Pages

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

My First Impression of Book Creator for Chromebooks

As a 1:1 Chromebook district, we are continually looking for ways to unleash our students' creativity on a laptop-style device. As Chromebooks become more and more popular in schools, quality options are becoming more prevalent.
One of my favorite iOS apps has always been Book Creator. It's simple-to-use interface and ability to add videos in your book/ePub have made it popular with educators around the world. Recently, they have opened a beta web-based version. Even though I'm generally skeptical of beta releases, I had to give it a spin! I tried it for the first time using my two+ year old Toshiba 13 inch Chromebook.
What I found when I logged in as a teacher with my Google account to the web version of Book Creator was the same simple interface that made me fall in love with the app all those years ago.


Even in beta, all of the layout options are available, including comic book templates.


Once you choose your book shape on the web, you'll find the same options for inserting objects as you did on the app. The first picture below is from the iOS app, the second from the web version.

iOS


Web

If you are familiar with the app, you'll likely recognize the layout of a book page. The i button responds to what you have selected, just like in the app. There might be a few features missing from the app, but there are not as many as you'd expect from the web version of an app or software. I'd hate to make it an absolute and say NOTHING is missing, because inevitably I would miss something, but I haven't found anything that I use on the app that isn't on the web. Maybe a slightly different look, but still there. Feel free to put in the comments what I missed that you found missing!


One area that is paired down a bit from the app, but has the main features I would actually use, is the sharing options. Sharing online is really, in my opinion, the best route to go. Your other option on the web is to download as an ePub. If you are going to be sharing the book with parents, I'd encourage you to share online. It's by far the simplest on both ends. Clicking on the globe in the thumbnail of your book will let you copy your link once you've published. There is no need to re-publish once you make changes - it does it automatically! The iOS app has a PDF and video export options, but web and ePub let you take full advantage of Book Creator's features, especially the video embeds in your book.


I was pleasantly surprised when they released their pricing structure for the Chrome version (Click here for the pricing breakdown & FAQ from Book Creator). The iOS app was a relatively expensive, albeit still worth it, $4.99 regular price. Like many app companies, they are moving to a subscription model (read: recurring income), at least for the Chrome version. They are planning to release student accounts later this fall. I think there is a lot a teacher can do with the free account, especially an elementary teacher. The other levels aren't astronomically for those who would need it. According to their FAQ, discounts are available if you purchase 5 licenses or more.
As I told my staff when I emailed them about Book Creator, books are a great "next step" past your traditional presentation software. The format of a book is similar, but there is a lot more flexibility with a page layout and no push to use bullet points. You don't feel as tied down to a presentation color/layout scheme. Book Creator's web version is a huge boost to the creativity toolbox in our Chromebook district. I've told my staff to expect to hear a LOT more about Book Creator in the upcoming year!

Monday, June 13, 2016

First run with Facebook 360

Facebook recently announced their support for 360 degree videos and picture from their app, so today I tried out uploading 360/panoramic pictures to our district Facebook page!




A couple things I found out:
  1. I tried using my favorite 360 app Dermandar, but Facebook caught on. You see, there are only certain apps that Facebook will let you upload with. Dermandar apparently isn't one of them. 
    Can you tell which images were taken with Dermandar? Facebook can!
  2. Using the pano feature on your iOS camera works fine, except that it's not a full 360 degrees. It's 180 degrees. A big deal? No, but it would be nice if it was full 360. Maybe it's something I'm missing?
  3. Because you don't get a full 360 with the iOS camera, you have to be more thoughtful about where you stand. It can't just be in the middle of the playing field.
  4. You have to upload by clicking the Photo button in the Facebook app, not from where Facebook prompts you to check out the Photos in your Camera Roll. I'm thinking that will get updated, and it's a minor detail, but a mistake I tried. 
Overall I think it is a cool way to share different parts of your school or classroom. I've got a couple more places in mind to go get pictures for and other ideas on how to improve it. I did create a page on our website that has the full Dermander 360 images embedded. My plan is, as of right now, to do both since neither take very long to create. What ways do you see 360 videos being useful for schools? 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Educational iOS Apps that Support Chromecast

Our district has been using the Reflector app for mirroring our iPads to the projectors. While that has been working OK in most situations, we are beginning to explore whether or not the Chromecast would be an option as we introduce more iPads to staff. Why the Chromecast over the Apple TV? Mainly cost. While you can still purchase older versions of the Apple TV at half of what a new one costs, they are still twice as much as the new Chromecasts
The problem, and why many schools go with the Apple TV, is that the Chromecast doesn't mirror the iPad like an Apple TV or an adapter does. It's designed to stream video and audio. Which is why I'm compiling a list of iOS apps that support Chromecast that our teachers could use in the classroom. Admittedly, there isn't a lot. That's where a conversation with a teacher comes into play. What are they planning on projecting from the iPad? If it will routinely be something that can't be shared by one of the apps below, then maybe a Chromecast isn't the right option for their classroom. But if they plan on sharing websites and their Google Slides notes, then why pay twice as much for what they need? Because we are focusing on iPads, Android apps that could be used for educational purposes are not included below. And yes, there are 1000s of apps that support Chromecast, but most are for entertainment purposes. The apps below I can at least make an argument for educational purposes!





All teachers need the Chromecast app to connect and set up their device. 








Google Chrome - this web browser shows students what you are looking out, although, because it doesn't fully mirror, you can't see web URLs. Utilize Google Classroom to get URLs to students.






Google Slides - we encourage staff to put all of their presentations and notes online anyway, so Cast them with the Google Slides app.






YouTube - we encourage staff to use YouTube for sharing video content, either their own or someone else's. 







Also YouTube Kids for teachers sharing brain breaks via their iPad. 



Since it is cold out right now and indoor recesses occur frequently, I'll mention Connect4 Quads which brings the popular Connect 4 game online. Hasbro has a couple game apps available.




Some other resources:
Possibilities for Chromecast in the Classroom - Synergyse

Have other apps that should be included? Mention them in the comments below!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Screencastify - An Alternative to YouTube Webcam Capture

YouTube announced last week it was closing down it's (I guess not very) popular webcam capture feature that allowed you to record a video directly to YouTube instead of having to record somewhere else, then upload. This was a huge blow to our speech teacher, who has kids set their Chromebooks on a table to record their speeches so they can reflect and critique themselves.
The alternative we are using is the Screencastify Chrome extension. I've mentioned Screencastify in the past as a screencasting tool, but there is also the option to just record what the camera sees, basically the same thing that the YouTube capture did. Just like screen recordings, the video is then saved to either Google Drive or YouTube, whichever the user prefers. In talking with the speech teacher this morning, he said that it actually seems to be working better than the YouTube webcam capture. They would periodically have videos that stop uploading to YouTube and students would lose them. They haven't had those issues so far. The free version limits you to ten minutes of recording, but most of the speeches that students are recording fall under that limit. The Google Drive option could also be a little more reassuring for students who many be a bit apprehensive about accidentally posting their practice speech to the public on YouTube.