Visualize Your Keywords

With the middle of the Fall semester upon us, many research and instruction librarians find themselves in the thick of instruction season. Whether it’s credit-bearing information literacy courses or one-shot workshops, it’s safe to say our library classes are in full swing.

The importance of generating and connecting related terms for keyword searching is just one of the skills frequently included in library instruction sessions. However, some students are easily frustrated in their quest for coming up with related terms; they may get “stuck” on what they consider a “perfect” term, or they may simply lack mastery of the required language skills necessary to imagine related key terms without additional help.

Librarians already employ a number of instructional techniques to help students brainstorm and generate keywords, including consulting reference materials, using group brainstorming, and identifying key terms from a related book or article. An additional tool librarians may consider incorporating into keyword instruction is a visual thesaurus like Snappy Words.

Snappy Words

Snappy Words Logo

Snappy Words is described as a free “online interactive English dictionary and thesaurus that helps you find the meanings of words and draw connections to associated words.” Basically, search for a word to two-word phrase in Snappy Words, and you’ll receive a visual, clickable map of related terms. Your map is generated based on Snappy Word’s search of the Princeton-developed WordNet lexical database. The database uses lexical relationships between words to group terms, and this data is displayed when you search Snappy Words.

Searching in Snappy Words

Searching Snappy Words is very simple. Enter your word or phrase into the search box and click “Go.” Snappy Words searches its database to create an interactive word map of synonyms and related terms. You can then zoom in or out on various portions of the map, click and drag the terms to explore relationships, and hover over terms to see definitions.

Although the site includes advertisements and links for other companies, using Snappy Words requires no registration, log-in, or other personal information. It is also worth noting that Snappy Words requires Adobe Flash, and therefore cannot be accessed on some mobile devices.

Here is a quick search I did for the word “trust.” Since this term has at least two different uses and definitions, there are multiple clusters of related words. Several synonyms connected to the search term in the center of the map, like “faith,” “confidence,” “believe,” and “trustworthy,” are related to the term trust defined as “allow without fear.” The farther out in the web you go, the farther you get away from your initial terms, including antonyms and broader terms. There is also another cluster of words related to the term trust defined as “something (as property) held by one party (the trustee) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary).”

Snappy Words sample search for "trust"

“Snappy Words” sample search

In addition to the map of related terms, Snappy Words provides a graphical representation of additional language features, including the parts of speech for each word and how the words are related to each other.

Snappy Words Chart of Term Relationships

The connections in Snappy Words demonstrates how the terms are related.

Terms are color coded based on the parts of speech, while the connecting branches between associated terms indicate the relationship. For instance, a solid grey line shows that the terms are synonymous; the dashed grey line connects terms that are derivations of each other.

In the Classroom

The language-related features of Snappy Words, including the term relationships information and definitions, could be useful in library instruction sessions when demonstrating how the keywords you choose for a given search can influence the types of results you receive.

Snappy Words seems most useful for terms that are common English-language terms, and not necessarily discipline-specific terminology. And the look and feel of an interactive thesaurus may appeal to learners who prefer to navigate and express ideas in a more visual way.

Librarians know the results from a database search are only as good as the search terms the user chooses. Helping students understand the importance of finding and choosing the correct keywords continues to be an important aspect of instruction and reference interactions in academic libraries. Will you be giving Snappy Words a try to spice-up your next keyword lesson?

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How to “Explain Everything”

If the latest version of the NMC Horizon Report Higher Education Edition is any indication, tablet computing continues to be at the forefront of higher education trends. As a new tablet owner myself, I have been looking for more ways to incorporate it into my daily work life aside from reading email, taking notes and enjoying the occasional YouTube video. Also, as more librarians are using tablets for roving reference or during instructional sessions, it’s interesting to consider how shifting more of our day-to-day work to tablets might look.

Given the increasing number of librarians interested and involved in creating online instructional materials, one area to explore in tablet computing is screencasting and screencapture applications which allow librarians to do this type of work on-the-go.

Explain Everything

One of my favorite applications I’ve found so far for screencasting from my iPad is Explain Everything. Explain Everything is an iOS app which allows you to interact with images and presentations on your iPad, including adding annotations and recording live animation or voice narration.

Creating and Editing Projects

To begin a new project in Explain Everything, you can upload images (JPG or PNG), upload other compatible files (including PDF or RTF and PowerPoint, Excel, Word, Pages or Numbers files), or start from scratch with a blank project. Projects are presented as a series of slides, with new pages or images from imported documents each appearing as separate slides. You can rearrange, duplicate, insert, and delete slides within the Explain Everything project.

Explain Everything Home screen

Explain Everything home screen displaying saved projects.

Once a project is created, you can manipulate objects using the interactive white board. Tools in the whiteboard allow for adding new slides, annotating or free-hand drawing, inserting shapes or typed text, adding additional images, and opening a live browser window. You can also rotate, resize, and delete objects.

Explain Everything Whiteboard

Editing and recording interactive whiteboard in Explain Everything. Image created using Skitch

Recording

In addition to manipulating the slides on screen, you can record a presentation or screencast. Using the “Record” button on the bottom of the whiteboard will capture your live annotation, object manipulations, laser pointer, and voice narration. You can continuously record while navigating from slide to slide, and easily pause the recording during interruptions.

Since Explain Everything also allows you to open a live browser window, you can easily create projects which demonstrate online resources. This is particularly nice for libraries as we create guides for users to reference when interacting with our online catalogs, databases, etc. Unfortunately Explain Everything’s recording capabilities may not capture some online animations (including pop up windows and javascript), which can make it difficult to demonstrate certain interactive online activities (like typing into a search box).

For demonstration purposes, you can see a couple of quick videos I created using the recording function.

Saving and Exporting

One of the best features of Explain Everything is its ability to export projects in different formats to different locations. Projects can be exported as Explain Everything’s XPL format, or as PDFs, images (PNG), and videso (MOV/MP4), and can be saved to various places like the iPad camera roll or Youtube, as well as your favorite cloud storage service (including Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Drive). You can also adjust the quality and size of exported images and videos, though the quality of its compressed videos may leave something to be desired for some users.

Export and Save in Explain Everything

Export and Save in Explain Everything

Wrapping Up

Although not a free app, Explain Everything’s current price at $2.99 (or $1.49 per copy if you’re purchasing more than 20 copies through Apple’s education volume purchasing) is significantly lower cost than many other screencasting alternatives which offer the same type of features and capabilities. Additionally, you can learn more about using basic and advanced features of Explain Everything with video guides and a free iBook manual. [Note: At this time, Explain Everything is available for iOS only. However, Android users may want to check out these posts when looking for Android-friendly alternatives.]

In addition to creating quick, low-cost screencasts and tutorials, Explain Everything might be useful for librarians who are using iPad carts in library instruction or libraries with iPad check out programs, providing students an easy way to create and export their own screencast projects or narrated presentations.

Have you tried to create screencasts or tutorials using a tablet application? Leave us a comment!

Mobile Help Guides?

The idea for this week’s post came from a conversation I had with a student during a library instruction session. This student wanted to know if the library provided online instructions for navigating the library’s mobile page and mobile database interfaces. My answer was “Well, no, not specifically… But many of concepts and principles presented in our other help guides should still apply.” The student seemed satisfied with that answer, but I continue to wonder: how can we provide the same type of point-of-need instruction documents (PDFs, videos, etc.) to mobile users? Or even, should we be providing this type of support?

Long-time readers probably know Library Tech Talk authors have a great interest in mobile devices. We introduced why we thought mobile technology would become important for libraries, previewed the iPad upon its release, demonstrated how to use jQuery Mobile for making mobile websites, and show you tools that use mobile devices to engage library users in reference and instruction. But so far, we haven’t talked about providing instructional support for these devices. As more of our students rely more on smart phones, tablets, etc. to view, consume, and create information – with the ECAR reporting that the number of students using smartphones for academic purposes has nearly doubled since 2011 – academic libraries are pushed to not only provide mobile versions of their resources, but also to help people navigate those resources.

While I am still investigating more systematic responses to this question, I’ve found a couple of interesting tricks and tools, particularly for creating screen captures.

Mobile Screenshots

Many library help guides include screenshots to demonstrate step-by-step instructions for using a resource, and since mobile sites frequently look different than our full sites, images for mobile instruction should reflect this. But do you know how to take a screenshot on your favorite mobile device? The actual method varies by device and operating system. For instance, with Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc.), simply pressing the “home” and the “power” keys simultaneously will take a screenshot of whatever you’re currently viewing and save it to your pictures.

Cook Library Mobile Site

Towson University Cook Library’s mobile site, taken with an iPod touch.

Not an Apple user? There is also be quite a bit of information floating around the internet to guide you through taking a screenshot on your other devices (including the Kindle Fire and Android devices).

Mobile Annotations

In addition to taking the actual screenshot, there are applications specifically designed for you to use the mobile device to annotate and edit screenshots, rather than switching over to image editing on a personal computer. One such free app is Evernote’s Skitch. With versions available for iOS, Mac, and Android, Skitch allows you to do basic mark-up of photos, screenshots, and maps using your mobile device.

Image showing the Skitch interface and tools

Skitch annotation tools

You can use annotation tools like text, arrows, and shapes to call out or highlight important parts of the image. Additionally, freehand drawing tools allow for more creative highlighting and drawing on the image. There’s even a pixelation tool allows you to blur out sensitive information (like an account number or library log on information). You can then email your completed images to be saved or, if you’re an Evernote user, you can save them to a specific notebook in your Evernote account.

The images below were created using Skitch on my iPod touch as examples of demonstrating important features of mobile database.

Photo showing annotation using Skitch to demonstrate the library's mobile site.

Using Skitch to demonstrate the library’s mobile site.

Screenshot demonstrating how to enter search terms

Annotated screenshot demonstrating keyword searching in a mobile database.

Image illustrating the "Find it" button.

Using “Find it” to locate articles in the mobile database.

Delivery?

While screenshots and annotations are the building blocks to providing help to our mobile users, a question I have yet to satisfactorily answer is: how do we deliver this content? Many of our library’s help guides are PDF documents, which are not necessarily easily viewed on smaller mobile screens. Creating videos and screencasts is another option, and currently our library’s mobile site links to our YouTube channels for video help guides. However, what tools are available to help us to create these videos showcasing the mobile interface itself? And are videos the best solution? Or should we focus on delivering the content on a webpages, taking a responsive design approach?

As I continue to explore this line of questioning, I’d love to hear from our readers about projects you’ve heard of or what your library is doing to address this potential need!

Welcoming Coursekit to the LMS Industry

There’s a new kid on the LMS block, and it was created by…kids. Well, UPenn students to be more precise. The Coursekit team claims, “We forgot what we knew about clunky university software and built something that is completely state of the art” (http://coursekit.com/about).

The start to that forgetfulness is a clean, friendly user interface that allows instructors to setup a course quickly.  Coursekit is banking on its easy to use interface trumping the complexity of other learning management systems, like Blackboard, in order to persuade individual faculty to use it instead. Coursekit is free and doesn’t require institutional cooperation for instructors to use it with their courses, meaning instructors can choose to use it without encountering any institutional barriers.  To start, instructors create a new course, create an account, and send invitations to their students through email.

screenshot of the page for creating a new Coursekit

Creating a Coursekit site is quick and easy.

After creating a new Coursekit site, instructors can set up meeting times for their courses, upload syllabi, create assignments, and provide information about supplemental and required course resources. The site is definitely inspired by the Facebook news feed, as the “Stream” view creates a timeline of comments, questions, and links posted by both the instructors and students.

screenshot of answer to a question posted in Coursekit

A variety of methods of interaction between students and instructors are available in Coursekit, including assignments, questions, links, and blog entries.

While teaching faculty will most likely represent the majority of users creating Coursekit sites, I do see an opportunity for libraries without for-credit information literacy courses to take advantage of a LMS like this as well. Because Coursekit is not tied to an institution’s profile, it allows individuals to create non-credit, self-paced courses (fake courses, some might say) for their users. Libraries could use this system to not only structure their information literacy program in a meaningful, incremental fashion throughout a student’s college career, but they could create the learning blocks that coincide with those steps in a self-paced course using Coursekit.

Perhaps library Coursekits could be set up for each year of a typical individuals academic career (e.g. LIB100, LIB200, LIB300, and LIB400). Assignments, tutorials, and resources that represent the important content at each stage of learning could be added to the site. Librarians could monitor new students posts and “assignment” submissions and give feedback to students. Will all students follow the course from beginning to end? Probably not, but the research skills would be presented incrementally and students could be pointed to particular materials within the site for help with certain concepts. Coursekit could be a good tool for planning how to stage info lit concepts throughout a student’s college career.

So take a look at Coursekit, explore its features, recommend it to faculty who are unimpressed with their current LMS choices, but most of all, consider how your library can use it to extend and stage your IL instruction efforts.

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.

Poll ‘Em Everywhere

Do you ever look out at your class and see students checking email, text messaging, or simply sleeping?  Let’s be honest, library instruction has the potential to be a bit boring.  Why not spice it up and make it more interactive with Poll Everywhere?  Give your students a fun option for in-class participation using their own cell phones.  Poll Everywhere has two main types of polls: multiple choice and free text.  The choices in multiple choice polls are set up by the instructor on the Poll Everywhere website and voted on via text message by the students.  Like American Idol, your students can “vote” by simply texting a number or a keyword to a designated phone number.    This type of poll could be used as a quick quiz to gauge student engagement or it could be used to provoke class discussion.  The free text poll allows an instructor to ask a question and for students to text in their free text answers.  This could be a great way to brainstorm keywords or to get feedback or answer questions that students might feel uncomfortable to ask.  This could be especially for encouraging shy students to participate in discussions.  Both poll types update in real time without much of a delay.

Poll Everywhere has a variety of pricing options from free to $1400 a month (http://www.polleverywhere.com/plans).  Their free version includes up to 30 responses per poll which could work for some classroom settings.  For $15 a month you can bring that up to 50 responses.  Both versions require participants to text in a number rather than a keyword, which could get confusing.  For $65 a month, instructors can choose the keywords that students text for their answers.

In general, I think Poll Everywhere could be a great (possibly free) alternative to clickers in the classroom setting.  My only concern would be the cost to students.  While many of our students have unlimited text message plans, some do not.  Poll Everywhere does have one workaround;  students can choose to vote via a website instead.  This would, of course, only work in computer classrooms or for those who have unlimited data plans on their phones.    I think that as long as the activity is not required, it could be a great tool for any kind of classroom or even presentation setting.

Andy Burkhardt at Champlain College wrote on his experience using Poll Everywhere for library instruction back in October on his blog.  Check it out here: http://andyburkhardt.com/2010/10/25/poll-everywhere-in-library-instruction/

Hope to see/ meet many of you at the ACRL conference this week!

-Carissa

Thought you could only check out at the library? Try checking in.

Whether you know it or not, patrons may already be “checking in” at your library!  Foursquare, the latest social networking application is slowly catching on around the country and the library is not immune.  Most basically, Foursquare, along with other similar applications (loopt.com, gowalla.com,and brightkite.com) gives the user a way to share his or her location with his or her friends on Foursquare as well as Twitter and Facebook if desired.  However, a patron advertising use of the library (by checking in) to his or her friends is just one of the many ways that a library can use Foursquare for library marketing and even instruction!

One of the major draws of Foursquare for its users is that it has game components.  Not only are you letting your friends know where you are, but you are also competing against them for the most places visited.  Additionally, Foursquare has integrated a “mayorship”  aspect where the person who checks in at a particular location the most becomes mayor.  As a Foursquare user myself, I’m surprised as to what lengths I’ll go to just to become mayor of my favorite places.  Libraries can further this competition by giving an incentive to patrons who become mayor.  Incentives can range from prizes such as library t-shirts or mugs even to library fine reversal!  Libraries without money for prizes could give the prize of fame by posting the mayor’s name prominently in the library.

Cook Library Foursquare Tip

Foursquare can even be used as an instructional tool.  Tips can be added to locations so that when a person checks in at your library or at an establishment near your library, a tip will pop up on the screen.  Multiple tips can be added by you and your patrons, however only one tip per check in will be displayed.  As these tips are displayed, they can be saved by the user and checked off as they are accomplished.  This system could most certainly be used in a library or university orientation session.

In addition to points, mayorships, and tips, Foursquare also has another gaming component- badges.  Badges are available for completing any number of different check-ins.  Get the “Gym Rat” badge for checking in at a gym facility ten or more times in a month, or get the “School Night” badge for checking in after 3am on a school night!  How could these badges be used at a library or university setting?  Companies, organizations, and even universities are working with Foursquare to develop badges related to events or in the case of Harvard University places around campus.  Harvard’s badge is used for new student orientation.  While getting a badge developed for an individual library maybe a difficult task, working with other libraries or even the university at large may help development.  That badge  could be used in turn for a variety of marketing, instructional, and even recruitment purposes.

What about privacy!?!?  While Foursquare does share a person’s location, it does so only when that person chooses to share.  A user can even check in without sharing his or her location with anyone, therefore accumulating points, badges, or mayorships without divulging location information.  Another thing to keep in mind is that your library location is most likely on Foursquare whether you put it there or not, so why not capitalize on something that your patrons are already using?  While I’m not sure I’d recommend that libraries or universities require students to play Foursquare for any assignment, Foursquare is a great way to market services to students already using the social networking tool.