Saturday, August 24, 2013

iCloud iWork Beta Open for All

Now, I'm a Mac fan. 100%. I use a Lenovo ThinkPad at work, but it's more of a grudging acceptance of the tool I'm given than anything approaching enthusiasm. When it comes to my creative work, be it video editing, presentation development, audio editing and production, even writing, I feel more comfortable using a Mac. In my old job, I had a MacBook Pro that I carried with me everywhere I went, moreso even than my second daughter and her ubiquitous blanket. Luckily, when I had to hand that MacBook in after changing my job, I still had my trusty iMac at home. Still, not having access to Keynote or iMovie at work can be a massive pain. (At least until I can afford to spring for a new MBP...)

Well, this is where Apple's iCloud iWork Beta steps in. Up until now, Apple has had amazing software, and unbeatable hardware, but their online services were beyond awful. Atrocious is a more apt description. Even Microsoft's SkyDrive was leaps beyond what Apple had put out, even including the stunted and awkward Word and Excel Web Apps. No, when it came to online tools, I really found only Google had the a full suite of apps I could reliably use.

Sure, I had to contend with some shortcomings. I love Google Docs Presentations, but boy it takes work to make a Google Docs Presentation look smooth or stylish. I love the collaborative and security features of Google Docs Spreadsheets, but I sure wish Google Docs Spreadsheets made it easier to add hyperlinks in a cell. Or even more than one hyperlink per cell. Google Documents is a dandy word processor, but man I wish Google Documents could handle tables less like a fingerless man playing the piano. Still, as a whole, Google Docs/Drive can be a powerful tool. But what about this new iWork thing?

At first glance, it's pretty good. The Keynote app is slick and smooth. It functions more like the iOS version of Keynote than the OSX version. The interface is fast and intuitive - Drag and drop image placement, easy to use masks, quick and simple slide transition options, and the presentation plays smooth as silk. The same slickness and simplicity is evident in the Numbers and Pages apps. The real drawback for all three, however, is in the collaboration and sharing options. Thus far there appears to be no collaboration options at all. As for sharing? After you set up a mandatory iCloud Mail account (, you then have the option of sending your document in the iWork format, a PDF, or the equivalent MS Office format. Not share, as in send a link, but share as in send an email with the file as an attachment. (Hey Apple, the 90's called...) Unfortunately, this is a bit of a deal-breaker for me.

With Google Docs Spreadsheets, for example, as long as I own, or have permissions for a sheet, I can use the "ImportRange" function to pull the data from multiple sheets into a central data collection tool. Currently I use this for mark aggregation, as I have my teachers enter marks into individual markbooks made from a Google Docs Spreadsheets, and that data flows into a master sheet that I use to keep an eye on student performance. In addition, when it comes time for unit planning, I set up a Google Docs Spreadsheet with multiple tabs, and use the permissions functions to assign people to specific tabs for lesson and resource development. During this process, dozens of educators work simultaneously on the same document, creating content, adding comments, or using the chat function. It's an incredibly powerful tool in this manner. Also, for Google Docs Presentations, I set up resources that I then publish online, giving me an embed code I can use to embed the presentation on any of the various blogs I have set up as learning resource management tools. Because of these powerful sharing, collaboration, and data linking options, even though Google Docs/Drive is the square kid at the dance, it is the square kid with a mickey in his pocket, and the keys to a sweet ride.

Overall, I could use the Keynote App to develop a presentation, then upload that to Google Docs, as a clumsy workaround for sharing and embedding. But after what I have seen with the newly released Bunkr,  a fully HTML5 presentation app that has blown my socks off recently. Still, if you just want to make a stylish presentation, a magazine quality document, or a basic spreadsheet, then iWork Beta is a great (free!) option.

How to Teach Online

I am enrolling in another MOOC. I tried a few Coursera courses a while back, and did not successfully complete a single one of them. They were great while I was in them, but I just did not have the time to really engage them. Mind you, I was concurrently enrolled in two MFA courses and a Masters thesis... so in retrospect the lack of time was something I should have figured in advanced. They say the eyes are bigger than the stomach, and likewise the intention is often greater than the allotted free time.

In any event, being on the last legs of my thesis, and working in an an environment that is rapidly integrating e-learning into the curriculum, I figure that the "How to Teach Online" MOOC offered by the University of Hawaii might be something I can devote the proper amount of time and attention to.

The course is asking students to post about  their progress, and about class assignments on personal blogs, the feeds of which will be aggregated by the course. So if you see the label "tomooc" on a post, it's just me submitting an assignment.

I'm hoping this will be informative.