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What is a PDF?

A “PDF” is an abbreviated form of portable document format created by Adobe Systems with intentions of making it easy for users to share their files on the Internet.  They are designed to hold electronic versions of documents containing text and images that are viewable on digital devices and has become the number one universal document format on the internet.

Some Advantages:

  • They are viewable and printable on virtually any platform, including Windows, Mac OS, and mobile platforms for use in smart phones.
  • A PDF file will look the same on the screen and in print, regardless of what kind of computer or printer someone is using and regardless of what software package was originally used to create it.
  • When saving a PDF they are automatically optimized to a smaller size without losing quality.
  • You can convert almost any document from most applications into a PDF.
  • The software to view a PDF file is free.
  • It offers some reliable security options preventing people from copying, editing and even printing to protect the owner’s work.

Why is this format important for educators?  The number of different software programs keeps on growing, from fantastic organizers, spreadsheet programs, photo editing software, to interactive whiteboard software. They all tend to make our lives easier, but often forget one major point: the ability to allow the user to share his/her work.  As an educator you can combine documents with spreadsheets or PowerPoint slides to create your own pdf document which, in terms of creating notes, can be extremely useful.

There are various ways to create a PDF.  Adobe Acrobat is the best PDF-creation software offering various features but it is expensive for the average user who may not use it on a regular basis.  Most people use free software downloaded from the Internet to create PDF’s from their documents.  Macs have a built in function to print directly to a pdf.  For example if I create a document using Microsoft Word, you can then go to the print menu and save it as a PDF on to your computer.  On a PC there are various free PDF creators that can be downloaded.  Most of them add a print driver to your computer to allow you to convert your document to a PDF using your print menu. Basically when you want to create a PDF document from pretty much any application you just choose to print it to the PDF printer and it creates a PDF document.

Below are some links to free PDF sofware for PC’s.

PDFCreator

Bullzip

CutePDF

Apps in education

Many educators have started using smart phones and their various apps in their teaching.  It can however be difficult to find apps suitable to your own personal needs.  FIS has put together a Wiki allowing teachers to share their ideas and showcase what they are currently doing with Apps in education. Hopefully this will help teachers formulate their own creative ideas and put them into practice in the classroom.  It is still early days for the site but certainly one that could grow, especially if resourceful teachers start sharing some of their own experiences with educational Apps.

They have put together a list of reviewed Apps which, I can only assume, will evolve over time and become a fantastic resource for teachers and pupils alike.  The list is divided into categories according to subject and class level, including:

The site also includes video tutorials on how to set up your iPod/iPads in a classroom.

I look forward to seeing this wiki grow into an invaluable resource centre for Apps in Education.

Evernote

Evernote is another fantastic free resource that can be extremely useful for teachers. It allows you to capture information in a number of ways and then makes that information searchable and accessible from your desktop, mobile device and the Web.  Evernote is designed to help take, track, and sync notes from just about anywhere.
It is possible to take a snapshot using a camera phone or webcam and Evernote will recognise the text in the image.  This is great for all those little stubs of paper such as receipts, ticket stubs, business cards, and just about any paper document.
Their website has easy to follow tutorials while their blog has many tips and ideas for teachers.  Below is an extract from the blog and some useful links.
Teachers: Organize your lesson plans in Evernote.
You can put all your notes, outlines, activities, research, etc in Evernote and have it searchable and accessible from anywhere. That way you can start working on a lesson plan at home then continue working on your computer in your class. You can tag lesson plans with specific topics or subjects to make calling them up the next school year even easier.

Evernote is very useful, easy to use, constantly improved and updated and FREE.

This scam appears to be happening again this year. Below is an article published by the NCTE in mid december 2010 regarding the scam.

The National Consumer Agency and Microsoft Ireland today warned consumers of a scam where cyber criminals call consumers, claiming to be from Microsoft or other legitimate technology companies to tell them they have a virus on their computer.

The scammers then get people to download a file from a website and gain access to their computers where they can see personal details including financial information. In some cases they also ask for credit card details.

Details of the scam:

- Consumers are cold called from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, or another legitimate technology company, and told there is a problem with their computer and offered help to

- Once the caller has gained the consumer’s trust, they ask the consumer to log onto a website to download a file to help solve the problem

- They then attempt to steal from the person by accessing personal information, asking for credit card details in some cases and damaging their computer with malware including viruses and spyware

John Shine, Director of Commercial Practices in the NCA, said: “We’re seeing growing numbers of reports of this particular scam and we are warning people to be very careful. Microsoft or any legitimate technology company would never cold call customers to tell them there is a problem with their computer.

“The scammers also using different company names so if you get a call from anyone claiming that there is a problem with your computer – regardless of what company they tell you there are from – hang up immediately and report it to the NCA on 1890 432 432 or get further information on NCA.ie.

Mary Ashe Winton, Customer Experience Manager, Microsoft Ireland, said: “We are advising customers and consumers to treat all unsolicited phone calls with scepticism and not to provide any personal information.

“Anyone who receives an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft should hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls. In addition to gaining access to your personal details, they can also infect your computer with damaging viruses and spyware.”

Visit the Microsoft website for more information on this or other types of bogus visit

Read the National Consumer Agency guide on how to spot and avoid “phishing” scams

Prezi in education

Although Prezi has been around for over a year, many are still unaware of its existence. It is a free online presentation tool that lets users create presentations from a single slide that can be zoomed in and out to show a variety of content. It is a fantastic education tool in that it offers something different to the normal PowerPoint presentation and can add variety to the lesson.

Prezi is a radical departure from the traditional slide show in that it is not linear.  To give you an idea of how it works, think of the presentation area as a big whiteboard where you have been scribbling your notes, thoughts and ideas for a class. You may have points scattered all over and connected with arrows or afterthoughts scribbled in wherever you can fit them. With Prezi there is one giant work area where you can write topic headings and lists; insert graphics and pictures; roll videos and audio files while flying around and zooming in to important points and zooming out again for an overview.  View this video to see what Prezi is all about.

It is very dynamic and will keep your class/audience engaged throughout.  It is simple to use but it can take a while to get your head around it because it is a completely different concept to the usual slide show presentation.  The main advantage is that there are numerous online examples to give you some ideas and easy to follow tutorials.

In order to use Prezi you need to create an account.  If you are a teacher or student you can sign up to the Edu Enjoy for a free account.  This allows you to make your content private and to use your own logo instead of Prezi’s.  You can then begin creating your own Prezis’ and they are always available online wherever you are.  It is also possible to download your prezi to show it offline.

Some good Prezi Educational Links:

Step-by-Step Tutorial in Prezi Basics

Prezi’s Education Exchange

Prezi.com Blog

Prezi Tips and Tricks

Thoughts on using Prezi as a teaching tool

Google offers an excellent online training centre to help both teachers and pupils to effectively use Google Apps in an educational context.

There are six simple modules providing training content with each module offering chapters with many lessons.  You can read through the entire course at your own pace with each chapter taking about 20 minutes to complete.

It is a great way to get yourself started with using Google Apps.

Saving YouTube videos

Many people have experienced the frustration of trying to download YouTube videos.  These videos are in Flash (flv) format which do not allow you to simply right-click to save it.  This format is very common these days and many websites use it because its displays well in most browsers.  There are several ways to capture these videos and save them on your computer.

One way is to use a site like KeepVid.  This is a website which allows you to download streaming videos through your browser and requires no software at all.  Once you have found a video that you want to save, simply enter the URL of that video page into the download bar, click “DOWNLOAD” and follow the instructions.  Once saved in FLV format you will then need a player to play it.  VLC player is probably the best player available for playing virtually all formats of video.

If you use the Firefox browser there are some good extensions that you can download which make grabbing flash videos very easy.  DownloadHelper is an add on that can be used with Firefox.  Its purpose is to capture both video and image files from many different sites. Some videos and music files can be quite large, so the program gives you the option of downloading lesser quality files. It can also work with any video converter program you have installed to convert videos to more useful formats.

Another great way to save flash videos is with realPlayer.  It is a free media manager program that also allows you to transfer media to mobile devices.  It offers a one-click solution for downloading videos as well as a simple-to-use video-trimming tool that allows you to select only certain bits of a video to transfer or share.  You also have the option to strip the audio out of the videos and save those as separate files which can be very useful for teaching.

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