Guest Post: Lucidchart – The online flow-chart app you’ve been dreaming of.

Today we’re featuring another fantastic guest post from Emily Thompson, Learning Technologies Librarian at SUNY Oswego.

Have you ever tried to make a flowchart in Word or PowerPoint? I can feel you cringing from here. It’s kind of an awful experience. Things are hard to line up and they always end up “good enough” after hours of fiddling. It’s a frustrating process that often made me think, “Come on. There has to be something easier than this!”

Lucidchart is that something. It’s a web-based application that makes charts: mostly flow charts, but also beautiful Venn diagrams, mind mapping, and wire-framing. The beauty of the program is that thing that will take a long time in your standard word processor take minutes. This chart (made for a poster on using librarians for SUNY Oswego’s Annual Symposium on Learning and Teaching last fall) took approximately ten minutes. It looks professional and clean, and it was incredibly easy.

Lucidchart flowchart example

Flowchart created using Lucidcharts.

After signing up for an account (more on that later), you click on “New Document” and choose a template. I like to start with a blank one. The work space looks familiar, with shapes on the left, choices on the top, and a white space in the middle. To get started, you just need to grab a shape from the left and drag it onto the workspace. You can edit the fonts and colors using the choices. Then to make the next node, hover near the side  of your box. The cursor will turn into a +, click and drag and your arrow will appear. Release, and you can pick your next shape.

Lucidchart workspace

Lucidchart workspace

In addition, you can drag in your own pictures, which can be handy for building instructions that require screenshots. Under File->More Shapes, you find your options for Mind Mapping and Venn diagrams. I find the Venn circles to be particularly time-saving. Rather than spending time on powerpoint trying to get the perfect translucent overlay, Lucidchart just gives you circles. The overlay is automatic. All that’s left is a text box to label them.

Venn Diagram from Symposium on Learning and Teaching poster

This Lucidchart example is also from the Symposium on Learning and Teaching poster.

When you’re finished, the final product is downloaded from the File menu. Lucidchart gives you a choice of a pdf, jpeg, png, or a Visio. The pdfs are 8.5×11, but the others can be downloaded as a full page or a selected area. After downloading they can be added to any project just like any other image.

You can sync Lucidchart with a Google account and it will show up in your Drive. If your not on gmail, you can still share any chart with anyone else with an account.

Lucidchart icon for setting up a free educational account

Icon for setting up a free educational account

The one caveat: signing up for a free educational account is far more confusing than it should be. First you have to sign up for a paid account trial (it doesn’t ask for a credit card though). Then you have to click on your name at the top left of the screen. Once you’re in your account, you should see a grey box on the right that says “Get a free educational upgrade.”

You will only see it if you sign up with an email that ends in .edu. Students can get an individual account (after feeding Lucidchart three email addresses), but teachers and librarians need to sign up for a class account. It’s all sort of confusing and weird, but it’s such a great product that it’s worth it.


Emily Thompson is the Learning Technologies Librarian at SUNY Oswego in Oswego, New York. She spends her days seeking out new tools to help her students make their projects as awesome as possible. She also co-hosts the LiTTech podcast on edreach.us. You can follow her on Twitter @librarianofdoom.

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.

Guest Post: Presenting with Prezi

Prezi logoA good presentation is interactive.  However, many of you have probably had to suffer through someones overly ambitious presentation featuring scrolling marque, sound effects and flying headlines.  It is easy to get caught up in the details and end up with a presentation that is too interactive.  Keep this caveat in mind as I write to you about a presentation tool called Prezi, which can help add a little zip to your library instruction session or conference presentation.

Prezi is primarily a zooming presentation tool.  Users can combine text, images, video and more to create a compelling big picture which is navigated by zooming in on various details.  After signing up for an account, you can start with a blank slate or you can copy the presentations which are public and insert your own content.  The simple ability to move into and back out of your presentation holds the potential to be eye catching as well as nauseating.  Friendly help tips will pop up to show you how to use the Prezi controls and there are numerous videos and example Prezis which highlight various facets of Prezi and provide how-to instructions on simple to complex issues.

The key to making a good Prezi is to have a good presentation.  The zooming capabilities should highlight your keypoints, take your audience through a story, keep them engaged and prime them for discussion.  My favorite example of this is below (click to view the Prezi):

The overall goal of this Prezi is to present information on the connections between learning and playing.  This is clear from the title and the initial large image of a game board.  You then zoom into the board and follow through various key points on each square.  Both the visual image and the content of the presentation are engaging.  Of course, everyone is not going to have the time or the artistic ability to plan, implement and draw a graphic which epitomizes their learning outcome.  However, Prezi will allow you to load powerpoint or keynote slides and you can simply use the zoom and path features to move between slides and emphasize various points.  With a little more work however you can breakdown your presentation contents and build a memorable presentation that your audience members can come back to on their own time.

Research Cycle

Credit: Sara Nixon, Towson University, Albert S. Cook Library

Practical application of a Prezi for a library can come in many ways.  I have seen some “prezumes” aka Prezi Resumes as a way to showcase your work and could be a consideration for the librarians out there job hunting.  However, as attention grabbing as a prezume might be among numerous applications, impractical organization of your information might be a turn off to a search committee.  Prezi is best used as a presentation tool. Teaching a library information session with a Prezi can do more than guide students through your points.  The ability to move and rotate your screen, side to side, up and down, in and out, etc allows you to express more than a linear relationship.  For example, basic research cycles could be presented in Prezi as a large graphic, and as you teach the steps the Prezi can follow along, moving back and forth to emphasize how information is refined as we research.  Because the presentation is available online, students can move through the presentation at their own pace, rather than being a passive observer they can interact with your presentation.

The downside of Prezi comes from the lack of certain features many of us have come to expect in presentation tools.  For instance, you cannot hyperlink text in Prezi, instead you must type out an entire URL.  Also, the freedom to zoom can hinder you as you are trying to make consistently sized points because there is no defined font size.  Additionally, a certain time commitment is required if you are dedicated enough to make a Prezi worthwhile.  It will take time to learn the new technology, and time to make the visual aspects appealing and effective.

In the end, you’ll hopefully have a presentation that takes you and your audience through a story, keeps everyone engaged, makes your content memorable and sparks a discussion.  Keep an eye out for interesting presentations and start building your own ideas for what can improve your digital library display!  Hopefully some of you will be catching quite a few soon at ALA 2011 in New Orleans!

Laksamee Putnam is a new Research & Instruction Librarian at Towson University, Albert S. Cook Library.  She is specifically liaison to the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics.  Laksamee holds a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana.  Her research interests focus on the use of emerging technologies and social media in science.   Find out more about her here or follow her on Twitter!

Call for ACRL Cyber Zed Shed presenters

Are you a tech savvy librarian using new technologies in innovative ways? Adapting existing technologies to reach user needs? Here is an opportunity to share your innovations with your colleagues, library administrators, and others at ACRL 2011. The ACRL 2011 Cyber Zed Shed Committee is looking for proposals that document technology-related innovations in every area of the library. Whether you are teaching in a classroom; answering questions from patrons; acquiring, cataloging, processing or preserving materials; or providing other services, we’re interested. We invite you to submit your most innovative proposals to help us make Philadelphia the site of a truly groundbreaking conference. Cyber Zed Shed presentations are 20 minutes, with 15 minutes to present a demonstration, and five additional minutes for audience Q&A. Presentations should document technology-related innovations in academic and research libraries. A computer, data projector, screen, microphone, and stage will be provided in the Cyber Zed Shed theater. You will be responsible for bringing all other equipment required for your demonstration, except as agreed to in advance.

The deadline for submission is November 1, 2010.

Questions about Cyber Zed Shed submissions should be directed to:
Kenley Neufeld, Santa Barbara City College, kenleyneufeld@gmail.com
Emily Rimland, Pennsylvania State University, erimland@psu.edu

Bullet points, begone!!!

Now that our blog has received national exposure, thanks to Erin Dorney and the good people at ACRL, I’m feeling the pressure to show just how emerging we are when it comes to technology.  And so, I present to you the very first Library Tech Talk entry about…

PowerPoint

Yes, I know.  PowerPoint has achieved ubiquity – it’s like the Kleenex of slide presentations.  Lately you may have heard that those bullet points you use in your presentations aren’t so effective.  Additionally, you may have begun observing a new trend of slides littered with Flickr images.  Not that I’m dismissing the effectivenes of images, but, practically speaking, is there really time to find an image for every message you want to convey to your audience?

Point being, for better or worse, we still use lists with bullet points sometimes.  Now, thanks to the help of PowerPoint’s “SmartArt Graphics”, you can easily turn your mundane bullet points into visually stunning gems of knowledge.

Here’s how…

1. Make your list, like you always do. (Go ahead, admit it.)  Check out my mundane slide in Figure 1 if you need inspiration.

Fig. 1. A typical slide with bullet points.

Fig. 1. A typical slide with bullet points.

2. Select the text box that contains your bullet points.

3. Click the SmartArt icon in the “Paragraph” section of the “Home” ribbon (see Figure 2).

Fig. 2. The SmartArt icon, located in the "Paragraph" section of the "Home" ribbon.

Fig. 2. The SmartArt icon, located in the "Paragraph" section of the "Home" ribbon. And, your ticket to PowerPoint success.

4. Choose your preferred SmartArt graphic (hint: hovering over a particular SmartArt graphic will give you a preview of your transformed bullet points).

Fig. 3. Your transformed slide after applying one of the SmartArt Graphics.  Getting better.

Fig. 3. Your transformed slide after applying one of the SmartArt Graphics. Getting better.

It’s better, but you’re not done yet!

Next, with the SmartArt version of your bullet points selected (make sure you choose the whole graphic rather than just part of it), click on the “Design” ribbon (Figure 4).

Fig. 4. The "Design" ribbon has tools for enhancing your SmartArt graphic.

Fig. 4. The "Design" ribbon has tools for enhancing your SmartArt graphic.

From here, you can change the colors and the style of your SmartArt graphic.  Your B&W bullet points seem light years away now!

Fig. 5. The finished product. Your bullet points, transformed by SmartArt and its color and style features.

Fig. 5. The finished product. Your bullet points, transformed by SmartArt and its color and style features.

A tip…

Different SmartArt Graphics work better for different types of information.  Some are good for representing processes – the design cycle, for instance.  Others work best for hierarchical information.  Choose “More SmartArt Graphics…” for a categorized list with descriptions.

Now do something about those slide titles…

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.

Look at all the pretty words…

There’s a new visualization on the block, and it’s called a word cloud.  Well, okay, it’s not that new, but now you can EASILY create your own!  We have one on the side of our blog to help you browse our content, del.icio.us does something similar, as do many other sites.

Click the "Create" link to start making your word cloud

Wordle's homepage: Click the "Create" link to start making your word cloud

Today, though, I’m talking about using word clouds to define things – concepts, terms, your personality, etc.  Much more interesting and engaging than a one-sentence definition, word clouds will make your audience “ooh” and “aahh” and hopefully remember what you’re talking about.  Our tool of choice? Wordle (http://wordle.net).

First step, gather some text for your word cloud

If I’m trying to “define” a term or concept, I’ll often use a ‘define:’ Google search to gather some text, as in “define: peer-reviewed“.  Wikipedia might be another good source for text to define something.  For this example, I’ve gathered text from .edu sites that list characteristics of scholarly articles.

Next…

You’ll want to do some basic editing of your text.  Wordle will remove stop words (articles, etc.) but you might not want the term you’re defining to show up in your word cloud or URLs or other non-related terms that don’t add anything valuable to your definition.  To do this, you can copy & paste the text into Word or Notepad or some other word processor.  (Hint: Find & Replace will save you some editing time.)  The text doesn’t need to be gathered in any neat organized fashion; Wordle will do the work for you.

Insert text here

Insert text here or provide a URL for the text you want to use

Then…

You need to go to Wordle and click “Create” – ’cause that’s what you’re gonna do!  There are a couple options for getting text into Wordle – you can link to a certain URL or a specific del.icio.us user.  Since we gathered all this text, though, we’re going to “paste in a bunch of text”, like they suggest.  Copy and paste your assembled text (Ctrl+C, then Ctrl+V) and click “Go” to get your visualization.

Your text doesn't have to be well-organized. Just paste it in there.

Your text doesn't have to be well-organized. Just paste it in there.

Now…

Wait for your visualization to appear (it may take a few moments).  If all goes well, you’ll be presented with a stunning visualization of all that boring B&W text you collected.  If it’s not so stunning, hit the randomize button or use the menu options to customize your visualization.  You may also find that a certain word sticks out like a sore thumb and you’ll want to go back to remove it (or at least reduce it’s frequency to make it smaller).

My sparkling visualization

My sparkling visualization. Use the "Randomize" button to get a different version of your word cloud.

Use the menu options to customize your visualization

Use the menu options to customize your visualization

Finally…

You need to get your visualization out of Wordle and into your presentation.  Use a screen capture program or the old school “Ctrl+Print Screen” method to take a screenshot of your visualization.

I’d recommend the fantastically free Wisdom-soft ScreenHunter for this task.  Once your visualization is saved as an image, you can use it anywhere you please: your website, a presentation, or for wall art.  Just make sure to give Wordle there due credit!

Here’s my final visualization.  I may just use it the next time I have to explain scholarly articles…

My final visualization for a "definition" of scholarly articles

My final visualization for a "definition" of scholarly articles