Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Holidays

I just wanted to stop by for a minute to wish everyone Happy Holidays and a 2011 full of new discoveries with my favorite video of this holiday season. See you next year!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

14 great tools for teaching, learning and collaboration

When delivering introductory courses for teachers that want to start using Moodle, the most popular LMS used in Slovenian schools, I also like to share a list of my favorite tools that can be used with Moodle or independently. I think it's important for teachers to realize that a LMS can be a good starting point if you want to provide your students with an online hub for your course, but that there are many other tools out there that are better suited for certain needs.

And I just realized I haven't shared this list on my blog yet, so here it is: 14 great tools that can help teachers create interactive content, collaborate, and facilitate learning. All of these tools are free and available either online or on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac).

Desktop software

 Hot Potatoes - a simple, free tool for creating quizzes and other interactive activities that can be easily included into Moodle.

 eXeLearning - a free, open source software for creating and publishing web content. Teachers can easily export content into SCORM and add it to Moodle. Great for our teachers because it's also available in Slovenian (and other languages).

Xmind - an open source brainstorming and mind mapping tool.

Google tools

Google Docs - easy to use collaborative tool for documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

 Google Sites - a simple tool for creating web pages.

Blogger - free, simple to use blogging platform. If my grandpa can use it, so can your non-tech savy teachers and students. Love the fact that you can have private blogs, available only to specified readers.

Picasa and Picasa web albums - Google's free image organizer and editor that also supports free web albums. I admit - I don't really use Picasa (I have iPhoto on my Macs), but my grandpa loves it, so I like to recommend it to non-Mac folks.


ScreenToaster - free online screen recorder. Can easily be used for simple screencasts.

Audacity - open source audio editing software. Again, as an iLife user, I don't really use it myself, but I know a lot of teacher who use it in classrooms.

Anywhere, anything

Evernote - my absolutely favorite tool for notes and what not. I use it to write drafts fro blog posts or messages for my students, to save notes while grading, as a collection of links and ideas and so much more. I love the fact that it's both a desktop and online app, so you can really access all your notes from anywhere (even on my mobile phone).

Google Reader - web RSS reader. My favorite way of keeping track of blogs on all sorts of different subjects.

Dropbox - I've got to agree with their tagline: "the easiest way to store, sync, and, share files online". I even know teachers that use Dropbox to collect student's assignments, and it's also great as a personal backup tool and as a way to collaborate on files with others.


SlideShare - my favorite tool for sharing presentations that can easily embedded almost anywhere on the web.

Scribd - simple tool for publishing docs and embedding them almost anywhere on the web.

And that's it, that's the list of tools I like to show to teachers starting to explore digital learning and learning. Yes, yes, I know there are many other tools that would deserve to be on the list, so I also provide a link to Jane Hart's amazing Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010 List (but a list of 14 items is usually easier to digest for beginners).

So, here's my questions for you: which 14 tools would your put on your list, while keeping in mind they should be easy enough for beginners and freely available on all platforms? Let me know in the comments!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sharable Bits: Heroes in Our Lives, Clickers, Search Zeitgeist

Photos: Superhero Therapy for Grandma

More photos and info at My Modern Metropolis

Why it's worth sharing: French photographer Sacha Goldberger managed to help his grandma overcome depression by dressing her up as a superhero and making some amazing photos along the way. I love the photos - the fact that they helped the photographer's grandma smile again, and as a reminder that it only takes a little imagination to make those we love feel special. After all, we all need a little attention now and then, and the knowledge that we matter to someone, don't we?

Tool: Clickers, a simple technology for classrooms

Donald Clark provides seven simple uses and advantages of using clickers in his post Clickers: mobile technology that will work in classes

Why it's worth sharing: Mobile clickers provide a great example of how much we can do with simple tools that are applied in the right way. You don't have to invest a lot of money to buy expensive tools with limited use. Instead, focus on more versatile tools, like clicker mobile apps that will work on students' existing equipment.

Video: Google Zeitgeist 2010: Year in Review

Why it's worth sharing: With the year ending, everyone is making lists and recaps of the main events of the year coming to an end. Google's video Zeitgeist is my favorite recap so far. It reminds us of the challenges we face, the tragedies, but also of the achievements, things that made us smile. I guess I'd just like to thank Google for all the successful searches in the past year and for helping me find my way around the web. How the hell did we find anything before we had Google? :)

Sharable Bits is a series of weekly posts that will highlight some of the most interesting bits and bytes that I stumble upon. No bad news, just ideas that inspire, touch or entertain in a unique way.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Embracing the mind games and bad runs

I recently came across the following short movie about the mind games runners face when choosing to run and challenge themselves on a daily basis. I think it's a great snapshot if internal battles that go through our heads when we try to do something outside our comfort zone:

Yes, it's hard to go out and run with temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius, it's hard to go out and run in rain or even snow. And when you do it, the internal battles don't end. You think you won't be able to run more than a mile today, your legs are heavy, the water puddle appears out of nowhere and your feet are wet now... The list of "reasonable" excuses seems endless.

And this isn't specific to running, of course. We play that sort of mind games when it comes to other tasks that are difficult and (usually) non urgent. Going into super productive mode when facing a deadline or pressure from someone comes naturally to us, but when you choose to do something for your own good, like a New Year's resolution... ah, that's when the mind games come into play.

And it's that sort of mind games I personally often face when it comes to blogging. I'll finish this blog post tomorrow... What if my ideas aren't good enough? Someone is better at this than I am...

But if there's something I've learnt from running on my own, it's that the effort pays off in the end. Mind games are part of the challenge, and the trick is to take it slowly, one run at a time, stick to your schedule, and not let the bad runs stop you. Oh yes, there will be bad runs in the mix, you can count on it. But in the end it's those runs that count the most and make you stronger. Because afterwards, you feel like a hero, and you won the game against the part of you that wants to keep you safe by doing nothing.


So, what are you waiting for? Go take that run, publish that blog post that has been collecting dust as a draft for way too long now, take the trip you've always wanted to take, start that big personal project you've been putting off. Just don't fear the bad runs.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Saving bear cubs in Cataclysm - or - the story of why e-learning needs game designers

This week Cataclysm, the third, long-awaited expansion for the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft (WoW), has finally been released. The expansion brought many changes to the game and completely redesigned Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms, the two old continents that have been part of the game since its launch. In a sense, it does feel like a new game all together, and even experienced players have to relearn many aspects of the game.

But I'm not here to talk about all the game changes and complain about the missing portals in Outland and Northrend. Instead, I'd like to play a bit with some of the new elements of the game that facilitate learning and could be used to improve serious (aka not fun) online learning.

It must be said that WoW has never been a difficult game to learn. The basic mechanics and interface elements are pretty straightforward and easy to pick up even for casual players like myself. But I've got a feeling they took everything even a step further in the new expansion. Let's take a look at examples I've encountered so far as I'm trying to level up my gnome mage to level 85. So please, hop on my flying gryphon, so I can show you around.

Just in time learning

Cataclysm seems to be really good at providing simple tips to guide you through the game. For instance, as you reach a new level, you get notified of any new abilities or talent points that are available to you. A small, but very useful reminder.

Similar tips have also been implemented in some of the quests (missions you complete in the game). Apart from tips and hints in the quest instructions, you now also get easy to follow tips as you do the quest. For instance, tips on the procedure needed to complete the quest: 1) equip the lance, 2) now mount the bird, 3) ok, now click the button to flap the wings and make the bird fly! Easy to understand, and displayed just when you need it; you're not told how to fly the bird unless you've got your lance ready and have saddled up the bird.

Sounds simple, yes? So why don't we display tips like that in our online learning environments? "Stuck on the task? Head to the forum and ask for help!" And by the way, by tips I don't mean a whole set of complex instructions; we all know few people read the manual. By tips I mean simple to understand one line suggestions on what you should do next. For example, "Don't forget to replace the lance with your main weapon after you've completed the quest!"

Challenges you care about

While they are still many "Kill n of X, so I can make Y" quests in Cataclysm, you now often get quests that are more meaningful and more fun to do. For instance, one of the quests asked me to climb a tree, pick up the young bear cubs stuck in the trees, climb to the top, and toss them on a trampoline, so they can return to safety. I've got to admit I wanted to keep saving the cubs even after I saved the required amount for the quest!

What makes this quest great is that players can easily relate to the theme. You surely don't want to leave adorable bear cubs stranded in the trees, do you? The quest isn't just something you have to do to get more experience points, but something you want to do because you care about the bears (and because it's fun to climb trees).

Similarly, we're all more willing to learn about things we care about. And we care about things that are relevant to us, about things that touch us on an emotional level. And that can be achieved by telling great stories. Not stories like "Annie has 6 marbles and loses 2, how many does she have left?" (who the hell is Annie and why should I care?), but stories that capture our imagination, that get us involved. How do I save the bears? Won't they get hurt after I toss them on the trampoline?

Making the player feel part of something bigger

Games have always done a great job at making players feel special. You're the hero, the future of the world is in your hands; only you can save the princess! And WoW has always emphasized the importance of your actions through quests texts and interactions with various non-player characters in the game. But in Cataclysm, there is even more emphasis on making your storyline personalized (using phasing technology), especially in the starting zones that you go through as a new character.

The experience of starting a new worgen character is a great story on its own, told over and over again for each new player. You start as a human character, helping your people defend your city, which is under attack by the savage worgen beasts. As you're trying to get more help, you get bitten by one of the creatures, and at one point, you find yourself in jail, accused of turning wild. The world changes around you and the non-player characters help you to fill in the story of what's going on.

Similarly, as a high level player you are told to take a mercenary ship that will take you to one of the new continents of the expansion. While you wait for the ship to arrive, a group of Stormwind soldiers chatters around you about the recent world events, the Cataclysm. And just by listening to the soldiers, you can learn about what's new and about Deathwing, the dragon that is the cause of all the changes brought by Cataclysm.

It doesn't feel like homework, like something you have to do. You just casually listen in to the conversation the characters around you are having. It feels authentic, and it makes the Cataclysm story seem more believable, more tangible.

And a meaningful narrative is often what we fail to convey in online learning environments. We provide students with a series of resources and activities that will supposedly guide them to achieve the desired learning outcomes, but it's usually all boring, disconnected from reality, just an endless to-do list... Well, it isn't learning if it isn't hard, right? Well, no, I believe there must be a way to place fun and learning in the same bag.

Being an active member of the group pays well

Speaking of making the player feel special; Cataclysm also introduced a guild leveling system. Guilds (groups of players) now get experience points through various activities by their members. As a guild levels up, its members can get special perks and abilities. In order to use guild abilities, you have to build up your reputation with your guild by being an active player. So basically, it pays well to be loyal and active in your guild.

WoW Guild (source:

Compare that to how groups usually work in our classes. Students, who do nothing, often get rewarded by choosing an active group that covers up for the inactive "player". Sucks, right? Well, it could be fixed if we also measured a student's "loyalty" to the group, just like in WoW. Unless you contribute enough, you just can't get the group perks (i.e. a good grade), so you're encouraged to play nicely with others and complete group tasks.

But my class just can't compete with WoW ...

I know what you might be thinking - it's easy to talk about having fun in immersive games like WoW, but making learning fun is just too difficult. Well, guess what? Making games fun isn't an easy job either! Good game design is both science and art that is difficult to master, and it takes tons of trials and errors to get it just right. WoW has been around since 2004 and in every expansion you can see big, gradual improvements in game design.

So, what I'm suggesting is that we find better ways to apply the lessons learned by game designers to our online learning environments and instructional design. E-learning will probably never be as fun as playing WoW, but can't we all just try a little harder to make learning a bit more engaging than flipping through sleep inducing "interactive" courseware, and to start telling our students meaningful stories? Perhaps we won't be saving bear cubs in class, but there are many other missions we all care about and can teach us about what we need to know along the way.

And it doesn't need to be in 3D or full immersive environments. With a little imagination and clever game design I suspect we could turn our boring text-centered Learning Management Systems into Learning Experience Enabling Technology - LEET systems. We all know many teachers are great storytellers; we just need to find a way to enable them to tell better stories online as well.

Related posts:

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sharable Bits: The Mystery of Life, Firefox Cuteness, Winter Running

Discovery: Life built with toxic chemicals

Mono Lake Research area (source: NASA)

Why it's worth sharing: When NASA announced a press conference about a new discovery related to astrobiology, many were hoping for a confirmation of extraterrestrial life. The actual news wasn't as huge as expected - they found a bacteria living on arsenic right on our home planet - but it's still significant because it shows how little we actually know about life and how much we tend to assume. I certainly hope the discovery encourages us to keep looking further into space and deeper into our own planet.

More about the discovery:

News: Mozilla project protects the open web and endangered species with cuteness

Why it's worth sharing: Helping the open web and the insanely adorable red pandas all at once - what's not to like? :) Great initiative by the Mozilla Project that uses cuteness to remind us about the importance of preserving biodiversity on our planet. So, hop on to for a good dose of cuteness and help spread the word about this awesome project!

Idea: Walking and running on snow made safer

Winter arrived early this year with a big bag of snow. Sure, it's a nice view from the window when you don't have to go out, but snow quickly turns into an issue if you're planning on running outdoors throughout the winter. Luckily I found the perfect solution: YakTrax Pro ice grips that help prevent slipping on packed snow and can be worn on any regular shoe.

Why it's worth sharing: The most simple ideas can sometimes make a big difference. Not as big of a news as the NASA discovery or endangered species preservation, but nonetheless a great tool that will help me stay fit and healthy during the dark, cold winter. Staying in and being cosy is so tempting that I welcome anything that makes going out a bit easier. I'm actually looking forward to all the snow runs now!

Sharable Bits is a series of weekly posts that will highlight some of the most interesting bits and bytes that I stumble upon. No bad news, just ideas that inspire, touch or entertain in a unique way.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sharable Bits: Healthy Computer Use, Technology in Education, Magic iPad Fiddle

Blog post: Eye health in a digital world

Why it's worth sharing: A good reminder that there are several tools and approaches we can use to avoid health issues related to the use of digital devices. And as someone with several vision problems, I pay extra attention to what we can do to protect our vision. The blog post provides great starting tips, especially the one about taking regular breaks and remembering to blink (sounds obvious, but it isn't when you are engaged in an epic game battle or get caught in the flow). A tool I often like to use is Time Out, a simple break reminder app for Mac OS X.

Blog post: Technology in Education

Why it's worth sharing: A great showcase of technology use in education that work and are simple to understand. Always handy to have such lists ready when talking to technology skeptics, who think of anything digital as pure evil. Especially with the media habit of presenting the digital risks before the benefits. The recent NYTimes article Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction does explore both sides, but the headline is still all about distraction. Isn't it time to challenge that perception?

Video: Fiddle Quartet on the iPad

Why it's worth sharing: Seeing phones and tablets turned into music instruments with the help of magical mobile apps never stops to amaze me. And I can't wait to get an iPad just to try Magic Fiddle, the latest app from Smule (developers of Ocarina), which turns your iPad into a fiddle. Isn't it great to have a single, affordable device that works as dozens of instruments? I sure do hope it brings the joys of playing musical instruments into the hands of more people.

Related posts:

Sharable Bits is a series of weekly posts that will highlight some of the most interesting bits and bytes that I stumble upon. No bad news, just ideas that inspire, touch or entertain in a unique way.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Don't be afraid to break the "rules"

We often get caught in thinking about the right and wrong ways of using tools like presentations, blogs, Twitter, and what not. Sure, it helps to know what mistakes to avoid - death by PowerPoint anyone? - but that doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to the "10 rules of [insert sticky title]".

A great example: meet Travis Isaacs, user experience designer. He uses Keynote, a presentation software, to create wireframe prototypes for websites. Wait, what?

That's certainly not in any rulebook or manual, but it sure works. And Travis even figured out how to turn his approach into a product (more about that on Mashable: Essential Web Design Advice From a Wireframing Master).

Somehow that reminds me of a quote from the movie Pirates of The Caribbean:
Elizabeth: You have to take me to shore! According to the Code of the Order of the Brethren—
Barbossa: First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so I 'must' do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the Pirate's Code to apply, and you're not. And thirdly, the code is more what you call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner!

So, the next time you discover a fancy list of rules for using this and that, think about whether the rules apply to you (are you a pirate or are you a ninja?) and whether it would be helpful to improvise and invent new rules. Think of the usual ways of using a tool as guidelines, not rules. Sometimes a little hack goes a long way!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sharable Bits: Rethinking Innovation, Attention and Social Games

Idea: Rethink the status quo by looking at the big picture

"Facebook to launch e-mail killer" - a popular headline on tech blogs before this week's Facebook special event dedicated to their Messages service. But luckily, Facebook didn't listen and didn't launch (yet another) e-mail service. They tried to think about the way we communicate in a different way. Let's take a look at the simple idea behind the new Messages with social inbox:

Why it's worth sharing: Revolutionary design of a new product or service usually happens when you look at everything you know with a fresh perspective. It's not about adding a long list of features, it's not about pleasing the tech crowd. It's about figuring out what works and what people need (not say they want). And while Facebook doesn't always get things right, they do have the guts to think outside the box and seem to have a real passion about enabling stronger connections among friends. Kudos for that!

Idea: What are you doing to deserve the attention?

Ewan McIntosh uses a dialog from the movie The Social Network to remind us that we often assume we have (or deserve) the attention of our students, colleagues, and other audiences. Let's take a look at this great clip from the movie:

Why it's worth sharing: Stop assuming people will listen or care about what you have to say just because you're talking. Be prepared to earn the attention, trust and respect from your listeners. And that means not just caring about what you're talking about, but being prepared to present your message in a way that is relevant to the listeners. Want a good case study? Head over to Danah Boyd's blog and read about why “Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers.

Blog post: Social Games are here to stay

Why it's worth sharing: It's popular to dismiss the success of social games like FarmVille as a fad. But, as Ravi Mehta points out in his Mashable post, social games fill an important niche in the social web and are evolving with new approaches to social fun. And here's my favorite quote from the post:
"Throughout the history of entertainment media, content has been developed in short and long formats. Five hundred page novels, full-length feature films and television mini-series coexist harmoniously with blogs, 30-minute sitcoms and two-minute YouTube videos. Why? Because each format serves a different purpose and, without subsuming the other formats, manages to engage users in unique ways and for different reasons."

Sharable Bits is a series of weekly posts that will highlight some of the most interesting bits and bytes that I stumble upon. No bad news, just ideas that inspire, touch or entertain in a unique way.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sharable Bits: Living on Facebook, Buildings coming alive, Work smarter

On Sharable Bits: I decided to start a series of weekly posts that will highlight some of the most interesting bits and bytes that I stumble upon. No bad news, just ideas that inspire, touch or entertain.

Video: A life on Facebook

Why it's worth sharing: A life story told through Facebook status updates. Great music, great execution, the video makes you wonder about how our lives are seen through Facebook. On a related note, it's worth reading about why some teens deactivate their FB accounts every time they log out to keep total control of what their friends post about them. Facebook as a perfect, edited record of our lives?

Video: Buildings coming alive with 3D projections

Why it's worth sharing: Though an article on Mashable I came across the amazing work by NuFormer, a company that does incredible life-like 3D projections on buildings. It's mostly commercial work for various corporate clients, but I think their approach to bringing buildings alive is just awesome. It's great how their technology fits right in with the architecture of various building and how it adds another layer of experience to familiar object. I really hope to see/experience one of their projections live someday.

Idea: Working smarter not harder

Clive Shepherd reminds us that working harder is not always better, what matters is working smarter. He also shares the quote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson from ReWork:
"Not only is workaholism unnecessary, it’s stupid. Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more." 
(... more exerpts from ReWork)
Why it's worth sharing: It's good to remember that recharging your batteries now and then is ok. Don't get caught into the state of super busy, in which never ending meetings, shuffling papers and e-mails keep you busy, but don't allow you to get any real work done. Stop for a minute, think, breath, and figure out how to work smarter.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

7 things I love about Evernote

In the Web 2.0 era I don't really use a lot of desktop applications anymore - everything is on the web, right? But there is one application that I just can't imagine living without (even though you can also use it on the web): Evernote.

You might have heard of Evernote before - after all, it now has over 4 million (very happy) users. At its hearth, Evernote is a simple note taking app that works on almost every computer, phone and mobile device out there, and can instantly sync your notes across all your devices. You can use it as a repository for all your ideas - not just in shape of simple text notes, but also as webpages, photos, audio recordings and various files. For a nice overview of the service, check out the intro video below:

How can you not love a service that includes hard working cloud elephants? ;) If the video hasn't convinced you to give Evernote a try yet, here is my list of 7 things I love about Evernote:

1) Available anywhere

I love the fact that I always have access to Evernote, regardless of which computer or mobile device I'm using. And with the desktop version, I don't even have to be online to work with Evernote (very useful on train trips!). Most of the time, I use the Mac OS X desktop version, but I sometimes check notes on my Android phone or iPod Touch. And yes, there's also a Windows version, a web version and custom applications for major smartphone platforms (see the list of available downloads).

2) Free for basic use

Oh, did I mention it's free? You don't have to pay for basic use or any of the apps. But in case you need more space or want awesome features like Note history, you can go Premium for $5/month or $45/year. I'm still using the Free version, which has plenty of space for all my text notes, but I'm thinking of going Premium just because I find the service so useful.

3) Capture ideas, prepare them for publishing

With Evernote I finally have a single place to store all my ideas and little notes. No more sticky notes all over the desk, no more .txt files on the desktop, just one app. And I also find it great for transforming ideas I collect into drafts that I can move to blogs, text editing software etc. for final design and publishing. And yes, I also wrote the draft for this post in Evernote and only moved it to Blogger when it was nearly finished. I really prefer to write in the simple, clutter free Evernote window - I usually double click the note I'm working on and leave just that note window open.

4) Easy sync

I always use Evernote to take notes on my laptop during meetings. No more wasted paper and illegible hand written notes! And if you still need to draw something on paper or whiteboard, you can just take a picture of that and add it to your Evernote meeting note. The best part is getting home after meetings to find the latest notes already waiting for me on my desktop computer. In other words, no extra time needed to sort and read through notes, as I can start working right within Evernote.

5) Image recognition in the cloud

The cool part is that Evernote is not just a simple backup service for notes. In fact, the Evernote elephants in the cloud also do image recognition on any photos you add, so that it's easier for you to find your stuff. You can for instance use Evernote to scan and save images of business cards and Evernote makes sure all the text becomes searchable.

6) Different ways to search and sort

There are many different ways to sort notes in Evernote. I like to create new notebooks for major projects or areas of interests, and you can use tags to sort your notes even further. I must admit I'm pretty sloppy when it comes to using tags, but that's ok - Evernote doesn't mind that, and helps me find what I'm looking for through Search.

7) The magic Evernote Trunk

And if you're looking for ways to improve Evernote, look no further than into the Evernote Trunk! The Trunk, also accessible from the desktop applications, is basically a showcase of apps that work with Evernote and can enhance your Evernote experience. The Trunk has only been launched this summer, so I'm really looking forward to seeing more apps added in the future.

Nearly perfect for remembering everything

The only two feature requests I have for Evernote are better sharing/collaboration options within the desktop app and color coding for notes. But other than that, I really think Evernote is a great product that is simple, yet incredibly flexible and usable in all sorts of situations.

So, if you're not using Evernote yet, I suggest you give it a try and see how it works for you. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to use it - be creative and start adding your ideas in any format into your digital notebooks. And if you're looking for new ideas on how to use Evernote, check out the Tips and Stories section on the Evernote blog.

If you've got any good Evernote tips, let me know in the comments!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Imagining a mobile Moodle

For this year's 4th International Slovenian MoodleMoot I decided to explore the efforts being made to bring Moodle to mobile devices. I found several interesting projects in this field, although I think we're just starting to explore all possibilities, and that more interesting developments will follow in the next few years, especially when teachers start experimenting with things like geolocation, augmented reality and resources that can interact with sensors on mobile devices.

The main goal of my paper and presentation was to invite teachers to think about possibilities that mobile devices can offer for education and the ways we could embed mobile learning in Moodle, a well established Learning Management System.

Here's the abstract from my paper Taking Moodle Out of the Classroom: Making Learning Mobile, Context-Aware and Fun:

"Mobile devices are becoming increasingly more powerful, better connected and are able to provide better user experience and new services based around location and context of users, which opens new possibilities for learning. The paper presents an overview of mobile learning and the efforts being made to provide better support for mobile devices and learning activities/resources in Moodle. In conclusion we also present some future trends in mobile computing that could also provide new ways of learning on the go."

You can see a video of my presentation at the conference on YouTube (total length 15 min):

And if you'd like to learn more about the topic, you can read my full paper on Scribd:

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Having Fun and Getting Fit: An Overview of Exergames

With the arrival of Eye Toy for Playstation 2, the widely popular Nintendo Wii, and the upcoming release of Project Natal for Xbox, the term exergaming - the use of video games as a form of exercise - has started gaining popularity. But how effective are these games? Can you really get fit by playing, let's say, Wii Sports?

It's been a while since I've embarked on a quest to find the best exergame aka geek friendly exercise, and throughout the course of my journey I've tried out many different games (mainly on Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii), so I thought I'd do a little overview of what you can expect to gain from different types of exergames.

Casual Exergames: Lots of Fun with Friends

Examples: Wii Sports, Mario Cart Wii

Most Wii games fall into this category and I would also include games supposedly more focused on exercise, like Wii Sports. These games count on a limited amount of moves, and you don't even have to invest a lot of effort into the right moves to make it through the game. The focus is on fun rather than burning calories and these games usually won't hold your attention for long.

So, don't be fooled by the Sports in the title; these games won't really prepare you for any real sport, but the plus side is that they really are a lot of fun to play when you're having friends over!

Medium Intensity Exergames: Balancing Fun and Exercise

Examples: Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), Eye Toy Kinetic, We Cheer, Wii Fit

The games in this category can be quite demanding, especially if played on higher difficult levels, although they sometimes don't get your whole body moving (for instance, We Cheer is mostly a good exercise for your arms). But be prepared to spend a lot of time navigating menus, choosing exercises, songs and what not. Also, be prepared to invest some time in making sure your moves are detected properly, which can be quite frustrating and can spoil your immersion in the game. However, if everything works fine, these games provide a lot of fun and some exercise, but a lot of time is lost on pointless tasks (and if you're out of luck, a cumbersome navigation through menus).

The bottom line is: if you invest enough energy in these games, they can make you sweat, but you have to play these games a whole lot (read: at least an hour per session) before getting any real results.

High Intensity Exergames: Emphasizing Exercise

Examples: My Fitness Coach (Wii)

Interestingly enough, the highest intensity exergame I found for the Wii doesn't even use the motion sensing abilities of the Wiimote or the Wii Balance Board. It's just a continuos exercise routine that really gets you moving around. It's up to you to make sure you're doing the right thing, but if you're interested in getting fit, you should have the motivation for that anyway. What I like about My Fitness Coach is that you only have to choose the duration and daily focus of your workout, and everything else is done for you. No wasting time on menus, you're just asked to assess the difficulty of the workout after completing major sections, so that the next workouts can be adjusted accordingly. A great feature is also that you are asked to do a Physical Challenge every 10 workouts, so you can really track how your workout affects different parts of your body.

All in all, My Fitness Coach is a real exercise that will can have real effects on your fitness level if you decide to stick with it. And it's a nice way to get prepared for more difficult forms of exercise if you're starting from scratch.

Leaving the Game Consoles: Nothing Beats the Real Deal

Examples: Nike+

Not surprisingly, at the end of my exergame journey I came to the conclusion that nothing beats the real deal: going out and running. But as a true geek I wasn't prepared to settle for a workout without gadgets, so I decided to give Nike+ iPod Sports Kit a try. While it's not a true exergame, it's a great gadget that can keep you motivated and provides real-time feedback during your runs. After every run, I love to see how the latest run compares to previous ones, compete in different online challenges with or against other runners and set personal goals to beat.

As you can see from my profile, I haven't been using Nike+ for long, but I find it very easy to decide to go for a run after seeing how close I am to a goal or how other runners are beating my distance. Nike+ brings elements of games to real exercise and that I think is the winning combination.

Exergames: Easy Start and a Filler Activity

So, what exactly is the role of exergames then? Are they worth it?

If you're looking for something that will help you to get up from the couch, I'd suggest starting with some of the Medium Intensity Exergames I listed and then progress to Higher Intensity or outdoor activities. Having fun can really make you appreciate exercise and I found less intensive games like Wii Fit to be a great way to get used to regular workouts, but you'll probably soon feel the desire to progress to something more demanding (especially if you want visible results).

Apart from providing an easy start, exergames can also provide you with an exercise option on days when you feel like taking a little break, but still want to workout. For example, my current workout routine includes Nike+ running around 3 times a week and My Fitness Coach in between to strengthen specific body muscles. And when I just feel like having fun, a dose of We Cheer can also provide some light exercise.

To sum it up: exergames do have some positive effects, but don't rely on exergames alone to get fit. I can certainly recommend using them as a fun way to encourage and maintain regular exercise - but don't forget that there are also gadgets like Nike+ that can make serious outdoor activity more enjoyable.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Facebook News Feed and Social Games: How to Manage the Spam?

One of the most important things for a pleasant Facebook experience for you and your friends is knowing how to manage your Wall and News Feed, which I suspect is not something that a lot of Facebook users know how to do well. That's why I decided to share some tips on how to deal with "spam" created by social applications and games like FarmVille and how to peacefully coexist with your friends whether you're a social gamer or not.

How not to spam all your friends while enjoying social games

Let's start with some tips for social gamers. Our favorite social games would like nothing more than let all of our friends know how much fun we're having in the game. And while we appreciate the treasures our friends post to our News Feed, we also have friends who just don't see the appeal of farm life and similar hobbies (yet!). So, what can you do if you want to keep sharing lost animals, eggs, fuel and what not with your game friends, but at the same time don't want to spam your friends who hate the game?

The solution is pretty simple: use Friend Lists. Friend Lists can be created and managed by choosing Edit Friends from the Account menu (top right). Once you create your game list, you can add your game neighbors to that Friend List and whenever you're prompted to publish something on your wall, make it visible only to your game friend list. For instance, I have a Friend List for all my active FarmVille neighbors and whenever I post something, I make sure only people on that list get to see it:

Step 1: Before Publishing a story, click on the privacy lock and select "Customize"

Step 2: Select "Specific People" in the "Make this visible to" drop-down menu and start typing the name of your game specific Friend List;
Save Settings and you're ready to Publish your update

Yes, it does take some time to set up the list and manually manage all posts, but on the plus side you don't have to bother your students, coworkers, clients or whoever with your FarmVille addiction (unless you want to) and you will avoid complaints about your FarmVille "spam" from friends, who haven't yet discovered the magic Hide option in the News Feed (more about that in a minute). But don't forget to check back on your game Friend List(s) once in a while to add your new game buddies or remove friends that have stopped playing the game.

Another helpful thing you can do if you don't want to see your profile Wall cluttered with various game updates, is to prevent games from publishing short stories on your wall. You can do that by choosing "Application Settings" from the "Account" menu (top right). Find your application on the list, click on "Edit Settings" and check the "Additional Permissions" tab in the box that opens.

I love you FarmVille, but please don't spam my wall:
I always uncheck the "Publish recent activity" option for games

Bonus tip: don't spam all your friends with game invites. Send invites only when you really think a certain person is going to enjoy the game or application you are playing. And don't send various in-game gifts to friends that are not playing your game!

How to hide or block unwanted apps your friends play

Ok, and what can you do if you just can't stand the spam your friends publish through various Facebook applications? Don't worry, there's no need to remove all your friends or quit Facebook; just make good use of the "Hide" button in your News Feed.

Hiding apps (or people) you don't want to see in your News Feed is easy: hover over one of the posts you don't like, and click on the "Hide" button that appears in the top right corner of the post. You then have two options:
  • hide all News Feed posts from your friend that posted the update or
  • hide all News Feed posts from a certain app.
    You can unhide friends/pages/applications by clicking on "Edit Options" link at the right bottom of your News Feed.

    And if you have a very insistent friend, who keeps sending you requests for an application you're just not interested in (or if you're trying to recover from a game addiction), don't forget that you also have the option to completely Block an application. Just visit the application page and click on the block link to never see or receive anything from that application again.

    "Block Application" option on an application page

    I hope these tips can help you enjoy Facebook more and prevent your game addictions get in the way of your friendships or even reputation :) If you have any other tips or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments. And make sure to enjoy your games without spamming your friends!

    Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

    Wednesday, January 06, 2010

    Second Life isn't dead, but it's a niche

    Lately, some articles wondered about what had happened to Second Life, the virtual world that had a quite intensive hype period in 2007 and 2008. Usually, these articles follow a similar pattern: a journalists revisits the "lost" virtual world, isn't really impressed by what he/she sees. The article is then followed by a few comments by average visitors, who tend to agree with the journalist, and then the Second Life community discovers the article and start defending their world with examples of great projects being done in Second Life and sooner or later accuse the journalist of not going to the right places and not taking enough time.

    Second Life is a niche

    Well, here's the thing: I did spend a lot of time in Second Life, met many, many wonderful people in there, and I know what great things people are doing there. So I hope I can add my 2 cents into the debate from a fair perspective. If you ask me, SL certainly isn't dead, and it is in fact doing quite well from a business perspective. But I also think it's fair to say that it is a niche service. It's great for content creators, artists, musicians, it's great for people with enough patience and perseverance to put up with the lag and other technical issues. But it's awful for the average internet user, and I must confess that I'm also having difficulties with finding reasons to log in other than to read and respond to the occasional message or notice.

    Yes, you can attend many wonderful events, see a lot of great art etc.. But only if you are prepared to spend a lot of time troubleshooting various technical problems. Have meetings? Yes, but only with people already using SL. In all these years I haven't managed to convince a single friend to try out SL, and believe me, I tried!

    Doing one thing really, really well

    I think the main problem with Second Life is that it can do almost everything, but that it doesn't do anything really, really well, but at the same time it has a huge learning curve. On the other hand, a more limited virtual world like World of Warcraft is really good at keeping its users engaged and entertained for hours and hours. No, you can't have your own house or design your own clothes in there, but nonetheless you have a lot of fun! And I must confess that lately I prefer killing Murlocs in Azeroth (and paying for it!) to waiting for the newest Second Life wonder to load.

    My lil' gnome mage (right) might not have custom hair or skin like my SL avatar (left), but she's more fun to hang out with

    A lot of potential, but not there yet

    Now, don't get me wrong. I still do believe that virtual worlds have a lot of potential, potential for education, potential for doing business. But I can't teach if my students have to spend hours just to start feeling comfortable in a new environment, and I can't do business meetings without having any of my business partners in-world. I would love to do all that, to save all of us the environmental and other costs of travels, but I can't.

    So, while there is a lot of potential, there isn't a virtual world that fully uses it - at least not for the average user, who isn't willing to spend hours learning a new piece of software.

    Who is going to reinvent virtual worlds?

    And that is why I'm still waiting for someone that will be able to reinvent virtual worlds in such a way that it will be easy and nice to have classes in-world or business meetings. And at this point I'm not sure Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, will be able to pull that off. M Linden is no Steve Jobs. And what we need is an iPhone of virtual worlds. Something that will be so intuitive, so sexy that everyone will want a piece of it.  Something with an awesome user interface that is able to provide a great user experience. That's the one thing my ideal virtual world should do really, really well.

    And while I'm running out of patience for Second Life's technical woes, I still believe that someday something that reinvents virtual worlds will come along. Perhaps it will be some sort of augmented reality application or something entirely new. I don't know, but I can wait for the right thing.

    Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.