Archive for January, 2012

Feeling brave – try this.

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

“What Happens When You Leave Students Alone?”

This is a secondary school project but the idea that some level of student ownership improves learning is worth considering when developing your curriculum.

independant project

(I found this on Stephen Downes blog)

Split dates into separate excel columns (more fiddly than it ought to be)

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

One of our academics wanted to calculate the difference between to columns of dates based on the year.

Easy I said, we’ll split the date columns so the years are in separate columns.  You can do a simple =A1-B1 to get your result.

It is almost that easy, there are however a couple of tricks (if someone has a more elegant solution please let me know).

  • First insert a column to the right of the column you are about to split
  • Click on Data
  • Select the column and click on Text to Columns
  • Select Fixed Width
  • Click on Next

split date1

  • Drag the line across to your desired separation pont
  • Click Next
  • On the next screen just click Finish

split date2

Here is the confusing bit.  When I split the  column is I found the year column had a full date in it.

split date4

To fix this

  • Select the dodgy year column,
  • Right click and select Format cells

split date5

  • Select Number and remove the decimal places
    You’ll notice that the Sample is showing the original year
  • Click OK and you’re done


Apple takes aim at text books – but misses (at least for us)

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Over the past week there has been a bit of buzz about a big Apple education announcement.

There are 3 parts to the story

  1. iBooks2 – a new propriety format for interactive digital texts.  Apple wants to sell text books out of it’s iBooks store and quite a few big publishers have agreed to come board.
  2. iBooks Author – a “free” (but with strings attached) easy to use etext authoring app that links straight into the iBooks Store
  3. an  iTunesU update (which I need to explore further before commenting)

Here are my initial impressions

Technically this is a bit ho hum but at the same time a bit exciting.  They are not doing anything particularly new or particularly innovative, but this is Apple and they know how to hype and sell a message to the general public.  Additionally, they have good market penetration with the iPad, and of course they have the fan boys who will jump on board regardless.

If you read this blog you’ll know I’m a fan of etexts.  I think it’s a great idea to have all your texts on one light device that can also be used for note taking and assignments.  The change has been coming over the past 3 years and the tempo is increasing (thanks in no small measure to the iPad).  The (free) Open Education Resource movement (OER) is putting pressure on publishers, as are new digital publishers like Flat World Knowledge, Amazon and Inkling (Inkling and Kno are iPad etext publishers who will probably now struggle to survive).  Apple are just the latest to target the market.

The Good.

  • The implied promise of cheaper text books ($15 was the price mentioned for high school books)
  • Potential for more interactive text books.
  • I expect Author to be easy and slick (hopefully it will reset the benchmark for ease of use).
  • Author is free (this may place price pressure on the likes of Adobe InDesign) .
  • Some big publishers are already on board.

My concerns

  • Author only produces Apple iBooks that cannot be read on other devices.
  • If you create an etext with Author and decide to sell it, you can only publish it via Apple, and they take a cut of every book sold (most likely 30%).  While McGraw-Hill and others are supposedly on board, I’m not sure how the pricing is going to work.  I can’t see how they are going to able to offer prices in line with the $15 being touted by Apple for High School text books.   I suspect most will create an iBook version to leverage the iPad “halo of awesomeness” then try to provide a similar ePub version on their own site or on Amazon for about the same price or less.
  • For equity reasons our academics will not be allowed recommend an iPad only etext as a required text, unless there is a non propriety edition and it can be loaned from the uni library.  By the same token there is no point in academics using Author to create resources that will be inaccessible to some students.
  • Apple can decide not to release the book if they don’t want to (for legal  and moral reasons this is fair enough – but they do have a track record of blocking apps that don’t suit their business interests)
  • In the long term an Apple hyped etext model may actually set teaching back.   A selling point is the ability to turn Powerpoint slides and Word Doc into eTexts, this makes me shudder.  The Apple hype may help embed a dumbed down digital content based model as the (new cutting edge) norm in place of our current content based printed texts.    It will be interesting to see if anyone starts producing pedagogically sound, immersive, problem based resources.  The examples I’ve seen so far are basically traditional, reference style, textbooks with a bit of animation and something to click on.

At an organisational level it makes more sense to encourage the development and use of non proprietary ePub texts (or just PDFs)  and source recommended digital texts from traditional publishers (and pay full price), or from one of the new breed of digital publishers (free and/or low cost), or hunt out a free Creative Commons text.

It’s new and shiny so I will have a play with it, but what I’m really hoping is that an ePub software developer looks at it and says “Oh, that’s what my program should look like”.  Until then stay away from the Cool aid.

PowerPoint slow to open and print? Check your embedded docs

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Here’s something new (to me anyway).

I was sent PowerPoint that was slow to open, and slow to print.  It was 6MB.  Too big considering the content but it still should have opened faster.

I had a look and found that many of the text boxes were in fact embedded docs
(R. click on the text box and you’ll see a Document Object option).

ppt embed doc

So I decided to check the file by clicking File>Info

Then selected Check for Issues then Inspect Document.

Document Properties was highlighted so I clicked Remove all and Close.

ppt embed doc prep

Hey Presto!

6MB turned into 1MB and it was fast to open an print.

Not every visual resource is a good idea

Monday, January 16th, 2012

tax shelter colouring book