Pro Tip: Tutorials

Believe it or not, there’s lots of technology out there that I have no idea how to use. Sometimes, I’ll even have trouble with an application that I use every day, like Microsoft Word. Rather than running screaming out of the room, or throwing my laptop out the window, I simply look for a tutorial online. They have saved my skin and taught me some brilliant tricks over the years.

Tutorials exist for just about everything, and many of them are even in video format so you can actually watch someone performing the action you are trying to learn. The first place I would recommend looking is straight from the horse’s mouth. For example, when I was learning how to use NoodleTools, I found all kinds of great information right in the help section of their webpage (Here are some screencast tutorials on using notecards in NoodleTools- login may be required).

If you’re finding the product’s website unhelpful, the next stop is YouTube. A properly-conducted search (which often includes the version or year of the application you’re using) will likely yield hundreds of videos. You will need to pay attention to the version (platform and year) of software being used in the tutorial, though; if it’s a different version, you may end up more confused than you were in the first place. The video below, a tutorial on how to print your First Class calendar, features a newer version of First Class than we have, but is still applicable to our software.

While there are lots of free tutorials out there, there are also tutorials sites that demand a membership fee. You get what you pay for; is one such site, and because it requires a paid membership, the video quality is higher than those available for free.

Many Eyes

Take a dull data set, and turn it into an eye-catching, easy-to-understand, and manipulatable visualization. Many Eyes is a very cool tool to turn numbers and words into pictures of all kinds– graphs, trees, word clouds, phrase nets, and even world maps. You can use the existing visualizations and data sets, or upload your own data set (in the form of words or numbers) and select how you’d like to see it.

Many Eyes is useful in the classroom to show relationships between concepts, and relative sizes of facts and figures. You can make it as simple (words from a page of text) or as complicated (a set of statistics) as you want.

In order to see the visualizations, make sure that you allow Java applications.

Vocab of the Week: The Cloud

     If you pay any attention to the world of technology (and even if you don’t), you’ve probably heard several references to “the cloud” or “cloud computing.” It’s the new wave of computing, and its implications and applications are vast.

 There are actually several different definitions of cloud computing; some are broad, and some are narrow. I’m just going to explain the basic concept. In the past, most of our computing was done on a local computer. If you wanted to use a new software application, you had to install it on your computer, and files were saved to that same computer. It was difficult to share information from computer to computer without, say, putting it on a flash drive to take with you.

 With the advent of the Internet and the widespread availability of servers and server space, this is no longer necessary. Many applications are available simply by going to a website, no installation necessary. Changes made on one computer follow you to whatever computer you use because information is no longer saved on the machine, but in “the cloud.”

 The cloud is especially helpful in terms of data storage. If you keep all of your information on a local computer, any damage or errors on that computer can spell disaster—you can lose all of your data. However, when you transfer your information (emails, music, documents) to the cloud, it is hosted on several remote servers. If your computer breaks down, the information can be accessed from another one, or from your smartphone or other device. Plus, no need to worry about how much space is on your hard drive—with the cloud, you have an unlimited capacity for storage (though you may have to pay for it).

 People are turning to the cloud more and more, and new services are rolled out all the time. You can write documents, edit photos, track your expenses, and even stream your own music library, all from your web browser. Well-known companies like Google and Apple are embracing cloud computing and offering amazing services like iCloud that enable you to put your whole life in the cloud. The cloud is an excellent tool for businesses, as it allows employees to work collaboratively, making changes to one document or presentation, rather than passing around multiple new versions.

 So what’s the downside? Many people don’t like the idea of handing over control to a large company. What if you rely on Google for all of your needs, and they go bust someday? There are risks inherent in moving your data from your personal computer to the cloud, including security risks. However, it’s not unlike moving your cash out from under your mattress and into a bank, where you can take advantage of collective services and protections.

 Need more explanation? Here’s a great video of the next generation discussing the cloud.

Paper Toys

Here’s a cool site for studying design, history, architecture, and any number other disciplines. PaperToys provides free, downloadable paper models of monuments, buildings, and vehicles. You can create the Sydney Opera House, the Globe Theatre, or a Mississippi Queen Riverboat with just a pair of scissors and some glue. These models would be great for enhancing lessons, and offering students the chance to build something hands’ on.

Thinking Blocks

Thinking Blocks lets you model math word problems, making both the solution and the concepts easier to understand. The site offers word problems in areas like addition, multiplication, and ratios.

Students may be guided through solving the problem, or they can work independently, manipulating virtual blocks to represent the problem at hand. The interface is really clean and straight-forward, and the problems are actually fun to solve.