Friday, April 18, 2014

Office For iPad (and do we really care ?)

Office for iPad has been released (and do we really care ?). 
Microsoft have finally released a version of Office specifically designed for the iPad. It consists of 3 apps (Word, Powerpoint and Excel) plus the OneNote app that was released a while ago. What are they like? 
Well -in fairness to Microsoft - they haven't done a bad job. The apps have been designed specifically for the iPad and it shows. They work smoothly - without all the clutter that the desktop versions have ( I know some people will say you can hide all the tools on the desktop version - but I have always found you need some things showing and are stuck with them all). 
Out of all the apps Word and OneNote are the best.  Word has most of the functions you would want but with one major omission ! You can't print. Maybe this will be fixed in the future. OneNote is fairly good. I have been using it for a while. It links nicely with your desktop version (whether windows or Mac - in case you didn't know -there is a desktop version for Mac now). It doesn't do audio and a few other features that are in the desktop version. But for an iPad app - pretty good. Powerpoint was never as good as Keynote on the desktop and that is still the case with the apps. If you really need to view presentations done on a windows machine then it might be handy. But then again Keynote will run Powerpoint presentations as well. Excel is often the default for people who do a lot of spreadsheets and will probably remain so. It appears to have most of the functions people need. I am not an extensive user of spreadsheets and find apples Numbers and Google Sheets fill my needs.
For people who want to view Office documents, as they were rendered,  on the iPad - then Office is a big win.  Also, one aspect I am impressed with - the ability to insert tables. It is one of the reasons I have always come back to Pages for my note taking on the iPad. Very few apps will enable you to insert tables on the iPad. Pages will and now so will Word and OneNote.
Will I personally be using Office for iPad in the future ? No I won't. Mainly for the same reason that very few Educational orgaisations will as well. You can download the apps for free (Microsoft boasted that Office had 12 million downloads in the first week) - but you can't use them without an Office subscription at $99 a year. No organisation I know of has moved past Office 2010 or 2013 for this very reason. You have been able to edit and save Office files with other apps for a while now - so there are already other things in place if you need them. iWorks is free and actually contains more features then Office.  Fraser Speirs did an interesting comparison between the two.
I identified 75 word processing features and compared Word, Pages and GDrive on iOS. Pages has 61, Word 57, Google Drive….18.Of 54 high-level spreadsheet features: Excel: 39; Numbers: 42; Google Drive: 23.
For people who really need Office and already have a subscription - then they are fairly sound apps and will do a good job.

For the rest of us. iWorks is free. Keynote still outshines any other presentation app on the iPad. Pages is still the smoothest word processor on the iPad. Other apps will view and edit Office documents when needed. Then there is also Google Docs. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

OneNote for Mac

How does OneNote hold up on the Mac? Today Microsoft finally released a version of OneNote for Mac (free - I might add !). So - how does it compare ?
Ironically - I have just been attending a 2 day course on “21st Century Learning Design”. All centred around Microsoft OneNote.
You might ask why I was at a Microsoft centred course?  Well - the idea is quality teaching and learning - regardless of brand. It also had to do with higher order thinking and assessing the quality of your own teaching units. It just so happened to be delivered by a Microsoft sponsored Educational partner. I like to think of myself as “ above any brand” - I just prefer Mac products for myself and I do feel they are the best for Education. They just aren’t supported (for Education) in this area of Australia.

Do Microsoft make good products ? Of course they do ! People claim Office is the defacto standard. I have and use Word (for Mac) - but I must admit I prefer Pages. I like it as a Word Processor on the Mac and is really the only thing that works smoothly on the iPad (especially for tables). But most people say that “Word” is the default norm. As I say - I don’t really need it. “But it is so powerful Terry - nothing comes close !” My view on that is 5% of the population use 90% of its functions and 90% of the population use 5% of its functions. But I still have it and use it (on occasions).

So -what about OneNote ? OneNote has been available for ipad for a while now. I must admit - it is not a bad product.  I use it quite regularly. It can do tables, pictures, hyperlinks etc. The tables aspect is very handy because not many programs do tables well on the ipad. Pages is the best by far - so having OneNote do them on the ipad is very handy indeed.
Now - the Mac version. How does it stack up ? Very similar to the ipad version. It can do text anywhere on the page, tables, pictures, tags and any form of text.  But unfortunately it doesn’t cut it for a computer program. We expect a few more features than for a tablet. It doesn’t have the audio, picture or video aspects of the windows version. Mac users have been using either Growly Notes ( which will do all the functions of Windows OneNote) or Evernote (which you can use across all devices and platforms. I use both. The advantage of one is the weakness of the other. Growly Notes can just about do anything. The notebooks include audio, video, pdf’s, word  - just about any file you want. The disadvantage is, it is only for Mac. No ipad version, (although they are working on one). This is Evernote's main advantage. It is across all platforms. It also can incorporate audio, video and so on.

People seem to think that OneNote for Mac is to try and stop the growth of Evernote. Unless they are going to bring some of these features into the Mac version I don’t think a lot of people will bother.

The layout of OneNote on the Mac looks nice. It is handy if you don’t need the extra functions. But at this stage I can’t see a lot of people changing over. They may add features in the future, which might make it a worthwhile program. I am sure a lot of people will download it out of curiosity (it is free) and give Microsoft boasting rights, but at this stage - anyone using Evernote or Growly Notes is not going to give it more than a passing glance.

My advise for the moment. Stick with Growly Notes if you only use a Mac. Use Evernote if you need to go across platforms.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Art of Simplicity

The fine art of teaching or of education is simplicity. Students who don’t grasp what we are trying to impart ,  generally because we haven’t broken it down simply enough for them to go “Ah ha” - I get it !”  It is a skill that makes the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher. It also makes the difference in our own learning. Why do we make notes of lectures, talks or conferences we have been to ? It is trying to simplify the information, breaking it down into simple, small chunks of information that we can understand , retain and repeat.
I think this was the true genius of Steve Jobs. He was a brilliant marketer, driver and innovator (and sounds like he was a horrible person to know !) - but I think his true forte was “keeping it simple”. Making items that people just got on and used. I think this has been the real reason for the expanded growth of apple of the last 10 years. The other companies have now seen the light and are trying to outdo them.

If simplicity is the key to productivity and learning - why aren’t we all doing it ? Mainly - because “simplicity” is hard. Ask any author what is the most difficult form of writing - the novel or the short story - and they will unanimously respond - “the short story”. It is hard to make things succinct. It is a complex skill that very few people have. As educators we are always striving for it but not always achieving it. Otherwise every student that left school would be a brilliant, articulate, and well educated young person. We would have no need for outcomes, standards or whatever other international gauge we have to measure student achievements.

Recently I was looking around to do some further study (basically around the IT/ education area). I have an interest in photography and noticed one of the Universities offering a 5 week introductory course to a Masters - that involved Photoshop. I thought I would give this a go. It was done online through a webinar. I thought it would be interesting - as well as getting a feel for what the full course would be like. I have used Photoshop for a number of years now (self taught) and know a reasonable amount of it’s use. The lady who ran the course would present the webinar each Thursday. I don’t doubt her knowledge base. She obviously knew her stuff. But her ability to make it clear to the student left a lot to be desired. I persevered for a few weeks - then gave it a miss. I looked around for another Uni to do my course. I’m not having a shot at the lady who ran the course - but it did strike home to me the need to be able to impart your knowledge clearly, simply - repeating main points - so the student gains knowledge themselves. Even as adults we want the learning blocks broken down to simple, achievable “ah ha” moments.

All this leads to the main point of this post. Recently I came across a short course that exemplifies this aspect fantastically. In fact had me quite excited. I love learning new things - especially in areas that I have no background in. I love history and have a curiosity to things scientific. The tying of these two aspects together, in a format I could understand greatly intrigued me.  
The course I am referring to is called “Big History Project”. It is a course designed by David Christian from Macquarie University. It is a free, online course that tells the story of our Universe and humanity. It combines the best of social studies, humanities and science. It takes about 6- 8 hours to complete the core material and quizzes. It attempts a very complex concept by breaking it down into eight key components. It makes it achievable for to gain new knowledge for both yourself and any students you may teach.

The link is here:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"What have they done to my song (Pages) Ma ?"

As a long time fan and user of Apple Pages as my preferred word processor I was excited and waited with anticipation for the release of an update. In it's present form it did everything I needed efficiently and eloquently. But it was now over four years since a major update and therefore could use a bit of modernisation and added features.
The release of ios7 and then Mavericks caused a whirlwind of updates, refreshes and patches.
My first experience with the "new" Pages was the iPad.
It look different - more in line with ios7 (to be expected). My usual mode of work was to jump between Pages on the iPad and the computer (saving through iCloud). Worked well- no complaints. Start the basics on the iPad - then jump on the computer for fine tuning, formatting or more complex layouts etc.

So - Pages on ios7 ? Cleaner, flatter lines. Yeah - ok. But I must admit  the new look ios7 doesn't really do anything for me - either way. I neither love it or hate it. It more about any added functions rather than eye candy. Gave the new version a run. Seemed to be just about the same as the old - there may be a couple of added functions I am yet to explore. But - basically I could do the same workflow.
The first hic up came with saving a file - telling me I needed to have Mavericks installed to be able to view the file on my computer. Hello - is a way of forcing us to upgrade to Mavericks quick smart ? At this stage I hadn't upgraded to Mavericks - just waiting for the rush to die down. I also thought - this can't be right. Started Pages on the laptop to find out. Sure enough - the same file I was working on the iPad - wouldn't open on the laptop.
Therefore I have to have Mavericks to be able to go to and throw. I don't mind the upgrade - Mavericks sounded like a good upgrade - but what about the difference with Pages. Heaps ! A very different beast indeed. Similar look to the ios7 version. It will only update when you have installed Mavericks.
I won't go into all the differences between Pages 5 and Pages 09 (there are plenty of more detailed posts  about it ) - but a few I find I need regularly have been removed. Inserting file path for example. I use a number of different computers and storage spots - therefore being able to indicate a file path in the document saves me hours of searching for a file. You can still use the 09 version on Mavericks (it is still  on your computer) - but it won't sync with iCloud. Only the new version will.
Instead of Pages becoming a Word Processor that has added functions to compete with the heavy weights (which it already did well - in my opinion) - it has been dumbed down to make it nearly the same as what you can do on your iPhone. Easy - yes ! But apple needs to realise that most people use their iPads and computers in different ways. The ability to cross from one to another (iPad to computer) is handy, generally do something that is not as easy on the other platform. Therefore we don't mind a slightly different (but generally more powerful) version.
I haven't played in any great detail - so I need to check exactly how it will ultimately affect my workflow. I will report back on that one. But my initial reaction is that apple has passed up on an opportunity to make a great program into an even greater one.
Oh - what have they done to my Pages Ma ?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Travel, work and an iphone- doable ?

How practical is it to do work while you travel using an iphone ?

I have just returned from a 6 week trip to Borneo (Sarawak, Sabah) and Cambodia. It was my first time of travelling with any form of technology. Previously I have thought the beauty of travel was to get away from being contactable! My - how things have changed.
So - what did I take ? Not much really. But, as my wife was travelling with me I  will explain the set up that was used by both of us and why.
On a previous trip to Borneo (2008) we took a group of people with AETA ( Asia EducationTeachersAssociation) to Borneo. One of the group broke their ankle - we therefore purchased a cheap mobile phone to be able to arrange insurence, hospital, ecatuation flights etc. We therefore decided a mobile phone would be necessary on this trip.
I proceeded to ensure my iPhone (3Gs) was unlocked. Yeah - I know - an old model - but many of us neither have the money or the need to continually upgrade. I wasn't a high phone user. Ring me and you will get a 2 minute conversation and I didn't use it for much else. The idea was to get a Malaysian sim to give us emergency contact as well as data.
My wife was taking her iPad 2. She teaches Indonesian and was going to continue contact with her class through an Edmodo classroom she had set up for this purpose. It was only the wifi model but we figured that wifi was fairly extensive now and we could tether it to the phone for the more obscure locations. We really didn't want to be carrying 2 full size iPads and 2 phones - so it was one of each.
How practical did it work out - and what sort of uses did we put them to?
I set up the iPhone with a Malysian sim - so I had phone contact with the outside world as well as Internet connection. I started using my phone in ways I had never used before. Because all travel documents are now digital I had 3 main storage areas. My email ( with a folder called "travel" ) for any emails related to the trip. Evernote and Google drive, where copies of documents, hotel receipts, flights etc were kept.
The day to day use of the iPhone was mainly to check email. I could do this easily at most hotels ( using wifi). My phone at home, as I mentioned, is a fairly simple affair. But I did download a few apps that I found useful. Malaysian Airlines has an app that allowed me to keep up to date with flight times, changes and my eticketing. An app for currency conversion. Trip Advisor - for other people's opinion of things. Even a guide book in iBooks - not very satisfactory on the small screen.
I used Edmodo to check on my own class, as well as make a few postings. Handy on the phone but a very cut down version and not overly useful - other than checking posts and making a post. Edmodo on the ipad, however, much more useful. My wife used the ipad for postings, assignments and grading in Edmodo.
To give visual support to postings the iPhone was used as a camera. The size of the phone was more suitable for using on the street than the full size ipad. I would take photos on the iPhone, put them into photo stream and they could be picked up by the ipad. An interesting observation we made on this trip was the amount of people we observed using an ipad as a daytime camera. Not to mention the number of people using phones - which is not surprising considering the quality of some of the phone cameras.
Elephants on the river bank: A photo from the iphone - from a boat on the Kinabatangan River central Sabah (Borneo)
I also used the phone to record audio and video which was emailed to others. Not good quality - but basic enough. I at times listened to music that I had stored on the phone. Not often - as the battery life was fairly limited.
The main document programs I used were Evernote, Pages and Google drive. I tended to jump around a little - from one program to another - trying to find what worked best. Pages tends to be my favoured word processor on mac and ipad. With the iphone, it also showed up to be the smoothest. Out of the three - it was the only one who could do tables on the iphone. I tend to use tables a lot within documents - so this was a plus.
I was using this for a while until I discovered I had accidentally deleted a section of my document. In Pages on the iPhone - there was no version or undo function. This did create an issue for me.
Because I had a lot of the travel documents (pdf's, emails and notes ) in Evernote, I decided I would give it a go for general use. It worked well. If fact I kept a general travel diary in Evernote. I like Evernote for it's simplicity and functions such as hyperlinks, voice memo's and reminders. But I hadn't really used it as a working journal. It worked well- but also it didn't have any version or undo function. Although the ipad/computer version has tables - the iphone version does not. Still - I perserved  with it - and it worked ok.
I also use Google Drive ( and of course Google Docs). As you can see I am a little all over the place as far as work flow. The iPhone version of Google Docs (document)  won't give you tables but you do at least can select spreadsheet - so that is a bonus. Although a simpler version than the ipad or computer Google docs - they worked out fairly well. Like Evernote I had a number of documents stored in Google drive - from pdf's of visas, travel information etc. It has the advantage of storing all types of files - PDF, Pages, doc etc. I ended up starting and doing most of this blog in Google Docs.
As you can see I tended to jump from one to the other ( Evernote, Pages, Google Drive). Which one was best on the iPhone?  Although none of them had an undo function ( and I mean where you have accidentally deleted something and want it back) - at least with Google Docs, you could open the web version and select a past version of your document. I'm sure this will also be available with the new web based iWorks as well. But at the moment I found Google Docs the best.
The more I used the iPhone - the easier it became. But it still was not as easy as using the ipad. Typing on the iPhone was slow, cumbersome and painful. Obviously they are not designed for this but with apps being customised for the phone - there must be a lot of people doing it.
My conclusion after 6 weeks ? The iPhone is usable in a pinch. I was surprised at how quickly I could use it towards the end. The apps are all cut down versions ( naturally! ) and miss some useful functions but are at least useable. The touch pad is not a good size for any extended typing. The worst thing about it - the battery life ! Having to charge every night ! Sometimes during the day. When you are using the phone for typing, web browsing etc it is surprising how quickly the battery drains. I also noticed that heat seemed to drain the battery even more quickly. These are roles the ipad is designed for and handles well. What about the phone as a phone ? I must admit I only made a few local calls. No overseas ones. We ended up using FaceTime ( on the ipad) to talk to people back in Australia. With wifi available in most places this worked extremely well.
My end thoughts. Next time I would definitely invest in an ipad mini. It is the perfect compromise size  - without having program's cut down further. Although Google Docs, Evernote, Pages, Evernote are cut down versions from the computer versions, the ipad ones are fully usable and much more pleasant to use. The ipad mini is a smaller size with full size features and programs. The iphone - too small, apps cut down even further and battery life that is near on impossible for this sort of use.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Few Apps for School and General Use

Sometimes to help organisation and keeping things together I will made a document to throw everything into. I have a document that I started ( a while ago) to make observations about apps and their potential use. It started off as a class list but has started to evolve into something different. It is a work in progress and one that gets neglected for a while and then returned to. So my apologise for broken links or incomplete sections.
I have included it here as a pdf link as well as an ePub for those who wish.

The Woodbutcher's Guide to Apps  (pdf)

The Woodbutcher's Guide to Apps (epub)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Need to re-assess: The DPD of Education.

With the fast changing world of technology the way we approach our teaching changes. It also causes a change in emphasis. I remember a time teachers thought they needed to show children how to use a mouse or how to type (unfortunately there are still some of these teachers around). Today - it is a different world. I have already done a posting about how the iPhone changed our view of computing. I think the big change there was it de-mystified computing, made it personal, easy, task centered. The ongoing effort was what caused a change in the Educational approach. Cloud based, touch based and personal devices made teachers re-assess what they were teaching and how they were using technology. Suddenly you didn't have to worry about teaching HOW to use the technology ( the kids have always been ahead of you on this game), but how to utilize it for effective pedagogy. It became an exciting time for both teachers and students ( including their parents - because they could related to this technology). Sure- early adapters have made some mistakes, but they have paved an incredible path in a very short time. All of this has happened in less than 5 years ! This is incredible speed in education. 
 It is probably time for us to regroup. I think the next wave of innovation will be a littler slower to impact on Education. Google glass comes to mind. Radical innovation - but a few issues to work around before it will be adapted for wide education use, mainly around privacy. I can see this one needed a little working around before it becomes widely used in education.
Now we have time to “breath” - we need to re-assess what is around us. We have a myriad  of tables/touch devices being released trying to break into the market that the iPad created. Sometimes with misleading information.
 I recently sat through a talk by a Microsoft educator who certainly presented misguiding information to a room full of educators and education leaders. While trying to convince the room of the educational benefits of his product, he displayed some very inaccurate knowledge around ipads. Most of the room who were new to the educational uses of touch devices certainly lapped it up.  The static design of ibooks , can flip a page - not interactive. He obviously hasn’t seen the interactive books that a lot of teachers (and companies) have made. Or used iBook Author to construct his own. The aspect of iTunes U to set courses. He thought it served best as a personal device (true) that was passive (not creative) and could not be utilized in education. I think he must have been asleep in the Microsoft office for the past 3 years ! He totally missed the video, audio, music, creative aspect that could be shared by Apple TV or  cloud hosting services. His main thrust was the ability to run MS Office. Sorry to inform you -we have already worked around that one and MS Office is not the giant it once was. Even the NSW Department of Education is dumping MS Office and going to Google Docs. He  went into a session on “Project Based Learning”. Good - but many others (including Apple) have been doing this for more than 7 years now. I think it is a fabulous method of learning - but be aware when people are passing it off as something original or new. There has been a lot of research and information regarding this approach under a variety of names (Challenge Based Learning, Community Learning, Project Based Learning, Life Centered Learning and so on).
So with the scramble by other companies to “get a slice of the pie” we have to be a little careful of what information we are being given and by whom. Many “theorists” and “product leaders” are simply trying to cram, what we did on a computer 6 years ago, onto a touch device - without any change in educational thinking or pedagogy.  
For the innovators : 
Technology has reached a temporary plateau  , we got memorized by the shiny ( when the iPad & iPhone came out - saw the potential but didn't quite have it figured out. We are now finally talking pedagogy. 
 A side affect of the “personal devices” boom is the aspect of wifi and the need to be always connected. In our homes, businesses and schools -this is becoming the norm. Computer banks in our Libraries are being re-thought. Everything is now cloud based. The internet is bigger than ever. For some, the internet is the “only” thing. Personally I feel this is the reason that Google have grown so massively in the last 3 years.  
Regardless of what technology we are using there are three main aspects that are raising their head and need to be incorporated into our teaching approach. I call them the DPD of education.

The first one is Discrimination :- discrimination of information. Our students live in a world where anyone can post information (and do)- regardless of how accurate it is. For many this is the only  information they go to. Our students use of social media has empowered them to post their own information on the net but they often don’t make the connection between their own postings and the possibly totally inaccurate postings of others. Wikipedia has become the default (often only) encyclopedia. We must educate our students to save them from the “I read it in the paper so it must be true” type thinking that our parents grew up with. Paper books at least had a process before being finally released. Not necessary always accurate but a number of people read and checked them before release. Not so with the internet. Therefore one of the 21st century learning skills we have to instill in our students is one of critical analysis. Being able to evaluate and discriminate between information. 

The second one is fairly straight forward but essential with younger students especially. That of Plagiarism: we have to teach the aspect of creating your own points of view - not cut and paste. I know that this is a major issue with University students - but most Uni’s have checks on this. But it now becoming a major issue with our younger students. It is so easy to cut and paste. Often in language that the average 10 year old couldn’t possibly understand. I’m not only referring to words here - but images and sound as well. Younger students feel that there is so much information,photos, sounds out there that they are up for grabs - they can use it as they wish. 

The third one is Digital Noise. There are so many distractions from the task we need to focus on , it never gets accomplished. This is a problem for all of us, regardless of age. But one we have to assist our students with. One thing about always being connected is the fact we are distracted by - “I’ll just check my email, what is the weather tomorrow ?, I looked at that website for information - oh I saw a news bulletin about the death of Chrissy Amphlett-  I’ll just YouTube a few of the old Divinyls songs “. Before we know it 2 hours have gone by and I have done nothing on my original task. Many claim that younger students can multi-task and keep focussed. I disagree with this. I think they are affected by Digital Noise just like the rest of us. We need to assist them with the skills to cut through all this to be able to accomplish what they set out to do. I try to encourage my own students to use the “reader” function in Safari - which just brings up the web article (minus all the adds, connections etc). 

These three skills I see as essential for helping our students make productive sense of 21st century learning. 
Discrimination: critical analysis of information.
Plagiarism: using original wording, media and therefore thought.
Digital Noise: cut through the distractions- staying focussed on the important tasks.