AT Friday: Instant Audience Feedback with Poll Everywhere

http://www.polleverywhere.com/

Are you giving a presentation soon and looking to receive instant audience feedback?  Poll Everywhere is one solution.  It is a web based technology that allows audience members to respond through text messages, the web, or twitter.

On the Poll Everywhere website, you can play around with the technology by creating your own poll (aka a question you would like to ask).  There are two options for answer choices: open-ended or multiple choice.  An open-ended poll will allow the audience to respond with anything.  For multiple choice questions, you can type out answer choices or provide images or links as answer choices.  If you have all your questions already typed out, there is a formatting trick to upload all your questions with just a few clicks.

In terms of cost, Poll Everywhere is free for audience sizes of less than 40 people.  With more than 40 people, there is a monthly cost associated with the service.  For Tufts classes of less than 40 students, Poll Everywhere could be considered as an alternative to clickers.  Students would no longer need to carry around clickers and could submit answers through their laptop or cell phone.  One downside to Poll Everywhere is that you do need internet access.

Poll Everywhere claims that their customers use their service for audience choice awards, market research, training comprehension checks, in class quizzes, texting questions to expert presenters and for many other occasions.  If this sounds like a service you could use, check out their website.  They have a good FAQ page which will likely answer a lot of your questions.

Happy Polling.

Jeff

AT Friday: Tools for CS Students Part 3

I’ve been realizing slowly that to write good code, you don’t just have to practice a lot. You also have to regularly read good code.  Most people read articles and frequent StackOverflow to solve their own problems, which is great. But I think reading all sorts of code, whether related or unrelated to your current work, is a really fantastic exercise in expanding your skillset.

iGist

The iPad can be a good fit for this type of learning, because it’s really easy to browse other people’s code quickly and conveniently. I just downloaded the free app iGist, which is a way to browse small snippets of code that you and/or other people have written (or “gists”). If you have a github account (also free!), you can log in to this app and immediately see all incoming gists along with your favorites. A problem that I run into a lot is that I’ll see a really cool piece of code, but don’t think to bookmark it or save its location in any way. These days, gists are getting more popular, and they make it easy to bookmark and remember code in an organized fashion. With this app, viewing all of those gists is very easy.

Also, each gist has a “forking” option, which allows you to modify the gist yourself. This can be really good for thinking about problem solving, and finding better solutions than those presented to you.

PeepCode

            Ok, so reading is pretty neat, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, what about a video of code being written and talked about? Peepcode is a wonderful online service that offers screencasts on a plethora of web development topics. Topics range from using github, to learning CoffeeScript, to developing specific products, step-by-step. With 85 of these screencasts, it’s really easy to learn new techniques. The movies are downloaded along with accompanying code, so once you have a screencast, it’s yours foever. This is important, because PeepCode is not a free service. There is a one-time fee of $55 for five screencasts, $99 for ten, or $199 for a year of unlimited downloads. It may seem pricey, but the amount of knowledge available is stunning. I downloaded all of the screencasts and code, which will provide months of learning. The best part is that once you have the video, you don’t need access to the internet, making these screencasts invaluable for long car rides and other such things. The narration is clear and concise (though the voice can get a little annoying), and I have already learned quite a bit from these screencasts.

If you’re serious about learning a variety of coding methodologies, these two tools will probably help you a great deal. In parting, I’d like to leave you with a useful alias.

alias sshtufts=’ssh flast01@linux.cs.tufts.edu’ – where flast01 is your UTLN. Makes sshing a breeze. Alternatively, if you only ssh into Tufts, type !ssh to execute the last instance of an ssh. This technique works with any command.

Happy coding!

-Sam Purcell

AT Friday: Tools for CS Students #2

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about some of the tools I use to streamline my workflow. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with even more tools, and I have some tips and tricks to share with all you other CS people and web developers out there.

Sublime Text 2 [Part 2]:

            Last time I talked a little bit about package control, BEAUTIFUL syntax highlighting, and using MacFusion to edit remotely accessed files in sublime. I have a new tip here which makes me wonder if I’ve actually fallen in love with Sublime.  The point that I’d like to address is that some people (myself included) are REALLY comfortable in vim. Moving your hand to the mouse can be very frustrating when you’re in the zone. Why switch to Sublime if you have to change your methodology? A great question, with an awesome answer. Sublime offers a mode called Vintage, which is basically just vi … except with all the benefits of Sublime. To activate Vintage, go to Sublime Text 2->Preferences->Settings – User and change ‘“ignored packages”: [something in here]’ to ‘“ignored packages”: []’. Restart Sublime, and hit escape while in a file. Congratulations, you’re in vi. Press “i” to use insert mode, IE regular Sublime.

Oh-my-zsh:

If you’re using bash, csh, or something else, you may be doing just fine.  I mention oh-my-zsh because for me, the little things it has to offer make all the difference. OMZsh is quick to install, and right away offers a ton of neat shortcuts, which are given in detail <a href=” http://www.intridea.com/blog/2011/5/18/its-not-enough-to-bash-in-heads-youve-got-to-bash-in-minds-with-zsh” title=”OMZsh info” >here.</a> For example, being able to type “…” instead of “cd ../..” actually makes a big difference when digging through directories. I won’t go into everything that it does, but to summarize, I get a prettier terminal, a ton of out-of-the-box aliases, and cool options to fiddle with in the ~/.zshrc. Oh yeah, also colored tab completion, and auto-correct. Read the above article, try it out, and see if you like it.

Tips [mac]:

  1. If you’re on a Mac, one of the most useful commands I have ever used is “⌘-Shift-Y.” Highlight a chunk of text that you want to save, and hit those keys. The text will be automatically entered into a sticky. My Stickies application is plastered with useful code snippets because of my addiction to this command.
  2. When it comes to poking around in your system, hidden files can be packed with valuable information. Though ls -a is a fine way to see these files, some folks like to use the Finder GUI for browsing. You can set all of your hidden files to visible with a simple terminal command. “defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles YES” does the trick. To reverse it, change YES to NO.
  3. Some useful aliases:

1. Changing and adding aliases might be something you do often. I use OMZsh, so I like to have an alias… get ready… that lets me change aliases. Rather, it takes me directly to the file that does it.

zsha() {

        cd ~/.oh-my-zsh/lib

        vim aliases.zsh

}

2. How often do you find yourself calling a directory, then looking at its contents? Let’s minimize keystrokes here.

cs() {

        cd “$1” && ls -al

}

Type “cs the_dir” and you’ll get into it, and see its contents immediately.

3. If you want to open a file or folder in Sublime (or whatever you use) directly from the Terminal, try this alias.

alias subl=’open -a  /Applications/Sublime\ Text\ 2.app/’

            Example “subl myfile.cpp” or “subl my_dir”.

 Work smarter, not harder.

-Sam Purcell

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: Windows Live Movie Maker

Don’t be shy: you have the artistic talent in your blood. You have a unique view of the surroundings.  How about making a piece of video art in your style? You can definitely manifest your character, implicitly or explicitly, through the music, pictures, and video clips you have selected for your piece of art. What you need is simply a technical nudge on the back: here we have a simple yet powerful tool, Windows Live Movie Maker.

The first step is to create your new project. Let’s start by examine the main elements offered by this software. On the home tab, in the add section, you can firstly add media files (video/photo/webcam/snapshot/music), subtle or credits to your video. After adding the flesh to your project, you will observe a video track on the right side, with a vertical black line indicating which part you are currently playing on the left hand side. By dragging the vertical line, you can move to other moment of your video. You can also shift the sequence of your material by simply dragging them to different parts. For a single video track, there are three horizontal parallel lanes. The top lane indicates the music you have added. You can adjust the starting time or length of your chosen music by modifying the Options tab for music tools. The middle lane is visual material lane. You can edit it in the Edit, or video tools tab. The bottom lane is the text lane, which includes caption, subtitle and credits. You can edit those in the text tools.

For a single clip of video or music, split function is especially useful, for it allows you to break a media file into multiple parts at your selected time with ease. It is located in edit and options tabs. After splitting, you can then dragging each sub-division into their respective positions.

With these functionalities above, I believe that you can build your own art already. For a little more advanced usage, you can go to Home tab, AutoMovie themes section, or animation tab, or visual effects tab, to add styles to your video. Those functions are pretty straight forward: for most part, you just need to click on the style you would to apply to the currently selected video part.

Lastly, if you want to adjust the vertical/horizontal ratio of your video, or the weight of different sound track (from both the video and your music track), you can do it in the project tab.

-Hao Wan

 

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