AT Friday: Outline

I’m not going to lie. When I first received my iPad as part of the iPad Pilot Program I found it very hard to integrate it into my life. My laptop and I have been through a lot together, and it was hard to imagine not having it by my side at all times. I began to slowly distance myself from my laptop by using my iPad to check emails. Then little by little I found more apps that made having a laptop with me unnecessary. My laptop and I were no longer attached at the hip, but I still had something else taking up space in my bookbag –my notebooks. I searched for the perfect note-taking application, but there was always some problem. Either the application only allowed me to type or I found organizing my notes too difficult. However, I recently found the app of my dreams!

Outline is an iPad application which allows users to type notes, write notes with a stylus or with a finger, and add pictures, graphs, and other illustrations. Outline makes it extremely easy to organize your notes by making tabs for each course. Within the course tab you can have another set of tabs that allow you to make new notes for each time the class meets. For instance, I can easily find my Physics notes from January 22nd. Outline provides users with an unlimited amount of pages and enables users to sync notes with dropbox in real time.

One thing I love about Outline is that it allows you to create textboxes wherever you’d like. This flexibility allows users to create concept maps, to-do lists, and anything else the user could want. Outline also makes it easy for users to read, review, and edit notes simultaneously which many apps do not.

The interface is extremely simple and easy to use. The tabs on the top make it clear what content the user is currently viewing. The tabs on the side also make it easy for user to create a hierarchy of information. This hierarchy makes it easier for users to establish and, later on, find topics and their subtopics. The icons are fairly intuitive as well making the app even more user-friendly. Overall, I would definitely give this app an A+!

Tech Tuesday By Kristen Ford

The Bank of America Mobile Banking Application was one of the best applications I’ve downloaded yet. At any moment I can have all my account information at my fingertips including my account balance, pending transactions, and even credit card statements. Once signed in, I’m instantly offered the chance to sign in to an existing account or open a new account. On that same screen I also have the option to pay a bill, manage a transfer, or make a deposit. This app is has a very simple design which puts all the most important features, usually spread all over the Bank of America Website, on this one home screen.

The target users for this product are people with Bank of America Accounts who might benefit from the convenience of accessing account information on-the-go. This application is for people at an age where they not only have an account, but are able to manage it independently. The application takes care of the older end users by providing a lot of contrast between background colors and text. The application also lists all the options in a clear and organized way, making it easy for people without a lot of technical skill to use. A lot of the swiping and pinching motions that are associated with the iPad, don’t necessarily have to be used on too many of the screens as everything is designed to fit on the screen and most of the text is fairly easy to read as it.

I would imagine users deal with the application at least twice a week to check on accounts and keep an eye on spending. Because it is an iPad application, I would imagine it would lead people to use it more often than they would the website, because the iPad application is so easy to access. I can see people using this when they are in a rush and need to quickly look at an account or transfer funds. That being said, this application is ideal for the person who is on-the-run and wants to check things quickly. However, I could definitely see users being so attracted to the simple design that they use the application to sit down and take a long look at their accounts.

Overall I feel like this product does a great job of providing the key features from the website namely account balance, transaction details, and bill payment. The application interface is very simple and straightforward making it easy to access one of the 3 main features. The dark gray background and white text makes it very easy to read and distinguish text from the background. Because all the main features can be accessed from the home screen it definitely makes the applications very convenient. I know sometimes when I am managing my account through website I seem to have to go through several screens to do one thing. This application makes it possible to do these actions with very few steps.

AT Friday: Trello

Over the years, I have taken part in more than my fair share of group projects. From group presentations, to group design projects, to group papers. Many of these projects were for engineering related courses. To say that communication and planning between myself and my fellow engineering classmates was a struggle, would be an understatement. As I’m sure many students know, breaking up long projects into manageable pieces is often very difficult as is dividing responsibility among group members. Just when I thought all hope was lost, I was introduced to an amazing iPad/web application called Trello.

Trello is a very useful project management tool that can be used to “organize anything, together.” As the team leader, you can invite people to join your team. Once added, members can add and edit items for each “board”. The lists represent tasks that need to be completed for the project. You can make these lists as detailed as you want by adding deadlines, delegating responsibility, and tracking progress.

Anyone on the team can easily add a deadline to an item to emphasize by when a task should be complete. Once that deadline has arrived, members can have Trello send them email reminders.

A member’s name can easily be added to an item to represent who is responsible for each item. This allows teams to keep track of who’s working on what. Members can easily add comments or suggestions to each item. This definitely aids in the collaboration piece.

Lastly, members can track each other’s progress by creating to-do lists for each item. Once a sub-item is completed members can check that sub-item off. Trello automatically updates to visually reflect what percentage of each task is complete.

All in all, I’d say Trello is a very useful tool. The interface is very intuitive and conducive to group work. Trello can be used to make something as simple as a to-do list or something as complex as a senior capstone timeline. I’m excited to see what glorious things can be done with Trello as I embark on my senior capstone journey.

-Kristen Ford

AT Friday: Cacoo

In the past, when I’ve needed to create charts or diagrams, I’ve used traditional programs like Visio and even Power Point. However, recently I discovered another tool that tends to stand out from the rest – Cacoo.

Cacoo is a free online tool that can be used to create diagrams such as wireframes, site maps, UML, and network charts. Cacoo is a Flash application and is entirely browser based. I found the layout of Cacoo extremely helpful as it comes preloaded with shapes and icons you can simply drag and drop to the main canvas. Cacoo, like Visio, also allows users to edit various aspects of the diagram such as size, location, and skew.

What I loved most about Cacoo, is its very simple and intuitive design. The very top panel contains tools which users can use to edit the diagram. Although this panel consists solely of icons, it is very easy to understand. The icons are grouped and displayed in very meaningful ways. Besides its simplistic design, one amazing feature of Cacoo, is its allowance of collaborative design. Guests can be invited via email to view, edit, and discuss the diagrams in real-time. The designs can also be exported as a PNG or shared on the web.

Like any program, Cacoo also has room for improvement. One thing I found frustrating was the fact that I could only export the file as a PNG. It took me a while to get around this feature in order to obtain a shareable copy of the image.  Also, the template for the canvas is very open due to its lack of page borders. This made it a little harder for me to figure out how large to make my diagram. One thing I had trouble deciding on is the pink and blue theme. It seems slightly childish and unprofessional. However, it does give working on these diagrams a more fun vibe.

-Kristen Ford

AT Friday: Smart 2nd Grade Classroom

Over spring break last year, I had the honor of working with a group of Tufts students at a public school in Harlem, New York. There I taught 2nd grade students robotics and engineering using  three main tools namely, WeDo, Smartboard, and Legos which are explained in detail below.

 

WeDo:

WeDo is a robotics education kit that uses legos to encourage kids to think creatively, innovate boundlessly, and learn endlessly. The kit includes a wide array of Lego blocks, hubs, sensors, and motors. WeDo introduces children to robotics by giving them the opportunity to build and program their own robots. For our week in Harlem we gave the children various tasks to guide them as they built and programmed rides you would see at a carnival. Children used the Lego pieces included in the WeDo kit, as well as various recycled arts and crafts materials, to build their ride and then used their newly acquired programming skills to program a fully functioning carnival ride. WeDo was a fun and simple way to teach the children the purpose of a hub, sensor, and motor and to integrate these parts in the creation of a working robot.

WeDo also encourages the kids to think deeply about sequences and patterns. Through programming their robots, children were forced to really focus on what they wanted the robot to do “first”, “next”, and “last”. Initially the students had trouble formulating sequences of directions, so we required the children to write out their potential code in steps before using the computer. Children also learned a great deal about patterns and repeats through WeDo. Through WeDo we were able to focus in on the idea that using the repeat symbol to illustrate a pattern that you want to do more than once is a great way to save time. Children were able to refine their skills around figuring out patterns and sequences, all while creating a robot they could be proud of!

Smart Board:

The Smart Board is an interactive white board that fosters collaboration and creativity. This tool provided us, the instructors, with a lot of flexibility as far as note taking, demonstrations, and teaching. In order to write on the board we could use either a special pen or our fingers. We could also drag and drop images on the screen for an elaborate demonstration.

The Smart Board also allowed for easy viewing by the entire classroom. While it would’ve been difficult to teach programming by showing students a small laptop screen, the Smart Board projected the images from the laptop onto its large screen, allowing for easy viewing. The Smart Board was also a touch screen so students could simply touch a desired object to move, resize, copy, or delete it.

One activity that was particularly enhanced by the Smart Board was “Programmer Says”. In this activity, we opened up the WeDo program on the laptop and displayed it on the Smart Board. Taking advantage of the touch screen, we rearranged different programming symbols to present a line of graphic code. We then told the kids to pretend to be the robot, interpret the code, and carry out the code’s actions.

Legos:

Legos were included in the WeDo kits and provided by the school. Towards the beginning of the week, we had kids work with crafts and then made the transition to Legos. This transition allowed us as instructors to really relay the importance of planning to the kids. Whereas with craft materials the children had more freedom, the Legos presented a few limitations as far as which shapes fit together, and how many of each piece were available.

Legos definitely led the children to think even more creatively and even abstractly about their creations. Instead of making the item they wanted they were required to use the tools they had to make what they wanted.
The technology in the classroom gave way to a remarkable learning experience. WeDo, the Smart Board, and Legos drove the children to challenge conventional thinking, develop unique solutions, and make connections to previously unclear concepts.

– Kristen Ford