Happy Labor Day

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Due to the holiday, there’ll be no Learning for Life Online post today. Enjoy your day in the sun (if you’re in New England) and we’ll be back on the 10th to start a month of exploring visual life online. See you next week!

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A Rocket in Your Pocket – Apps for Students

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One of the ways to make any student’s life easier is to give her the tools she needs. With smartphone and tablet use rising, apps for students can be those tools. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the better apps for students of all ages.

Note: I’ve tried to find free or low-cost apps. There are higher-costs apps with more bells and whistles, but there might also be a free version that gives you the basics you need. Shop around.

Familiar Names, In An App

  • SparkNotes has a free app for both iPhone/iPad and Android devices. Access study guides online or offline, and check in to SparkNotes to find other students in your area studying the same thing.
  • Cliffs Notes has apps for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch that will help you review texts in English. The app is free, and each study guide is $1.99 (much cheaper than the print versions). They also have a free CramCasts, three-minute overviews of literary works in a podcast that you can subscribe to.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica’s apps are geared at kids, but anyone can use them to learn more about snakes, knights & castles, US Presidents, and the solar system.
  • Dictionary.com is a great web-based dictionary/thesaurus, now available as an app for iPhone and Android.
  • There are several graphing calculator apps out there, but here’s a few for iPhone (one for free and one that costs $1.99) and Android (free and also free)

New Tools to Try

  • Evernote is a note-taking and list-making app for iPhone, iPad, and any Apple computer. What makes it awesome is that it will sync up those notes and list from one device to the next, so you always have the same updated information in front of you. No more copying things over or emailing to yourself.
  • Quizlet is a flash card website and app that lets you create your own flashcards or study using existing ones.
  • Flash card creation apps like StudyDroid (Android) and gFlash (iPhone/iPad)
  • Outliner for iPhone and iPad easily helps you break any project or paper down into an outline and task list.
  • Adding to last week’s post on time management, here’s iProcrastinate, a Mac/iPhone app that helps organize and break down large projects.

Not an App, but a Neat Site

WebElements.com is a site for high school and college students of all levels that has an amazing amount of information about the elements in a useful format. You can also buy all sorts of posters and displays to help remember more about the elements.

Many, many many more

There are hundreds of apps out there that are great for students of all sorts. Use your favorite search engine to find one on a subject you need, for the device you have. Just type in the subject you want, then “app for” and the device you have. You should get a few great lists to start with. You can also search the iTunes App Store or Android Market/Google Play for more.

Resources

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From “To Do” to “It’s Done” – Online task management

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One obvious way to use online tools for school and study is to help keep things organized.

What Is It?

There are different tools that will keep track of your to do lists for you, but they all have the same basic features. You can create specific tasks, organize them into lists or projects, set due dates for each task, and view these tasks in a single agenda or project-by-project. Some tools can do more, like send you notifications of tasks as they are due, or give you a mobile app for your smartphone to use wherever you go.

To see a variety of to do list tools, take a look at these:

How Is It Useful?

When you write out your to do lists on pieces of paper or on a calendar on the wall at home, it’s easy to lose track of updating the list or remembering what was due when. Using an online task organizer, you can keep that list in one place and get to it wherever you can connect to the web. If you have a smartphone or tablet, it’s even easier. Just like all of the online account or online collaboration tools we’ve looked at, it’s about keeping things in one easily-accessible place and not having lots of information in different spots.

Try It Out

If you have an online account with Google, Yahoo! or Hotmail/WindowsLive, use the help below to create a basic to do list and try organizing just one project to start with. It might be a class you’re taking, a report you’re writing, or even a project at home. Don’t try to organize everything all at once – start with something simple and add projects as you get the hang of it.

For a little more organization, or if you don’t have an online account, give one of other tools a try. Remember the Milk and Todoist are the simplest to use, but all of them are good for different kinds of projects. Look at the lists of features and see what works for you.

Help & Resources

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Classrooms Without Walls

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As folks head back to school, let’s spend the rest of August finding ways to study and learn from wherever you are: still on vacation, away in a dorm room, or hanging out at recess. Watching TED talks is fun, but sometimes you need a little more structure.

What Is It?

After more than ten years of colleges and universities offering some kind of online access to courses for their students, today anyone can find lectures, courses, and more available online – some for free, some for a reasonable fee. Here’s a few to give you an idea of what’s out there.

Free Resources, Open to Everyone

  • Wikiversity was created by the same people who started Wikpiedia. Educators and experts worldwide offer free educational resources and courses on hundreds of topics.
  • Several universities are offering online courses that you can explore at your own pace, or take with a registered class of other students. Check out what’s available from MIT’s OpenCourseware project, Stanford’s Free Online Courses, Open Yale Courses, and Harvard’s Open Learning Courses.
  • Imagine searching for lectures as easily as you look for the latest pop hits? That’s the premise behind iTunesU. If you have iTunes on your computer, open it up and click on the iTunes Store, then iTunes U up at the top. Search for a subject you’re interested in and then subscribe to listen or watch it.
  • For online courses from around the globe, read through this list of 200 Free Online Classes to Learn Anything from the Online Education Database

Something brand new and very different is the edX project, a partnership between Harvard University, MIT, and University of California at Berkeley to offer free courses online. Unlike the resources above, edX does require registration and will offer a certificate after you complete a subject of study. Read more about edX and ‘the future of online education.’

Paid Courses

  • Looking to learn more about computer programs you need for work or school? Try Lynda.com, a resource for online training tutorials. For a monthly or annual subscription, you have access to nearly 1500 tutorials on everything from Microsoft Word to Adobe Photoshop and more.
  • Many colleges and universities offer formal distance-learning programs, but the University of Phoenix has one of the most well-known online degree programs.
  • The Museum of Modern Art in New York offers art courses online, both self-study and instructor-led. Discover art from MoMA from wherever you are!

How Is It Useful?

World-class education, for free, from whatever computer or mobile device you have that can get to the internet. Learn at your own pace, on whatever subject you like, whenever you have time, wherever you are. How isn’t this useful?

Try It Out!

Take a look at a class from any of the resources above and listen to a recorded lecture, read through the notes, or watch a video. Expand your mind and get back in gear for learning.

Help & Resources

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TED Talks – Inspiring, Educational, Wonderful

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Since the first week of August is apparently one of the busiest travel weeks of the year in the United States, let’s take a look at a perfect travel companion: TED Talks

What Is It?

TED logoStraight from the About page: TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

TED helps find and spread ideas worldwide in many ways:

Anyone can watch the hundreds of TED Talks available at the TED website. They range from just three to 20 minutes long, and are on every topic imaginable. Use the search facets on the left to find talks that appeal to you, or just keep browsing and clicking on whatever catches your eye.

There have also been at least two Boston-area TEDx events: TEDx Somerville and TEDx Boston. These self-organized events bring people together to share a TED-like experience, focused on locally-important topics. Take a look at the talks from TEDxSomerville and all four years of TEDxBoston.

Why Is It Useful?

Once you’re out of school, it’s harder to find lessons in life that will challenge you or get you to imagine new possibilities and consider alternatives to ‘the way things have always been.’ Watching TED talks online bring some of the most amazing thinkers from around the world to your screen, and can fill you with hope and wonder. It’s as useful as anything else that makes you think, dream, and play.

Try It Out

Unless you happen to have a TEDx event coming up nearby, the best way to get to know TED is by watching TED Talks. Try these on for size…

For the rest of August, Learning for Life Online will focus on getting ready for the school year and showcase ways to help study, learn, and discover online. Whether you’re heading back to school or just looking for something to do over the winter, LLO will have something for you.

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Facebook Timeline…once more, with feeling!

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Good morning. Over the weekend, many Facebook users were told that as of August 4th, their profile pages would be switching to the new Timeline format. Let’s take a look at Timeline’s features and see how you can prepare for the big switch.

Facebook Timeline

New Features in Timeline

The major updates with Timeline are a new look for your own information and your Wall and an easier way to navigate a person’s history of posts in Facebook.

    Facebook Timeline's timeline
  • New layout. In Timeline, there’s a Cover photo up at the top (just like on many websites), your information underneath, and then your posts down below. On a laptop or desktop computer, you’ll see two columns of posts. On a mobile device (smartphone or tablet), you’ll just see one. The stories scroll down the page in reverse chronological order – newest first and older as you go.
     
  • Timeline to get to older posts. One of the big problems with the old profile page is that you could only go back a few dozen posts at a time. There was no way to see what you or someone else had written last month, last year, or back when you started on Facebook. Now, there’s a ‘timeline’ off to the upper right – just click on a year or month to look at posts from that time.
     
  • Cover photo. This image should be a large-ish, interesting picture either taken by you, of you, or is of something important to you. It’s the first thing people will see when they look at your Timeline, and you can have fun with it. Later this week, we’ll be adding a separate post on uploading photos to Facebook, to walk you through the process of adding a Cover photo.
     
  • New kinds of updates. From your timeline, you can add different Life Events and use Facebook as a true online documentary of your life.
    Facebook Life Events menu
     

A Few Facebook Tips

  • Change settings easily. Watch what happens when you put your cursor over things on the screen. There are a lot of settings hidden in plain sight on Facebook pages. Put your cursor over text, images, and empty boxes on the page and wait a moment – a box with an X, a small gear, or some text might appear on the right to offer you choices. Click on them to see what your choices are.
     
  • Edit link previews. When you post a link, Facebook automatically creates the link and adds an image if there is one. Remove the image by clicking the box next to No Thumbnail. Change the description by clicking on the text until it turns yellow, then delete or type until it says what you want it to.
     
  • Unfollow posts. If you’re tired of getting notifications for new comments on a post you’ve commented on, Unfollow it. Up at the top left, click on the globe icon and put your cursor over the latest notification for that post. Click on the X that appears in the box, and then click on Unfollow.
    Facebook's Unfollow feature
     
  • Create lists of friends. Now you can create different lists of friends, so you can easily choose which people can see which posts. Make a “Close Friends” list for the people you know well, add your parents and cousins to “Family,” and keep your “Work Friends” separate. You can also click on the list name under Friends on the left side of your News Feed page to just view posts by those people.
     

Why some folks don’t like it

Facebook has been moving users to the new Timeline for a few months now, and many people have said they don’t like it. Some don’t like the layout, some think it’s slow to load, some think it’s just broken. Some people don’t like the fact that it’s easier to get to older posts, and some don’t like all the ‘extra work’ they think the new layout makes them do.

But before you decide you don’t like it, please do three things:

  • Really try using it. Add a life event, look back at old posts you made when you first got on Facebook, add friends to lists, quickly and easily change settings on a post. Like your parents said, “Try it before you say you hate it.”
  • Remember that it only affects your personal page. Your news feed page will stay just the same.
  • See what Timeline does really well, and what your News Feed page does well. Ask yourself if it might be okay for one to work one way and the other, another?

In the comments or on the Learning for Life Online Facebook page, tell me what you think of Timeline. Good or bad – we want to know.

Help & Resources

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Doodle Me This…

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When you’re trying to coordinate plans, one of the hardest things to do is to settle on a date and time. Why not use an online polling tool like Doodle to make that easier?

What Is It?

Doodle logoDoodle is a very simple tool that does just one thing: you quickly create a poll to let a group of people vote on a date and time for a meeting or event. That’s it – nothing fancy – and that’s what makes it great. In two minutes, you can set up a poll and send it out.

Once you’ve created the poll, send the web address to everyone who needs to vote. They visit the poll, enter their answers, and Doodle saves their responses right there for everyone to see. Participants can add a comment to give you more information, or they can just choose Yes, No, or (Yes) [Yes, if need be]. You get an email notification every time someone answers your poll, and you can change the poll if you need to add more options or update information.

How Does It Work?

First, you don’t need to set up an account to create a basic poll. Just visit Doodle and click on Schedule an Event. Fill in the information about your event and enter your email address to receive notifications and to get the Administration link for updating your poll.

Next, give your poll-takers a few options to pick from. Use the Basic calendar to just suggest days, or click on Calendar view to suggest both dates and times. Offer as many choices as you can, but not so many that no one will ever agree on a single day and time. In Basic Calendar, click on the days you want to include in the poll; in Calendar view, click and drag to choose blocks of time on each day you want. Click Next.

You can stay with a basic poll or click on Settings to pick from more options. This is most useful if you want to give your participants a “Yes, if need be” choice, or force them to pick just one option.

Finally, click on Finish to complete the poll. Doodle will send you two emails: one with the link to send out to your poll-takers, and the other with the link for you to change the poll if you need to. Copy and paste the poll link into an email message and send it to everyone whose opinion you want. They’ll reply, and you’re on your way to a decision!

See a finished product at Doodle’s example poll.

Why Is It Useful?

Like many other online tools, Doodle is most useful because you can keep everything in one location, where everyone who needs to can see everything at the same time. Similar to Anyvite, PerfectPotluck, or any of the online collaboration tools we’ve looked at, the best thing about Doodle is that it gets rid of the dozens of emails or phone calls you send back and forth trying to coordinate an event or a meeting or even just dinner with friends. There’s less of a chance that people could agree to two different times, or miscommunicate about what day everyone chose, or get stuck with any of the misunderstandings that happen when many people try to plan together.

Doodle also lets you make other decisions with votes from your friends. After you click on Schedule an event, click on Free text instead of sticking with the Basic calendar view. You can also go to the Functions and Products page and click on Make a Choice rather than Schedule an Event. You can poll friends about what sort of party to have, poll coworkers about the best gift to buy someone who’s leaving, or poll family about what to do for Mom’s birthday.

Try It Out

Are you trying to agree on a day or time to make plans with friends? Put together a simple Doodle poll and send it out to them, asking them to vote on the days that work best for them. You could even use it to arrange a good night for a babysitter, a good time for a working lunch, or a good day to visit the library! Any question that could use some opinions is a good one for a poll.

Help & Resources

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Getting all together – Evite, Anyvite and other invitation tools

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Anyvite logoWhen you’re planning parties this summer (or any time), online tools can make it easy to invite guests, track RSVPs, and send out messages and updates. Different tools have different features, but most of them will let you:

  • Create an event that includes the what, where, and when information
  • Send invitations to guests using email addresses or social network messages
  • Receive notifications as people RSVP
  • Easily send messages out ot all invitees, or any group of RSVP type (asking the Maybes to say yes or no, for instance)
  • Update event information on the page and notify guests of changes
  • Link to a map or directions to your event

Some tools will also help you organize a potluck or other party contributions, let you pick themes and offer recipe and decor suggestions, or include other party planning fieatures.

How Does It Work?

First, choose what tool you’re going to use. These are some of the more well-known invitation tools online:

  • Evite.com – the most well-known invitation tool; owned by Yahoo, but you don’t need a Yahoo account to use it
  • Anyvite.com – an alternative to Evite; simple to use
  • Punchbowl.com – a full party planning site
  • Signupgenius.com – think of it like an online sign-up sheet posted on a bulletin board; create a sign-up list for anything from a party to a potluck to a volunteer schedule

You can also use the event scheduling features of some social networks to create events and invite guests:

  • Facebook event is great if you and your guests use FB
  • Google Plus (G+) lets you easily create and manage events if you use G+ or just have a Google account
  • Tweetvite helps you invite folks to an event using Twitter
  • Google Calendar (or any other online account calendar) will let you create an event on your calendar and then invite others to it. If you want the basics, this is enough.

Then, create an event. You might need to sign up with the tool first, or it might let you just get going. Click Create an event or whatever the button is, and then fill in the day, time, location and other details. Click Save and you’ve done most of the work.

Next, there will be an option to Invite or Add Guests. Click on that and enter your guests’ email addresses or choose from a list of your social network friends. There will probably be a place to type in a message inviting them to the event – add something cheerful but don’t repeat all the information in the event itself. When you’ve got everyone entered, click on Send to send out the invitations.

If you need to change the event information or add guests, you can do that at any time. The tool you use will probably ask whether you want to send a message out with the updates or email the new guests – do this so your guests know that something has changed. You can also Send a Message to all guests or just folks who have RSVPd yes or maybe to give them the new details or remind them that the event is coming up. Some invitation tools will automatically add your event to your guests’ online calendars, and send them reminders as the date of the event approaches.

Since you probably used your email address to create the event or sign up for the tool, you’ll receive notifications as your guests RSVP. If not, you can always go back and visit your event to see who has said yes, no, or maybe so far.

Once the event is over, your event page can stay up as a place for people to leave messages telling you what a great time they had, or you can hide it. That’s usually your choice, depending on the tool you used.

How Is it Useful?

What’s most useful about this is that it lets you keep all your event information in one place, online, where your guests can see it and keep track of it and their RSVPs. It also lets you easily track RSVPs and attendance numbers for your event, and might even let you manage potluck or other party contributions all in the same spot. Just like many of the other things we’ve looked at, it’s a one-stop party planning powerhouse of a tool.

Try It Out

If you have Yahoo or Google, it’s easy to just create an event in your online calendar and invite a few guests using their email addresses.

If you want to do a bit more, try out Anyvite or Punchbowl for a complete party planning experience. Push the buttons and see what special features each tool has, and see which one works best for you and the event you’re planning.

If you’ve found any other online party planning or invite tools to be really helpful, post them in the comments below.

Help & Resources

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What to bring? – coordinating with PerfectPotluck

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Hope your 4th of July was exciting in all the best ways. Today on Learning for Life Online, let’s continue the food theme and look at ways to make sure you don’t have 15 macaroni salads at your next backyard BBQ. You could just have everyone email you what they’re bringing, but then you have to keep track of it all and let folks know when they need to pick something else.

Instead, why don’t you try an online tool that all of your guests can see and add to themselves – something like Perfect Potluck?

What Is It?

Perfect PotluckPerfect Potluck is exactly what it sounds like: a place to coordinate what people are bringing to a group potluck.

Perfect Potluck is simple to use – just click on Click Here to Create a Group Meal and fill out the form with all your event details. It asks for your phone number, but you don’t have to enter your real number if you don’t want to. It’s just there for your guests to contact you, and if they have your number already, you’re all set. In the same way, you don’t have to add your address if your guests know where you live, but if you do add it, Perfect Potluck will include a link to a map for your guests to use.
Perfect Potluck sign-up block

For the potluck categories below, you can keep the ones that are already there or delete them and type in your own. You need to add a quantity of at least 1 item for your category to show up on your potluck sign-up list. After the categories, add details like time and other instructions in the Notes section. If you have any useful links for your guests (like Yummly!), you can add them.

When you’re done, click on Submit Group Meal Details and you’re all set. You’ll get an email with a link to your sign-up page. Send that link to your guests using plain email, an invitation or party-planning site (we’ll cover those next week), or an online calendar or Facebook event invite.

When your guests click on the link, they’ll visit your Perfect Potluck sign-up page. They can see what other people are already bringing and choose something to fill in the holes. All they have to do to sign up is click on Take next to whatever they want to bring. The only required field is their email address – they can fill in whatever else they’d like. They can also go back to the link and change their reply at any time.
Perfect Potluck guest sign-up

How Is It Useful?

The big answer to this is that you don’t have a hundred emails or phone calls flying back and forth about what people are bringing. There’s a single list, in a single place, that everyone can see and add to. Better still, that list is online and always accurate, unlike paper lists that might have duplicates. Guests with smartphones can even check the list while in the store on the way to the potluck, helping out with last-minute needs.

An online potluck tool cuts down on the duplication, the hassle, and the potential for too much pasta.

Try It Out

If you’re planning a potluck or any group meal, try out Perfect Potluck or any of the other tools on the list below.

Other online potluck tools:

Help & Resources

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Mmmmm….Yummly

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Happy 4th of July!…a little early. For the month of July, Learning for Life Online will higlight tools that help with party and travel planning. From holiday BBQs to potlucks to block parties, from a day trip to a two-week vacation, online tools can make organizing people and things easy as pie.

For those last-minute recipes for 4th of July cookouts, let’s start with the best recipe-finder I’ve seen: Yummly.

What Is It?

Yummly logoYummly is a specialized search engine just for recipes. You type in words to search for – “avocado salad” – and then let Yummly deliver you hundreds of recipes that match those terms.

Limits for searching on Yummly.comThat would be useful enough, but Yummly uses limits – called facets – to let you narrow the list of results down to exactly what you’re looking for.

Use the top two fields to find recipes that do or do not have specific ingredients by typing next to the minus or plus signs. Click on and slide the grey dots under Taste to choose the flavors in your recipes. Like salty food? Slide the Salty facet over to the right. Hate Spicy food? Slide the Spicy facet all the way to the left. Leave any that you don’t care as much about in the middle at No Preference.

Blow these facets, click on the boxes next to Allergies and Diets to find recipes that are good for people with those needs, and use the sliders under Nutrition to find healthier options. Other limit options include specific budgets, courses, time you to prepare, holidays and more.

For all of these facets, click on the box or pull the slider to change the option, then click again or pull the slider another way to change them back. You don’t need to redo your search or use the Back button to get back to where you were.

The search results down the middle of the screen list the ingredients for easy choosing, and each recipe has a star rating for quality. Click on a dish to see the whole recipe with instructions and nutritional information. Email yourself the recipe for later use, or print it out.

Each recipe has a suggested number of servings, but if you need more or fewer, just change the number in the box and click on Change. The recipe quantities [should] change to make the new number of servings. [Note: as of post time, this feature wasn’t working quite right. We hope it comes back soon!]

You can do all of this without signing in or creating an account, but if you set up a Yummly account, you can also Favorite and Save recipes, add ratings, and do many other things.

How Is It Useful?

Just imagine: you’re cooking dinner for 6 friends, one of whom is a vegetarian and another who has a gluten allergy. You are allergic to tomatoes. You’re serving roast chicken, but you need help with the side dishes and an entree for your vegetarian friend. Search on the word “pasta” or “salad,” then use the facets to find vegetarian gluten-free recipes to complete your menu. Add any ingredients you have already, and exclude anything with tomatoes in them. What would have taken many searches using different recipe sources online (like Epicurious or Food Network) happens in minutes using Yummly.

Try It Out

Cooking for the 4th? Or just looking for some new ideas? Search for your favorite kind of food and use the facets to quickly limit the results down to exactly what you’re looking for. If you find a great recipe, share the link in the comments below! If you really want to use Yummly as an online kitchen helper, sign up for an account.

Help & Resources

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