Getting the most out of PDFs

I wanted to pass along two great resources for helping you get the most out of PDFs. (This is a topic near and dear to my heart: I’m a bit of a PDF hoarder. Between work-related items, research articles, and knitting patterns, my computer desktop always has a healthy number of PDFs on it!)

1) Twelve Powerful PDF Tools. This article lists some helpful PDF resources.

I’m especially intrigued by PageFlipFlap, which turns PDFs into flippable book pages. You simply upload your PDF and then wait for an email with a link to your content. You can view the flip book on your computer, share the output to social media, or embed it on your website using the code provided. The service is free – and seemingly without limit to the number of documents or pages in your document (as long as you are wiling to tolerate some advertising). One other thing to note: PageFlipFlap uses flash. Sorry, iDevice users.

I’ve used BlogBooker in the past, and can attest to the fidelity of the PDF provided. This is a great way to archive a class blog. I love that it captures images and comments. Best, the PDFs it generates are purely your blog’s content without advertising or information about BlogBooker itself. To use this, you need to be the administrator of the blog in question, since BlogBooker generates the PDF file from the export file provided to blog admins by most blogging platforms.

Check out the rest of the PDF options!

2.  Annotating PDFs. It’s really helpful to be able to highlight or add commentary and notes to PDFs (see our earlier review of Highlighter for a social / course-based component to PDF annotations).

Looking through my own notes, I ran across a Profhacker article recommending the app PDFpen. It might be as amazing as the author contends – in particular, the OCR feature to convert items into searchable text does seem really useful for some researchers – but I’m cheap. Thus, unless I’m really going to use all the features, the $14.99 iPad / $60.00 Mac price tag is a bit steep.

My old standby, iAnnotate, is only $2.99 and works well with the iPad. For those looking to economize even more, Skim is free PDF annotation software for Mac computers.

I’m always on the hunt for new tools – what do you use to annotate PDFs? Moreover, what neat and new things are you doing with PDFs? Share away in the comments!

Virtual Field Trips, Part II

We wrote about virtual field trips in June, including some options for integrating these into your course.

Virtual field trips are a featured collection this week in the apps and iTunesU sections of the iTunes Store. There are both iPad and iPhone apps that cover museums, historic sites, national parks, libraries, and performing arts.

Here’s a screenshot of just a few of the apps in the collection:

screenshot of iTunes store field trip apps

Sample listing of virtual field trip apps from the iTunes Store.

Happy travels!

p.s. If you’re looking to explore the world in a less focused manner, you can check out my favorite new addiction, GeoGuessr. This is a free online guessing game based on Google Street View images. The game will show you a random image, and you drop a pin on a world map based on where you think the image was taken. The game then calculates the distance between reality and your guess. This is a fascinating way to make the work of decoding images fairly transparent. It’s also a great illustration of how little images really tell us – or maybe I’m just uniquely horrible at the game!

iPad Presentation Apps

How timely! We’re in the process of re-working the Tablet and Smartphone, Collaboration, Presentation, and Web 2.0 areas of our website. I’m thus particularly delighted that a colleague shared this lovely collection of resources from edshelf with me: 27 Presentation & Creation iPad Apps.

Here’s a snapshot of the various apps the site highlights (click on the image below to see the tools in their full glory over at edshelf):

Best, the site has a short introductory video for each app, plus user comments. Talk about simplifying the app research process: you and your students will be sharing content in no time!

Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Smartphone and Tablet Era

Bloom’s Taxonomy, the prism through which many of us have been taught to evaluate learning outcomes, is changing. The general trend is to focus more applications of knowledge, rather than knowledge for its own sake. In the updated version, the act of remembering replaces “knowledge” at the base of the triangle. Progressively more intense higher-order thinking skills are enumerated moving upward toward the peak of the triangle, culminating with learners creating knowledge. The act of synthesis, absent in the revised taxonomy, likely has always found its way into the work of analysis, evaluation, and creation.

Of course, Bloom’s taxonomy is not the only way to graphically represent the cognitive processes associated with learning. Other revisions have represented the taxonomy as a series of interlocking gears, a blooming rose (hah!), and a feathered bird – just to name a few. Notably, Rex Heer at Iowa State’s Center for Excellence in Teaching has created a nice flash model of the way that the cognitive processes mesh with different levels of knowledge that learners will need to complete the task. It’s definitely worth clicking on the link in the previous sentence and then playing a little with the interactive graphic.

Recently, I’ve run across a few revisions of Bloom’s taxonomy focusing just on the apps available for tablets and smartphones. Check out the Padogogy Wheel:

I love the multitude of apps identified above – what better way to find something new that just might work for you? However, if you’re looking for something a little cleaner, here’s a nice distillation:

Of course, not all the apps are appropriate for your content, level, or course goals. You might use the above information to guide students when helping them select research, presentation, or study tools. If you’re currently using – or contemplating using – one of the apps identified above, this should give you a sense of the cognitive range of the app. Last, if you’re not yet sure how smartphones and tablets fit into the classroom and individual learning processes, hopefully these graphics have provided some food for thought.

If you’re looking for still more apps, the Koehler Center has a list of both discipline-specific and general study, writing, and document management apps. In addition, some of the web 2.0 tools identified on our website also have their own apps.

Apps on tablets and smartphones are more than just cool tools. In particular, some apps make it very easy for students to transition from sophisticated curators of knowledge of innovative creators of knowledge – that is, to ascend to the highest level in the revised Bloom’s taxonomy.

Do you have an app you love to use with your students? What impact does this app have on student learning? Alternately, is there an app that would benefit your students’ learning that you’d love to create?

Flickr

I’m a huge fan of the photo sharing site Flickr, especially since they finally got it together and released some Flickr apps for smartphones and a Flickr app for the iPad. However, I understood Flickr to be primarily place where you uploaded all 2,347 pictures of your new baby (ahem). But recently I’ve run across a few other blog posts detailing the scholarly side of Flickr. Who knew?!

The Academic Technology blog at the College of William and Mary has a great post discussing the options for sharing your research-related images. How do you share a gallery of annotated images with select individuals without the need for additional accounts on the part of the viewers? A Flickr album!

Note that the above presumes you have – and have the rights to use – the images. If you’d like to use properly licensed Flickr images, there’s a lovely how-to from Derek Bruff, the director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a senior lecturer in the department of mathematics there. ProfHacker has also recently outlined how to use Flickr to make better slides.

If you’re not finding the images you need through Flickr, you can always try Google: we’ve written about finding properly licensed images using Google image search.

And, in case you feel like going image-crazy, here is a past post of ours about the ways in which you might find, edit, and use digital images.

Educational Android Apps

We’ve shared a fair amount of iPhone and iPad apps with you recently. While most of the apps we’ve reviewed also work on other devices, this Android-focused list of educational apps is a nice, specific collection. I especially like that the list is broken down by age level and app function. Gamma rays, guitar chords, and graphing calculators – bring it on!

If you’re interested in more apps, you might review the list of mobile and tablet apps collected by the Koehler Center team. We’ve highlighted both discipline-specific apps and apps for note-taking, reading, writing, organization, studying, and collaboration.

TCU’s Pearson LearningStudio Mobile Website

login page of TCU LearningStudio mobile websiteAs courses are ramping up and our calendars are filling with meetings, lectures, and other campus events, now seems like the perfect time to post a little reminder about TCU’s Pearson LearningStudio mobile website.

The mSite is a slimmed down version of your Pearson LearningStudio experience, designed for mobile devices (including iPads). No special downloads or apps are required!

Users can use the browser on any device to access the mSite at http://m.tcuglobal.edu or visit http://www.tcuglobal.edu.

What can you do/see on the msite?

Courses – A user can see their currently enrolled courses.

Announcements – A user can see all of the Announcements within each course. Rich text is supported in Announcements.

Activity – Activity is a cross-course feed that shows the user what’s happening in their courses. Items include threads posts and responses, Dropbox submissions, and Gradebook items.

Upcoming – Upcoming shows the user a cross-course list of upcoming events, which includes any item with a due date, or start/end date. Included in this list are scheduled threads, quizzes/exams, and HTML content with due dates.

Discussions – The Discussions section shows active discussions (posts within the last 24 hours) from across a user’s courses, and let’s the user see all topics, organized by unit. Discussion topics support rich text and images. Users can reply to any topic or response. When a message is unread in Discussions, a colored bar shows to the left of the cell as a subtle indicator that the user has not yet read the message.

Gradebook – A user can see their Gradebook, with both graded and ungraded items, and see details for graded items.

Want more information? Check out or msite how-to videos for instructors and students.

Digital Note-taking

I was a pretty traditional spiral-notebook note-taker in college. My one organizational innovation was to color-code them by subject and then keep using the same notebook semester after semester until it was full. Also, of course, I still have them all. Why? I have no idea.

These days, there some great digital options for note-taking. You can use these tips for your own organization or share them with your students (Bonus: your students can hold dear your lectures without clinging to old spiral notebooks years down the road!).

Evernote: A free, cloud-based note-taking program / app with a premium upgrade option ($9 per month / $45 per year) that gets you collaboration rights, video privileges, faster uploads, better support, and increased offline access to all notebooks. In addition to text, notes can include images, audio and video files, and Word and PDF files. There’s even a web interface with a bookmark clipping tool. In addition, your notes are searchable, tag-able, and easy to share with others on a wide variety of different devices and via Facebook and Twitter. This is a succinct summary of Evernote and a profile of its use in the elementary/secondary setting. In my mind, use in such settings is a plus since it suggests that the program must be fairly user-friendly. However, don’t let the elementary/secondary use lead you to think that Evernote lacks functionality or reach: December 2012 is expected to bring Evernote for Business, designed with enhanced sharing, security, and clear content ownership rules.

OneNote: A Microsoft product, with apps for the iPhone and iPad (you can use OneNote on an Android phone, but some users claim functionality is limited). Note that you won’t find OneNote on the Mac version of Office, but it is included on the Windows version; if you want to buy it as a stand-alone program the cost $79, although student / university discounts may bring that price down. The web app is free and the mobile app allows 500 notes for free. Your notes can contain typed or stylus-written text, images, audio, video, and Word or PDF files. OneNote will even index audio/video files, making searching within your notes much easier. OneNote will sync your notes among multiple devices, and will indicate the contributions of collaborators in your shared notebooks by adding their content in a new color.

This is a very detailed comparison of Evernote and OneNote.

Google Docs: A cloud-based solution with a price that can’t be beat (free, although extra storage can be purchased). Accessibility to all types of content in Google Docs may be limited on some mobile devices, however. Unlike the other note-taking set-ups in which you are essentially adding text or files to pages, Google Docs lets you begin with different document types: spreadsheets, drawings, presentations, and the traditional document. This can be very useful, depending on what kind of information you’re taking down. You can insert images, links, equations, drawings, and special characters (and video, in a Google Presentation). Simultaneous collaboration is easy, and you can download your Google Docs into Word/Excel/PowerPoint, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip files for back-up.

Simplenote: Another free, cloud-based option (although $20 per year will rid you of advertising). The goal here is simplicity: you type, your notes are tag-able, searchable, and shareable, and then you can share you notes by exporting them to email (or using a third-party program to get them in other formats). There are no bells and whistles, but what it does, it reportedly does very, very well.

CourseNotes: A student-focused note-taking product for Macs and iPads (each version costs $4). In addition to typed text notes, drawing, and the ability to import and annotate photos, CourseNotes also allows lecture recording, the creation of to-do lists with assignment due dates (and alarms!), and note-sharing with others via Facebook, email, or over a local network. CourseNotes will also wirelessly sync between Macs and iPads.  (Although marketed for students, I actually see a lot of potential for instructors to turn this product on its head and make great use of some of its features.)

Penultimate: This $1 iPad-only app is designed for stylus users who want to able to hand-write notes on their iPad as if they were using a tablet (or even a piece of paper!). You’ll need a stylus, as there’s no keyboard option – but the program’s ability to capture detail combined with the variety of color, line-thickness, and paper background options (including importing / taking photos) means that you can produce clear and comprehensive renderings. And, for clumsy folks like me, there’s even a wrist-protection feature, so stray marks from your wrist are not accidentally recorded. Your notes can be exported to PDF and saved for back-up or emailed, and you can also share files via iTunes. However, there doesn’t seem to be a way for multiple users to actively collaborate simultaneously in one notebook.

From a device-specific standpoint, this is a thorough round-up of iPad note-taking options.

Are you a digital notes-taker? What are you using? Do you use a stylus? If so, do you have a favorite? If you’re on the stylus fence (and what a stylish fence it is! Sorry, I couldn’t resist!), this is a nice review of the many stylus options out there. If your students are taking digital notes, what products do you see your students using?

Apps by Students

Check out this list of the 25 best smartphone apps developed by students. I think it’s great that these apps were developed by students, but it’s even better than so many of them are geared at problems that students (and the rest of us!) seem to have: finding your car in parking lot, keeping track of your schedule, managing your to-do list, etc.

(On the topic of apps, the Koehler Center’s general list of useful mobile and tablet apps may also be helpful.)

iPads and Education

Thinking about using an iPad as a teaching tool? Here are some great resources:

1. Answering the “Where do I begin?” question, this site provides a general overview of some steps in the iPad introduction process.

2. Edudemic has put together this list of 25 Ways to use iPads in the Classroom. Helpfully, this list provides both apps and snippets of classroom activities to accompany the selected app.

3. The Koehler Center eLearning Mobile and Tablet Apps website has an extensive list of apps, broken down both by specific discipline and by function (managing PDFs, note-taking, file sharing, etc.).

If you’re using an iPad as teaching / learning tool, we’d love to hear about it!