Tools


A group of programmers have created a fork of Microsoft Live Writer. The fork is NOT a Microsoft project. The group is releasing the fork as open source and is doing so through the .NET Foundation.

What’s the point?

I guess the quote from “Shout Me Loud” tells the main story.

Multiple blog support feature of Windows Live writer makes it very easy to manage your multiple blogs. It not only supports multiple blogs, but also supports multiple platforms.

That suggests that if you write a WordPress blog, a Blogger blog and more, you get to do all your writing in one WYSIWYG editor instead of learning the ins and outs of each platform.

Sounds like a “solution” to a problem I’ve not had.

The open fork’s licence is MIT License.

Anybody out there a Live Writer fan?
What’s your take?

Will you switch to the open fork?

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Another episode in the “Free vs. Freedom” series.

I just got an email from the educational website Edutopia describing a Microsoft program designed to entrench itself further in the school systems and the homes of students.

  • A complimentary and complete version of the of the latest Office program, ready to install
  • The ability to download Office on up to five compatible devices at no additional cost
  • An easy way to use Office on Android and Apple products

It makes me cringe when I read this kind of glowing announcement. Here is yet another lock-in opportunity instead of another opportunity to embrace freedom.

Schools seem to be urged by people from all around them to pay money for a product which does not give them choice, giving them, instead a sort of leash to wear, getting staff and students used to a proprietary office suite for which they will pay financially in the future. Their work will be easier to read in the then-current version of MS Office. They will be able to exchange their work with peers who have also paid for the tools which use a “popular” un-public, not-open format. And they will be restricted to operating systems which will run MS Office.

Should we blame the editors of Edutopia? They are simply “reporting” the information.

Well, Edutopia did not mention in the same announcement that schools, principals, teachers, school board members, town officials AND students can install the programs like Open Office or Libre Office, giving them far wider access to the same set of “office” tools along with freedom. I do not recall getting a similar email announcement about open source tools.

The open format files can be exchanged across ALL computers running any popular operating system because the file format is NOT proprietary. All the users can even choose their preferred office suite. All the open source office apps (not just Open Office and Libre Office) try very hard to accurately save files in the broadly usable Open Document Format (ODF) instead of the fancy, sometimes undocumented, binary formats employed by Microsoft.

The “announcement” seemed to me to be more of an endorsement.

I am disappointed.

Promoting easy entry into open source (FOSS) software has been a hallmark of VALO-CD, a product of a Finish company. The CD focuses on providing “best in class” software for Windows users. The goal was to make it easy to select a program and install applications like LibreOffice and Firefox.

Times are changing. Version 9 is expected to be the last with the CD format. The plan for version 10 is a USB which may be called “LibreKey.”

You can read more at:
http://seravo.fi/2013/past-present-future-valo-cd

Good tools are important. Expensive ones are not.

“Readin’, writin’ and Arithmetic” is a phrase people often use when discussing education. When you read the phrase, do you think “tools”? I think it might be a good idea to think that way.

Traditional writing is a pen and paper skill, but has also become a computerized, digital skill. Students read from electronic devices at least as much as they do from materials printed on paper. Arithmetic reaches a point at which a pocket calculator replaces tedious paper processes like multi-digit multiplication and long division.

Digital tools are available to help children develop the basics and beyond, too. With the computerized options now available, children can, in a practical way, become familiar with tools for audio, and video creativity. It is common to hear “digital literacy” as part of the curriculum discussion.

Now, you might be thinking, “I’m a modern teacher. I know all this.” But the real issue is that I’m not talking about the computer or tablet itself. I’m talking about the software. It isn’t the computer that is the tool. The software is the tool.

Writing on a computer, the writing part, is accomplished by a piece of software, not by the computer hardware. Commonly, we use a word processing program to write. Commonly, schools use a very expensive word processor to get the writing job done.

Now, do you recommend a $400 Mont Blanc pen to your students when you suggest a pen? Does a $400 pen make their skill improve when compared to a 29 cent Papermate?

I’m recommending that you make digital-age writing more approachable. Recommend a wordprocessing program like LibreOffice to them. Put it on your computers at school. Let them know how to get it on their computer at home. LibreOffice is open source software. By itself, LibreOffice, by itself, won’t make better writers of your students. However, LibreOffice will be a better choice for the majority, just the way that a Bic or Papermate  a more practical choice of pen. The tool is relatively more accessible to everyone. (You could even help your students install the software if their home computer can visit school. You’d lend a Bic pen to a student, wouldn’t you? Adding, or teaching how to add software is common generosity.)

I’m recommending that adults learn these tools, too. Children emulate adults. Then they try to exceed the adults. Hooray.

I’m recommending that you look beyond the core/basics, too. Look for accessible, open source tools that children can use create the next great works of writing, math, science and art. Embrace the tools. Rejoice that they are available and accessible. Launch your children, your students into a creative tool-rich future.

Maybe even get them started making their own tools. Learning to code is like learning any other second language. The sooner you start and the more practice you put in, the better your skill will become.

Those of you with rich students may find some are using expensive pens or expensive word processors. Let that be a personal or family choice. Give everyone in your classes an equal opportunity. Show that good writing is the combination of careful thought and effective tools, not just expensive ones.

By the way, the graphic of tools at the top is a product of Inkscape, another great software freedom tool.

openshot2

This post is really a quick reach out to Macintosh and PC users.

I’m learning about video, and am mainly using a non-linear editor called OpenShot. It is a GNU/Linux tool.

BUT…

There’s big news. You can contribute to the OpenShot Kickstarter project to get the video editor out to everyone, not just the Linux folks, but Mac and PC users, too.

Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing method. You pledge to support a project, and your money gets to the project if it reaches its goal by the end of a set period of time.

The exciting thing is that students will have the chance to do video editing with the same tool, no matter which kind of operating system they have on their computer. That’s a tool for learning!

Support if you can.

Emily Fox uses Gimp and OpenShot video editor to make a new Christmas song. Her own lyrics, too!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn3QXjNQNsk

Make it a hit. Spread the word.

Share the message and show support for open projects.

Thanks to Phil Shapiro for the heads up.

Title in OpenDyslexic font

The title of this post uses a weighted font called OpenDyslexic.

Dyslexia is a condition suffered by many people. Those who have dyslexia have trouble reading, in part because their minds flip the letters over. The whole dyslexic problem isn’t that simple, but research has shown that one factor which causes the flip is the style of text. Research has also shown that some of the effects can be minimized when the text is visually weighted, making the letters appear “heavier” at the bottom. Dyslexic readers can use the weighted letters to help them keep themselves from flipping.

The OpenDyslexic font is the creation of Abelardo Gonzales. The font has been released using a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

The beauty of that license is that it allows very broad ability to use the font as long as you give Mr. Gonzales the credit for creating the font. It is also appropriate to link to the OpenDyslexic Web site.

Combining this font with Open Educational Resources (OER) might help many students to minimize their reading difficulties. If educators who are using and creating OER materials also provide a version printed with OpenDyslexic, they’ll potentially better engage the dyslexic students in their classes. That’s a real plus.

Please try it out. Let me know. Leave a comment of your students’ experiences.

Here’s a story A Dream of Armageddon by H.G. Wells that is done using OpenDyslexic.

Update: Good reference with usage links edudemic.com/2012/10/free-font-dyslexic-students-read/

Update: Read the reaction to the the font by a person with dyslexia.

“As a dyslexic, I find this font very easy to read and reduces the effects of visual stress that I experience,” said Arran Smith of the British Dyslexia Association (via BBC)

For the fun of it, take a look at this post done with a Web font implementation of the OpenDyslexic font. Ask your dyslexic students to give it a try as a quick test to see if the font is suitable for your classroom.

Update: A Special Education teacher who teaches half his classes in Spanish asked whether the font had accents for characters like the enyay ( ñ ). The good news is, it does.

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