folder, so a copy of these files live in the cloud
    • Unfortunately, our family photos were stored on the home server itself, and I never got around to paying for an extra hard drive to backup the contents of the home server.
    • So, when the hard drive on the server broke, we lost all of our family photos and backups for our home computers.

What went wrong?

You mean, aside from the mechanical failure of our computer hard drive? (Recovering the photos from a data recovery company will cost thousands of dollars because it’s a large 2TB drive.)

  • My data backup plan was geeky and required human maintenance. If work got busy, I didn’t have the time to make sure all of my files were getting backed up. I need to keep it simple, stupid.
  • I ran out of backup space and I didn’t have the time or money to buy more hard drives. (In retrospect, paying a couple hundred bucks for hard drives pales in comparison to paying a couple thousands bucks for data recovery.)
  • I didn’t have a second backup, so if my house burned down, my laptop got stolen, or my hard drive crashed, I’m out of luck.

So, during the winter break, I spent a lot of time trying to find a better backup solution. Right now, I signed up for the 30 day free trial with CrashPlan. If everything goes well, I expect to pay around $10 per month for unlimited, encrypted, cloud backups of my computers. (CrashPlan+ family unlimited)

Here’s what I like about the paid version of CrashPlan:

  1. It’s easy. Set up and forget. You install a little program on your home computers, and you choose which folders you want to backup. You can backup your stuff to an external hard drive in your house and to the cloud.
  2. It works on multiple devices. CrashPlan runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. They also have an android and iOS app, so you can open and view files that you’ve backed up to their cloud (CrashPlan Central).
  3. They offer real time, continuous file backup. Files get changed, you can make sure that the most recent copy gets backed up somewhere.
  4. You get unlimited online storage space. With the CrashPlan+ family unlimited plan, you can backup to 10 computers in the cloud. (I don’t have to worry about constantly going out to buy new hard drives as we get more computers. Installing large hard drives can be a headache.)
  5. You can encrypt your backups with a private password or private key so that CrashPlan employees can’t access your data. I am not a security expert, but I like how you need to enter your password / private key in order to see the files in your backups. CrashPlan has a great metaphor on their security FAQ page. The data you backup is stored in a car. If you encrypt your backups with a private key, it’s like lock the keys to your car in your own personal private safe. Of course, if you forget to combination to your safe (i.e. your custom 448-bit private key), then no one can get your car keys to access the stuff in your car… even you.
  6. You have flexible restore options, so you can go back in time and restore a specific version of your work. CrashPlan does not delete your files (unless you tell them to.) I like having version history because one time, Dropbox saved me hours of marking by restoring an accidentally deleted file.)
  7. If you backup your computers to the CrashPlan Central cloud, you can also restore those files to any computer using a web browser. It’s just like dropbox, but you can only download files from your backup using your web browser. (You need to install their program on your computer in order to backup to the cloud.)

Before you sign up, there are a few things you might want to know.

CrashPlan requires a lot of bandwidth. Get ready to max out your internet connection.

  • If you’re backing up hundreds or thousands of gigabytes to the cloud, it might take one or two months to upload all that information. If your computer crashes, it would take a long time to download all of your information through your internet.
  • CrashPlan gives you the option to send an external hard drive to “seed” your initial backup. (After the initial backup, your computer only uploads new changes that you make.) They can also send you a hard drive or DVD so you can restore large amounts of data locally. Unfortunately, this feature is only available in the US. It also cost around $125.

Think twice about privacy and security in the cloud.

  • Are you comfortable with all of your financial and personal documents sitting (encrypted) on some corporate server? Really?
  • Once you upgrade the security settings in your CrashPlan account, you can never downgrade. CrashPlan offers a free account with 128 bit encryption. You need the CrashPlan+ paid account to get 448 bit encryption. The highest level of archive encryption key security is when you use your own 448 bit data key. I’m still on the 30 day trial CrashPlan+ account, but since I’m using the highest level security, I wonder what happens if you try to go back to the free account since you can downgrade your security settings.

Using CrashPlan in the classroom

So what does backing up your stuff have to do with teaching in the classroom? (Aside from the obvious need to backup your lesson plans and marks if you keep those things digitally.)

Have you ever been at work, but the file you needed was on your home computer? CrashPlan provides an encrypted way to store a read-only version of those files in the cloud. In other words, you can access all of your home computer files from your work computer.

  • If you have a paid CrashPlan+ account and upload your computer backups to the CrashPlan Central cloud, then you can access the information on your home computer at school (using a web browser), or on the road (using the android or IOS app.)
  • It’s kind of like Dropbox, except all of your files are encrypted with CrashPlan. Dropbox is incredibly convenient, but if you want to store sensitive data on Dropbox, then you need to encrypt your data yourself using an encryption program like TrueCrypt. The moment you do this, however, you can’t access your encrypted data using the dropbox app on your phone. (or, any other app for that matter.) Also, if your work computer doesn’t have truecrypt installed, then you can’t open your encrypted data at work. On the other hand, encryption is built into CrashPlan.
  • Let’s say you’re at school and you download a lesson plan from your home computer that was backed up to the CrashPlan Central cloud. If you make any changes at school, you’ll need to save a copy of your latest work on your home computer later that evening. (There’s no way to upload a file to the CrashPlan cloud using your web browser.)

How do you backup your personal files?

What do you do to backup your home and work files?

I recently got the iPhone 5. Two words: love it. In fact, I don’t know how I lived without it.

I used to have an old school hand-me-down iPhone from my brother. I use the Pocket Informant iPad app to try to manage my calendar and to do list. I use pocket informant and ToodleDo to try to keep my life organized, but running an app on an iPhone 3G is painfully slow.

Now, running informant Pro on my iPhone 5 is unbelievably fast. Click on the app, and it opens immediately.

So, now that I’ve signed my life away for three years, it’s time to protect my investment with a solid case. It came down to the OtterBox Defender and the Lifeproof FRE.

OtterBox Defender

For the past two weeks, I’ve been using the OtterBox Defender. Here’s why I like it:

  • It’s hard to argue with a YouTube video where the phone gets dropped off the roof and it works fine. The OtterBox Defender apparently protects against drops, dust, and scratches. (There are holes in the case for the camera, so it’s not waterproof.)
  • I like how the OtterBox Defender has three separate layers: a solid screen protector, and inner layer and a third rubber layer that wraps around everything. (In comparison, the OtterBox commuter seems a little weak when the screen protector layer is simply a plastic overlay that you manually apply to your iPhone 5.)
  • The OtterBox Defender case feels solid. Sure, it’s a little big and bulky, but I wasn’t worried about the phone slipping out of my pocket, especially with the silicone outer layer that’s easy to grip.

LifeProof Fre

I just got my hands on the newly released Lifeproof FRE case for the iPhone 5. I think I might switch cases.

  • It’s hard to argue with a YouTube video where the phone is submersed in a fishbowl and it works fine. (Nice goldfish.) The OtterBox Defender isn’t waterproof. The Lifeproof FRE case is.
  • The Lifeproof FRE case only has two separate layers: a front and a back. It feels less sturdy than the OtterBox Defender, but the packaging claims the Lifeproof FRE is waterproof, to improve, snow proof, and shockproof (tested to a 2 m drop.) The inside packaging is careful to state that the device is not indestructible and “under no circumstances will Lifeproof FRE repair or replace a damaged device.
  • Side-by-side, the Lifeproof FRE case is definitely slimmer than the OtterBox Defender. The screen on the Lifeproof FRE feels just slightly different. I think I prefer the rubber home button on the OtterBox Defender.
  • When you play music on your iPhone 5, the back of the Lifeproof FRE case vibrates. That never happened with the OtterBox Defender.

Bottom line:

I think I’m going to miss the solid feel the OtterBox Defender, but it’s hard to argue with the waterproof protection that the Lifeproof FRE case offers. We’ll see.

What do you use to protect your iPhone 5?

Some students use Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software as assistive technology the classroom. Voice recognition is not a magic solution that will help all students, but for some students, writing using their mouths instead of their hands can be a more effective way for them to get their ideas onto paper.

Mind mapping software is another great accommodation to help students organize their ideas.

SMART ideas is great because you can create multilevel concept maps that you can easily export as JPEG images inside of Microsoft Word documents. Lucidchart is an online concept map program that syncs with Google Docs and lets you export your mind maps as well.

In some applications, Dragon Naturally Speaking has full text control of the active field. If you look at the Dragon bar, you see a little green checkmark meaning that you can dictate directly into the application. For example, you can transcribe your ideas directly into Internet Explorer, or Microsoft Word.

In other applications, Dragon voice recognition software only has basic control in the application. The Dragon bar shows you a blank white checkmark, which means Dragon Naturally Speaking can’t directly transcribe your words in the program. You’ll have to use the dictation box pop-up window to transcribe your voice, and then click a button to have Dragon 12 transfer your words into the program.

What does that mean for mind mapping software?

SMART ideas and Dragon Naturally Speaking 12

If you SMART ideas concept map software, it means you can’t dictate directly into SMART ideas. You have to use the dictation box instead.

It’s not the end of the world. If you double-click a bubble in SMART ideas and start talking to Dragon Naturally Speaking, Dragon 12 will automatically open up in dictation box and transcribe what you say. Then, you have to click the transfer button, and Dragon Naturally Speaking will copy and paste your words into the SMART ideas bubble directly. But, it is a little inconvenient because it adds an extra step. For some students, extra steps make it harder for them to produce quality work.

Also, if you notice any mistakes in a SMART ideas bubble, it’s a little bit harder to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to correct the mistake, because you have to do everything through the dictation box. (Normally, you just highlight an incorrect word and speak the correct word. Dragon Naturally Speaking automatically figures out the capitalization and spacing so it fits your sentence.) You may find it easier to use a keyboard in this case.

Lucidchart mind mapping and Dragon Naturally Speaking 12

Lucidchart is a cloud-based mind mapping software. If you use Internet Explorer, then you can use Dragon naturally speaking 12 to dictate your ideas directly into your mind map bubbles. (Lucidchart offers the mind mapping templates as a premium (paid) feature, but if you use your school Google Docs account, you should be able to get this for free.

Bottom line:

Personally, I prefer SMART ideas software if it’s available. (Even if it means I have to use a annoying dictation box to transcribe my ideas.)

I find it easier to move individual bubbles around, especially when you have complex diagrams that that connect into itself in several areas. Also, Lucidchart mind mapping software requires internet access. Sometimes if your internet Wi-Fi connection at school is problematic or slow, you might find Lucidchart mind mapping to lag. Students may find the whole process frustrating. SMART ideas doesn’t require the internet, so SMART ideas never lags when you’re clicking and dragging bubbles around.

This blog post was dictated using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 Premium in Microsoft Word.

I’m trying to decide what technology to buy next for my classroom. Right now, I have my own personal iPad 2 in the hands of some students to help them with their learning.

(The wonderful thing about using my old technology in the classroom is that I can feel less guilty about upgrading to the latest toy.)

I’m very happy with my iPad 3. I’m glad I upgraded from my iPad 2 and as much as I’d love to have the brand new iPad 4 with the upgrade in processing power, I can’t really justify the cost.

There are a few options that caught my eye. Not sure which one I would buy for the classroom, but here they are in order of price:

$249 – Google laptop: Chromebook (Samsung XE 303C12–A01US)

  • $249 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • available in the US and UK only. Not available in Canada stores yet. (You can find it on eBay or by hopping across the border.)
  • 11.6 inch display (1366 x 768 resolution)
  • Chrome OS (allows multiuser accounts)

Business insider has a review of Google’s new Chromebook. The nice thing about Chromebooks is that you can set up multiple user accounts on the device. Everything is in the cloud so you don’t have to worry about losing your work. From the classroom perspective, multiuser accounts is nice because different students can have different settings. You don’t have to worry about students being able to access your own personal information when they’re using your Chromebook.

The downside for the average user is the device is completely dependent on internet. This isn’t a problem for the Wi-Fi enabled classroom.

$329 – Apple tablet: iPad mini

  • starts at $329 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • available in Canada
  • 7.9 inch display (1024 x 768 resolution at 163 pixels per inch)
  • iOS 6 (single user only)

I haven’t entirely decided if I like the idea of the iPad mini for the classroom yet. For $70 more, you can get an iPad 2 with a 2 inch bigger screen. Basically, you can get five iPad minis ($1650) for the price of four iPad 2s (1600). Or to put it another way, you could get a class set of 30 iPad minis ($9900) , or you could get a class set of 25 iPad 2s for approximately the same price ($10,000.)

IPads are nice in the classroom because the touch interface is really intuitive. It’s easier to sketch out diagrams when you’re taking class notes on an iPad than a laptop. On the other hand, it’s harder to type class notes on a tablet for extended periods of time, compared to the keyboard.

$399 – Google tablet: Nexus 10

  • starts at $399 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • will be available in Canada, November 13
  • 10.1 inch display (2560 x 1600 pixels at 300 pixels print)
  • Android 4.2 jellybean (allows multiuser accounts)

Google’s new Nexus 10 tablet has some better specs in the iPad, but what’s really interesting for the classroom is that android 4.2 jellybean is a multiuser environment. This means you can share your personal next 10 tablet with students without having to worry about them accessing your personal information. (When you hand over your iPad, on the other hand, a student can often very quickly access your apps, email, calendar, and personal data.)

I’m not sure how I feel about android apps. Forbes magazine highlights some interesting data about IOS apps versus android apps: “apps are more popular than mobile web, and Apple is winning this race by any measure.” Apple has 550,000 apps and 25 billion apps have been downloaded. On the other hand, android has 440,000 apps and 10 billion have been downloaded.

(I am biased towards Apple. I own four IOS devices and zero android devices so far.)

$399 – Apple tablet: iPad 2

  • starts at $399 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • available in Canada
  • 9.7 inch display (1024 x 768 resolution at 132 pixels per inch)
  • iOS 6 (single user only)

in terms of classroom use, I don’t think there’s any need to spend the extra hundred dollars to buy the new iPad when the iPad 2 is just fine for student use.

$499 – Apple tablet: iPad 4

  • starts at $499 for 16 GB, Wi-Fi
  • available in Canada
  • 9.7 inch display (2048 x 1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch)
  • iOS 6 (single user only)

Bottom line?

Let’s be honest. I’ll probably upgrade to the iPad 4 eventually, and my current iPad 3 will become a classroom device. I’d have to play with the iPad mini at the Apple Store before you can convince me to shell out money. (On the other hand, I could see me sending my daughter with a smaller iPad tablet to school one day.)

To be perfectly honest, it seems a little bit like magic. Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 seems to be working just fine right now with the new enhanced Bluetooth headset. (Whoops, I spoke too soon. Keep on reading.)

Last month, I was having a lot of problems trying to get my new Plantronics Calisto BT300 II enhanced Bluetooth headset to work with Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 Premium. It just wasn’t working.

  • I upgraded my user profile from Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 to Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.
  • I changed the source to that new “Enhanced Bluetooth” in Dragon 12 (instead of the regular “Bluetooth microphone”)

  • But, Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 just didn’t seem to work for me with the new Bluetooth headset. It seemed much slower when correcting mistakes.

When I started writing this post, it looked like everything was fine. But now that I’ve dictated a few paragraphs in Microsoft Word, it seems that Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 is getting slower and slower with the new headset.

I guess I do need to call technical support. Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 seems to work a lot better with my old Dragon 11 Bluetooth headset, which is a little disappointing. Making corrections is painfully slow. Right now.

Then again, a few minutes later, it seems to work just fine. For the last few minutes, I haven’t had any problems dictating using the new version of the Plantronics headset.

  • Maybe the issue is really me – maybe there are some background processes that are interfering with Dragon Naturally Speaking 12? (I’m running Windows 7 64-bit, on an i7 processor with 12 gigs of RAM.)
  • On the other hand, maybe it’s not me. I just spent the last two hours dictating a post using the exact same system, but my old Dragon 11 Bluetooth headset. No problems, and no slowdowns when correcting text.

There are two things I did differently after having a closer look at the Plantronics manual.

  1. I made sure to plug-in the USB adapter for the Dragon 12 Bluetooth headset into a different USB port than the Dragon 11 Bluetooth headset that I use. (The Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 Bluetooth headset comes up with a different driver name: Voyager Pro UC)
  2. I made sure the Bluetooth headset was plugged in before I opened Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 on my computer.

Things seems to be working a little better, but there are definitely times when Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 is running slower with the new Bluetooth headset as opposed to the old Dragon 11 Bluetooth headset. I swear, it’s not just my imagination.

Maybe I should just give up on correcting mistakes.

This blog post was dictated using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 Premium into Microsoft Word.

  • There were 470 words in the first draft of this post.
  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 made 10 word errors which mean that it transcribed 97.9% of the words correctly.
  • The voice recognition software also made an additional 1 punctuation errors meaning the total accuracy rate was 97.7%.

Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher version.

There are two big problems that I hear about using an iPad in the classroom (or anywhere else for that matter.) I’m talking about problems with using the iPad as a notetaking tool, as opposed to problems with deploying and managing a class set of iPads.

  1. It’s hard to create content on the iPad. The iPad is more for media consumption.
  2. How do I get my content off the iPad? There are so many notetaking apps on the iPad, I don’t know which one to choose. I don’t want to start with one app, and then a few months later find out that there’s a better app, and discover it’s hard to get my notes out of this app.

This month (September 2012), Google updated its free Google Drive app, so you can now create and edit Google documents using rich text formatting. This is a big deal, especially for schools that already use Google Apps for Education and provide their students with free Google Docs accounts.

Other iPad apps to access Google Docs

Before September 2012, editing Google Docs on the iPad was a problem. There are a few iPad apps that can connect with your Google Docs account, but I couldn’t find one that I liked.

  • For example, Office2 HD took forever to load my Google Docs directory (if you could load it at all.)
  • Good docs requires you to upload and download documents from your Google Docs account which adds an extra step.
  • The Google iPad app does have “docs” built-in to its applications, but it’s essentially just a web browser loading the mobile or desktop version of Google Docs. (I guess it’s one step up from mobile Safari on your iPad in that it saves your Google Docs account information so you don’t have to keep on entering your password.)

Mobile version of Google Docs on the iPad

For the longest time, you could only get the mobile version of Google Docs to work on the iPad.

  • The problem with the mobile version is that you only have plain text editing, which means that you can’t add bullets, bold, or other formatting.
  • Formatting does show up if the original document already had formatted text, but you can’t add new bullets or change the formatting from the mobile version.

Desktop version of Google Docs on the iPad

The problem with the desktop version of Google Docs on the iPad was that it really didn’t work in mobile Safari.

  • Although Google announced in December 2010 that the desktop version loaded on mobile Safari, the reality was that there were lots of little quirks and glitches that crashed the desktop version on the iPad.
  • The desktop version of Google Docs seems to work fine on the iPad now, but the new Google Drive app is a much more efficient and effective way to edit your Google Docs from an iPad. Here’s why:
    • The keyboard hides half of the screen when you’re viewing the desktop version in mobile safari on your iPad, and when you type, you have to manually flick the page up or down to see what you’re typing if your cursor goes below your keyboard. (The new Google Drive app automatically scrolls the screen  as you get to the end of the page.)
    • Also, the iPad AutoCorrect feature doesn’t work when you’re editing using the Google desktop version. (It works fine in the Google drive app.)
    • Finally, the shift button is frustrating on the desktop version in your web browser on the iPad because it really acts as caps lock. Once you capitalize a letter, it capitalizes everything you type until you hit the shift button again.

Editing Google documents using the Google Drive app on your iPad

Here are a few of the things that I like about the new Google Drive app.

You can quickly add and edit formatted text

This is how Google Docs were meant to be edited on an iPad.

  • It’s a clean and simple word processing app, and it’s easy to add bullets, or italics, and you can even change the font, font colors, or text background to highlight stuff.
  • You’re only limited to 10 basic fonts, but I think if you had too many fonts here, it would make things too complicated.
  • Unlike the desktop web browser version of Google Docs, the keyboard works properly in the Google Drive app. This means you get AutoCorrect, the shift key works properly, and when you get to the end of the screen, the page naturally scrolls up without you having to do it manually like you do in the web browser version.
  • Your files save automatically which means you get the real time editing and collaboration power that you’re used to with Google Docs.

You can view files off-line.

  • Actually, if you’re editing a document and you lose your internet connection, the Google Drive app will automatically switch you to a view only mode until you connect to the Google cloud again.

It load your documents quickly and it’s easy to add new content

  • Some iPad apps take forever to connect to your Google Docs account. The Google Drive app loads your file directory quickly and you can upload photos from your iPad will take a new photo directly into your Google drive account.
  • The only thing I wish you could do in Google drive is sort the files (based on file name, or last modified date) like you can in the web version. Hopefully that’s soon to come because right now, when you upload photos, they won’t show up in your recent document list, and they’re not immediately obvious in your “My Drive” document list either because that list is ordered alphabetically and photos from your iPad start with the filename “photo…”

It’s easy to share documents with other people

  • Just like any other Google Doc, it’s easy to add people to edit, comment, or view your Google Docs.
  • The only downside is that you can’t share with people directly when you’re editing the document. You have to go back out to the file list in order to add people.

Why the Google Drive iPad app turns the iPad into a powerful notetaking tool in the classroom

The Google Drive iPad apps solves two of the big problems with using the iPad to take notes in the classroom.

Problem #1. It’s hard to create content on the iPad.

The free Google drive app gives you a nice simple, clean word processing tool for your iPad.

Problem #2. How do I get my content off the iPad?

The Google Drive app uses cloud computing. Your documents are stored in in the Google cloud which means it’s accessible anywhere that you have internet access.

  • Students can take notes in class and those files can instantly show up on your home computer if you’ve installed Google Drive. (Or, you can access them through your web browser.)
  • Teachers can walk around the classroom with their iPad and make anecdotal observations. These notes instantly appear in their Google docs account which means when they sit down at their real computer in the classroom, their notes are ready to be printed up or sent into an email.
  • It also works the other way. You can start a document in Google Docs on your computer, and then finish it on the bus if your IOS device has 3G or LTE access.

Of course, the obvious limitation of the Google Drive iPad app is that you need internet access. So if you don’t have Wi-Fi in your classroom, this app will be useless.

(By the way, the updated version of the Google Drive iPad app brings it one step closer to being a DropBox killer for me.)

This blog post was dictated using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 premium in Microsoft Word

  • There were 1283 words in the first draft of this post.
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 made 19 word errors which mean that it transcribed 98.5% of the words correctly.
  • The transcription software also made an additional 24 punctuation errors meaning the total accuracy rate was 96.6%. (It seems Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 thinks I like to use sentence fragments so it’s adding a lot of periods here and there. Maybe I need to try to speak more fluently.)

Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher version.

I had the opportunity to sit in on a Google Sites and Google apps for education workshop the other day as we gear up for the start of the new school year. There’s lots to like about a classroom website powered by Google sites:

  • Your teacher website is hosted by Google which means, chances are, it’ll be reliable and quick. (Sure the Google docs website lags every now and then, but if you’re running your own self hosted WordPress site on a shared hosting plan, there’s a reason why shared hosting plans only cost a few bucks per month. It has to do with how much resources you get allocated – there’s nothing worse than having a class of students trying to blog in complaining about how slow your site is.)
  • Google does multiuser collaboration really well. If you’re running Google apps for education, you have complete control over student user account management. You can set things up so your entire school domain, or just students in your class can view, or edit specific pages on your website. (You can now also set page level user permissions.) Google Sites are really wikis so students either have editing privileges, or they don’t. There’s no moderation of student content.
  • It’s easy to embed Google stuff onto your Google sites. Embedding a Google calendar or Google doc, or even Google analytics is pretty simple. No need for third-party plug-ins or embedding code.
  • Google site templates make it easy to create a pretty looking website. There are several education templates to choose from.

If you’re looking for simple way to get a classroom website up and running, Google Sites is definitely a strong option. Especially if all you want to do is set up a space online where you can tell students and parents about all the great things that you’re doing.

The one thing I find Google Sites is still lacking is an easy way for parents and students to be notified of when you make changes to your class website. Here’s the problem with sending out email updates from Google Sites, and here’s why I like WordPress for my class websites:

Sending out an email newsletter on Google Sites (using Feedburner)

If you check out the Google apps for education training center, you find out that you can update parents from your website by using the announcement page. (An announcement page is basically a blog within Google Sites. You post updates and the also up chronologically on this announcement page.)

  • The announcement page (like any blog) has an RSS feed that tech savvy parents and students can subscribe to using a feed reader.
  • Google has a service, FeedBurner, that lets you publish your RSS feed as an email subscription. In other words, you follow the instructions on this page, you get some HTML code that you paste on your Google Sites classroom website and all of a sudden parents and students can sign up for email updates. Every time you publish something on your announcement page, your students and parents will (eventually) get a little email courtesy of feed burner.
  • (By the way, you can use FeedBurner with any classroom blog as long as there’s an RSS feed. So it works fine with Google Sites, WordPress, Blogger, Edublogs, etc.)

The problem with FeedBurner is that it’s not very reliable. I’ve used it on my teacher websites and classroom blogs and I find that my posts would rarely get emailed out to parents and students on the same day. (I know this because I signed up to my own email subscription to make sure things are working.) Often times, the email would come out the next day, but if you Google around, you read stories about how FeedBurner can be very late. It’s not just me.

Sending out an email newsletter on WordPress

I use WordPress for my classroom websites and professional online stomping grounds.

  • If you have a free WordPress.com account, there is a follow blog widget that you can quickly adding customize to your classroom website. Basically, parents and students can sign up your classroom website and receive notifications of when you post something new online.
  • If you run your own WordPress software on a server somewhere (i.e. a self hosted WordPress website,) then you can install the free jet pack plug-in that easily lets you add email subscriptions your website. (This is what I do.)
  • Either way, WordPress.com servers are taking care of mailing out all of the emails on your behalf. They also take care of email subscriptions, so it’s easy for parents and students to opt in or opt out from your email newsletters.

What does this mean?

  1. Students and parents sign up with their email address on my class website.
  2. WordPress sends out an email so they can confirm the subscription. Once they click the link in the email, they can choose delivery options – they can receive emails the moment I post something, or they can choose to receive daily or weekly digests.
  3. I post important information on my website (about a test, or homework assignment, or secret prize)
  4. As long as students and parents have signed up for immediate delivery, they’ll receive my post in their inbox a few seconds after I publish on my class website.

FeedBurner (the email delivery system for Google Sites) is nice, but it doesn’t compare to WordPress.

This blog post was dictated using Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 12 in MS Word 2010.

  • There were 876 words in the first draft of this post.
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking made 7 word errors which mean that it transcribed 99.2% of the words correctly.
  • The voice recognition software also made an additional 7 punctuation errors meaning the total accuracy rate was 98.4%.

Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher version. Dragon 12 seems to be working much better lately compared to my first impressions.

Sometimes, things go wrong. (Like trying to dictate this blog post using Dragon Naturally Speaking 12, and discovering the new “enhanced” Bluetooth headset doesn’t work. But that’s a different story.)

No, today’s story is about, Aviary.

Aviary was a nice collection of free online image and multimedia editing tools. Not as powerful as Photoshop, of course, but if your classroom lab is a set of underpowered netbooks (or Google chromebooks) which you can’t install Photoshop onto, then Aviary’s Phoenix was great because you have layers, masks, etc and it integrated tightly with Google apps for education.

From a teacher’s perspective, this is powerful because students could create Aviary documents from within their school Google Docs account.

  • You didn’t have to worry about creating and managing third-party accounts.
  • You didn’t have to worry about minors under 12 creating user accounts.
  • Everything could be done from within Google Docs.
  • Plus, they had a lot of great tutorials, so Aviary could become a great way for you to integrate art and media literacy into your language program.

I was looking forward to using their effects editor to make cool images like this one.

I was also looking forward to using their swatch editor to talk about color. It was a very cool interactive tool to play with the color wheel and talk about choosing colors in graphic design.


Unfortunately, Aviary is shutting down their multimedia online suite in September 2012.

I get it. The company has made a difficult decision for head towards their successful photo editor app. The aviary (advance) suite runs on flash and fewer and fewer computers use that platform. Plus, there’s a lack of time, resource, and money to maintain the product.

Now what?

My students and I were playing in the chrome Web store at the end of last year, looking for some viable cloud-based Photoshop alternatives. Aviary was the one that really caught our eye.

  • Photoshop express editor lets you tweak some digital photos, but it’s not really for creating new art.
  • Pixlr is a very good possibility. Pixlr editor is also available in the chrome Web store. (You could push this app onto all of your student chromebooks and then students can quickly create Pixlr files from the create menu. Students could also install the app themselves by clicking on “get more apps”.)

But I’m still looking for an online vector drawing program that plays well with Google chromebooks.

What cloud-based graphic design programs do you use in the classroom?

This blog post was dictated using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 premium, the Calisto Plantronics BT300 I wireless headset that shipped with Dragon 11 and Microsoft Word.

  • There were 421 words in the first draft of this post.
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking made 9 word errors which mean that it transcribed 97.9% of the words correctly.
  • The voice recognition software also made an additional 5 punctuation errors meaning the total accuracy rate was 96.7%.

Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher version.

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