Technology for Educators

December 28, 2010

My Favorite Droid Apps

Filed under: Mobile — Sue Frantz @ 12:13 pm

A number of my colleagues have recently acquired smartphones that run on Android. I promised them that I’d share my favorite apps. Some of them are even relevant to education.

Andricious (free). As you may know, I’m a fan of Delicious, the social bookmarking service. Andricious gives me easy access to all of my Delicious bookmarks. When I use my phone’s web browser, I can also use Andricious to save pages to Delicious. (You may have heard a rumor that Delicious is shutting down. That’s not the case. A few years ago Yahoo bought Delicious and then did nothing with it. It looks like Yahoo is now looking to sell it. I’ve looked around at other social bookmarking services, and none seem to work as well as Delicious does for how I use it.)

Ask-WA (free). For the denizens of Washington State, this is our ask-a-librarian service. No matter the time of day or night, you can pose a question to an on-duty librarian. This service has been around for a while, but now we have it in an easy-to-use Android app.

Barcode scanner (free). While you can use it to scan any barcode, such as an item you see at Target to discover if you can find it at a cheaper price elsewhere, I use this mostly for QR codes.

Business calendar (free for now). I recently switched to this calendar from the stock Android calendar. It has some functionality that I really like, such as a widget that just shows me what I have for today, the ability to easily turn on/turn off my various Google calendars, and a month view that allows me to swipe across a few days to just see those few days. This app is in beta testing at least through January 12, 2011.

Documents to Go (free, but $14.99 for “premium features”). Use this for editing your MS Office documents, including PowerPoint and Excel. You can also edit your Google Docs with this app. Very handy to use in conjunction with Dropbox.

Dropbox (free). Access your Dropbox files.

Epistle (free). Speaking of Dropbox, this quick-edit app adds a folder to your Dropbox. Open Epistle on your Android phone, and you can quickly edit a document. Alternatively, on your computer, edit a document in Epistle and see it on your phone. I’ve been using it for making my list of errands. It’s easy to add to when I’m at home thinking of what I need to do, and easy to add to when I’m out and about.

Google Voice (free). I also have a Google phone number, but you don’t have to have that to use Google Voice. The biggest advantage of Google Voice is that it transcribes your voicemails. Granted, the transcription is sometimes cryptic. If Google isn’t sure of a word, it takes a guess, and sometimes the guess isn’t all that great. Fortunately you can play the voicemail and watch each word become highlighted as the audio plays. What I really like about it is the transcribed phone numbers. I haven’t seen Google transcribe a phone number incorrectly. To call the number, I just tap on the transcribed number. Very cool. Oh, and with the transcriptions, my voicemails are searchable. One more thing. Remember with the old answering machines you could listen in as someone was leaving a message and then pick up the call if you wanted? Google Voice lets you do that. (Updated 12/29/2010: To clarify, the answering machine pickup feature is only available with the Google phone number.)

ICE: In Case of Emergency (free). Not education-related at all. This adds a widget to your opening screen that emergency personnel can use to access your important medical information and emergency contacts.

Movies (free). Also not education-related, but essential. See what’s playing and when at your local movie theaters. See reviews of those movies courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes. Add to your Netflix queue if you’d like.

OurGroceries (free). Okay. Not education-related either, but if you live with anybody else, this is an essential app. On the OurGroceries website create an account. Share your account with your partner. Your grocery list will be synced to the website and to both of your devices (Android, iPhone, Blackberry). Create multiple lists. For example, I have a list for, among others, Safeway, Walgreens, and Costco. Whenever I add something to a list, either via the website or via my phone, the list is updated on my partner’s phone. OurGroceries remembers the items. That means that I don’t have to type ‘spaghetti’ every time. When I type ‘spa’ I get all the items that contain the ‘spa’ string. At the store, as you pick up items, cross them off by tapping on them. Within seconds, the crossed off items appear crossed off on all other synced devices.

PdaNet ($15.95 for a limited time). This app tethers your computer to your Android phone allowing you to use your phone as a modem. I use this mostly when I travel. If I’m staying in a hotel that charges $12.95 a day for internet access, I just attach my computer to my phone instead. Some people have been able to connect via VPN to their office network through PdaNet. I haven’t been able to get that to work, though.

Power Control Plus ($1.99). Add a widget to your screen that lets you quickly do things like turn off sound (very handy for class), turn off wifi and GPS (handy for conserving battery power), use your phone’s flash as a flashlight, and a whole host of other customizable options.

Reader (free). Access your Google Reader feeds.

Swiftkey (1-month free trial; $3.99). This is an alternative to the stock Android keyboard. Its text prediction feature is really good. After some time it learns from what you type and does a pretty good job at guessing what you’re going to say next.

Tick! (free). A very easy to use timer. If all you want is to countdown for some number of minutes, this is the timer to use. I use it in class when I want to give my students a certain amount of time to do some task.

Where’s My Droid? (free). Have a tendency to misplace your phone? Send a text (say, from Gmail) to your phone to turn on the ringer and call it or send a text to get your phone to send you a text with its coordinates, if you left your GPS on. Again, Gmail works well for this. Click on the coordinates to call up a Google map with a marker pointing to the location of your phone – or within 30 or so feet of your phone.

If you can’t find an app to do what you want, create your own with App Inventor.

 

 

December 8, 2010

QR Codes: Ideas for Use

Filed under: Communication,Mobile — Sue Frantz @ 7:30 am

Back in March, I wrote about QR codes. I just came across this document which offers some interesting ideas on how to use QR codes. It was written for a K-12 audience, but there are a bunch of ideas that are relevant to higher education.

I learned a couple things I didn’t know.

First, the size of the QR code is correlated with the size of the URL. Makes sense. I just didn’t know that. If you have a long URL but want a small QR code, use a URL shortener like bit.ly or goo.gl then create your QR code. Actually, bit.ly and goo.gl make it easy to create QR codes. Use bit.ly or goo.gl to shorten the URL. Paste the URL into your browser’s address box. Then add ‘.qr’ at the end. Hit enter. Bam. QR code. Just copy and paste the code wherever you’d like. For example, this link will take you to the main page of my blog: http://goo.gl/FtvWJ. When I add .qr at the end, http://goo.gl/FtvWJ.qr, I get this QR code. I right-clicked on the image, selected copy, came here and clicked paste.

For generating QR codes from websites, I use a Firefox Addon called QRLinkMaker. I right-click anywhere on a webpage and select “QR code.” A pop-up box gives me the QR code. I right-click on the image, click copy, then paste wherever I want it. If you right-click on an image, the generated QR code will send users just to the image.

The second thing I learned is that one of the QR code generators, QR Stuff, let’s you change the color of the code. That could be useful. [If you use QR Stuff, you can just right click on the preview image to copy it.]

Campus tour

One suggestion offered in the document is to create a tour of campus for new students. I can envision something like this. The students get a map with certain areas marked, such as the bookstore. Outside the bookstore are 2 QR codes. One is labeled “Website” and printed in black. The students scan the QR code into their phones to visit the bookstore’s website. The other is labeled “Video” and printed in blue. The students scan the QR code to watch a short video. The video could be something like the bookstore manager welcoming students to the store and explaining some of the key things students need to know about the bookstore. Clearly there’s nothing special about the color of the codes other than, with experience, the students will see the color and know what kind of information the code with give them.

If you do this as a scavenger hunt for something like a freshmen orientation course, you can have students respond to questions. While the number of students with smartphones is on the increase, not all students have them. I suggest having students work in pairs or small groups where at least one person has such a phone.

Syllabi

My syllabus is available on my website as a pdf. After I post it, I generate a QR code for it, add it to my syllabus, and then resave my syllabus to my website. This is from the top left corner of my syllabus. Although next quarter, I’m going to generate a QR code from URL shortener so I can shrink the size of the QR code.

Handouts

When you distribute handouts, include QR codes to online content, such as videos. It’s a whole lot easier to scan a barcode and watch a video on my smartphone than it is to type a URL into my browser.

Poster presentations

I’m also picturing my next poster presentation at a conference. I can add QR codes that direct visitors to websites or videos. Actually QR codes can be used for anything, really. Let’s say at my poster presentation, I run out of handouts. Scan this code to generate an email to me with the email address, subject line, and message already filled in.

Scavenger hunt

Earlier I mentioned a scavenger hunt for a freshmen orientation course. QR codes can be generated for plain text (see QR Stuff again). You start students off with some clue, like, find the Campus Security office. When students arrive there, there’s a QR code posted next to the door. Scanning this code generates a message that directs students to a specific book in the library.

Perhaps in the front of the book is another QR code that generates a phone number. Students call the number, and it’s the office number of their instructor. That’s how the instructor knows the students have completed the hunt. Granted a 2-stage scavenger hunt isn’t very useful, or fun for that matter. But you get the idea.

Conclusion

QR codes make it easy to move between the real world and the virtual world. We no longer need to be in front of a desktop or laptop to access the internet. For many students, the internet is at their fingertips. Let’s use it.

March 28, 2010

QR Codes: Access a Website with Your Smartphone’s Camera

Filed under: Communication,Mobile — Sue Frantz @ 6:42 pm

[UPDATED 12/8/2010: For further tips, tricks, and ideas for using QR codes, see this more recent post.]

With the number of smartphones on the rise, such as AT&T’s iPhone or Verizon’s Droid, more and more of our students have this technology in our classrooms. Can you harness this power for your own use?

In this post I’m going to introduce you to QR codes and barcode scanner software for cell phones, and how they might be useful to you and your students.

If you have an iPhone/Droid, search the App Store/Market for barcode scanners. If you have a different web-enabled phone, here’s a handy list of barcode scanners. For Droid, I use the free “Barcode Scanner” from ZXing Team. You can use it to scan any barcode, like those found on a box of Cheerios or the cover of a book. It will also scan QR codes.

QR codes are graphics that can represent a webpage, simple text, or a phone number. This is the QR code for the home page to this blog. When scanned by your barcode scanner app, the app will ask if you’d like to open the webpage using your phone’s browser, email it to someone, or text it to someone (or other options, depending on the capabilities of your chosen reader).

It doesn’t matter if the QR code is on a webpage or printed on paper. It can even be printed on a t-shirt (see qrstuff.com). If your phone can take a picture of it, your phone’s barcode scanner can read it.

Here’s a website that will generate QR codes for you.

Education applications.

Generate QR codes for the websites your students may want to access while away from their computers. Copy and paste them into a Word file, and attach it to the end of your syllabus. Or perhaps just have a few on hand for your smartphone-carrying students.

If you’re a Poll Everywhere user, students with web-accessible phones can visit a website to vote instead of sending a text message. Create a QR code for the vote page and print it into your syllabus for easy student access.

If you can think of other educational uses for QR codes, please add a comment below.

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