IFTTT: A Useful Web Aggregator

First, IFTTT stands for if-this-then-that. This is one of the bedrock formulations of both logical thought and computer programing. And how does one even say that? According to the IFTTT website, it’s pronounced like “lift” without the “L”.

Basically, IFTTT allows you to integrate actions across different websites. As the website explains, “recipes” (think of them like formulas or orders) are broken down into “triggers” (the precipitating action) and “results” (what will actually happen). You can either create your own recipes or use recipes from the larger IFTTT user community. These recipes are then sorted by channels, allowing you to quickly find recipes for interacting with popular websites. So, for example, you can find an IFTTT recipe stating “if I place a file in a designated folder in my Dropbox account, [then] email my friend,” “if I upload a picture to Facebook, [then] upload it to Flickr,” or “if I post a tweet, [then] save it as .txt in my Dropbox folder.”

You can find recipes for Blogger, Delicious, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Facebook Pages, Google Reader, Storify, WordPress and YouTube, among many others. Some of the recipes repeat functions found in the websites themselves. I don’t see a need for an IFTTT recipe for “if I have an appointment, [then] text me” if you’re a Google calendar user since Google calendar already has that feature. However, some recipes seem very useful – if you’re using Twitter in the classroom this is one way to create an archive or re-tweet important items. Or, if your students are completing a group project, there some great file sharing and communications recipes that might facilitate cooperation.

IFTTT recipes don’t stop with websites – you can also find recipes related to phone calls and text messages. I’m a real fan of things like “if the forecast in my city changes to rain, [then] text me.”  I’m still waiting for the recipe that says “If it’s a day that ends in -y, [then] order a cupcake to be delivered to my office.” Alas.

If you’re like to read more about IFTTT, you can check out Inside Higher Ed or ProfHacker (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Audio, Video, and Your Course Shell

We’re big fans of using multimedia to vary the way in which quality content is presented in your course shell.

If you’ve never added audio or video content (or maybe your skills in this area are a bit rusty), your instructor bio is a great place to start. We’ve built a lovely template that you can use to convey the basic info. You can embellish that using our information about recording and uploading audio or video clips. Giving students the ability to hear your voice or even see a video of you can really help to build connections, especially in fully online courses.

If you’re ready to move beyond the bio and add audio and video to course content, here are some great tips from TechSmith (the makers screen capture and recording software) for when your video will contain important – but not necessarily super-exciting – information.

But what about audio? Audio files place less strain on the network and are easier and quicker to download and play. Additionally, this is a nice and practical summary of what cognitive psychologists have to say about the preferential processing of audio input. As the blog post points out, voices matter.

In fact, I can still vivdly remember the day in my high school English class when we listened to a recording of William Butler Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” The quality of the recording was somewhat lacking, but there was beauty and power and transformation in hearing those words. I wasn’t an English major in college, and I didn’t, obviously, go on to become a poet. But the power of those words – of hearing the poet speak them in his lilting, wavering voice has stuck with me all these years.  (If you’d like to try listening to the poem yourself, here is a recording; the poem itself begins around 2:00)

I’d urge you to try adding some multimedia to your course shell. After all, you never know the memories your students will retain years down the road!

Mapping Tools

Where in the world are we? A handful of great digital mapping resources have come to my attention lately. In addition to geography courses, these websites would fit nicely in history, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, foreign language, and even literature courses; maps are also a wonderful addition to digital storytelling projects.

First, a few specific resources:

If the ancient world is your thing, ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World would be a wonderful classroom addition. Like a travel site for ancient world, users can select their departure point and destination, the time of year travel is to take place, their method of travel, and their goal (speed or cost savings). The site then maps a route. No better way to bring home how ideas, people, and commerce might – and might not – spread. (Thanks to Chris Clark at Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center for tipping me off to this resource.)

There are two great interactive projects related to slavery in the United States. First, National Geographic has a great digital branching story about the Underground Railroad. In this simulation, users make choices and receive feedback as they attempt to journey from Maryland to Canada. Though plenty of historical images and rich descriptions accompany each step, there are no useable map images.

The above site, however, would pair nicely with Visualizing Emancipation, a project from the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond (funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities). Visualizing Emancipation specifically focuses on the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War; data was gathered from a detailed study of primary documents including runaway slave notices, articles about returned slaves, troop locations, seasonal patterns, and instances of African-Americans helping the Union. For another review, you can consult the article in Chronicle of Higher Education about the project.

And now some more general digital mapping resources:

The United Nations Cartographic Section has a great list of regional political maps (all in an easy to use and re-use PDF format), maps about current peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions, and a small selection of institutional, historical, and regional maps. If you’d like a map of the Okavango River basin, they’ve got it. For more extensive geopolitical maps and facts,the CIA World Factbook is a great resource; this site even supports country-to-country comparisons, audio files of national anthems, and includes detailed information about each country.

I’d be remiss not to direct to you one of the finest digital map archives online, the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas. Like the UN site, they have maps related to current events, but their collection also includes general interest maps, historical maps, and fully digitized versions of several historical atlases.

For a more interactive map experience, check out the University of Oregon’s Mapping History Project. Broken down by region and time period, these maps allow you to move a slider along the bottom of the map to illustrate the chronological progression of political, social, economic, and intellectual events. Sadly, they seem to be missing a section on Asia.

Last, to round out this survey of mapping resources, here’s a great little animation reviewing how astronomers learned to measure celestial distances.

If you’ve got a great digital map resource, please share it with us in the comments section.

New from Google

Two Google-related news items:

1. A review of the Google Docs research tool. Basically, this is a quick way to run a search on terms within your Google Docs. Results display in a sidebar adjacent to your original text. You then have the option to preview a selected website, create a hyperlink in your document, or add the related citation to your document. As the review notes, “research” and “web search” aren’t necessarily the same thing (nor do they guarantee the same quality of results). Likewise, the embedded citations provided by the research tool are not in one of the standard scholarly formats. However, the ability to quickly verify quotes, facts, or other pieces of data all without leaving the original document does seem very convenient.

2. Using a Google search to identify images. You can use Google Image search not only to find images, but also to help you find more information about images. What happens if you find an image online, but fail to note the source? Or, with further research, you realize that you need more information about said image or need to find the original source? Google lets you enter a web address, drag and drop the image, or upload it. Search results are then returned alongside your original image, letting you find the right site to clear up any image attribution issues.

Happy searching!

Learnist & Instructables

We’ve written about ShowMe and Snapguide, two different tutorial-making tools that allow you to provide brief, visual how-to information for a subject of your choice. Lab procedures? Candy making? Deciphering an address in a foreign language? You got it!

There are two other tutorial sites that are getting some press in the world of educational technology: Learnist and Instructables. Both have a Pinterest-like feel, in that there is an exceedingly friendly visual pin-board layout, coupled with the ability to sort tutorials by category.

Learnist is in closed beta form, although you can request an an invite. Although there is a robust education area (including contributions from college professors), the site also includes how-to information on wide variety of topics.

Instructables identifies as more of a DIY resource; there’s no education category per se, although you can find tutorials on lasers, science, websites, relationships, and solar items.

How might you use these with your students? You could, of course, create your own tutorials about course concepts. You could also select or ask your students to select tutorials for discussion: is there a tutorial that illustrates a course concept or one where more specialized knowledge might have improved the outcome? You might even consider having students share their knowledge by making a tutorial in the style of one these sites.

Last, if you’re interested in something like this for your course, but tutorials don’t quite fit the bill, we’ve compiled quite the list of multimedia and teaching tools and internet streaming video resources on our website. If you’re using something exciting, let us know!