Discussions via VoiceThread

VoiceThread is a tool for having asynchronous conversations around multimedia slide shows. Create a conversation by uploading PDFs, images, or videos (it is recommended to convert presentations, such as PowerPoints, into PDFs prior to uploading them). Then you, your colleagues, and students can leave comments using a phone, webcam, microphone, or keyboard. Each participant uploads an image to represent themselves which appears in the boarder of any slide they have commented on.

The webcam and microphone options are recorded through the user’s computer to the VoiceThread website (below you can see the video bubble that appears when listening to a comment left via webcam).

Text bubbles appear when viewing a typed comment and a speaker icon appears next to the speaker’s image when their voice is heard.

The ability for students to record comments via their phones is what I like best about voice thread. You can start a discussion by emailing a link or including it in your online lesson. Students viewing the presentation can then enter their phone numbers into the site, VoiceThread will call them and record up to a 3 minute comment, and the comment will appear in the conversation almost immediately.

I also really like the doodle feature. This allows users to draw/write directly on the screen while leaving their comments. Doodles can be added on top of videos as they play, or you can scroll back and forth and add doodles to a paused video, image, or document. And you don’t have to erase what you doodled! After a few moments the doodles begin to fade and soon disappear.

There is a lot to explore in VoiceThread, but without further ado let’s talk pricing. The Free Account option will be perfect for most students. It allows unlimited participation. Students will not be charged for viewing and commenting on VoiceThreads. If you would like your students to be able to create their own VoiceThreads, for a presentation or to lead a discussion, they’ll need to purchase a Basic Account for $2.

Instructors have three options: Basic $2, Pro $59.95, or Manager $99. If you would like to get started with a Basic Account, you can easily upgrade if needed.

pricing chart

The $99 Manager Account includes 1 Pro Account and 50 Basic Accounts. There are other fee structures for creating a customized site for your institution and for fully integrating your authentication system into the VoiceThread infrastructure.

VoiceThread has something for everyone, from small projects to major undertakings. Take the first step and try it out!

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Website Assessment with Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a hosted service for website usage analysis. It tracks how visitors find/enter your website, what pages they visit within the site, how much time they spend on each page, and where they go when they leave your site.

It’s free as long as your account does not exceed 5 million pageviews per month. All you need (like with all things Google) is a Google account. Creating a website’s profile is as simple as knowing its URL. Once you have entered your homepage URL, location, and time zone, Google sends an email confirmation including a snippet of code that should be pasted into each page of the site. The instructions explain that the code must be inserted immediately before the closing body tag.

New Website Profile

New Website Profile

Reports can be generated based on daily, weekly, or monthly usage. Each report includes detailed information about visits, pageviews, bounce rate, and average time spent on the site. Other analytic features such as iPhone visits and trend reporting can be included/excluded based on the needs of your institution. Data can be exported as PDFs, XML, or comma-separated values (CSV) for Excel.

Report

Report

Google Analytics is powerful, it’s big, I’m merely scratching the surface! However, getting started is easy and the potential benefits are vast. If you need to record web statistics, to assess online services, or redesign your website, you should read more, explore training options, and play around with this amazing tool.

LibraryH3lp for your I.M. Reference Services

Our Instant Message Reference Service is popular! It is so popular, we are facing several problems trying to keep up with it. The problems:wood

  • While our current IM aggregator allows multiple librarians to be signed in simultaneously, it doesn’t allow librarian1 to field a question without librarin2 seeing it and vice versa. Confusion often ensues when answers are typed into the wrong IM conversation. For example, I might answer the question “What floor are the MLs on?” with something like, “It’s open 9-4 Mon-Fri” and my colleague might answer “What are the Writing Lab’s hours?” with “They’re on the 5th floor”. Meanwhile the students are left to wonder…”Huh?!”
  • Currently, all IM questions are handled by the librarian(s) at the reference desk and often, to avoid the problem described above, only one signs in during a given shift. We’d like to have ALL available librarians signed in to field questions at their convenience whether they are at the service desk or in their offices.
  • In order to provide point of need access to IM Reference Service we have embedded chat box widgets in several library web pages. The boxes appear 24-7 with a small message that reads “tucookchat is offline” during our off hours. We’d like to make it more obvious when service is or is not available, and list alternative contact information for hours in which IM Reference is unavailable.
  • A large percentage of our IM traffic comes from “guests” using our chat box widgets. Unlike patrons contacting us from their personal IM accounts (such as AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, and Google Talk), we are unable to capture chat transcript from our guest users, which can be useful for training, research, and annual reports.
  • And for all transactions, from guests or otherwise, we currently have to manually track statistics.
  • Oh, and did I mention that our IM aggregator is free and our budget it small?

However, do not dismay, I’ve found a possible solution to these and other problems. LibraryH3lp to the rescue.

Created by Eric and Pam Sessoms, the dynamic duo of programmer and librarian, LibraryH3lp is a hosted Instant Messaging service that could solve our problems in the following ways:

  • It allows multiple simultaneous operators, but only connects the patron to the librarian who first responds. Once this connection is made, LibraryH3lp notifies your colleagues that the question has been answered.
  • answered

  • If you find you need backup, LibraryH3lp allows you to transfer questions to other operators within your institution. You’ll be able to see who is signed in and available, IM them to make sure they have time to help, and transfer questions to colleagues with special knowledge and/or shorter lines.
  • LibraryH3lp offers a helpful tool for creating widgets that appear as chat boxes when operators are available and display a customized message when no one is logged on.
  • Unlike our current aggregator, LibraryH3lp captures chat transcripts from patrons accessing the service through chat box widgets in addition to those accessing the service though popular IM providers such as AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, and Google Talk.
  • Transcripts and statistical information is gathered on the LibraryH3lp server and can be downloaded to a local server and/or deleted at any time.
  • While not free, LibraryH3lp is very affordable. They charge an annual fee based on the size of your institution.

Budget cuts may force us to hunt & gather, try ScreenHunter 5.1

full_screenAs budget belts keep tightening, we find ourselves scavenging for free software options. I’d like to introduce one such option – ScreenHunter 5.1 is free screen capture software for Windows users. You might be thinking, “So? I can capture my screen by pressing the Print Screen key.” Ah-ha! But what if you want to crop out all the noise and focus in on a specific section of the screen? ScreenHunter can help.

select_imageWith ScreenHunter you have choices. You can capture your full-screen OR you can drag your mouse to select an area for capture. The selected area can be any size. However, it must be rectangular. You can also choose whether or not you would like the mouse pointer to appear within the captured image. If you want to select a rectangular area for capture AND include the mouse pointer in the selected image, you will need to use the hotkey option. Place your mouse pointer where you want it to appear on the screen and hit the hotkey (F6). The pointer will stay where you left it and your mouse will be transformed into a ScreenHunter selection tool. Capture What, Mouse, and Hotkey settings are all found under the “From” settings.

desktopUnder the “To” settings you can designate where screen captures should save to, what file format they should be saved in, and how the new files should be named. You can designate screen captures to save to the clipboard and/or to a particular folder, such as your desktop. ScreenHunter will save screen captures as JPEGs, GIFs, or Bitmaps. And it will automatically name the  new files with their date and a number or you can ask it to prompt you to name each one as it is taken. My screen captures are being automatically named by ScreenHunter and are saved as JPEGs to my desktop. From there I rename the ones I want to keep, and drop them in their appropriate folders.

ScreenHunter 5.1 makes screen capture easy and affordable. Plus and Pro versions offer image editing capabilities and advanced capture options, such as movie capture and customized watermarks.  They are available for $19.95 and $29.95, respectively.

List.it and don’t you forget it

Many people keep (with varying degrees of success) a to do list in one form or another. I for one am always making lists on little pieces of paper (often old card catalog cards) and then losing them in the bottom of my tote. Even worse…I have a friend who procrastinates by recopying lists instead of tackling the tasks they outline.

The folks at MIT have kindly developed a tool to help us manage our lists. List.it is a Firefox (version 3 or above) plugin for electronically creating, managing, and backing-up your list.

List.it's sidebar window

List.it's sidebar window

After downloading the plugin, a small yellow icon will appear in the bottom-right corner of your browser window. Right clicking the icon allows you to quickly type in a new list item. Left clicking the icon opens your list as a narrow window as a sidebar to your browser window.

With the sidebar open you can added list items, edit items, move items up/down in your list, search your list, and best of all – delete items as you finish them. In addition to the regular search box, List.it allows you to create custom quick search buttons. For example, you could start all task related items with the words “to do” and then create a “to do” search button to quickly retrieve entries that include these words.

Example of a "to do" quick search button

Example of a "to do" quick search button

Other advanced features are customizable hot keys and synchronized back-up capabilities.  Under the Options tab you can set hot keys for opening/closing the sidebar, bringing up a search box, and quickly opening an input box. To have your list backed-up on List.it’s secure server, you will need to register your email address with them and create a password.

After playing with this tool for just a few hours, I would say it is intuitive, convenient, and helpful. I’m going to use it to keep track of all the books I would like to order, but can’t afford. Each new item could include a link to an online book review and a department code, such as bookWMST. Then once my budget is something above zero, I can search for bookWMST and retrieve my list of ideas. Ah…that will be a great day.

Social Networking for Professionals

Online Social Networks such as Facebook and MySpace are fun ways to stay connected to past classmates and colleagues. However, as far as social networks go, there are other networks that provide a more professional feel (i.e. I am willing to wager that you will never find photos of keg stands on LinkedIn). LinkedIn is a networking tool for professionals. It has over 36 million professionals from 170 industries, including Libraries, Higher Education, and Information Technology & Services.

Creating a free profile on LinkedIn enables you to find, be introduced to, and collaborate with professionals both near and far. Adding people to your list of “Connections” expands your professional network, allowing you to see people in the networks of your Connections (2nd Degree Connections) and even the networks of your Connections’ Connections (3rd Degree Connections). No one will be listed as a 1st Degree Connection without your confirmation.

connections_sm

Once you have established a list of Connection, you can then use LinkedIn to find career and collaboration opportunities, to be introduced to others through mutual contacts, and to be recommended by people who know your work.

discussion_sm1You can further expand your network by joining LinkedIn Groups, such as ALA, ACRL, alumni associations, etc. Groups allow you to see updates on what other members are doing and initiate/participate in group discussion forums.

In 2008, LinkedIn began allowing members to embed select online services within their profile pages. For example, you can embed a polling tool, Amazon reading lists, and feeds for your latest posts to WordPress and/or SlideShare. As soon as I publish this post, it will automatically appear on my LinkedIn profile!

I believe the more you play around in LinkedIn the more you will benefit from it, so why not get started? Create a profile highlighting your education and work experience, make Connections, and experiment with the many career development features LinkedIn has to offer.

Information Discovery Via the Library Catalog

facets5One of the great functions of a library is to provide space for information discovery. However, as information searching transitioned from a paper-based endeavor into a predominantly electronic activity. the likelihood of unexpectedly discovering resources took a severe downturn. For instance, the library OPAC has simplified the search process, but in so doing the time spent browsing the stacks has been significantly reduced. This reduction limits the likelihood of unexpected discovery. Thankfully the recent trend in online catalogs towards faceted search interfaces has begun to address this problem.

Faceted searching provides users more opportunity for virtually browsing the collection. Search results are accompanied with links for faceted navigation, presenting users with a variety of facets (format, date, author, subject, location, etc.) by which they can refine their search results. Encore is one of several faceted search interfaces currently on the market. However, unlike its competitors (at least those that I am aware of), it offers two added features that I just love – social tagging and tag clouds!

encore1

With Encore, once a patron has signed into their account, they are allowed to create and link tags with item records. Fields from bibliographic entries can also be imported as tags. Patron and library created tags are treated equally and displayed as one, thus encouraging a hitherto nonexistent collaborative relationship between library staff and users. However, Catalogers have no need to fear – these tags appear together, but they are stored separately. Therefore, Encore allows libraries to take advantage of Web 2.0 technologies, while preserving catalog records within their bibliographic databases.

tagcloud2One way in which this technology could be used in an academic library would be to use tags to direct students to materials relevant to particular courses. By creating a course tag such as ART100 students, faculty, and library staff can tag resources relating to themes covered in the class. The resulting tag clouds provide users with a second option for virtual browsing. One that is increasingly familiar to the student clientele of academic libraries. By offering tools such as Encore, libraries can reestablish themselves as spaces (both virtual and physical) for information discovery.

A product of Innovative Interfaces, the creators of Millennium, Encore is compatible with a number of its ILS competitors, such as Voyager and ALEPH 500.