Articles posted by Bruce Gilbert

We Want Your Input – Planning for the Future of Cowles – Engagement and Learning

August 27, 2009

Learning / Engagement

One of the broad areas that Cowles Library hopes to develop in the future is “Learning and Engagement.” In general, this describes areas such as the library’s instructional efforts, Web page, reference services, etc. The large picture that follows shows some of the programs and concepts WE thought worthy of consideration. But, we’d like YOUR input! Did we miss anything? Are there particular areas or programs you’d like to see stressed at your Cowles Library in the future? Comments are welcome; simply add them at the bottom of the page!

Scholarship - knowledge base

We Want Your Input – Planning for the Future of Cowles – Scholarship Base

Scholarship – Knowledge Base

One of the areas that Cowles Library hopes to develop in the future is what we call the “Scholarship / Knowledge Base.” Broadly speaking, this describes areas such as the library’s collections (both print and digital), article databases, data and scholarly repository, etc. The large picture that follows shows some of the programs and concepts WE thought worthy of consideration. But, we’d like YOUR input! Did we miss anything? Are there particular areas you’d like to see stressed at your Cowles Library in the future? Comments are welcome; simply add them at the bottom of the page!

Scholarship - knowledge base

Internet Tools, Part IV: Drop.io

July 8, 2009

The following is the fourth in a semi-irregular series of posts on Internet tools and utilities.  Today’s tool takes the pain and mystery out of file sharing.  It will help you share information and comments; it has improved over time, and is amazingly versatile:  drop.io

It’s hoped that these tools will make your “screen time” hours more efficient and productive, rather than more numerous.   All the tools featured in this series have the following in common:

  • They are available “free” on the Internet (although an initial sign-up, also free, is usually required)
  • They have some utility in the world of the Internet, education, and libraries
  • I, personally, use each of these tools regularly

4: drop.io

  • How and why I use it: If you have a large file and want to share it with a friend, colleague, or even a vendor, you’ll want to know how to use drop.io   First, why not just use e-mail? Let me count the ways!  For one, e-mail is notoriously insecure.  Moreover, many email systems block files over a certain size, or of a certain type (files with a “.zip” or “.exe” extension (that is, the last three characters in the file name) are common files that get blocked).  Finally, if you care about the health of the Internet (or your email account!) at all, remember that email is an extremely inefficient way to share files; e-mail attachments, sent from one system to another, create copies all over the place, and then they pile up in your account, using up your quota!
  • How:  Setting up a drop.io “drop” is very easy.  Once you go to the drop.io homepage, you simply choose a name for your “drop,” select one or more files, and create it!  Then, you choose an “admin” password (so you’ll be able to change options, such as the layout of files, or when the “drop” expires) and supply an email address.  That’s it!  Is your total file size bigger than 100 MB?  No problem!  Create a second, third, or more additional “drops”!
  • This “upfront” simplicity masks a lot of features, however!  Once you’ve shared the “drop” with whomever you wish, they may add their own files, add comments, re-arrange the files, etc.  (You control how much they can do, when you are logged in as “admin”; look for the “settings” link which is a little hard to find on the upper right-hand of the page)  Most file types (such as .pdf or .jpg or even video such as .avi) allow the user to “preview” the content; that is, they can see what the file consists of BEFORE they download it.  “Settings” mode has all kinds of different stuff, including how many times the drop has been accessed.  Drop.io is so potentially versatile, I have used it as a de facto course management system; way whippier than BlackBoard!
  • Drawbacks:  The limitation of 100 MB for the “free” version is a potential issue, I suppose, but how often do you share individual files over 100 MB?  (Sure, you could get there pretty quick with video files, but that’s what vimeo and YouTube are for!)  Another caveat:  Although you are getting a certain amount of privacy by using drop.io, it is NOT an excuse for copyright violation, so don’t use it to share pirated mp3s!
  • Also (and this may seem like an odd thing to complain about) for a simple tool, it really has a LOT of different options; when you’re in “Admin” mode, as a result, you may overlook the “basic” stuff (such as how to change a password, or the name of the “drop”) because of all these different options (is setting up a different flower-colored background REALLY that important for file sharing?) drop.io has recently added all kinds of “collaboration” tools, such as “chat” and so on (a la Google Docs) but that’s not why I use it.  This is picking nits, I know, but it’s a common issue:  A tool is “good enough” for a specific service, but then “creeping featurism” comes in, and after a while, you forget why it was useful in the first place! 

Previous tool:  bit.ly

Tool for next time:  picnik

Open Access Initiative: Open Science Directory

June 23, 2009

The world of publishing continues to be transformed by (among other things) the Open Access Initiative or OAI. Cowles Library has been a longstanding proponent of this trend, as demonstrated by eScholarShare, our scholary “open” repository of publications by Drake students, faculty, and staff. 

This is a trend that continues to accelerate, as Universities and Libraries continue to react against the skyrocketing costs of “traditional” publishing models.  One concrete, and useful, example is the Open Science Directory (not just about science!) that I have described elsewhere.  In addition to being a useful source for virtually anyone doing research, this project has a laudable goal:  making research available to scientists and others in the developing world.

“Open Internet” tools series – Chapter Three: bit.ly

May 28, 2009

The following is the third in a semi-irregular series of posts on Internet tools and utilities.  Today’s tool is truly one of my favorites!  It will help you both communicate and track information (as well as make Web addresses shorter):  bit.ly

It’s hoped that these tools will make your “screen time” hours more efficient and productive, rather than more numerous.   All the tools featured in this series have the following in common:

  • They are available “free” on the Internet (although an initial sign-up, also free, is usually required)
  • They have some utility in the world of the Internet, education, and libraries
  • I, personally, use each of these tools regularly

3:  bit.ly

  • Example of how I use it: http://bit.ly/nbm7P
  • My first use: February(?) 2009
  • How and why I use it: If you want to make a URL shorter, there are many options.  First, though, why would you want to make a URL shorter at all?  Well, there’s Twitter and other instant messaging/microblogging services that only allow you a limited number of characters; a long URL can easily take up an entire Twitter post (140 characters max).  Also, sometimes long URLs “wrap” in e-mails, making it difficult for the recipient to re-create your link.
  • How:  Using any of the URL-shorteners is simple; you just go to the site (tinyurl.com is the “granddaddy,” and still very popular) and paste your “long” URL into the window, and click on a button.  I find bit.ly to be superior for this purpose because a) it keeps track of all your links (once you’ve setup an account, which takes maybe 15 seconds), b) most importantly, it tracks how many clicks(!!!) each link gets, as well as when and where they came from, in real time, and c) it seems to keep getting better and better!  (Just one example:  In the short time since I started using it, they’ve added the total number of clicks for each URL to your “main” page (see my example above) as well as “previews” of where the links lead).  At a certain level, I could see a personal bit.ly account serving as a “poor person’s delicio.us,” that is, an easy way to keep track of where you’ve been on the InterWeb, while sharing selected sites (it has a direct interface with Twitter and other 2.0 utilities) with your online buds.
  • Drawbacks:  Not too many (and they may have fixed these by the time you read this) but, it is occasionally (certainly not regularly, like Twitter!) unstable, especially as it has to do with “metrics,” i.e., the numbers, timeline, and demographics of your links.  (It would also be nice to get more systematic metrics, e.g., the TOTAL number of hits all your links got, but that is probably asking a lot for a free service?!?)

Previous tool:  Netvibes

Tool for next time:  drop.io

“Open Internet” tools series – Chapter Two: Netvibes

May 26, 2009

The following is the second in a semi-irregular series of posts on Internet tools and utilities.  Today’s tool will help you both organize and communicate information:  Netvibes.

It’s hoped that these tools will make your “screen time” hours more efficient and productive, rather than more numerous.  The posts in this series give info and background on a few common “open” Internet tools.  All these tools have the following in common:

  • They are available “free” on the Internet (although an initial sign-up, also free, is usually required)
  • They have some utility in the world of the Internet, education, and libraries
  • I, personally, use each of these tools regularly

2: Netvibes http://www.netvibes.com

  • Example of how I use it: http://bit.ly/8h24b
  • My first use:  early 2008
  • Purposes for which I use it:  Netvibes is free “portalling” software, that is, a utility to bring together resources and web pages and so on, and store and display them all in one spot.  Once you create an account, it has both a “public” and “private” side, so if you want to organize some private pages and resources and bookmarks, you use the “private” side (visible to only you), while the “public” pages can be used to easily share and showcase information with others. Netvibes is so versatile and easy to use, that, for the course linked above, I basically used it in lieu of a course management system!  Most of the student’s work was posted there, although I couldn’t, of course, post grades.  Also note, that I gave the students perhaps five to ten minutes of instruction on how to do the basics (click on “Add Content,” then “Essential Widgets” gets the basics)
  • Biggest drawback:  It IS one more thing to remember to check, but, if you have a specific Web communications purpose (such as creating a rudimentary personal e-portolio) you will remember…

Have other thoughts?  Other tools?  Post your comment below.

Previous tool:  Google Docs

Tool for next time:  bit.ly

 


“Open Internet” tools series – Chapter One: Google Docs

The following is the first in a semi-irregular series of posts on Internet tools and utilities.  We’ll start with a well-known, yet oft-misunderstood tool:  Google Docs.

I hope one or more of the featured tools might be of use to you.  These are written from my particular professional vantage point, i.e., that of a librarian, teacher, and manager.  Note that I do NOT necessarily view myself as a technophile; rather than spending hours pounding on the computer, I’d really rather be reading a book or baffing golfing balls.  Thus it’s hoped that these tools will make your “screen time” hours more efficient and productive, rather than more numerous.

The posts in this series give info and background on a few common “open” Internet tools.  All these tools have the following in common:

  • They are available “free” on the Internet (although an initial sign-up, also free, is usually required)
  • They have some utility in the world of the Internet, education, and libraries
  • I, personally, use each of these tools regularly

  1. Google Docs http://docs.google.com
  • Example of how I use it:  http://bit.ly/RO6Kd
  • My first use:  late 2007
  • Purposes for which I use it: Post syllabus, shared editing of documents, easy net-based display of documents (especially good for presentations, a.ka., “powerpoint”)  Good for students sharing their work with me or with each other.  If you have a Netbook, or other laptop, you could easily replace MS Office with this far-reaching set of tools.  Way easier to use than a Wiki!
  • Biggest drawback:  Well, you are storing your work on Gooooogle… if you have qualms about this, that’s fine, but I’m amazed by people who rail about the evil Google owning the world, while they carry laptops with $500 copies of MS Office… and they’ve never sent Google a dime.

Have other thoughts?  Other tools?  Post your comment below.

Tool for next time:  Netvibes!

 


Cowles Web Site Hosts Drake Curricular Discussion

December 20, 2008

In order to encourage ongoing academic dialog at the University, Drake’s Curriculum Task Force (DCTF) has posted the Executive Summary of the Draft proposal for Drake Curriculum reform. We encourage everyone in the Drake community to read this document, and “add comments” at the bottom. Also, there is a longer version of the proposal that is linked from the Executive Summary. The DCTF welcomes your input!

Information Literacy Pays off!

December 2, 2008

This page reports the results of an instructional experiment: it includes responses from an Information Literacy assignment at Drake University.

The Assignment

Students were given the following assignment:

  • First, the students (20 in all) drew out, at random, a “function” or Internet service that a small company, or even an individual, might need in the course of daily business.
  • Next, the students were asked to consider the following scenario:
    Pretend you are working at your first job. Your boss comes up to you and says, “Hey, you’re information literate, right? We need to find a solution that will provide (FILL IN YOUR FUNCTION HERE). You have access to the Internet to find it. There may be several ways to do this; just find the best one! And, oh, by the way, we want it for FREE!”
  •  So, search the Internet (yes, you may use Google!) to explore your “function.” Find: 1) One site (or piece of software) that would seem to do this well, and why (roughly 150 words) 2) One site (or piece of software) that looked interesting, but you decided against, and why (another 100 words)

    Portal Software

    Endonesia looked like a site that would be easy to use. I used a Google search to find Endonesia, and the Portal Software is for free. Also, it is relatively easy to use after downloading the .zip file. The fact that it is easily accessible and free overrides the inherent risks of downloading internet applications.

    Online Gradebook (for teachers)

    A site that I found for an online gradebook was Engrade. It seems like a great program that allows teachers, administrators, students, and parents to keep track of things in the classroom. Engrade.com allows teachers to keep a calendar for assignment due dates, keep track of attendance, and post grades. Teachers can provide students and parents with instant progress reports, and can utilize an instant messaging system to connect with families and give answers right away. Administrators can create accounts as well to connect with teachers, and manage classes. Parents and students are the last group of people that can create an account on the site to view grades or connect with teachers about any questions they have. The Engrade system is free, safe, and secures all information to maintain privacy for everyone involved.

    Sharing Sound Files (not necessarily music!)

    The best source I found for the use of sharing sound files was www.4shared.com. This website offers the free sharing of not only music but also videos, photos, and books. When someone signs up for this service, there are different options depending on how much you are willing to pay. The free service offers similar functions as the more expensive ones, but with a smaller size limit and slower bandwidth. Examples of functions included are video streaming, music files, and its own online anti-virus scanner. When a folder is shared the user can decide who has access to it, send the link to it via email, and use passwords to protect the information. One other positive is the website was easy to access and better organized compared to other websites I considered using. This sharing method would be adequate for the average person looking for basic file sharing of different types of media.

    Editing images online

    The software that looked the best to me was Picnik. Picnik is the best free software because of its ease of use and the way it is integrated into different websites such as flickr, facebook and myspace. This type of connectivity really adds an extra factor to the software and gives it an edge over the others. Another reason I decided it was the best is that I found it in first place on a blog called lifecleaver that rated it 1st in the top 10 ranked free photo software.

    Sharing large files of any kind

    At first glance this website, TransferBigFiles.com seemed a little ambiguous; the opening page did not have much information about the software. Upon looking further I found the necessary information very easily. The first thing I was trying to look for in a system was whether or not it seemed like a legitimate website and that what I would be downloading is a safe and legitimate program. This website was colorful at first glance which is a good way to draw people in, but it was also very simple and there were links that were easily found that lead me to other information that I needed to consider, such as who had created the software and whether or not they used it themselves. This software was created as a weekend project for a software company called Axosoft; it can transfer large files up to 1 GB in size. However, this software is not widely promoted by the company, it’s some sort of great secret apparently but they do make it available to the public and it was one of the first search results found. And of course it is free.

    Online Discussion Board

    The platform I chose to utilize for our online discussion board is Google Groups. It offers many features that can be streamlined as to the goal of the discussion board. If we wish to keep it a “controlled” discussion board, we can dictate who can join the board and who can post. If we wish to make it a public forum, we can allow the public to join and write on the discussion board. It also allows you to “ban” people – which takes away the option for the user to rejoin the group or have access to write on the boards. It’s easy to navigate and to setup. Users can create profiles and upload files. It creates an email address for the group as well as a separate web address.

    Shared editing of a document – NOT Google Docs!

    One site I found for Shared Editing of a Document is DokuWiki. It’s a free open source software that can be downloaded from the internet. I thought this one would be one of the better ones to use for shared document editing because of the features it has, such as the ability to edit small parts of a page, the easy-to-use toolbars and access keys, the automatic table of contents generator and it locks to avoid edit conflicts. Dokuwiki does not require a database so it is easy to integrate. You have the ability to add other features such as CamelCase—which is a way of automatically linking to other pages in the Wiki using words with a capital letter at the start and the beginning. CamelCase is disabled in Dokuwiki by default but can be added through a configuration option.

    Online “to-do” list maker

    As I browsed the internet looking for free to-do list software I fell upon RememberTheMilk.com. I have decided that this website would be the best for our company because it is simple, easy to use and most importantly free. One can also manage tasks online within other programs such as Google calendar. Yes, it is an online based tool but you can use rememberthemilk.com offline as well through Google Gears. Everything that you add or remove from your to-do list will be uploaded and synchronized once you connect to the internet. The rememberthemilk.com to-do list is also connected to twitter, so that you may send private messages to your friends who might be included in the tasks that you have to do on your list. This to-do list is perfect for employees or even entire companies who use gmail. You can just add it in to the gmail service. The feature that I was the most impressed by was the ability to use this to-do list with smartphones such as blackberries and iphones. Our employees are much more productive when they can get out of the office and this program will allow them to be more mobile.

    Online checkbook – personal

    The thing that I chose was PLCash. It’s a java application so it can run on any computer that has java. This is good because I personally have a mac and I know how hard it is to find things that work on both macs and PCs. So this makes it so the business doesn’t have to rely on just having Windows or a certain operating system. This software is also good because it seems fairly easy to use and can manage many different accounts. The software is also compatible with Quicken and QuickBooks, so it would be easy to transfer data or import data. It also allows for you to easily create and view reports of your accounts.

    Household Budgeting

    The website that I found on household budgeting that I thought was appropriate, easy, and free was the Free-Financial-Advice.net site. The main reason that I chose this site was because it was free, but that by far was not the only reason. This site catches a home owners eye with their slogan of make money, save money, and get out of debt. Another reason that I like the website was it gave rules to financial management, ways to plan for retirement, and a free excel spreadsheet in which the home owner could keep track of everything on his or her budget. This spreadsheet had everything from income to necessary expenses to investments. As you typed in one amount, it changes the whole outcome of your money left instantly. I think that is the most efficient thing for someone who struggles keeping track of their money. Excel does all the calculations for you instead of having a mess all over papers. Everything is organized and all right in front of you, plus it is all for free. This is a great site that informs home owners on great strategies to having an easier life.

    Make a banner (a REAL “paper” one!)

    While searching for a website to create printable banners I ran into several sites that seemed interesting and that could get the job done. The website that I found the easiest to use, most effective, and also for no cost was bannerfans.com. This website allowed you to choose a simple layout for your banner, or you could spice it up my importing your own images. They also allowed you to add color effects. By doing this you could make colors fade in and out making it more visually appealing to the eye. Around the banner you could choose from 4 different types of borders to really draw attention to the main part of the banner. With a variety of fonts and the ability to change the sizes you could never be unsatisfied with the look of your banner. being able to adjust the size and the font allowed you to add a more abstract look while ensuring to add all the information necessary to get the message across. Overall I was pleased about how simple the site was to use and the quality of art it could produce.

    Edit audio or video files

    When I searched on web, I came across Windows Movie Maker software. It contains features such as effects, transitions, titles-credits, audio track, timeline narration and so many other useful aspects. The one of the main reasons I chose this software, because it is very easy to use. There are so many different types of web-sites that provide instructions how to use Windows Movie Maker software. Plus, Windows is widely known and it won’t carry any sort of viruses within the software like others. Therefore, I trusted this name and thought using this particular software would be an advantage.

    Share a powerpoint presentation online (like a slideshow)

    The site that I decided would work well for sharing a PowerPoint presentation online was myPlick. This site allows you to upload power point slides, sync with audio, and share with your friends or whomever. This site is compatible with many different file formats such as PowerPoint, pdf, openoffice odp, ect.. More reasons why I thought this site would work well for my function were because it is very easy to navigate through, quick and easy sign up process, and most of all it is free. In addition to the free service of sharing this site allows you to either publicly share with everyone or only share it within a small private group. You can also how users are viewing you presentation, for example, how much time people stayed on each slide. User feedback and statistics like this will help improve individual’s presentation making skills.

    Open source (free) software that is an alternative to Photoshop

    Having a pre-standing knowledge about free software alternatives to Photoshop, I did a Google search and the alternatives that I knew about already came up to the top of the list. The first one I would recommend is Open Canvas. Open Canvas is free from the 1.1 version and down. It does not handle exactly the same as Photoshop, but if one was already familiar with Photoshop the learning curve is considerably shortened.

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