Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Connect Livescribe Pens Directly to the Computer's USB Port

Yesterday I finally completed the dreaded task of getting a Livescribe pen set up as a tester. I had a feeling it would not be easy, because I've had difficulty connecting them to the computer almost every time I've used them. It would probably be different if I used one myself on a regular basis rather than multiple pens as testers. The next paragraph describes the hassle I went through to get the pen connected. If you aren't interested in the details, skip it to get the lesson learned :)

The paper replay function worked fine. That is the aspect where you write on the special paper and it records what you're saying and writing and plays it back on demand. When I went to connect it to my Mac to get the recordings off of it, it said that I needed to "reset the smartpen real time clock" and pointed me toward a knowledge base (KB) article. Oddly enough, the first paragraph indicated that if I was referred there by Livescribe Desktop, it may not actually be a problem with the clock and instead said that it may be due to recently upgrading to Lion (which I did), so I was then instructed to uninstall and reinstall Livescribe Desktop. So I did. And it still didn't work. The error message sent me to the same KB article but this time I actually read the instructions to uninstall and reinstall Livescribe Desktop. Well, it is way more complicated than actually uninstalling and reinstalling and I had to do some weird stuff with trashing a bunch of other files under Preferences. So I did that and reinstalled it. And it still didn't work! I actually got a different pen in case this one was corrupt. Still didn't work. I went back to the original article (the one about resetting the clock) and saw that another recommended fix to try was to rename the Livescribe Desktop data folder which I was just about to do. However, the first step in the instructions said to make sure the pen was connected directly to the computer's USB port, not a USB port on a hub, keyboard, or monitor. Since the lovely Mac only has two USB ports, I plug most things into the hub which is where the Livescribe pen was plugged in. I sighed, sure this simple solution would be the answer, and of course, it worked.

Lesson learned: when you're having problems with something that's plugged in via a USB, try plugging it into the computer's USB port directly rather than a hub before scouring knowledge bases and uninstalling and reinstalling things for almost 2 hours.

On a related note, a new Livescribe pen just came out that transmits data via wifi and does not need to be plugged in. About time! It's called the Livescribe Sky. Here's a review from Time. Unfortunately we just bought 5 Echos. I did order a Sky to test and see how well it really works and if the convenience is worth the extra $50. Based on the time I spent yesterday trying to get it to work, my answers is already yes but we'll see if other problems emerge. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

iPad Stylus Review

Since iPad screencasting apps such as Explain Everything, Screenchomp, DoodleCast Pro, and Show Me are becoming popular, I've been exploring iPad styluses to help faculty make better screencasts and feel more comfortable doing so, since writing with one's finger can be a little awkward. I've also heard it can be nice to use a stylus during general iPad use if you have big fingers, to increase precision.

I found this amazing article from The Verge which helped me make decisions about what to try myself and with my group of stylus testers.  Below are my recommendations in order, with both performance and cost taken into account. Here are a few caveats: 1) I am definitely not as discerning as the reviewers in the article! 2) I also am not interested in whether the stylus has a pen in it, so I didn't take that into consideration. 3) This clearly is not a comprehensive review of the stylus market; I just picked a few that seemed most promising from The Verge's article.

1. Adonit Jot Pro

This unique stylus is my personal favorite for precision and general coolness - expect people to ask you about it when they see it. It glides across the screen nicely, unless you are using a screen protector, in which case it totally doesn't work (I say ditch the screen protector). A lot of people who have tried it liked how it wrote, but the problem is that its noisy tapping on the screen is picked up by the mic on the iPad when creating tutorials. This caused one person to return it to me.

The other main issue, which I find pretty significant, is that two of the six Jot Pros I have loaned out ended up with missing discs. The stylus does not work without the disc. I had a feeling they might be problematic, so thankfully I had the foresight to get two extra discs. You might want to pick up an extra disc or two when you get it so you don't have to pay for shipping on them later.

We ordered more Jots because everyone wants one, but decided to go with the Jot Classic for $19.99 vs the Jot Pro for $29.99, since the rubber grip and "magnetic cling" didn't seem worth $10 (we'll see!). I actually found the magnetic aspect annoying because it would stick to weird things like my sunglasses case and all of my tester styluses stick to each other in a big clump. I believe the purpose is for it to stick to your iPad and avoid rolling off the table since there isn't a clip on the Jot.

2. Kensington Virtuoso & Targus Stylus (aka, a normal iPad stylus)

All of my testers seem to have found homes, so I got the above picture from here

I wanted the Wacom stylus ($29.99) but it wasn't sold by our vendor, so I settled for a Kensington Virtuoso ($11) and a Targus (~$7-10). They are basically the same thing, to me and a few others who tried them anyway. I'm actually happy with the styluses I got, because I've used others' Wacoms and I cannot tell a difference between it and the Kensington or Targus. My guess is that the Wacom costs so much more because it's a Wacom and people (like me!) would buy it just because they trust Wacom. I recommend seeing if you can try them out before shelling out the extra for the Wacom.

3. Applydea Maglus 

If this stylus wasn't $32 (with $10 shipping), I'd recommend it to people who are ok with a heavier stylus that has a carpenter pencil grip style. On a side note, I'm not sure why it had to be magnetic since it is not round and won't roll away. It has a normal rubber tip, but it is firmer than the style in #2, which is definitely its advantage. I would prefer to have the rubber grip further down, where I actually hold it; I can see the sides of my fingers getting sore with extended use. So overall, the tip of the stylus is a clear winner, but the carpenter style, heaviness, high rubber grip, and cost might be deal breakers for some people like me. It did come with an extra tip, so I'm going to see if I can put it on a different "body" like one of the styluses in #2 (probably not, but worth a try). The Verge article indicated this would be my next stylus, but they were wrong.

4. Lynktec Truglide

This stylus has an odd tip made out of microfiber instead of rubber. I found it to be incredibly mushy - way mushier than the styluses in #2. No one who tried it particularly liked it. It makes a slight noise when it's being used that reminds me of steel wool which kind of rubs me the wrong way. It was interesting that The Verge said it was so conducive because I did not find that to be true - it wouldn't always register when I just needed to touch something, like a color change in an app and it didn't work well at an angle. It is the smallest stylus I tried; one of my testers said that with his big hands, he'd have to put a rubber grip on it (good idea, right?). I ordered it from the Lynktec site for $19.90, free shipping. Overall, I think The Verge was way off base in giving this one an 8.5/10. I'd go with the cheaper ones with rubber tips. (I couldn't get a good picture of the tip of the Lynktec so I got the bottom image from The Verge article.)

General Conclusions

My opinion, at this point, is that if you don't like the Jot you might as well go for one of the usual cheapie styluses unless you're fine the weird shape and price of the Maglus. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Learning Technology Development Council (LTDC) Meeting

I attended the LTDC/D2L site admin meeting Oct 8-9 in Whitewater. Each University of Wisconsin including colleges and extension nominates a rep and a back up. I'm the UWEC rep. The reps' jobs and titles vary, but all have something to do with learning technology and most are very involved with D2L, which is why the LTDC and D2L meetings were combined.

It was a great experience to network with other learning technology professionals and to learn what is going on at other UWs. I’ve only been to two of these meetings since I’m fairly new to the LTDC and they have been extremely valuable experiences. Here are the highlights of what I learned at this LTDC meeting - apologies for the length (this was initially 7 pages long in Word, so it is a summary!). It may not be relevant to people outside of the UW system.

1. The Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning (WisCEL) is a technology-enhanced active learning program Madison is implementing. Check out the website for more info.

2.   LTDC reps all shared what was going on at their UW. There were tons of awesome things but a few that stuck out to me is that Stout now has 4 instructional designers: one for each college. Also, I didn’t realize that clickers were rentable; River Falls rents them. River Falls does not have a center for teaching and learning. Whitewater has integrated CourseSmart with D2L but is disappointed with their e-book availability. Platteville intends to use iTunesU.

3. Digital media assignments: The Engage program at Madison explored the effective use of digital media assignments (i.e., students producing videos to demonstrate their learning) and came up with some excellent materials about best practices. I took all the extras so we could share them with UWEC faculty. There is also a brochure on the website. It was great to learn that what we are doing in BITS aligns with their findings! A big recommendation was to have an “authentic” audience – create the video with the goal of making it available to the world.

4. UW-Whitewater is awesome! It’s much bigger than I expected – they have more students than UWEC. Their new business building is amazing - lots of active learning spaces that were very purposefully designed for interaction. In hindsight, they would have put in more outlets (power strips need to be used now) and they had to go back and add clocks and pencil sharpeners!

I am incredibly jealous of their video recording areas: they have one room that students can to record video – there’s a built in camera and a mic on the ceiling. They record and are sent a URL via email when done. Easy! They have two areas for faculty to record with nice lights mounted on the ceiling, green screens, etc. They can sync their PowerPoints with the video they are recording. The things I love about this are the ease of use and the fact that they can record on their own, without a camera person. Then they don’t have to feel they are taking up someone’s time and they may be more comfortable by themselves.

They still have computer labs, but have found that if they ask students to bring laptops and have a cart of 10 laptops available for those who don’t have them (various reasons – not always that they don’t own one), that usually covers it.

5. MadisonE-Text Pilot: People involved with this provided more depth than I’ve heard before. They used Courseload. Key points:

  • The majority of student still prefer paper especially if they had not used e-books before.
  • Hardly any students would purchase the e-book over paper if they were the same price, probably because the factor in the price of selling it back. $30 less was the tipping point where students would buy the e-book instead.
  • Mobile availability was the least important factor for these students. Cost was #1, portability was #2 (I assume this means on a laptop since mobile wasn’t a concern?), accessibility without internet was #3, and environmental concerns was #4 (far behind the others).
  • They considered this a baseline study since faculty and students were not given much training (I think that’s really interesting). Some faculty said the book was not a huge focus in their class, so they didn’t want to put a lot of focus on the e-book either. When the students were trained and they used the annotation and highlighting tools, they rated the e-book more favorably.
  • Students liked the potential to interact with their professors through the e-book annotations and highlights, but didn’t really value that interaction with other students (possibly since other students could be wrong).
  • Only about 54% of the students in the pilot used annotations or highlighting.
  • 40% said their professor encouraged them to do it.
  • Students did not read more electronically than they do on paper (I don’t think they determined students read less though). They read about 52% of the assigned text!
  • Some students said that the e-book was hard to read due to resolution. They are basically PDFs at this point; is the current technology a fair test or should we wait until e-books have advantages over paper with increased interaction and multimedia?
  • They are doing another pilot.
  • We briefly discussed the advantages of open content – not even using a book. The U of M project in which faculty were being paid to vet open resources was mentioned. 
6. We had an interactive session that got me thinking about how to integrate/implement new technologies and how to prioritize: critical, necessary, desirable, fun. Most things fall into desirable. What does implement mean? What does support mean? These are questions I’m bringing back to UWEC.
7. Regarding D2L, the upgrade in winterim to version 10.1 will include an overhaul to the content page. Drag and drop will be more common and the HTML editor will change (hopefully for the better!). It will be possible to copy from an existing HTML file when creating a new HTML file. Copy components will be easier to find. The next version of D2L will also have increased reporting capabilities. 

The most controversial change will be that the Dropbox will (might?) be called Assignments. This sort of makes sense because people get it confused with dropbox.com, but Assignments is a little too specific – this isn’t the only place assignments are submitted, nor is it always used for assignments. Many in the group implored with D2L to not change it.

The D2L contract is up in June and it will be renewed but the length has not been determined. A small (~400 students) pilot of Canvas is being done and participants are being recruited. The goal of the pilot is just to keep an eye on the changing LMS landscape.

"My D2L," the product to which students can export their D2L e-portfolios, does, in fact, work and is quite user friendly. Students currently get 2 GB of free storage. D2L claims no rights to the content; students retain ownership. The e-p can be exported multiple times and it remains in the “real” D2L as well.
Intelligent agents: there is an automated way to generate email based on student based “conditions.” For instance, if a student has not logged into D2L for a certain period of time, they would get an email saying something like “Hi Arnold, please note that regular attendance in the course is important to your success. Contact me if you are having problems.” Theoretically, this is nice but a few wrong clicks could result in a bunch of unintended emails being sent. The most important drawback of it is that the students cannot respond to the automated emails. For me, this is a deal breaker. I hope it gets better, because it is a cool idea.