Creately: More Than Just a Venn Diagram

Sick of drawing circles on the board to illustrate Boolean? Lines and boxes got you down? Creately (http://creately.com/) is your one stop diagram tool. From wireframes to flow charts, Creately helps you creatively create a multitude of diagrams. While newer versions of Microsoft products have some diagram tools, Creately is substantially more robust in terms of types of diagrams, shapes, images, connectors, etc. Additionally, one really nice feature of Creately is its collaborative capabilities. Not only can diagrams be shared and developed by multiple people, but Creately also allows for notes and comments.  After a diagram is created, there are several ways to use it.  PDF, PNG, and JPG downloads are available as is code for embedding online. I could see Creately used many ways in academia, but specifically in the library it could be used for:

  • Administration (organizational charts, project and workflow management)
  • Instruction (venn diagrams, mind maps)
  • Technology (database/ dataflow diagrams, website wireframes)
  • Research (data representation, presentations)
Examples of Creately  Diagrams

Examples of Creately Diagrams

Creately tools are available through a variety of ways including a web based program, a downloadable program, as a Google App, or as a plugin through JIRA, FogBugz and Confluence.  I looked at the web based version.  The web based program has several pricing options including a limited free version.  The free version allows a user to have any 5 diagrams saved online with a maximum number of 3 collaborators.   The web based Creately prices are listed here: http://creately.com/plans.  When contacting the company, I was told that there was a 50% educational discount for all of their products.  To receive the discount email: edu@creately.com.

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Got files? Drop (it in the) box

Cloud storage services have been around for awhile and are a great way to make your files accessible no matter where you’re located. Among my favorites is Dropbox because it goes beyond simply making your files available to you from any location. Dropbox allows you to share files and folders with others (with your permission, of course!). So, rather than just being able to access your files, you can use it as a place to share documents with co-workers, store and retrieve documents for students, and share photos with your family and friends.

“I usually just use Google Docs for that”

a screenshot of a directory of folders on windows xp

Dropbox can integrate with your other files and folders, appearing right alongside them.

And that’s fine. Google Docs is still a better solution if you’re looking to do synchronous collaboration on a report or presentation, but Dropbox can function just like a folder on your computer, making it more integrated into the workflows to which you’re already accustomed.

It might be possible that your organization has a networked drive or intranet that you use for sharing files (we have both here at Towson). These are both reasonable solutions to this, but both can be difficult if you need to access something at home, as many block access from off-campus. This also causes issues if you’re collaborating and sharing files with someone outside your organization. You might also run into storage and file size limitations with both of these solutions. Dropbox does have a limit of 2GB for free accounts (a subscription can get you up to 100GB). Our entire network drive is 10GB so 2GB for your own use is not so bad.

“Okay, you’ve convinced me. Now what?”

Getting a Dropbox account is easy, as is installing it on your computer. (There’s also a web interface for computers on which you can’t install or haven’t installed it.) To create an account, click the Login option in the upper-right corner and choose ‘Create an account’. Enter your info and voila!

a screenshot of the dropbox home page

Click 'Login' and then 'Create an account' to setup your account. Click the 'Download Dropbox' button to install it on your computer.

Click the ‘Download Dropbox’ button to install the Dropbox folder on your computer. (You’ll need admin permissions for this.)  This will download the install file to your computer. Double-click the file to start the install process. Dropbox will ask you where you would like the folder to be located (e.g. on your desktop, inside another folder, etc.).

Once everything is installed, you’ll notice the Dropbox folder (at whatever location you assigned it) and an icon in your taskbar.

Both of these will give you access to a variety of Dropbox functions.

Several Dropbox functions can be accessed from the taskbar icon.

The taskbar icon provides a shortcut to your Dropbox folder (either on your computer or on their website), a menu of recently changed files, and options to change your preferences, including moving the Dropbox folder to a new location.

Right-clicking on files and folders within the Dropbox folder will bring up your usual menu of options with the addition of a Dropbox option. From here, you can manage the sharing permissions of individual files. For any files that are in your ‘Public’ folder, you can also get a URL, which you can send to those who aren’t privy to the wonderful world of Dropbox.

What do I use it for, you ask?

I have two primary uses for Dropbox at the moment. First, as a person who constantly finds myself working at home (not recommended), I often use Remote Desktop to access my work computer. This is great, but there are times that I really need my work files on my home computer to print them or listen to them, etc. I used to email these to myself, which was a hassle and unnecessarily clutter my Inbox. Now I simply drag the needed file to Dropbox on my work computer and (almost) instantly have access to it on my home computer.

Second, I am currently serving on two work groups with members outside my organization that require files to be shared. We’re not collaborating on any documents necessarily, but a certain amount of file sharing is needed. One group is sharing video recordings, PowerPoint slides, and PDF reports. The reports and slides contain links to the video recordings. (One of the nice things about using the Dropbox folder is that your file structure stays in tact, so links to other content in the folder should still work.)  The other group is dispersing several Word documents amongst members of the group to facilitate a peer review process. The group coordinators have access to all files and the reviewers see only those files that they are reviewing.

I’ve also used this occasionally to gather content from clients and family for whom I do website development. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re emailing large files back and forth to someone, Dropbox can help you keep your Inbox clean and prevent potential confusion over the newest version of a file.

I’m sure that many other uses for Dropbox exist, and I’d love to hear how you’re using it (or would like to use it). What other cloud storage services are you using, and how do they stack up to Dropbox?

doodle me this…

Here’s a sample email correspondence with which I am sure the majority of you are familiar:

Email 1

Hi <insert name>,

We need to meet about that <insert random project> pretty soon. How’s next week for you? Let me know.

Email 2 (responder)

Hey <insert name>

You’re right. I’ve been meeting to get in touch with you about that. Next week should be fine. What time works for you?

Email 3 (original sender)

Well, I’m pretty booked Monday morning, but I’m relatively free other than that. How about Thursday at 3pm?

Email 4 (responder)

I can’t do Thursday afternoon. I have a dentist appointment. What about sometime Wednesday afternoon? I could also do Friday afternoon.

Email 5 (original sender)

Wednesday afternoon won’t work.  Let’s plan for Friday at noon.

Email 6 (responder)

No, I can’t do noon on Friday. I was thinking about sometime after 1pm. What about later in the afternoon?

Email 7 (original sender)

Oh shoot, I just booked something else for Friday afternoon, so I can’t do that.  My week’s getting pretty full now; maybe we should look at the following week. Do you have any free time the week after this one?

(repeat ad infinitum, ad nauseum, ad absurdum)


I would hope that this email correspondence doesn’t sound too familiar to any of you, but I’m sure most of us have been a part of an unsuccessful attempt to schedule a meeting. Of course, if you’re scheduling a meeting with co-workers and you have a calendaring and email system like Microsoft Outlook, you can avoid all of this by checking someone’s calendar and sending a meeting request.

 

But what if you don’t have Outlook? Or you’re trying to schedule a meeting with someone who still prefers to use a paper calendar? Or you’re scheduling a meeting with someone outside your organization?

Enter Doodle

Doodle is a scheduling application that you can use to overcome any of the above situations. It “takes the pain out of finding the right date and time” by letting meeting attendees select the times that they are available from a pre-designated list of times/dates. Once everyone has added their availability, the meeting organizer can choose the best time to meet.  Best of all, the basic service is free!

Before you start setting up meeting, you’ll want to click the login link to create an account. (Actually, you don’t have to do this, but it’ll give you a few more features later on.)

 

login form for Doodle
Before starting, create an account.

Once you’ve created your account and logged in, you’re ready to start scheduling meetings.  Click the “Schedule event” link.

schedule event link

Click "Schedule event" to start.

From here you can enter basic information about the meeting/event, such as Title and Description.  This information will show up on the page that meeting attendees see when they fill in their availability.

Choose Dates

Click ‘Next’ to move on to the screen for select potential dates for meeting. (Note: it is a good idea to pick dates/times during which you – as the meeting organizer – are available.) Don’ worry about the times at this point; you’ll get to enter those later.  Also, Doodle suggests that 5 possible meeting times is usually enough to find a common time – I question that, though I haven’t found a magic number.

 

interface for selecting potential meeting dates

Choose potential meeting dates. Doodle suggests that 5 potential dates/times will suffice.

Choose times

After selecting possible meeting dates, you’ll next be asked to choose times during which meetings could take place.  These can be entered in various ways.  For instance, you could say 9am, 9:00-10:30, noon, or 15:00.

 

interface for choosing times
Fill in the potential meeting times.

Sending invitations

You can either manually send out invitations to the scheduling poll or do it through the Doodle interface.  I would recommend the latter option.  Doodle will alert you when someone fills in their availability, as well as tell you when all attendees have completed the poll.  You can then go in, select a final meeting time, and send it to all attendees.

 

invitation choices

I would recommend having Doodle send the invitations.

If you chose to have Doodle send the invitations, you will be prompted to enter the attendees’ email addresses. You also have the ability to enter a customized message that will be sent along with the invitation.

Completing the poll

Each attendee will receive an invitation, including a link where they can fill in their availability.  They will also see the availability of others who have completed the poll.  The user simply checks the times during which they are available and clicks ‘Save’.

 

screen for selecting available times

The attendee can see the availability for other attendees who have completed the poll.

When all attendees have completed the poll you (or whoever the organizer is) will receive an email indicating this and asking you to choose a meeting time.  When you go back into the Doodle poll, you’ll see everyone’s availability, as well as a count of how many attendees are available during each potential meeting time.  Typically, you would choose the time when all/most attendees can come, but of course you could apply your own criteria as well.

 

final selection screen

Choose the time that works best for you and the other attendees.

Doodle will send a notice to all attendees about the final meeting time, or you can choose to send this on your own.

A few parting words of advice

There are a couple keys to making sure that your Doodle poll is successful:

  1. Don’t leave the poll open for too long. People’s schedules change, and if you leave a poll open for longer than a day or two, some of the times during which they indicated they are available may no longer work by the time your poll closes.
  2. Related to #1, always give your attendees a deadline for completing the poll.
  3. Close the poll and choose a time as soon as the deadline arrives.  It’s unfair to the attendees who fill in their availability to have to wait for a few stragglers.
  4. Emphasize that they should fill in ALL times during which they are available.  Some attendees may be inclined to just offer up an hour or two of their time even if they have many more hours during which they could meet.  Remind them that the meeting is only 1 hour (or whatever the length is) no matter how many time slots they make available.

There are several other scheduling applications out there.  Let us know in the comments area if you’ve used one that you like.

Remember, just because it’s easy to schedule meetings with Doodle doesn’t mean you should!

Let the ideas bubbleth over

Summer’s over. A new school year is here.  Time to kick your brain into high-gear again!

Brainstorming is an important activity to do anytime you begin a project or research, and concept mapping is a good way to record the results of your brainstorm.  While scratching your ideas on the back of a napkin in a bar may be the sexy, artistic way to brainstorm, carrying around a stack of used napkins is neither practical nor a great practice in good hygiene.

Enter bubbl.us

Screenshot of the bubbl.us home page.

Sign in, or click 'Start Brainstorming' to create an account and start brainstorming.

Bubbl.us is a free web application for brainstorming.  With bubbl.us, you can create concept maps during your brainstorming session, collaborate with other “bubblers”, and share your brilliance with the world in a variety of formats.

If you’re a new bubbler, click ‘Start Brainstorming’ to get started.  On the following screen there’s an option to create an account in the upper-right corner.

You can use bubbl.us without creating an account, but your account opens up a lot of possibilities for sharing your brainstorms (as well as giving you the ability to save them).  Your bubbl.us diagrams can be embedded in web pages, exported as XML or HTML, or linked to as a read-only file.  Additionally, your account allows you to do collaborative brainstorming with your fellow bubblers.

Start by clicking the “bubble” that says ‘Start Here’ (of course).  Type in a word/phrase/concept to start the brainstorming process.  There are two types of connections you can make in your brainstorming diagrams: siblings and children.  If you think of them hierarchically, siblings are on the same level as the current term and children are one level down.

screenshot of a child element

Click this button to add a child to your diagram.

screenshot of a bubble highlighting the option to add a sibling element

Click this symbol to add a sibling to your diagram.

It’s that easy.  You can make connections between previously unconnected ideas, change the colors of your concept bubbles, and even delete them (which produces a fulfilling animated explosion).

screenshot of completed bubbl.us diagram

After you've added several bubbles, you can move them around and position them as you like.

Bubbl.us in the classroom

A great use of bubbl.us is brainstorming during an IL session.  Concept mapping is an important component of developing a topic and constructing search strings.

One of the activities I often do in class is ask students to (a) pick out the key concepts from a research question/topic (e.g. how  does Facebook protect your privacy?), and (b) come

screenshot of the bubbl.us menu

There are several ways to share your bubbl.us diagram - all located within the 'Menu' option.

up with related terms/ideas for those key concepts.  This usually plays out with me scribbling all over a dry-erase board that only half of the class can see and only 1/4 can read.  Using bubbl.us, the results of this activity could be represented on the projector screen, sans messy handwriting and positioned where everyone can see.  A link to the diagram could also be shared with the students so they can refer back to it at a later point.

Going one step further, students could create concept maps on their own or in groups during class, send a link to you (the instructor), and share it with the rest of the class.

Give it a try!

Try out bubbl.us, and post a link in the comments area of the blog to share your bubbles with other LibTechTalkers.  Let the brainstorming begin!

Why let code hold you back? Websites with Google Sites.

Are you sick of asking your programmer or IT person to help you build a website?  Are you lost when students ask you about Dreamweaver?  Google Sites might be a great option for you.  Whether you don’t have the skills or simply the time, Google Sites is a great option for quickly creating subject guides, course pages, or even entire library websites.

Design
Without the need for any coding or external programs such as Dreamweaver, you can create a surprisingly robust and customized website.  While there are many built-in templates and themes to easily style your site, with a little more work, you can also customize the colors, layouts, fonts, etc.  Some of these advanced features can get a bit confusing, but the built-in themes should be adequate for the beginner user.

Web Address
Another nice feature of Google Sites is that you can also use your own web address for the page.  Google Sites however, does not supply these custom domains therefore you must buy the domain from a third party and set it up through the domain registrar.  For beginners or those not needing a custom url, Google Sites will give you an address similar to
http://sites.google.com/site/carissa_tomlinson.

Collaboration and Privacy
What would a website be these days without some interaction and collaboration?  Google Sites not only allows multiple people to collaborate on the website development, but it also can be comment enabled, allowing readers to add content much like comments on a blog.  Don’t want people to comment on your webpages?  No problem, simply don’t enable comments.  What if you don’t even want the general population to be able to see your website?   No worries, Google Sites allows you to make your website private and shared only to designated people.  A private Google Site could even be used as a sort of library intranet!

Things to Know

  • Any content you create is hosted by Google which means that if Google Sites goes away, it’s possible so will your site.
  • You cannot copy the source code and put it into an HTML or CSS file to host on your own server.
  • You cannot import a CSS file to style your page, but you can use inline CSS and HTML tags.
  • You have a limit of 100 Mb of storage per site (for uploaded images, videos, etc.)
  • There are no ads, but you can choose to add targeted ads and actually get paid any revenue from the ads!
  • Powered by Google Sites will appear at the bottom of your pages.

Now go and put something on the web!

Working with Wiggio

A while ago I wrote a blog entry on wikis, specifically WetPaint Wikis.  One major reason that people use wikis is that they can provide a centralized place to work on committee or group projects.  While wikis are extremely versatile and can be used for multiple purposes, they don’t generally have an inherent structure which means that someone has to carefully set up the structure much like one would build a website.  If you need a centralized place for group work and want something even easier than a wiki, Wiggio is the place for you!  Unlike wikis, Wiggio was created with the specific purpose to facilitate online group work and contains many additional features that wikis don’t provide.

Wiggio incorporates a variety of social technologies into an easy-to-use shared web portal.  Next time your committee needs a shared online space, simply set up a Wiggio page and invite members of your committee to the page.  You’ll be able to not only share links, documents, polls, and a calendar, but Wiggio also gives you a variety of mechanisms to communicate directly on or from the group page.  Wiggio allows group members to leave typed or voice recorded notes for each other as well as easily send email or text messages to group members directly from the group page.  Wiggio also incorporates virtual meeting software into the group page so members can chat online, hold a teleconference (at a phone number provided by Wiggio), and even have a virtual meeting with full screen and document sharing,  as well as webcam capabilities.

Wiggio seems to run incredibly smoothly and with the exception of Java for the virtual meeting presenter, does not require any additional software.  Best of all… Wiggio is completely free!  That said, Wiggio does contain sponsored links and states on their FAQs that they will be adding additional “premium” components that will require a paid membership.   Try it out with your committee work, suggest it to your students for group projects, use it to co-author your next article- Wiggio is a great technology for any collaborative work you might have.   Overall, I highly recommend Wiggio.

Yugma and Web Conferencing

Need to meet with a colleague across town or across the country? Trying to present content or teach an online class? Need to teach library instruction at a satellite campus? There’s no need to travel or to teach in an asynchronous environment- why not try a web conferencing tool? Web conferencing allows for easy screen and presentation sharing as well as options for audio through a conference call or voice over IP (VoIP). Some programs even have the capability for a shared mouse and keyboard so that something like database search instruction can be modeled and then tried by all participants in an online, shared environment. Businesses have been using these technologies for years, but they can also be very useful in an academic setting with more and more online and distance education opportunities as well as collaboration between faculty and/or staff at different institutions.

yugma1Yugma is one of the many options out there for online conferencing. One great benefit of Yugma over many others is that it has a slimmed down version that’s available for free! With the Yugma free version, you have the capability to share your screen to up to 20 people at a time. It also gives you a free conference call number or the option to use Skype (VoIP) for all participants to be able to connect vocally. For written communication, public and private chat is also included. Yugma is also unique in that it is compatible with Mac, Windows and Linux systems.

With an upgrade to a paid account you additionally are able to share keyboard and mouse, change presenters, record and archive sessions, schedule meetings in advance, and access presenter tools (highlight aspects of screen/presentation). Prices run from $14.95 a month (or $149.50 a year) to $179.95 a month ($1799.50 a year) depending on the number of possible participants in a conference (20 to 500). An additional “Webinar” feature is available at $19.99 a month (or $199.50 a year) which allows you to have personalized web space where participants can sign up and directly access the webinar.

Yugma is intuitive to use, although I did run into some hiccups with the free account. The presenter/organizer will need to download the program, however participants should be able to access the screen share/presentation by simply visiting the Yugma website (www.yugma.com) and entering the access code that the presenter will see when setting up the session. A few things to look out for when using Yugma:

  • Although Yugma gives the presenter the option to “Invite Contacts” or “Invite Contacts to View Only”, the free version only allows viewing, so choose the view only option.
  • If you upgrade to the paid version and would like participants to be able to do more than view, they need to “run” the program which may cause administrative rights problems.
  • The latest Java will need to be installed on both presenter and participants computers
  • The teleconferencing, although free, doesn’t have the best sound quality. Skype is also an option.
  • The access code that the presenter is given when setting up the session is in a 000-000-000, however needs to be entered by the participants on the Yugma page without the dashes.

For additional options for web conferencing see the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_web_conferencing_software