JISC RSC Learning Technologies

JISC RSC Scotland North & East

Delicious is a social bookmarking site that lets you bookmark your favourite web resources or URLs. You can also search Delicious for resources. If someone has bookmarked a resource it’s usually because it’s useful in some way and we can use this to our advantage when searching for useful resources. You don’t need to have an account or be logged in to search Delicious.

In this short video I look at three quick ways to find information on Delicious

1. Explore Tags

On the Delicious Home Page, there’s an Explore Tags tab (1) which we can use to search for tags.

A tag is a keyword that users assign to a bookmark to describe the resource. So I’m interested in QR Codes at the moment so I’ll type in qrcodes (2) omitting the space. In delicious, tags don’t have spaces. QR Code related bookmarks could also be assigned tags such as qrcode and qr. You’ll get a feel for the various tags when you see the search results

You can also search for multiple tags so I could filter this search further by typing in education. So it returns all the recent tags with qrcode and education.

TIP: Each Recent and Popular tag search on Delicious has a handy associated RSS feed and if you’re familiar with RSS feeds you can subscribe to this feed by copying the RSS address into something like Google Reader and automatically be kept up-to-date with, in this case bookmarks being tagged with qrcode and education.

You can also search for Popular tags.

You can only search for one tag at a time but it’s a quick way to get a list of popular resources for the subject you are searching for.

2. Full Search

Delicious also has a global search facility and it will search not only tags but bookmark title and associated notes. You can refine your search in a number of ways. For example, restricting it by date, wrapping it quotes and filtering by tag. I go into more detail in the video.

 

3. Sort by Popularity

Finally, you can sort your results by the amount of times a resource has been bookmarked by using the Greasemonkey Firefox extension.

Greasemonkey lets you change the look and feel of web pages and here I’m using two scripts; AutoPagerize and Sort Visible Links. AutoPagerize lets you see multiple screens of information on one page. It saves you scrolling down the page and hitting the next page button. As soon as you’re at the bottom of the page it automatically loads the next page. Once you’ve got a few screens listed on the one page you can then use the Sort Visible Links script to sort the bookmarks into the most bookmarked resources.

I just came across this handy app for the iPhone/iPod Touch called Prizmo.

This app lets you take photos of text documents then performs OCR (Optical Character Recognition) allowing you to send the text to a variety of different destinations. It also has a built-in text-to-speech (tts) reader which may be useful for students with dyslexia. The synthetic voices are remarkably good. You do need to purchase these separately though (currently £1.79 each). For causal use it may be an alternative to the great, but expensive Intel Reader. I go through Prizmo’s features in more detail in the short video.

Prizmo’s Key Features

Scan text docs
Fast, accurate OCR (text recognition)
Text-to-speech voice reader
Text language translation (useful for ESOL/language students)
Send text to a variety of sources

 
Go to the Prizmo iTunes Preview Page. Currently priced at £5.99 in the App Store. Additional Voices £1.79

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Download Create&Convert Audio Overview MP3

I was delighted to be joined today by our eLearning Advisor for Accessibility and Inclusion, Craig Mill. Following on from the success of AccessApps and MyStudyBar, Craig discusses, in this short audio interview, JISC RSC Scotland N&E’s brand new software tool – Create&Convert.

On 1st October of this year the Equality Act 2010 came into force. The Act states that information must be available in an accessible format. If you’d like to know more about the Act, in a digestible format, JISC TechDis and JISC Legal have produced this short guide.

Create&Convert is a free, resource creation and training tool that has been designed specifically to help institutions or organisations comply with the Act and enables users to publish electronic documents in accessible alternative formats such as DAISY Digital Talking Books (DTB).

For more information go to Create&Convert

I ran a short QR Code workshop a couple of weeks ago and thought I’d share a couple of icebreakers I used which seemed to go down well.

Icebreaker 1: Retrieve your free RSC Pencils

I split participants into pairs, primarily because I didn’t have enough phones to go round and assigned them a team name. It also got participants chatting. Beforehand, the fun bit in the office was coming up with the team names. Included for reference! :-)

Laurel and Hardy
Fred and Wilma
Tom & Jerry
Starsky and Hutch
Morecombe and Wise
Lone Ranger and Tonto
Randall and Hopkirk (non-deceased)
Marks and Spencer

Their task was to scan the QR code displayed on the data projector screen at the front of the room and follow the instructions.

Decoded, the QR Code reads “Your task, should you wish to accept, is to find the set of pencils with your team name on it”. So it very quickly gave participants the opportunity to scan in a few QR Codes and find their RSC pencils. The QR Codes encoded with their team names, along with the pencils were laid out on a table.

Icebreaker 2: Name the conferences we ran in September

The second activity was to scan QR Codes attached to the RSC Posters on the wall. I asked a question about our website and they had to visit the resource to get the answer.

Notes

I was lucky enough to be able to borrow my colleagues phones. I didn’t want to use their bandwidth so turned off the phone part and flipped on wifi. Icebreaker 1 worked well because it wasn’t using any network resources. There was an issue with a couple of the older phones getting them linked up to the hidden wireless network at the institution we were at so Icebreaker 2 was a problem for those phones – although the QR code could still be scanned and the web address stored and visited at a later date.

If participants are using their own phones in a workshop and want to install QR Code software, a site I’ve found useful is http://percentmobile.com/getqr If they go to that address on their phones it suggests and links to a few QR Code readers that will run on their phone.

If you’re using QR Codes with student it might be worth checking your WiFi network. Can your students access it? Andy Ramsden at the University of Bath recently published The level of student engagement with QR Codes: Findings from a cross institutional survey. It indicated that only 18 percent of students would be willing to access mobile learning material using their own bandwidth.

I recently wrote a blog post on simplifying your QR Codes for easier scanning using Google’s URL shortening service. Now Google have opened up their service and you can create shortened URLs without the use of a browser extension or bookmarklet.

To create a shortened URL just go to Goo.gl and copy and paste in your URL to be shortened and hit Shorten. That’s it!

If you’ve got a google account it’s worth signing in before you use the service. That way you can keep track of all your shortened goo.gl URLs.

A Couple of Tips

Clicking on the Details link in your stats page will give you some stats on your shortened URL like number of clicks on the URL and it will also give you an image of the QR Code for the shortened URL.

You don’t need to be logged in to your Google account to do this and you can get stats on ANY goo.gl shortened URL by typing either typing a plus sign (+) after the URL or typing .info. So, for example goo.gl/VZ22+ or goo.gl/VZ22.info will take you to the stats page for the JISC RSC LearnTech Blog*. If you just want access to the QR Code just type .qr after the shortened URL goo.gl/VZ22.qr

Contributor BinBin on the goo.gle discussion forum submitted an excellent tip on how to resize the default QR Code size. RIght-click on the QR Code and open the image in a new tab (your browser terminology may be slightly different). If you go directly to the QR code, for example, goo.gl/VZ22.qr you don’t need to right-click.

Now, in the address bar you’ll see a size of, for example, 150×150 in the URL. This is the size of the QR Code. So, if you wanted to make the QR Code 500×500 just replace the 150×150 with 500×500 and hit return.

*This tip also works on any bit.ly shortened URL. Bit.ly is an alternative shortening service. It lets you customise the bit.ly URL so I can specify something meaningful like bit.ly/rsclt to take me to my blog rather than a randomly generated URL. Much easier to remember! Bit.ly doesn’t offer QR Code generation though.

UPDATE 13/10/2010: Bit.ly now offers QR Code generation. Same process as Goo.gl. Just add .qr after the shortened URL.

The more data you encode in a QR Code, the more complex the code becomes, making it potentially difficult for lower spec’d cameras to decode. You can make your QR Codes simpler by using a url shortening service like Google’s goo.gl service.

In this video I look at Google’s URL shortening service, goo.gl and the Google Chrome URL Shortener extension. Another bonus of using the goo.gl service is that by adding a .qr extension onto the end of any goo.gl address it also automatically creates a QR Code. If you’re not a Chrome user, you can still use the goo.gl service by using a bookmarklet or firefox extension. As an alternative, I also look at a QR Code Generator with built-in URL shortening service from Delivr.

Why I use a shortening service

When I first started using QR Codes a couple of years ago I would cram in a lot of information when generating my own codes. This lead to quite complex QR Codes. The camera on my phone had no problem decoding them, but after running a couple of workshops I realised it was proving problematic for lower resolution and lower spec’d cameras without autofocus or with long minimum focusing distances to read the QR Codes. Of course, you could always make the QR Codes larger. Kaywa suggest a minimum print size of 32mm x 32mm. If you’re interested in the gory technical details, Denso-Wave, the creators of QR Codes, have the specifications here.

For me, I want to make my QR Codes as accessible as possible, so now I make sure the information encoded is as short as possible. Rather than giving out my full contact details on a QR Code, I just encode my blog URL which has my contact details there. My blog address is rather long so I use a url shortening service to make the QR Code as simple and useable as possible. If (rarely now) my QR Codes contain a lot of text I just make sure the QR Codes are extra large.

Using QR Codes institution wide

If you’re considering implementing the use of QR Codes across your institution, and in terms of sustainability (what would happen if the third party shortening service you used folded?) and authenticity (users may be more inclined to use URLs created by a trusted institutional shortening service than a third party one), it may be worth implementing your own URL shortening service and QR Code generator. It’s pretty straightforward to do. Just purchase a short domain name and implement a url shortening script. Here’s a list of 10 free scripts to get you started. You could also, optionally, record tracking stats such as IP address and user- agent. And finally, write your own QR Code generator using Google’s Chart API.

I did an Audio Feedback workshop at the ePortfolio Scotland 2010 conference held last week at Queen Margaret University. One of the participants asked for more information on using the LAME MP3 encoder with Audacity.

Out of the box, you can’t export MP3 files with Audacity, the free open-source audio editor. There’s a patent issue with the MP3 file format so you need to download an extra file to allow you to convert your audio files to MP3 format.

The file you need to download, the LAME MP3 encoder file (lame_enc.dll) just needs to be placed somewhere where Audacity can find it. There’s more information on the Audacity LAME info page and I’ve made a short video for reference, showing how to download and use it.

In the video I downloaded the zip file rather than the exe file. It’s up to you which method you choose.

I’ve already blogged about using my iPod Touch and Apple Wireless Keyboard as a portable note taking solution. In addition now, I’ve got a shiny new Dell Streak Android device (is it a big phone or a wee tablet – a bit of both!).

So the obvious step is to pair it up with the Apple Bluetooth Wireless keyboard. And it paired first time with no problem. Just turn Bluetooth on. You can do this by tapping on the block that contains the battery level/phone signal strength indicators. Then from the same menu, go to More Settings > Wireless controls > Bluetooth Settings, turn the keyboard on, Scan for devices. When the Streak has found the keyboard tap it on the screen and follow the onscreen instructions. That’s it.

I have a quick demo in the video below. I also mention some keyboard shortcuts.

In Part 1 and Part 2 we looked at ways of recording your Skype conversations with software and hardware. In this post we’ll look at free ways to host your audio files and turn them into a podcast. This process applies to any recorded mp3 file (or video file).

If we just put our mp3 file online it would just be an audio file online. What makes it a podcast is its distribution method. Podcasting is a contraction of two words, pod- for iPod and -casting for broadcasting. The pod bit is a bit of a misnomer because you don’t have to have an iPod to listen to a podcast. You can listen on any device that will play back mp3 files. The broadcasting bit is your distribution method done through something called RSS. You may have see little orange icons dotted around the web similar to the last icon in the image above. That indicates that the web page has an RSS feed. The good news is that you don’t need to be concerned with the technical aspect of setting up an RSS feed as there are applications that will do it for you. In this post we’re going to look at setting up a blog as a distribution method for your mp3 files.

Process

1. The first step is to upload our audio file to the web. There are quite a few sites that will host your audio files for you these day so I’ll just highlight the service that I use, blip.tv This is actually a video hosting service but it’s a little known fact that you can also host mp3 files as well. I actually use this service for most of the audio and video hosted on this blog.

Once you’ve set up a free account go to Upload > Web upload

Click on the Choose File button, locate and select your mp3 file. Then click on the Proceed to Step 2 button.

Your mp3 file will be uploaded to blip while you type in some additional information. It’s up to you how much you fill in here. It is, however handy for people browsing through blip who come across your files. When you’re ready click on the Publish button.

On the next page, it will give you a summary of the file you’ve upload. The bit we’re interested is right down at the bottom of the page under the Media heading. The web address here is the direct path to your mp3 file and we’ll be using that later in our WordPress blog. Right-click on that and Copy link address (the terminology will vary slightly depending on the browser you are using).

2. Setting up your wordpress.com blog. As with audio hosting there are a number of free hosted blogging platforms including blogger, posterous and tumblr. Here, we’ll look at wordpress.com. So the first step is to head over there and set up a free account. Once, you’ve done that click on My Dashboard at the top of your screen.

Then click on Add New to create your first post.

WordPress.com has a built-in audio player which lets display a small flash player to play audio files directly from within your blog posts. I’ve given the blog post a title. Added an image then added the code to play the audio file.

The code is [audio http://yourmp3.com/myaudio.mp3]. Just replace the address with the address you copied from blip.tv in Step 1.

So it should look something like this:

[audio http://blip.tv/file/get/Jiscrsc-JISCRSCScotlandNEMyStudyBar815.mp3]

The great thing about using a blog to host your podcasts is that you can put additional information here. So if you’ve mentioned various resources in your podcast you can post links to them here.

We also want to let people download the audio file without having to subscribe to your podcast through your RSS feed. To do that we need to insert a hyperlink to download the mp3 file.

On the blog it will look something like this:

Download MyStudyBar Overview MP3

In the wordpress editor, highlight the word Download and click on the hyperlink button and fill in the details.

In the Link URL box paste in your blip.tv address for your mp3 file. Then click on Update

When you’ve finished typing your post click Publish then view your Blog. You should see a something similar to the image below. The live blog post can be found here:

In Part 4 we’ll look at Google service called Feedburner. This service lets you customise your RSS feed and also has some useful tools including the ability to track the number of subscribers you have. We’ll then use that feed to publish the podcast in iTunes.

Again, if you’ve got any questions about this set up please don’t hesitate to get in touch :-)

 

This post started out as a quick overview of the pdf functionality in iBooks but I’ve added some extra information on how to convert your files into pdf format and at the end have added some free eBook resources.

In an effort to cut down on paper consumption I now keep a lot of documents on my iPod Touch. Especially for meetings. My format of choice tends to be pdf. I also convert web pages into pdf format for offline reading. To do that on a PC I use a small app called CutePDF Writer which converts anything you’d normally send to a printer into pdf format. Just print (Ctrl+P) in the normal way but rather than printing to your usual printer choose CutePDF Writer. You’ll then be asked to give it a file name and save it.

This functionality is built-in on a Mac. If you send anything to print  you have the option to save it as a pdf.

So for testing out the pdf functionality in iBooks, I headed over to JISC infoNet to grab one of their excellent infoKits. From their site infoKits “promote the effective strategic planning and management of information and learning technology within institutions”. Every so often my mailbox gets a little bit out of hand so I went for the Email Management infoKit. I downloaded the pdf version and emailed it to myself then opened up the email on my iPod Touch. I tapped the pdf attachment to open it then on the top right of the screen tapped Open in, then chose iBooks.

As I mentioned in the video above, if you don’t see the attachment and see a non-tappable image of the pdf instead, there’s a chance that you’ve got Stanza installed, another eBook reader. This appears to conflict with iBooks at the moment. You can read further information about this issue and how to resolve it here.

As far as pdf readers go the iBooks app offers pretty basic functionality. I tend to use ReaddleDocs for my pdfs which offers a feature called Text Reflow which repaginates the pdf making it a lot easier to read. ReadleDocs is a paid-for app and if you’re looking for a free app that does Text Reflow Goodreader lite is a good place to start.

Some free eBooks to get you started

There’s a whole wealth of free eBooks out on the web. Here some which you may find of interest.

A collection of free eLearning books (currently 28)

7 free eBooks on Social Media from makeuseof.com

11,000 free eBooks from the Book Depository. Just click on the Get Free eBook button next to the book title of your choice).