Authoring Tools

Since I am currently visiting a home where high speed internet is essentially hobbled I have been doing a bit of offline reading today. I have been working my way through Paul Ford‘s review of outliners and authoring tools, As We May Type, in the December 2013 issue of the MIT Technology Review. Ford discusses the following:

I am intrigued by these tools and cannot wait to return home where my reliable high-speed internet access will give me an opportunity to explore each. I have seen or heard of most the tools but have not explored their features. I did download Ghost a few weeks ago. Even so, I  have yet to do anything with it.

Source: Ford, P. (2013). Reviews: As We May Type. MIT Technology Review, 116(6), 89-91.

Crawling Back

I’m trying to get back into the habit of blogging.

I know I can do it. I just have to keep at it.

In a way, this experience is somewhat humorous to me. I find it funny that I am having to make myself take what spare minutes I can scavenge out of the day and write. There was a point in my life when composing a few lines for a blog was easy. In fact, at one point (about seven years ago), I was something of a blogging maniac. Of course, back then, I was in a magical place, a Camelot of sorts, where all manner of magical content seemed to appear before me and I had time to write.

These days, I have so many commitments vying for my attention that I feel guilty about stepping away to blog. Even so, I am going to do it. I know that reflecting upon what I am discovering and learning matters. Writing like this is akin to coming back to exercise after an absence from physical activity. Initially, there’s little pleasure in the process but over time that will change.

In addition to blogging again, I am also using of Twitter. As I am reading and re-reading Classroom Instruction That Works : Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd Edition) by Ceri B. Dean, Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, and Howard Pitler, I am delving deeper into the research cited by the authors and tweeting what I find to be most enlightening. I am hoping that anyone who follows my tweets will benefit as well. Having to condense my thoughts down to 140 character summaries is maddening and, strangely enough, addictive.

New Year’s Resolution: For a Few Pixels More…

Excited by all of the megapixel goodness she has discovered over the last few days, my pal Molly continues to look for pictures she can use with her students. After learning how to use Search Tools in a Google Image search to zero in on large pixel pictures, Molly wanted to know if there’s a way to get high resolution images in Flickr.

I was delighted to tell my friend the answer to her question is, “Yes!” To demonstrate, I suggested Molly take a look at the USDA’s Photography Services Division site.

“I thought you were going to help me find megapixel images from Flickr,” she sighed.

I laughed. “All in good time,” I replied asking her to look at the USDA’s Photography Services Division site.

Molly scanned the page. “Oh, I see the link to the PSD’s Flickr account,” she said getting ready to click it and move on.

“Just a second,” I said, “The great thing about the USDA’s Photography Services Division is that all its considerable (700+) photographic images are in the public domain. You and your students can use and reproduce them without permission or fee. Free is good!”

Molly smiled and I continued talking. “In fact, there are many photographs and images maintained by the U.S. government that fall within the public domain.”

Molly was delighted to hear the news. Even so, she clicked the link and made her way to the PSD’s Flickr account and began looking through the images there. After she selected an image she liked, I directed her attention to the View All Sizes link in the upper right hand corner.

View All Sizes Blueberries

“When you click on that,” I explained, “you’ll have be taken to a page with different sized versions of the image that you may download. The larger versions of the images have better image resolution. I doubt that you’ll even need to resize them to be larger. This means that your students won’t be subjected to awful grainy pictures.”

Flickr image, large size


New Year’s Resolution, Part II: See the Big Picture

My friend Molly is still looking for powerful images that she can use for instructional purposes. She knows that great pictures can enhance learning by making content more engaging, relevant, memorable, and ultimately, meaningful. Though Molly understands the efficacy of stopping by the Creative Commons Search site (CC Search), she’s hungry for more photographs, illustrations, and graphics. After reading yesterday’s post about the importance of looking for digital graphics with good image resolution, Molly now knows to pay attention to pixel count.

Molly knows that people use Google’s search engine to find images. In fact, she’s done so herself. Molly is well aware of all places at Google where one can switch over to an image search.

Simple Google Image Search

However, Molly wants to know if there are any quick tricks that she can use to make her Google image searches more productive. For example, when she’s searching for images of Charles Dickens and simply clicks one of the many links to Images, she gets any number of pictures.

Results of a simple Google Image search

Even so, Molly has to hover her mouse over a particular picture to discover the image resolution (number of pixels) for that image. In the example above she finds and image that is 311px wide and 400px. That image won’t be so pleasant to gaze upon if she has to increase its size. If Molly is looking for images with a lot of pixels this kind of search will take a long time. Ugh! If only there was  a quicker way to find pictures with a larger image resolution.

Wait! There is a way to do that. Google’s Image Search allows Molly to look for pictures with a certain image resolution. This means she can get Google to return only those images of a particular pixel size.

Detailed Google Image Search

There are only four steps to the process:

  1. Click on the Search Tools button.
  2. Look for and click upon the Any Size drop down menu.
  3. Choose a size. In this case, Molly wants digital images that are Larger than a specified size.
  4. Choose a specified size. Molly is going with 1024 px wide and 768 tall (Why? It’s because most 21-inch monitor screens can show images that are 1024 px x 768 px. If she’s going to be displaying images with a digital projector, she could look for even larger images with (*gasp*) even more pixels!)

After successfully using this technique, Molly will have her pick of digital images rich with pixels! The images have such great image resolution that it’s very unlikely she’ll need to resize them to be larger. This means that her students won’t be subjected to awful grainy pictures. They’ll marvel at how clear and impressive her images are!

Google Image Search Big Pixels

I’m sure this handy trick for zeroing in on the biggest, best images will only server to whet Molly’s appetite for even more compelling images.

Let Me Explain: Why I’m Enjoying Lee LeFever’s Excellent Book

The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFeverAt some point or another, we’ve all been expected to create an explanation to help family, friends, or co-workers understand our ideas. We share facts and our expert knowledge only to be left with clueless or apathetic expressions. What a frustrating experience–ugh! What if we could easily learn to plan, create, package, and deliver explanations that convince others that our ideas are worth caring about? There is a handy solution! People who are picking up Lee LeFever‘s book The Art of Explanation can explain while they have a reason to smile. Want to feel good about delivering powerful explanations? Get this book!

I’ve been poring over The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever and I thoroughly enjoy what I have read so far. The book is excellent! The content is a magnet for the reader’s attention. Mr. LeFever, Chief Explainer at Common Craft, consummately practices what he preaches. Beginning with the preface and continuing through the following pages, the author makes a compelling case for examining and honing our ability to craft powerful explanations. What makes LeFever’s work so engrossing is that he does a masterful job explaining what he suggests we do. In brief, the writer :

  • gets us to acknowledge that better explanations are vitally necessary and serve to improve the world and subsequently our quality of life
  • lets us know why crafting better explanations should matter to everyone
  • creates a number of believable (contextual) narratives that help us see explanations from a new perspective
  • links new ideas about and skills for explanations to situations/concepts we are familiar with
  • helps us discern where (in our explanations) we should focus on explaining why or how
  • summarizes what we have learned and moving us forward to the next steps we need to take

Moving through text, we learn how to differentiate words that are often–and erroneously–used interchangeably with the term explanation (e.g. description, definition, instruction, elaboration, report, and illustration). The author convincingly explains the importance of empathy in crafting and “packaging” effective explanations. LeFever makes the point that meaningful explanations help an intended audience clearly understand why they should care to know more about a given topic. He also helps us understand why we fail to properly explain our ideas and goes on to clarify how we can effectively plan our explanations.

I can’t wait to dive back into this book!

Related resources:

Want to know more about the fellow who is widely credited for inspiring the video explanation industry? Read Lee’s biography.

Intrigued? Buy the book!