Student View: Apps for Accessibility and Productivity (3 of 3)

This post was written by Kristen Szuman, Instructional Technology Student Assistant.

The third of three posts exploring productivity apps, this post will explore IFTTT, a chain-based events service; Vault, a password keeper; and Forest, a sustainable take on the classic timer app.

IFTTT (IFTTT Inc, $Free)

What Is It? IF This Then That (IFTTT) is a free, web-based service designed to execute chains of events based on simple conditional statements (referred to as applets). For example, if you wanted a rundown of tomorrow’s weather,you could set up an applet that sends you a text message every night at 8pm.  Or, if you dread coming home to a dark room or house, you could pair IFTTT with a smartbulb app so that the bulbs would turn on automatically when the sun set. However, while the app itself is incredibly useful, especially if you are often forgetful or easily-distracted, you are limited in what you can do by what other services or products you already use.

How Is It Helpful? Aside from the many niche chains you could trigger with this app, some of the more useful ones involve: daily weather forecasts or inclement weather notifications, automatically recording daily activities (such as workout times or work hours) to a Google spreadsheet, receiving a notification when you a specific person/company emails you, sending a message to your roommates when you arrive at a particular supermarket/Target/Walmart, automatically saving attachments received by email to your Google Drive, syncing Google emails with receipts or orders or invoices to a Google spreadsheet, automatically curating a Discover Weekly archive with Spotify, or unmuting the ringer on your Android phone each morning. However, those are just the applets you could set up with some other common and free web services; if you have an Amazon home service, a smart thermostat, smartbulbs, or are interested in syncing or archiving different social media activities, there are many more applets available for use.

Valt (Valt Inc, $Free)

What Is It? Valt is a password-keeping app with a visual approach. Available as a desktop app, mobile app, and Chrome extension, Valt allows you to store all of your passwords behind a automatically generated “master password.” That password is represented by a series of images generated by the Valt app. When you first download Valt to use, you are given a brief training session which takes you through a series of photos used to represent your master password; this way, you use your visual memory to access your account and your passwords and because Valt works across platforms, remembering the series of images allows you to access your passwords to accounts anytime. Additionally, when in the process of making a new online account, Valt provides you with suggested passwords that are automatically generated strings of characters and symbols, designed to be random and secure.

How Is It Helpful? Password-keeping apps can be tricky– there is always the worry that the app may not be as secure as it claims or that you may forget the password to the app that is meant to help eliminate such problems. As far as security concerns, Valt claims to not store your master password on any server, thereby reducing the risk of your Valt account being hacked and your information being stolen. Additionally, relying on visual memory is intended to be easier for users to remember, and more difficult for others to simply guess. Valt claims that it is unlikely you will forget your images if you are accessing your account regularly (about every other week or so) and these claims are even backed by academic research that has found you can easily recall “hundreds of images, even without seeing them for a month.”

Forest (Seekrtech, $Free)

What Is It? Forest is a sustainable solution to your productivity problems. Available as a mobile app and Chrome extension, Forest allows users to earn credits and plant trees around the world. When using the mobile app, a tree will grow so long as you do not exit the app. Forest uses a manageable 30 minute timer to start with, and as you earn more credits, you can also unlock different tree species and time intervals to choose from. As a Chrome extension, the app prompts you to add distracting websites to your Forest Blacklist. Once you start your timer, a tree will grow as long as you refrain from surfing the sites listed on your Blacklist. Forest partners with Trees for the Future (TREES), an agroforestry NGO with (currently) 14 projects underway in 5 Sub-Saharan African countries: Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and Tanzania. As you grow more of your own virtual trees, you earn coins you can use to help farmers plant real trees chosen to thrive in their given environment. TREES partners with local farmers to help revitalize degraded lands. Each farmer is trained directly by TREES staff and technicians in necessary agroforestry techniques and technicians make yearly visits for the four-year Forest Garden program. While TREES provides the seeds, nursery materials, and training, the farmers in the Forest Garden program do retain full ownership of the trees they grow.

If you would like to read more about Trees for the Future and the work they do, you can do so over at their website: http://trees.org/

How Is It Helpful? While there are many productivity/timer apps out there, Forest not only helps you to be more productive, but also more present in your daily life. The app can be used for studying or homework, but it can also be used if you are trying to check your phone less often while out with your friends, to not use your phone during a movie or while reading, to not browse social media sites while at work, or even setting a longer timer to allow a tree to grow while you sleep. Overall, if you are looking for a way to stay focused while working, you can do so with Forest while also making a meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

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Student View: Apps for Accessibility and Productivity (2 of 3)

This post was written by Kristen Szuman, Instructional Technology Student Assistant. 

The second of three posts exploring productivity apps, this post will explore Bear, a note taking app; and Adobe Scan, a mobile PDF scanner.

Bear (Shiny Frog, $Free) / Bear Pro (Shiny Frog, $1.49/month or $14.99/year)

What Is It? Bear is a minimalist note taking app compatible with Markdown note taking. The app boasts a Markup Editor supports over 20 programming languages, in-line support for images and photos, cross-note links that help you build a body of work, multiple different themes to choose from, multiple export options for formatting your notes, a Focus Mode that hides other notes and options to keep your workspace distraction-free, and multi-device sync using iCloud. If you want to access to Bear’s advanced features (which includes the aforementioned multi-device sync, certain application themes, and various export options), a Pro subscription is required. However, Bear does offer free trials to test out the features, and the free app itself could stand alone if needed.

How Is It Helpful? Aesthetically, Bear stands out from other note taking apps and platforms due to its simplicity. With its focus on plain text, there is little to distract you from whatever task may be on hand. For me, the benefit of Bear lies in the various themes you are able to choose from. With the free app, you have access to four different theme options including the classic Red Graphite, Solarized Light, High Contrast, and Charcoal. The ability to switch between these themes not only provides a way to personalize the app, but also a way to keep yourself focused by not becoming too accustomed to the view. Additionally, while the app itself is incredibly clutter-free, the enhanced Focus Mode helps to keep your field of vision clear of anything but your writing.

Adobe Scan (Adobe, $Free)

What Is It? The Adobe Scan app allows you to use your smartphone as a portable scanner that recognizes text automatically. Adobe’s image technology automatically detects the borders of your document and captures the image for you, sharpening the scanned content. Once scanned, the app allows you to easily touch up your new PDFs by reordering pages, cropping or rotating images, and adjusting the color as needed. Though you need to sign up for an Adobe account (free) in order to properly use the app, linking your account to Adobe Scan allows you to save your documents to Adobe Document Cloud which lets you search and copy text or open your documents in Acrobat Reader in order to highlight and annotate your newly scanned PDFs.

How Is It Helpful? Being able to keep a digital library of readings for classes or research projects is incredibly beneficial, and taking the time out of your day to scan at one of the campus printers is not always convenient or possible. Once your documents are scanned to a PDF, you are able to catch up on class readings or look over your notes on any device you wish. Aside from being an overall easy to use and well-designed app, the real benefit of Adobe Scan lies in it being an Adobe app. With Adobe Acrobat Reader being such a popular choice for a PDF-reader, the linkage Adobe Scan provides by allowing you to store documents in the Adobe Cloud means you do not need to worry about searching for PDFs in various file folders. Additionally, Adobe Scan’s border detection makes it possible to scan any kind of document (forms, book pages, notebooks, business cards, receipts, etc) with ease and still get a quality PDF.

Student View: Apps for Accessibility and Productivity (1 of 3)

This post is written by Kristen Szuman, Instructional Technology Student Assistant

The first of three posts exploring productivity and accessibility apps, this series will focus on apps that have practical application in anyone’s life, but are especially helpful for students with difficulties focusing and learning. This first post focuses on Tide, a Pomodoro timer app, and the graphic on the right presents some of the apps that will be discussed.

Technology is frequently referred to as “the great equalizer,” able to remove the barriers of distance or physical and sensory abilities. For many people, the way technology has evolved in the last few decades has provided them a way to dramatically improve their quality of life, opening doors to opportunities and experiences that were previously inaccessible. However, in practice, discussions of the ability of technology to improve accessibility remain fairly limited. This series of blog posts will present apps for iOS and OSX that can aid in productivity for everyone, especially those with learning difficulties and/or focus issues.

Tide (Moreless, Inc., $Free)

What Is It? Tide is a Pomodoro timer app. For those unfamiliar with this method, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed in the 1980s (described by Professor Anderson in this post). The method itself can be modified to fit individual needs, but traditionally you break down your work time into 25 minute intervals, with short timed breaks (often 5 minutes) in-between. The more consecutive working intervals completed, the longer your breaks become. Tide not only works as a timer, but also allows you to pick from various color schemes, white noise options, integrating your own music, or using the ‘Music Fusion’ feature which allows you to play white noise and music simultaneously. Additionally, the app boasts an “Immersive Mode,” which, when activated, makes it so that exiting the app results in ‘Focus Failure’ (failure to complete a full working interval) and disables the ability to pause during a Focus period.

How Is It Helpful? While timer apps may seem a bit redundant given the built-in timer most devices have, Tide does provide a much easier way to manage your time. Essentially, the convenience lies in the ability to set the timer on a loop and get on with your work without the worry of timing the intervals yourself. With the Pomodoro Technique being a fairly common system of time-management, there are many apps that provide a similar service. Tide sets itself apart not only due to the convenient built-in features like Music Fusion, but also because of its well-crafted, minimalistic design. For a free app, the app itself is free from clutter or intrusive advertisements. Additionally, once you download the app, you have access to its full range of features with no specific features you need to pay to unlock.

Leveling the Playing Field with DELI

Three years ago in my Costume History class, I noticed that students with access to color printouts and Photoshop were producing higher quality work on their assignments. Committed to creating a more equitable learning environment, I made an appointment with Digital Scholarship and Visual Resources Librarian, Lyndsay Bratton, to discuss ways that the College’s DELI program might help level the playing field in my class. After some collective brainstorming, Lyndsay suggested that I integrate DELI iPad loaners into the course and recommended the Skitch, Paper, and Morpholio applications as potential digital tools. After some testing, I decided to go with Skitch, because its intuitive interface allows users to label, caption, and markup imported images on both the iPad and Mac.

Fast forward to fall 2015 and the introduction of iPads into my Costume History course. After giving students guidelines on how to successfully complete their weekly “costume research dossiers,” an assignment in which they must accurately locate, cite and label images of historical western dress, Lyndsay stopped by to distribute iPads, chargers, and styluses. She took time to walk students through the iPad’s various functions and together we familiarized them with Skitch, Google Drive, Pinterest, Vogue Runway, and the many other applications she generously installed onto everyone’s tablets. After solving some minor tech issues, the class quickly acclimated to the new technology. The ultimate test finally revealed itself when the first round of annotated images were due. Not surprisingly, the clarity/quality of work executed with the aid of Skitch showed a vast, across-the-board improvement compared to assignments submitted the previous year.

To conclude, I recently completed my third round of teaching with iPads and I find that the majority of students appreciate the opportunity to borrow the devices. Some said they thought the Skitch app worked better on their personal laptops and a small minority found borrowing an iPad burdensome. Since my goal is to create equal access and not to add more stress, I make borrowing completely optional. This policy has the added benefit of freeing up limited resources for the DELI program to accommodate more classes.


Note: To participate in the DELI program, proposals for Spring 2018 are due Wednesday, November 15!

Swivl toward Lecture Recording

This semester Joe Schroeder is using a Swivl, a robotic mount that holds an iPad or smartphone, to record lectures in Behavioral Neuroscience. With the use of a remote that the presenter wears, the Swivl tracks a moving person and uses the camera on the iPad or smartphone to record. Lectures or presentation are stored and saved in the cloud using Swivl’s cloud service, and shared with students through a link.

Swivl robot
Swivl robot

Why Lecture Record

Last year Joe had a problem: several students were going to miss class but he needed to cover important material. He asked about ways to record his lecture, and we suggested he try the Swivl. He gave it a try, and found the technology easy and convenient to use. This year, due to scheduling difficulties in Behavioral Neuroscience (PSY/BIO 314), he has one student who needs the class but is unable to attend one day a week. Recording the class on this day was the only way that this student could enroll. Remembering the Swivl, he decided to record the Friday lectures.

How it Works – Technology

Joe assigned one student as the class videographer, and this student is responsible for ensuring that the device it turned on, recording, and working throughout the class period. After class, Joe initially downloaded the video, saved it as an .mp4 file, then uploaded that to Moodle (through Kaltura). This process, while simple, was time consuming. More recently, with the introduction of Swivl’s cloud service, which automatically processes the video after recording and provides a link to the video, he simply copies that link and shares it with all students through Moodle. While Swivl provides tools for editing, the integration of slides and video, and other features, Joe does not spend time editing.

Excerpt of Joe's Moodle site, showing links to outside resources, lecture slides, and class recordings.
Excerpt of Joe’s Moodle site, showing links to outside resources, lecture slides, and class recordings.

How it Works – Pedagogy

After a few weeks of recording one day a week, Joe decided to record every class. Initially he had concerns about attendance – would students attend a class they knew would be recorded and could be watched later? He found that this practice did not affect attendance. Students value class time for the interaction with Joe and fellow students, as well as the ability to ask questions and check for understanding – this is a challenging class and expectations are high. In addition, the course does not use a textbook (see When Risks Pay Off in the Classroom), but a collection of resources – an online animated textbook from University of Toronto, simulation software, videos, articles, and more. Students use the recordings as another resource to understand course material.

Final Thoughts and Next Steps

While the full impact of providing class recordings is not yet known, mid-semester feedback from students is positive. Using Swivl is low-effort, but may potentially have a high impact for all students in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Beyond lecture capture, I can imagine additional uses for the Swivl. Students or faculty could use it to practice presentations and review the recording, students could rehearse a performance, then send the video to faculty or peers for feedback.

If you have questions or are interested in exploring ways to record your classes, contact your Instructional Technology liaison.

New Accessibility Features in iOS 10

Our Instructional Technology Student Assistant, Kristen Szuman, did some research into new accessibility features available in iOS10 (if you missed her first post on iOS accessibility, find it here). She turned up some interesting features, including a camera magnifier, color display adjustments, voicemail transcripts, and more. Read on!


Apple has long been an innovator in the field of accessible technology. As one of the world’s foremost and most popular brands, Apple has been continuously raising the bar for technological accessibility; their release of iOS 10 was no different. Advertised as their “biggest release yet,” Apple’s iOS 10 featured many new and innovative accessibility features that work directly with the operating system, eliminating the need for additional app or tech support. Here are some of the new accessibility features available in iOS 10.

iOS 10 Camera Magnifier

With iOS 10 you can now use your built-in iSight camera as a Magnifier with a customizable user interface. The Magnifier allows you to access the camera flash, gives you the ability to lock focus and take a screencap, and adjust color filters to increase contrast or color settings for easier viewing. This new feature not only has practical everyday applications for everyone, but also is especially helpful for anyone who may be visually impaired in some way.

  • To enable the Magnifier: Settings>General>Accessibility>Magnifier
  • To access the Magnifier: Triple-click the home button

Color Display Adjustments

With Apple’s fall launches, they have expanded their iOS, macOS, and tvOS, to include color adjustments to assist with color blindness by adding the ability to tint the entire display a certain color. Apple has included new color options such as Grayscale, Red/Green Filter (for people with protanopia), Green/Red Filter (for people with Deuteranopia), Blue/Yellow Filter (for people with tritanopia), and a more general Color Tint.

  • To enable Color Display Adjustments: Settings>General>Accessibility>Display Accommodations>Color Filters
  • To access Color Display Adjustments: Automatic once enabled

Voicemail Transcripts

iOS 10 now supports Voicemail Transcriptions as do many of the major US cell phone carriers. Voicemail Transcriptions transcribe the words that are spoken on voicemail messages and display the text right in the voicemail section of the built-in Phone app on your iPhone. Voicemail transcripts are useful for everyone but offer new communication opportunities for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Carriers that Support Voicemail Transcription
  • To enable Voicemail Transcription: If you have upgraded to iOS 10 and your cellphone carrier supports Voicemail Transcription, it should be automatically enabled on your iOS device
  • To use Voicemail Transcription: When you select a voicemail message the first time, the audio will playback automatically when you tap it to see the transcript. If you’ve already listened to a message, it will not playback the next time you read it.

Wheelchair Fitness

With the launch of watchOS 3, the Apple Watch has become capable of tracking the activity and fitness of wheelchair users. The device will track pushes, rather than steps, and encourages users to meet daily goals, burn more calories and provide notifications to keep moving throughout the day. While this feature is only available built into the new Apple Watch series, this is a new and innovative way to track fitness that will assist many wheelchair users.

Siri Updates

iOS 10 has opened up a whole new world for app developers as Apple has now begun to allow third-party apps access to Siri. Using apps such as Square Cash, Venmo, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and The Roll, an iOS 10 user can now access Siri to perform simple tasks, such as sending money to a friend via Venmo or searching for pet photos in The Roll. You are also now able to send messages in third-party messaging apps, such as Skype, WhatsApp, and WeChat, using Siri. Additionally, ride-sharing apps are now partnered with Siri, so calling an Uber is now as simple as asking Siri to do so. As an easily accessible app, the addition of Siri in third-party apps have made those apps increasingly user-friendly and accessibility-friendly. While the motor control needed to swipe through pages of apps and repeatedly click and type may have been difficult for some individuals, the new addition of Siri in third-party apps now removes some potentially difficult physical barriers.

Design A Better Assignment – Workshop It!

Chopping onions

Where do I position the camera? Why do I have to do a voiceover? What is line 2 of the instructions asking me to do? Is time lapse video really the best choice here? These were a few of the practical and didactic questions I received from colleagues as they worked through the activity that I designed as part of Technology Fellows Program. The workshop experience is one of the invaluable opportunities that this program offers. Colleagues encouraged me to push my thinking about this specific assignment and my approach to course design more generally. The Technology Fellows Program focuses on the use of technology for teaching, but it is also a place to hone one’s teaching skills.

For my workshop, I proposed to try out an assignment that I am calling mise en place, after the culinary practice of preparing ingredients before cooking. This assignment will be part of my Food and the Senses course in the Spring semester. The objectives of the assignment are to have students explore concepts of embodied knowledge and apprenticeship through the activity of mise en place. The first step is to teach students to chop onions in a variety of ways (live demonstration, video and no instruction). Next, students chop onions in teams. They take turns chopping and recording. Initially, I believed that time lapse video would be the best technology for this job.  Outside of class time, students have time to view their videos and reflect on the experience through a voice over. Finally, students share their video documents in class or online.

Leading up to the big day of the workshop, I had a small group meeting with other Tech fellows and instructional designers. They read over the assignment, we discussed the objectives of the activity, they suggested a variety of technology options, and made concrete suggestions for how I could continue to develop the assignment to sharpen the connections between the activity and the learning objectives. Using these suggestions, I prepared the materials for the workshop, where the other Tech Fellows would have a chance to try out and critique my assignment.

The big day came, and, to my surprise, no one balked at the idea of using large knives and the possibility of crying over onions. My colleagues started setting up a variety of recording devices on all sorts of tripods. They immediately began asking important questions, “What part of the body should the recording capture? Just the hands?” This got me thinking about a series of theoretical issues connected with the disembodiment of knowledge and objectification of culinary skill. This is just one example of the sorts of feedback that led me sharpen my assignment and consider the utility of the data that my students would be collecting. Thanks to my colleagues, I began to see connections to visual anthropology and how I could use this assignment to engage with an additional set of methodological questions.

Although I had initially been concerned about finding the right technology for my assignment. The workshop experience helped me to think more deeply about learning objectives and how to bring more intention to the methods and technology I want to use. I like to try new techniques and activities in the classroom and, for the most part, I usually have to wing it. Being able to workshop an assignment that pushes into new pedagogical territory will certainly lead to a better thought out assignment and hopefully a better learning experience for my students.

Image credit: Cutting onions, https://www.flickr.com/photos/61508583@N02/13561876493

Active Engagement and Group Work at the Visualization Wall

img_1615
The Visualization Wall can instantly and wirelessly display up to five smartphones, tablets, and laptops at once, or one device full-screen. Pictured above: dual display of a MacBook Air and an iPhone.

The Diane Y. Williams ’59 Visualization Wall in the Technology Commons of Shain Library offers new possibilities for group work and classroom engagement. With just a few clicks on one’s own smartphone, tablet, or laptop, the wall wirelessly displays up to five devices at once.

Biology Professor Martha Grossel used the Visualization Wall weekly for her Accelerated Cell Biology class, asking students to work on problems in groups. One member of each group then displayed their work simultaneously for discussion and comparison of all the groups’ results as a class. Theater Professor Sabrina Notarfrancisco takes part in the Instructional Technology team’s DELI program to provide her students in Costume History with iPads each semester and meets regularly at the wall with her class. Whenever relevant to the discussion, students can easily display and compare examples from the visual portfolios that they build on their iPads, encouraging active engagement in discussion.

The furniture in the Technology Commons is all flexible and can be arranged to be most conducive to your class activities.

Interested in how this feature can be used in your own class? Email Lyndsay Bratton to discuss ideas or to schedule class meetings at the wall!

Beyond Pencil and Paper: Audio Assignments Via Moodle

Image of microphone

My choir students expressed that they wanted to be assessed more often so that they would be more motivated to practice. At that time, I was having students sign up in small groups for “check in” meetings. While this was valuable, it was difficult to give individual feedback to all 40 students and could not logistically happen very week.

With the help of Jessica McCullough, we devised a way for my students to record short audio assignments and upload them to Moodle. One such assignment was an assessment of the pronunciation of Zulu song text. Jessica came into my class and demonstrated how to record and upload the files with their smartphones. (iPads are available to check out in the library if students do not have a phone or computer with audio recording capabilities.) The students could record the audio as many times as they liked before submitting their assignment, which encouraged deeper engagement in class and individual practicing. To help those who were struggling, choir tutors through the Academic Resource Center could help them prepare for the assignments.

With the Moodle interface, I was able to monitor which students turned in their assignments (as opposed to scrolling through emails with attachments), listen to the files without opening another audio application, and respond with typed comments (see Karen Gonzalez Rice’s post for making audio comments).

As a result of this “new” method, I could assess more often, get a clearer picture of how individual students were faring in my class,  and further refine my teaching to meet the diverse needs of the students. A variation of this assignment is having the students digitally videotape themselves individually or in groups. A video assignment provides a more complete picture of how my students are performing and it also gives visual confirmation of who is taking the test when it is a group assignment. While this post is regard to an assignment that I give in my choral classroom, it has potential applications in other academic settings in which students need to demonstrate their knowledge in ways beyond  traditional “paper and pencil” assignments.

Image credit: flickr photo by lincolnblues https://flickr.com/photos/lincolnblues/6262298600 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

How to Make the Most of iOS: Speak Screen & Selection

Recently the Instructional Technology team hired a student assistant, Kristen Szuman. Kristen is a sophomore interested in art, politics, and loves animals. We asked Kristen to use and document the many accessibility features available on iOS devices. This is her first, of, we hope, several, blog post about useful technology tools.

Screenshot of Speak Selection on iPhone

Accessibility seldom gets the attention it deserves. Most of us go about our day without wondering how accessible an iPhone or iPad  is to the blind or the deaf, to those with autism or motor dysfunction, or how accessible the apps these devices run are. Yet, there are people who care deeply about accessibility; those who need iPhones and iPads to be ever-more accessible, of course, and those working to make these devices more accessible. Among technology companies, Apple not only implements accessibility features, but promotes and prioritizes them, and this starts in a very top-down fashion. Apple has built in many accessibility services, some intended strictly for accessibility and some seemingly everyday functions that can be used for accessibility needs as well. In addition, several app developers have also developed additional software in order to bolster Apple’s accessibility capabilities.

Speech Menu on iOS

Speak Selection and Speak Screen are two of those features which Apple has built in and which can be used both by people with accessibility needs or by those who just wish to utilize features that make screen reading easier. Speak Selection and Speak Screen are both able to read on-screen text. With Speak Selection enabled, the user must highlight the text first whereas Speak Selection will read the entire screen’s contents. Typically, an individual with low vision would use one of these accessibility features. Individuals who experience fatigue while reading, or those who would rather have text read to them than have to zoom into text to read, benefit from Speak Selection and Speak Screen. In general, the two accessibility features are very similar in function. Speak Selection and Speak Screen can be activated on any page that displays selectable text- so any webpage in Safari or other browsers, iBooks, Kindle, and some other apps.

To use either feature, you can find documentation available in Google Drive or watch one of the many videos available on YouTube.