Simple Diagrams

I ran across a fantastic free tool yesterday while reading Tom Kuhlmann’s Rapid eLearning blog.  It is called SimpleDiagrams and it IS simple and it makes them quickly and effectively.  They look like this:

Or like this:

Or this:

In the case of this latter diagram I used an image map to create the link to watch the video, as the diagram implies.

The diagrams were so simple to create, and the program so elegantly put together, that I bought the for-pay version immediately (only $19) which gave me the right to download additional image libraries (not as useful as you might think) and have access to any font on my system, and not the single Arial font that comes with the free version (very valuable).

To get a thorough idea of how the program works you cannot do better than check Kuhlmann’s video tutorials:

Kuhlmann also gives away some free templates, and links to some free, hand-drawn fonts for installation on Mac or PC.

The program allows for free hand drawing, has a truly elegant line tool, allows color, alignment, and other basic features of drawing programs, but keeps the interface simple and intuitive.  The for-pay version also provides a variety of backgrounds (it doesn’t HAVE to be an old fashioned chalk board,but even though we rarely even see them any more they still smack of a certain nostalgic authority).  You can import your own graphics,annotate with sticky notes or index cards (all with the free version), and can build custom libraries with your own imported PNG graphics.

The product could use a method for creating a least a single URL link associated with each diagram–or preferably multiple areas, like an image map tool, and a fill tool, but other than that I think it is enormously impressive.  Give it a try and download some of the resources from the Rapid eLearning blog that supplement it, and I think you will be as impressed as I am with this tool.


Last night my colleagues and I presented our semi-annual plenary break out on Academic Technology at Palomar College. It was well attended, but necessarily by only a small percentage of the enormous number of adjunct professors employed by the college. As a reference for those who did not attend, here is an encapsulated version.

We conducted our workshop using the sandbox AT@PC workshop course we had developed. Each professor at Palomar College has an account on our sandbox system. We set the course up for self-enrollment through the Academic Technology Training course, also on the sandbox system.

One of the features we demonstrated throughout the evening was interactive polls embedded in the PowerPoint we used, and interfaced through web pages linked from the sandbox course.  The polls are a marvel from Poll Everywhere.  A free version is available for up to 30 participants, and for-pay options are available for larger audiences.  Poll Everywhere instant interactive polls can be voted by students using a web interface (which can be placed in a Blackboard course), by cell phone, or via Twitter.  It just works.  Truly, as long as one of these voting methods is available, there is no longer a need for expensive, hardware-based classroom clicker systems.

We began with a myth-buster session on what Academic Technology at our school DOES NOT do.

  • Campus email system
  • eServices student information system
  • Networking and classroom or office computers
  • AV

What we do do is:

  • Administer the Blackboard Enterprise system
  • Provide Streaming media services and encode media
  • Print and Graphic media creation
  • Web page authoring and administration
  • Technology training for faculty
  • Software evaluation and access
  • Hardware checkout
  • The AT computer labs, including the faculty technology center

For details on what we do and access to our tutorials and other training materials,our web site is the heart of our operation.

We then presented a longish segment on the new Blackboard implementation at our school–version 9.1.  Though we have been working hard on publicizing and training on the new version,and in fact have touched record numbers of our faculty members, still a large number need last minute assistance.  Bb 9.1 is live now, and faculty members who use Blackboard have no choice but to learn it.  Consequently, we are repeating the training we offered throughout last semester in a unique 3-part series of four workshops:

Teaching with Blackboard: Getting Ready for Day One (3 parts – sign up for all three)
Facilitated by:     David Gray & Chris Norcross
Dates/Times:     Part 1 of 3: Friday, January 14, 9:00am – 11:00am
Part 2 of 3: Friday, January 21, 8:00am – 10:00am
Part 3 of 3: Friday, January 28, 9:00am – 11:00am
Location:     LL-109

Teaching With Blackboard: Building Your Course (3 parts – sign up for all three)
Facilitated by:     David Gray & Chris Norcross
Dates/Times:     Part 1 of 3: Friday, February 4, 9:00am – 11:00am
Part 2 of 3: Friday, February 11, 9:00am – 11:00am
Part 3 of 3: Friday, February 25, 9:00am – 11:00am
Location:     LL-109

Teaching With Blackboard: Evaluating Learning (3 parts – sign up for all three)
Facilitated by:     David Gray & Chris Norcross
Dates/Times:     Part 1 of 3: Friday, April 1, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Part 2 of 3: Friday, April 8, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Part 3 of 3: Friday, April 15, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Location:     LL-109

Teaching With Blackboard: Communicating with Your Students (3 parts – sign up for all three)
Facilitated by:     David Gray & Chris Norcross
Dates/Times:     Friday, April 22, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Friday, April 29, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Friday, May 6, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Location:     LL-109

As I write, Dave and Chris are busily presented part-1 of the first series to a roomful of rapt (or is that desperation?) faculty members.

In an effort to formalize the informal, we will be continuing this semester with our “Blackboard with Cream & Sugar” sessions.  Drop by room LL-111 Wednesday mornings between 7:30 and 10:30AM.  You bring the questions and ideas, we bring the coffee, tea and (we hope) answers.

The next topic was training.  Haydn described our training pages and in particular the training schedule on the web.  Then we mentioned some of the new and exciting training opportunities that we are making available to faculty members this spring, including workshops on Twitter, the Flip video cameras, web page authoring with Expression Web 4, the Google Public Data Explorer, PowerPoint (with a new one on methods of making a video from your PowerPoint and placing it on the web), Word 2010, Using Google Earth, and, of course, lots more on Blackboard.

We also have an extensive set of tutorials available online for those who like to work in a self-directed manner.

The next topic was streaming media.  The old media server is now turned off, the new Silverlight/SmoothStreaming system is the only one we are using.  If your videos no longer play, that is why.  Contact us for help.

In a discussion of copyright clearance and the TEACH Act in particular, we did make these three important points to remember:

  1. If a DVD exists of the video you want to use, we must use it as our source to copy rather than a VHS version.
  2. We cannot accept “self-recorded” media–that is, video you have recorded off TV–as source media.  It must be a “legally obtained” original.
  3. If we have copied/encoded media for you under the terms of the TEACH Act, you CANNOT use it in a face-to-face class meeting.  It can only be used for distance education.

Finally we spoke about how to obtain low-cost or free software from the FCCC and from our Microsoft Academic Alliance.

We appreciate the time of the professors who joined us last night, and hope this post will share in part the evening we all enjoyed.  Now, have a great semester.

Using the Wimba Voice Authoring Tool in Blackboard 9

Audio messages from instructor to students can be a very important and dynamic part of the online experience.  Even if you are meeting in-person with your students, placing audio messages in parts of the course Blackboard site can provide explanations for difficult concepts that the student can play repeatedly while viewing other materials you have placed there.  In fact, there are hundreds of uses for audio messages within Blackboard, and now with Blackboard 9 it is easier than ever to create them.  I have created the following screen video that explains how (Play time = 8:48):

Wimba was recently acquired by Blackboard, so, as you saw from the video, the voice tools are now built-in to the content creation tools.  The most common one, the voice authoring tool, has its own “mashup” creator and it is definitely the one that most instructors will use.  Later, I will post on the other Wimba voice tools such as the voice board (an audible discussion board), the voice presenter (a way to audibly tour content slide-show style), the voice announcement tool,and a podcasting tool that has so far not gained any users at our institution.

Embed PowerPoint or Excel from Office Web Apps

Microsoft announced today a terrific new way to embed PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets into web pages using the new Office Live web apps.  There are definitely some gotchas to consider, however before going full steam ahead with these great new abilities.  First, let’s take a look at the video that explains it all, and then we’ll consider the implications for our academic environment.  (Play time = 7:36, but worth it):

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.7104726&w=512&h=308&]

The video is interesting, but if you will notice, the presenters never get around to telling you exactly where to get that all important embed code.  It’s simple enough, but they ought to have shown it.  Here’s how.

First, the PowerPoint or Excel file must be saved to your SkyDrive in a PUBLIC folder.  It won’t work if it isn’t.  Then, navigate to that public folder, open it, and click the More drop-down next to the file you want to embed.  Click the 1,,) Share > Embed link and you will be taken to 2) a page with the embed code:

Simply copy the code and paste it in to your blog or web page, using the paste html function, and your done…  Or are you?

Here come the gotchas.

Notice that the Microsoft developer demonstrating the technique uses a blog to show how easy it is.  Try it in a blog and it won’t work.  This is a bit ironic, since Microsoft Live Spaces just announced that they have thrown in the towel on their blogging effort and have contracted with to migrate all user blogs to

Why does it not work in WordPress?  Because of the code.  If you read it, you will notice that it is embedded using an iframe, and since a lot of malicious things can be done with iframes,, and many other web-based applications, will strip out iframe code.

Let me hasten to say, this will not be true at your Palomar College web site.  You can iframe to your hearts content, and the embed code will work fine on District web pages, but not in a blog AND ESPECIALLY NOT IN BLACKBOARD.

In Blackboard the case is more complicated, and worse, by far.  The problem is that Blackboard version 8, the one we are currently running, will NOT strip the iframe code when inserted in an item using HTML mode, and the embed will work, but once embedded, you will lose the Modify, Copy, Remove management controls to the embedded item, and you will have no way to remove it from your course.  Do NOT use iframe code to embed SkyDrive PowerPoint and Excel files directly into a Blackboard content area (or any other objects, for that matter).  Rather, use an external link to a Palomar (or other) web page where you have already embedded the file, and things will work fine.

Here is a sample external link to an embedded PowerPoint.  (Note the control at the lower left to go full-screen.  Once there, you can display notes, which is a very nice touch).

In Blackboard 9.1, which we will be deploying in the spring of 2011 and which you have access to now through our sandbox implementation, the case is not as bad.  You can embed the file directly into a Blackboard content area using the iframe technique, but once embedded, you cannot delete it and cannot add further content to that area (though it is possible to edit it and thereby delete the iframe code).  The recommended way to embed objects in Blackboard 9 is through a mashup, and a mashup for SkyDrive files does not yet exist.  You could use a Slideshare Presentation mashup for a PowerPoint file, but that’s another story.

My advice for Blackboard 9 is the same.  Use an external link and you will be fine.  You could, if you really wanted, import a package file containing the html page, but why go to the trouble, and bloat the size of your course, when you don’t need to and nothing is to be gained by it?  External links are your best bet.

While this new feature from the Microsoft web app team is very welcome, it now needs support from WordPress to develop a shortcode and Blackboard to develop a mashup, for it to be truly useful and simple for the average user.