Cool Tools: Word Lens

Folks who have attended our seminar on Teaching with iPads have heard me talk about the major benefits of mobile devices and how they relate to learning. Particularly, the characteristics include:

  • Location awareness
  • Remote engagement
  • Continuous updates
  • Collaborative
  • Creative
  • Informative
  • Organizational

These add up to a just-in-time information juggernaut! All info, all creative, all connected, all the time! (but not in the creepy way….we’re looking at you advertisers!) Just-in-time computing derives its name from Just-in-time production methods for manufacturing, where you build only what you need at the time. In this way, a just-in-time computing model gives you just the information you need at the moment you need it. Where this is a great computing model that can augment any learning process (and we’d love to talk more about, if you want to incorporate it into your class), it often times takes an example to show its value.

Enter Word Lens. This free (for now) app was recently acquired by Google, but provides some incredibly advanced tools for real-time visual language translation (Non-nerd speak translation: point your phone [or Google Glass, which I suppose just means, look] at a sign written in a foreign language and Word Lens will translate it into the language of your choosing). It’s the science-fiction world you were promised so many moons ago! Have a look at a before and after shot provided from their iPhone app page:

a bunch of Russian that I can't understand after_WordLens_screen568x568

You can look at this in two ways: this is really cool technology that is specific to the world of language translation, OR the possibilities that this sort of technology opens up are astounding! How far do you think we are from a world where someone could look at a multiple choice test, and Siri or Google Now could automatically fill in the correct answer on a display contained on a pair of glasses, or even a contact lens. That’s the difficult classroom problem, but on the plus side, think of how you could build tools to affect the world in a similar way. With computing power like this in a mobile device, you have to believe that the content creation capabilities are there too. Let’s see how we can build this together.


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Google Search Tips and Tricks – Mad Skills in the Age of Information

In the digital age, one of the most important skills is having the ability to find just the right information at the instant you need it.  The problem is that when everyone is a knowledge producer and places their content online, there is simply an overabundance of information to sift through.  So how can you quickly find what you need?  What would be great would be a tool that would search through all of that information based on criteria that we specify.


Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Google.  I hope everyone is raising their hand right now.  If not, let me Google that for you.  Google is the perfect, but not only, tool for finding information on the Internet.  It is clearly the biggest player in the search engine game, so like it or not, becoming an expert at crafting Google search terms is super useful.

We recently worked with some faculty members who took on the challenge of supporting their students as they become expert Googlers.  In their field, it is critical that students be able to find information to guide their decision-making.  These professors are planning to very actively cultivate the skill of Google searching among their students.

To support their efforts, we created a couple of Google search tips and tricks handouts, and we’d like to share them just in case they may be useful to you and your students.  Click on the links or thumbnails below to download and use these Google search job aids. Enjoy!

Google Search Tricks Google Search Tips

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Posted in #trending

Interwebs – fun friday link

Here’s a link to a video just to make you think a bit about technological change

Best line is at 4:14. Trust me.

Posted in Interwebs

Interwebs – NYTimes – Young Minds

If you aren’t a reader of The Stone, the NYTimes weekly opinion column where “contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless” or something or other, you should probably pat yourself on the back – it was great for the first year, but now it’s mainly become a platform for a few folks who want to talk about atheism and agnosticism and that’s about it. (oh, how the grey lady has let this one fall flat on its face) However, every now and again there are some gems in there, and so where I would never encourage you to follow the blog, I am happy to follow it for you and then tell you when something of value is posted there.

A few weeks ago they posted a fantastic article about higher education by Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University. Specifically, the article dealt with the ways in which we can provide a more powerful experience for our students if we not only help them to be skilled critics of preexisting knowledge, but also active participants in the creation of knowledge and other cultural artifacts. Here’s one of the fantastic thoughts from the article:

Liberal learning depends on absorption in compelling work. It is a way to open ourselves to the various forms of life in which we might actively participate. When we learn to read or look or listen intensively, we are, at least temporarily, overcoming our own blindness by trying to understand an experience from another’s point of view. We are not just developing techniques of problem solving; we are learning to activate potential, and often to instigate new possibilities.

Does this require technology? No. Is it expensive? No. Does it take plenty of thought in designing a pedagogical experience, or even just letting it bubble up into existence? Possibly. It is not easy to quantify these experiences in terms of learning objectives, or to ensure that everyone will have the same experience, but the promise of liberal education as a place that awakens the potentials of its students to become participants in the creation of our shared culture can serve as a call to arms for all of us. We don’t need to be trapped by this as an ideology, but rather to think pragmatically about how this spirit can be infused into our everyday practice. It actually isn’t as hard as you might think.

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Posted in Interwebs

Gamification and D2L

A topic that has been trending for a while now in education (think since 2010 – see below) is gamification.  If you haven’t heard of gamification before, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version.  Gamification is the incorporation of gaming elements, such as scoring, competition, leveling, etc, in educational, or other, contexts that are not typically game-like.

‘Gamification’ Google Trend History



Here’s an example, not an educational one, but one many of us can relate to, that demonstrates the motivating and fun-inducing power of gamification.  Imagine Petey, a child uninterested in having a bath and getting ready for bed.  You say, “C’mon Petey, it’s time for bed.  Let’s go have your bath and get ready.”  Petey doesn’t budge.  “Petey, you need to get cleaned up for bedtime.  Let’s go.”  No movement from Petey.  Being the clever parent that you are, you alter your approach.  “Hey, Petey, I’ll race you to the bathtub.  I’ll bet I get there first.”  Now if Petey is anything like most children, probably before you finish the second sentence in your challenge, he is up and running.  More than that he is smiling and having fun doing something that not two seconds earlier he was completely uninterested in.  That is the power of gamification.

So why gamify?

One of the benefits of gaming and gamification are the positive emotions that are encouraged when learning is playful.  Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken and all-around gaming expert, reports that gaming promotes the following:

  1. Creativity
  2. Contentment
  3. Awe and Wonder
  4. Excitement
  5. Curiosity
  6. Pride
  7. Surprise
  8. Love
  9. Relief
  10. Joy

These are all of the emotions that we wish our students felt when we share the wonder of our content with them.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.  Yet, when educational experiences are gamified, students are more motivated, spend more time learning, and persist when working through challenging material.  The ultimate goal of gamification is for learning to awaken an epic win for students, a sense of absolute accomplishment and pride.


Ok, you sold me, so how can I gamify with D2L?

One of the key elements of gamification is having clearly identifiable accomplishments that are then rewarded.  In D2L there are tools that help students clearly accomplish a task and there are tools that help establish a motivational reward system within your course.  The table below provides an overview of some of the possibilities.

The D2L Gamification Toolbox




D2L Assessments Task/Accomplishments Create measurable, scorable tasks for students to complete using D2L assessment tools like the Dropbox, Quizzes, Grades, or Discussion Boards.
Competencies Task/Accomplishments The Competency tool associates learning objectives with particular desired competencies.  When a student successfully completes all required activities associated with learning objectives for a particular competency, students achieve the competency.
Checklists Task/Accomplishments Some projects and activities are multistage.  Checking off an item on a checklist can trigger the next step in a challenge.
Groups Teaming Gamification challenges don’t have to be individual.  You can use the Groups tool in Desire2Learn to create team challenges so that students must work together to achieve their goals.
Release Conditions Reward/Recognition and Leveling Release conditions are a key element of gamification in D2L.  You can use release conditions to unlock “higher levels” and to reveal badges and awards within your course.
Intelligent Agents Reward/Recognition Intelligent Agents are automatic email messages that can be sent to students based on Release Conditions.  These can be used to motivate students, inform them of new challenges, or provide recognition for achievements.
Homepages and Widgets Reward/Recognition Another way to celebrate achievement is through leaderboards and badges.  You can create custom widgets in D2L that can act as a leaderboard or reveal badges to students based on release conditions that they have met.
Replace Strings Reward/Recognition and Encouragement Replace strings are strings of code that are replaced by other data.  Here’s an example.  In Widgets and News Items, you can type {firstname} or {lastname} in part of a message.  This will be replaced by the logged in user’s first and last name so that they are reading a personal message.

Desire2Learn has created a ‘recipe‘ that outlines some of the potential for incorporating game mechanics in your course.  But of course, we’d love to help you gamify your course.  So drop by the Exchange and let’s talk about the possibilities.  Stay tuned for a post with a concrete example of how these tools can be woven into a gamified course unit.

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Posted in #trending, Cool Tools

Reboot: Presentation Design – Gayle Nelson

Photo of Gayle NelsonGayle Nelson is a Professor of Applied Linguistics, Interim Director of the Middle East Institute, and Coordinator of International Programs in the Dean’s office for the College of Arts and Sciences. She has published several books, and far too many articles to mention and has taught and conducted research across the globe. Her career is truly distinguished.

When she was invited for a panel presentation in March at the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) conference in Portland, she decided to bring her ideas to the Exchange to see how our staff of instructional designers could help. I was honored and lucky to be the designer to help her.

Like many people that are looking to create more engaging presentations, Dr Nelson was eager to build her PowerPoint in a more visual style, but was stymied by the complexity of the tools. But unlike many people that stop there, throw up their hands, and accept that they are stuck with master slide layouts and the default theme colors, Dr Nelson had a vision and was determined to make it happen.

Every slide that was sent to me had extensive notes about how the content should be displayed, which was a great start! Knowing what the vision is of the creative mind behind the presentation allows designers to help without getting in the way, or making a design that lacks authenticity. I was appreciative of her vision, and could then more easily work to try to achieve her goals.

With that information in hand, I was able to grab and incorporate images from creative commons sources like creative commons, wikimedia, and even the noun project for icons and vector images. That created a consistent look and feel on all slides in the presentation. Finally we made sure that smooth transitions existed not just between slides, but also between major themes in the presentation.

After most of the first draft was complete, I met with Dr Nelson to get further input, critique, and direction on how to iterate upon the design to better match the narrative of her presentation. A few slide deletions, changed images, and transition designs later, and Dr Nelson was ready to deliver her presentation in the way that she originally envisioned.

I heard back from Dr Nelson after the presentation was complete and she told me that she received many compliments on the presentation and it was the first presentation that she had given in a long time where she was truly excited to be giving a presentation.

This is music to our ears. It is our belief that when the technology gets out of the way, the power of current tools is such that any individual can create content to undergird their message in a way that truly inspires.

So, let’s take a look at some of the ways in which we helped for the Portland presentation.

Title slides - before and after reboot

Now, many of you may already have a plan for how to handle your title slides, but there are many more types of slides out there, and anyone at the Exchange can help you with those as well. Here are a few slides showing how photography and visuals were combined with Dr Nelson’s content to bring life to the slides that wouldn’t be accomplished without the visual. If you are looking for images that could help you achieve the same results, check out Creative Commons, as well as GSU’s own Digital Asset Library.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But not all slides are pretty pictures, and I was happy to help when Dr Nelson was looking to expand her presentation in ways that she could only explain with notes. Everyone has these sorts of visions for the discussions they lead, but making the tools work for you is the tough part. Take this request from Dr Nelson for a timeline. One of her slides contained only notes about what she was looking for. It said, “(On this slide I would like a timeline with these points on it: 15th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century) I want to be able to click on each century and have some text appear.” That’s a pretty common type of content for any academic, but it’s not just a simple template slide in any presentation program. The animation features of any modern presentation software can easily accomplish this task however. For simplicity’s sake, here’s a movie showing the build in for the entire timeline combined with the build for the 20th century’s first date. Keep in mind that this is just a movie of a standard presentation file, so the interactivity used here is just tucked inside of PowerPoint.

There were a few other animated slides that Dr Nelson and I created for this presentation, but all of the effects are probably better displayed using a movie file of the slides that we created to be included in her keynote presentation in Shantou, China. We had limited time to work together on this presentation, but I was thrilled to be helping again in any way that I could. These slides, and their animations, are designed to show the way in which certain concepts are related, using a spatial metaphor. This was accomplished using Apple’s presentation software Keynote, also available for your iPad, or Windows PC through the web.

Working with Dr Nelson was a true pleasure. We love to work with people who are excited to explore, want to create content that reflects their vision, and who allow us to partner with them to create the best possible solution available with the current technology. Dr Nelson was all of these, and she allowed us the time to do it right. I also thank her for being receptive to having the Exchange share her story in this forum.

If you are interested in working with the Exchange staff to reboot your presentation for an upcoming talk, class, lecture, or other media presentation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and set up an appointment. We’re excited to work with you so that your content can match your vision.

Fair Use Images:

Dr Nelson – – available here

Title Slide image – Carolyn Richardson – GSU Digital Asset Library – original here

male & female on street – user Moriza on flickr – original image here

train crash – original image here

cowboy in the sun – original image here

hands in the air – contributor Urban Cow – istockphoto – original image here

man with white card – Microsoft clip art

MLK – Seattle Times – original image here


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Posted in Reboot

Blackboard Collaborate Suite of Mobile Apps

Do you want to conduct an online meeting on the go?  Blackboard Collaborate is Georgia State University’s online meeting platform.  In a previous post we discussed how you can enhance your course with this useful collaboration tool by conducting online class meetings and office hours or setting up collaboration spaces for student project groups.  In this post, we’d like to introduce the suite of mobile apps that Blackboard offers for attending and conducting online meetings, so that you can meet virtually anywhere where you have a wifi connection.

There are three flavors: an iOS app, an Android app, and a Kindle Fire app.  The apps provide nearly full-featured access to the Collaborate platform.  You can interact through text and audio, view the whiteboard and shared applications, and participate in breakout rooms.

Blackboard Collaborate



If you would like help getting started with one of the Blackboard Collaborate apps on your mobile device or you would like an introduction to the Blackboard Collaborate platform, contact the Exchange.  We’d love to help.

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Posted in Cool Tools

Cool Tools: How to pull data from a PDF for use in Excel

This post is reposted from

Have you ever wanted to pull all of the raw data out of, let’s say, a pdf file of government data or a journal article? It’s the worst! You can’t just copy and paste from it, so first you try to contact the author, but you never hear back invariably. Second, you try to hand type the data, but if it’s a worthwhile amount of data, by the time you are half way through, you realize that none of your rows match up to what they are supposed to be, or you have carpel tunnel so bad that you are forced to bathe your delicate hands in your kitchen ice maker to reduce the swelling. After these two abominable efforts, you finally decide that you are willing to pay whoever or whatever to get some sort of tool to extract the data.

And this is where you suddenly wonder if the tool you are about to install is a real app, or just a devious technique to take your credit card information, and probably the deed to your house as well.

Have no fear, Tabula is here to help you in your moment of need without all of those pesky viruses.

tabula icon


Working with Tabula is simple. From the Tabula website, here’s how it works:

  1. Upload a file with tables you would like to copy.
  2. Draw a box around the area of the table you would like to copy. (Note: currently, Tabula can’t select tables over multiple pages)
  3. You will be given the option to copy the table as a CSV (comma-separated values) file or download the CSV or TSV (tab separated values). If you notice any errors in the table, you can make text edits to the selected text before copying or downloading.

Wow! all with a free tool for Windows, Mac, or, for our favorite penguin-lovers out there, Linux. If you haven’t checked it out yet, let us know how useful you find it!

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Binder App – A Document Reader Created to Support our Desire2Learn

Our last two posts have narrowly focused on sharing apps that streamline grading in Desire2Learn:  the Desire2Learn Assignment Grader app and the Turnitin app.  In this post, we’d like to share an app that helps students stay organized and learn your content.  It’s called Binder.  If you’re feeling a bit grouchy because our last two app discussions have dangled the promise of efficiency and streamlined processes  just within your reach only to crush your dreams with the revelation that the dream-team of grading apps are exclusively for Apple fan boys and girls, hopefully a smile is about to spread across your face.  The Binder app comes in three flavors:  Apple iOS, Android, and web.  Three cheers for platform neutrality!  Hip hip hooray!  So whatever device or platform you use, if you can navigate to a webpage (in particular, this web page:, you can use Binder.

“But what does it do?” you ask.

Well, Desire2Learn boldly claims that it provides, “A better way to LEARN.”  Basically, it’s a slick document reader.  Here’s how it works its mojo:

  1. It pulls Desire2Learn content down to your device for offline viewing.
  2. It will fetch content to add to your Binder from Dropbox, OneDrive, or your Photos
  3. You can organize your content through tagging and favorites
  4. You can also annotate content with the following:
    1. hand drawn annotations
    2. highlights
    3. underline
    4. typed notes
  5. Finally, you can send content back to Dropbox, OneDrive, or Photos or email and share it through other means

Here’s a promotional video for the Binder app.

This app isn’t so much for you, the instructor, as it is for your students.  But now that you know what Binder can do, consider recommending it to your students.

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Posted in Cool Tools

Turnitin App – Plagiarism Detection Goes Mobile

Turnitin app iconI imagine a few of you caught our last post about the D2L Assignment Grader app, and the first question you had was, “Okay sounds neat-o, but does it also allow me to view originality reports and use QuickMark comments to evaluate student work offline?”  Unfortunately, the answer is, “Nope.”  But that’s okay because if plagiarism detection and QuickMarks are your thing, you can still evaluate student Dropbox submissions offline.  You’ll just need a totally different, but equally useful, app called Turnitin, built by none other than Turnitin.

Now once again, this app is strictly for Apple iOS.  Sorry Android and Surface users.  But it’s easy to use and incorporates all of your favorite features of Turnitin grading:  QuickMarks, comments, rubric grading, and originality reports.  You can learn more by checking out the video below or by reviewing the promotional material for the app on the Turnitin website.

The app integrates with Desire2Learn, but you’ll have to set up each course individually.  It’s a bit tricky, so here’s the inside scoop for getting started.

  1. Download the app.  (I hear you out there saying, “Duh!”  I’m just trying to be thorough here.)
  2. Log in to Desire2Learn and open an originality report for a student paper.
  3. In the bottom left-hand corner, click on the iPad access button and generate a code.  (You’ll have to run through this code generating step for each class.  Bummer, I know.  At least you don’t have to do it for each Dropbox, right?  Or each paper, so there’s a silver lining.)Turnitin Mobile App Code
  4. Go back to your iPad and open the Turnitin app.
  5. Rather than logging directly into Turnitin, you’ll click on the Access Code tab.
  6. Then enter the Access Code.  (You knew this step was coming.)
  7. Once you’ve got one class set up on the iPad, you’ll add additional classes from the user profile icon in the top right-hand corner of the app.

Now you are ready to start plagiarism sleuthing and essay grading mobile-style.  Enjoy!

For more information, check out the Turnitin app help section or stop by the Exchange in Library South, Room 106 for some one-on-one help.

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