2.24.2012

Evernote Clearly

I have been a long-time user of Evernote. I recently came across another extension called Clearly (by Evernote). This cool little extension clears all the clutter from a webpage or article that you may be reading, allowing you to focus on the text.





I will show you two examples of an article I was reading. The first is without Clearly:


















As you can see the page is fairly cluttered and full of ads and other content that distracts from the main article.

The second image is much cleaner.

















There are four buttons along the right-hand side. They are (top-bottom):
  • Hide the overlay
  • Clip to Evernote
  • Show Themes (allows you to change coloring and text size)
  • Print
Being able to read an article without distraction is nice enough, but that last item, "Print" is the icing on the cake. With it, you could of course print the article, but also very easily create a PDF copy of the article with the same clean interface. The PDF includes the original URL for the article/page as a reference. This is a quick and easy way to get clean, readable articles for yourself or your students.

2.17.2012

LibriVox

I was recently introduced to LibriVox. This project has been producing audio recordings of books in the public domain through volunteer support since 2005. You can read more here. All of the recordings are posted in the public domain and are free to use. Much of the content for LibrVox comes from the Project Gutenberg.

According to the website, "LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books." This may serve as a great source of content for pleasure reading and for literature courses. There are a few options for listening to content on LibriVox. You can download a book or section of a book directly to your computer amd listen with your favorite media player (files are mp3 format. You can also subscribe to a podcast that will deliver a reading to you three times a week. If you use iTunes you can download the recordings directly and then sync them with your iPod/iPhone.

The catalog offers a powerful search function. You can search by title, author and status (complete, in progress, open, fully subscribed, proof listening). There is an advanced search with more options allowing you to set other criteria including language and genre. You can also browse the entire catalog. This view is somewhat cumbersome as there are many books which are listed alphabetically. That being said, this is an extensive list/source of free audio books. I for one will be exploring this library for some classics that I have not yet read.


2.10.2012

Diigo

Diigo has been around for awhile now. I am not sure why it is still in beta, but I digress. Diigo is a social bookmarking tool. You can watch a video explaining what social bookmarking is here. If you have not tried this tool, I definitely recommend it. Others have reviewed some of the great features of Diigo. I don't want this post to be an exhaustive list of all the capabilities of Diigo, but suggestions of how you might use the tool.

Here are a few ways that I could see Diigo being used in a class environment and personal/professionally...

Course resource - It is easy to create groups and groups lists of bookmarks. A class could aggregate a collection of online resources for a particular project, complete with annotations and notes that the entire class could share.

Personal Learning Network - A person can use this tool as part of their own learning network, gathering resources, sharing them and connecting with others that share the same interests. I use the 'Read Later' list to automatically populate my Google Reader. This allows me to bookmark a site and read it on my own time.

Backup - Diigo can serve as a place for you to backup all the bookmarks you have saved in your browser.  Your computer of course will never crash, but in case it does it would be nice to have your bookmarks saved somewhere other than your computer.

If you use Diigo or another social bookmarking tool, please comment sharing how you use the tool.


2.03.2012

iBooks Author and other stuff

So... you may or may not have heard about iBooks Author. Some have touted that it will revolutionize the textbook. There have been may reviews (here, and here) and some videos like this one. There has been much talk about iBooks Author's EULA (here, here and here). I do not want to rehash what has come before, but hopefully build upon and turn the discussion in a bit of a different direction.


I think that on the surface of things iBooks and the accompanying authoring program may seem revolutionary. We now can have the Potter-esque moving newspaper, text interspersed with audio and video, while also allowing users to interact in a somewhat limited way with the content. As was mentioned before, one piece that iBooks do not yet include is a way for social interaction with the content. This is limiting pedagogically because much learning happens in discourse and the exchange of ideas around content. So digging deeper, iBooks are, albeit shiny and handsomely packaged, still really just a text book.

There have been other projects that have tackled this idea before. I have seen and played with Sophie a bit. I was encouraged to see that the project is continuing and has progressed to offering options for mobile devices.  I think the piece that is missing from both iBooks and Sophie (at least what I have found so far) is the social interaction piece. Without this we have a souped-up version of a text. Yes, these tools can do things that plain text cannot and allow an author to write in different ways than plain text, but the end product is a standalone solitary experience. In contrast, I think about tools like Voicethread. This tool allows the users to have conversation around a piece of text, image, audio or video.

So what now?

There is a push from some for open content. I think this is similar in some ways to the brouhaha we saw over music becoming digital and the change iPod/iTunes and more recently the SOPA/PIPA vs. free internet uproar. (If you need an explanation of what that is, watch this.) I think that generally speaking it will be difficult to revolutionize the text book when there are very large lucrative businesses built around publishing and distributing these books. I have heard the idea of going textbook-less, which is not completely uninviting. There is value in textbooks, but that value is waning as the rate at which information is produced becomes faster and faster. By the time (depending on the field) a text book is published some of the content will most likely be obsolete, "old news".

I think that the open content movement will continue to push education, higher ed in particular, to a model of open sharing. the Most recent version of Moodle (2.x) allows instructors to license content with Creative Commons for the purpose of sharing. This is a good thing.

UPDATE 2.14.12
As I was researching for another post I cam across another iBooks alternative, Pressbooks. This is still in beta, but allows the author to publish in many different formats (HTML, ePub, printo on-demand, Indesign ready XML). I don't think that it will support the 'interactive' media like iBooks and Sophie do, but it will allow the author to publish on many differnt fronts, which is appealing. I haven't delved into it more than that, but it looks very interesting.