Tools for your (mostly) digital toolbox
The other day I outlined some of the ideas, approaches, and tools that I’ve started using in my work in education that have made my life easier and more manageable.
Mostly, I’ve borrowed these concepts and tools from the world of start ups, entrepreneurship, and design.
Then I suggested a short self assessment activity that you could do if you were interested in pursuing this direction yourself. The purpose here is just self awareness.
If you’re perfectly happy doing what you’ve always done, then please carry on. In fact, click away now and look at some more cat videos.
However, if you think that there might be better ways of working and you’re curious about what some of the tools might be to help you with this, then please read on.
Project and task management
- What is it? Basecamp is a web-based project management tool.
- How do I use it? You create projects that are based around groups of tasks that you can assign to different people and dates. You can also use it to store emails, attachments, and documents. It’s simple to use and extremely powerful.
- Anything free or cheaper? I haven’t tried it but it looks like you can get basecamp free as a teacher if you have a look here. There are many other different kinds of project management applications available.
- What is it? It’s an overpriced, but very durable hard cover notebook with an elastic band around it to hold it together.
- How do I use it? Because I do so much work online, this is my attempt to make sure I keep using paper. I use my notebook for managing smaller day to day to-do lists and tasks as well as for ideas and taking notes.
- Anything free or cheaper? Of course. Any notebook will work, or make your own out of scrap paper.
Cloud-based productivity tools
Google Apps for Work
- What is it? Custom email, cloud-based file storage, shared calenders, word processing, spreadsheets and more online from my phone, laptop, and iPad. Basically, this is Gmail, Drive, gDocs, and gSheets.
- How do I use it? 4 dedicated ALEC email addresses used by my team, Drive for shared documents, gDocs and gSheets for collaborating and writing.
- Anything free or cheaper? Your basic gmail account is free and includes most of this, but you have to pay if you want to deploy across and organisation.
- What is it? Online storage and notes.
- How do I use it? I use Evernote like a virtual filing cabinet, particularly for things that I’ve finished with that I don’t want to delete, but I don’t need paper copies lying around for. It’s also a great task manager and place for compiling research or notes for projects. I also use it for clipping documents from websites that I want to save for reading later. Evernote is massively powerful and I like it, but I have run into issues trying to use it which I’ve written about here and elsewhere.
- Anything free or cheaper? It’s already free, unless you go premium for more storage.
- What is it? Online file storage.
- How do I use it? I use Dropbox as an alternative to Google Drive and for file sharing with others that I’m collaborating with. It’s also my archive for lots of old course materials and hard drives dating back about 10 years.
- Anything free or cheaper? Basic account is free but you’ll need to pay if you want increased storage. I pay US$100 per year for a TB of online storage.
Other digital creative tools
- What is it? It’s a microphone that is designed to connect directly to my computer via a USB cable. I like the Yeti Blue USB mic shown here which I’ve reviewed before. But I’ve also been coveting this one for a while now as well.
- How do I use it? I use the mic for recording audio for podcast style recordings and for laying audio tracks over slideshows that I can then upload to YouTube.
- Anything free or cheaper? Chances are that the computer you are using already has a mic built in. Also, so does your phone. The quality on these may vary as well. Have a look online – there are plenty of USB mics cheaper than the Yeti.
Audio editing software
- What is it? Here I’m referring to software applications that allow you to record, mix, and master digital audio.
- How do I use it? I use this kind of software to create podcast style audio tracks like these for the training I do and for this blog.
- Anything free or cheaper? Yes. I also use and really like a free piece of software called Audacity. It doesn’t look quite as racy as Gargeband, but It’s very powerful and as good as anything you can buy. You can download it here for free.
Tablet and stylus
- What is it? It’s a drawing tablet and pen made by a company called Wacom. It’s expensive, but it’s fantastic to draw with.
- How do I use it? I use it to draw illustrations for slides, blog posts, and other print or digital content.
- Anything free or cheaper? If you already have an iPad or other tablet there are all sorts of cheap or free drawing apps you can download and use with just your finger or a cheap stylus. If you want to buy a stylus you can get one for around $20 from an office supply or computer shop.
- What is it? A software application that you use with the tablet and stylus. I’ve just made the shift to Adobe Illustrator which is now a subscription-based service as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.
- How do I use it? I use it for creating and editing vector-based graphics and illustrations. It has been, and still is, a steep learning curve.
- Anything free or cheaper? I started with a free drawing and digital mark up app that I still use called Skitch that you can download on your computer, ipad or phone and that integrates with Evernote. From there I went to a free, open source Illustrator equivalent called Inkscape which I used for a long time.
Video and image capture
- What is it? Currently, I just use my iPhone for any and all images. I’ve used a much older Sony HandyCam for video work, but my iPhone can do this pretty well also, I’m at the stage where I need to probably upgrade. Currently, I’d like to get something like the camera below which would do high quality video capture as well as take excellent photographs. I’m also considering getting a dedicated video shotgun microphone to use this with. This is a significant investment and I’ve been putting it off.
- How do I use it? I use the camera on my iPhone all the time. I don’t like using the Sony HandyCam as it doesn’t play nicely with the video editing software.
- Anything free or cheaper? Most people have a built in video camera on their smartphone. These can be cheap and cheerful, but it’s a simple way to get started creating multimedia content. Using a good mic is probably more important. People will suffer through poor video content as long as they can hear what’s going on.
Image editing software
- What is it? Software and apps for editing your photographs and digital images. I use an app on my iPhone called Camera+ and I also occasionally use iPhone which comes preinstalled on my Mac.
- How do I use it? I use Camera plus for cropping and editing photos. It also comes with some nice filters which I also use. For example, the sepia tinged photo of my desktop with the Yeti microphone further up the screen was shot on my iPhone and edited in Camera+
- Anything free or cheaper? iPhoto is free as long as you have a Mac. There are plenty of cheap photo editing apps for your smartphone.
Video editing software
- What is it? This is a specific software application that I use to record, edit, mix and master my video files. I purchased Apple’s Final Cut Pro last year. It’s easier to use than the audio software and I like it a lot.
- How do I use it? I use this for editing and mastering video footage which I can then upload to YouTube. The quality depends on the quality of the video footage captured. I’ve been a bit disappointed with what I got from the Sony HandyCam, but you can have a look at some video footage that I edited with this software here. Like with any of these applications, I’m not an expert and I tend to work out how to do things “just in time”.
- Anything free or cheaper? If you already have a device that can record video, you probably already have some built in video editing capability. There are plenty of apps you can download that will help with this for a reasonably low cost.