Monday, April 14, 2014

Replacing PDFs with Google Documents

For years, PDFs were the preferred vehicle for creating documents that looked exactly the way you laid them out. Different browsers were notorious for reformatting text and layouts - you never knew exactly how things were going to be displayed. But PDFs bring their own challenges - it's a separate file you have to download, sometimes you need a different piece of software to view it, and it doesn't reformat itself for mobile devices.

As an alternative, take a look at Google Docs, the word processing app that's part of Google Drive. The power of these web based apps can allow you to create some beautiful looking documents with some great advantages:
  • they're web pages so no need to download a separate file
  • text will re-warp to fit your device (images may not always fit the window size0
  • you can easily update them
  • you can collaboratively work on keeping them up to date
  • you'll never lose the original document
Once you have your document looking the way you want, just go under the Share settings and make sure all users (or only those you want) can view the page!

Discover more about the share settings!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Create simple screencasts with free tools

There are many tools available that will allow you to create wonderful wiz-bang tutorials with all sorts of animations and effects. But in the end, the most effective tutorial is one that is carefully planned and thought out.

For many people, grabbing a screenshot and record your voice with some while highlighting elements is more than enough to get your point across. Teachers often use these elements to evaluate student projects - the need for the flashy effects is not as necessary.

Two simple apps that can help you do this are Screencast-o-matic (SOM) and Skitch. Available as a downloadable file or as a java app that runs in your browser (I prefer the file), Screencast-o-matic ( is a free tool that allows you to define a capture area and records it. Simple animations are automatic that show your mouse’s movements and clicks. When you’re done, you can download a file or upload a file to SOM’s servers (free for videos under 15 minutes) or to your Youtube account.

Skitch ( does a capture of your window (full screen or a pre-defined area) and then provides tools to highlight the content. When done, you can upload the finished graphic to their servers or download a file to your computer.

To use the tools together, just follow these steps:

  1. Create your screen captures first (if you’re looking at a web page, use numerous captures to get the whole page)
  2. Launch Screencast-o-matic and select the Skitch window.
  3. Start recording
  4. While recording the audio, use the Skitch tools to highlight elements on the screen.
  5. If you need to move to the next capture, pause SOM and get yourself setup. 
  6. When done, choose how you want to save your file and share it!
Here’s a sample below: