Tech Toolbox: MyScript MathPad

MathPad logo

Over two years ago I blogged about an iPad app useful for recording called Educreations. That app, and the accompanying website, are still going strong. However I was never happy about using Educreations for recording my finger-writing of mathematical equations. So if you’re the type who has need of equations in your course documents, listen up!

There are a pair of “mathy” apps from the company MyScript which can assist in neatening up the finger-paint input of equations. The first, which I won’t dwell on, is called the MyScript Calculator. This calculator app allows written input of simpler math problems, which it will then compute. (This was my first exposure to MyScript’s tools, and I was impressed. Particularly given the price tag of Free.) The other app, which I see use for by both faculty and students, is the MyScript MathPad. In this MathPad app, written input is converted into easily readable form, and the resulting work may be output as an image.

And I can already hear it: “Ugh. An image? Why can’t it be something more usable like LaTeX or MathML?” It can, but there’s a slight catch. The output as Image function is part of the free MathPad, while output in the other formats will entail a one-time fee (currently of $4.99). Since I’m cheap, I’ll restrict myself to the image output, but for someone who has a need to post such things frequently it may be worth the five bucks.

The Calculator app has both iOS and Android options, while the MathPad app is restricted to iOS, as listed on the MyScript Apps & Demos page. The MathPad app will run on both the iPhone and iPad, although I found writing out equations cramped on the iPhone screen, as the video below makes clear.

And the exported images? Here’s some examples:

2014-05-21 18.50.132014-05-21 18.50.462014-05-21 18.52.002014-05-21 18.51.20

So if you’ve an iPad and need to craft formula for your course documents, give MathPad a try!

PowerPoint 2013: Using the Text Box Tool


In this post we will describe how to enter text on a slide using the Text Box tool.  Remember, text added to a slide in this fashion will not appear in Outline View.

To add text in a text box, go to the Insert tab and select Text Box.

Text Box Insert Tab
The Text Box command in the text group on the Insert tab.

When you move your cursor onto the slide in Normal View it will appear as an inverted cross.  Either 1) click on the slide in the location you want to type and begin typing at the insertion point, or 2) draw a bounding box for your text and begin typing at the insertion point.

Text Box with Insertion Point
Text Box after single click on slide.


Bounding Text Box
Bounding text box with insertion point.

If you draw a bounding box, it will retain it’s width, but contract to a single line in height when you start typing.  In either case, you can press Enter or Shift-Enter at the end of a line to move the cursor down and expand the box.  Enter will produce a “hard” carriage return (and cause PowerPoint to auto-capitalize the first word in the next line); Shift-Enter will produce a “soft” return and not auto-capitalize the next line.  If you do not press Enter or Shift-Enter the text box will just continue to expand horizontally as you type, without limit.  The container (the actual text box placeholder, represented by the dashed lines around the text) can later be re-sized to fit on the slide in a desired position, causing the text to wrap.  Be careful when resizing a text box too narrowly, however, because you can cause words to break in unnatural locations.

The Text Box is so useful, that there is a shortcut in the Drawing group on the Home tab in addition to the command that is found on the Insert tab.  I add it to my quick access tool bar also, so that I can get at it from any tab.

Text Box Shortcut

The following video will demonstrate these procedures.

PowerPoint 2013: Adding a Logo to Each Slide

Logo Icon

One of the questions that comes up often in the PowerPoint workshops I do is ‘How do I add a logo to all the slides in my presentation?’  Sometimes instead of logo, it is called a watermark, but whatever it is called, it is a common graphic element placed in the same position on each slide.  The answer is simple: use the Slide Master.

If you are reading along in this series you will know that we are going to be creating a presentation together, called “College: Worth It?”  I will use the first couple of slides in the presentation to demonstrate how to add a common graphic element (a logo, in this case) to each of the slides in the presentation by making one simple change to the Slide Master.  Along the way we will also discuss Master Guides, picture sizing, and excluding that graphic from selected slides.

To start, I recommend you select your theme.  I have chosen the blue variant on the built-in Ion theme for my presentation.  If you choose a different theme for your presentation you may have different challenges with background art and in positioning elements on the slide, if you are following along.  Here are the first two slides in the presentation.

First Two Slides

The first slide is based on the title slide layout, and the second on the blank slide layout.  We will discuss adding text and graphics to slides in a future post.  For now, let’s say that we want to place a logo for the college we are representing on every slide in our presentation, including the title slide.  Our intention is to brand our presentation, but we do not want the logo to dominate.  Here is how to do it.

1.  Click on the View tab, and click Slide Master.

Slide Master View

The various available layouts will be shown in the thumbnail pane on the left of the screen, with the layout for the currently selected slide in normal view selected.  A layout is a positioning template, and you can see that there are many variations from which to choose.

2.  Scroll all the way to the top of the layouts until you see a slide labelled “1.”  It will be bigger than the other layout thumbnails and have a dashed line descending from it with horizontal lines to the layouts positioned beneath it.

Master and layouts

The larger slide is the slide master, with each of the specific layout masters  arrayed beneath it.  The dashed lines indicate inheritance.  Each of the layout masters can be changed independently, and slides based on changes made to a specific layout will be applied to your presentation, or the slide master can be changed and the changes made on it filter down to the other slides.

To place a logo on each and every slide in our presentation, then, all we have to do is place it on the slide master.

3.  Click on the slide master to select it.  Then click on the Insert tab (remember, we are still in Slide Master View, not Normal View), click on the Pictures command in the Images group, navigate to your logo file, select it and click Insert on the Windows Explorer dialog box.

Insert Picture

PowerPoint will respond by inserting the graphic file in its own container centered on the slide.

4.  Format the graphic as you wish.  In my case, I am placing a college logo on the slide, and the image I have is too large.  I want to resize and style it.  I will post later on formatting images (the basic steps I took in this case are summarized in the video below), but your mileage may vary depending on the graphic.  After the image is formatted, I want to position it in the lower right corner of my slide.  In order to format it precisely (I want equal amounts of marginal space to the right and bottom of the image) I will turn on rulers and guides.

(The following section describes how to precisely position a graphic element using rulers and guides.  For those who want to simply drag it to a “good enough” location, skip to point 6 below).

5.  Click on the View tab, and place a check in the box next to Rulers and Guides, in the Show group.

Ruler and Guides

Two dashed-line guides appear centered on the slide, corresponding to 0 on the horizontal and vertical rulers (the rulers also start centered on the slide, with measurements marked in 8ths in both horizontal and vertical directions.  Graphing fans should be thrilled.

In any event, hovering over either of the guides will cause a dark line with two arrowheads extending from it to appear in the place of the mouse cursor.  Hold down the mouse button and drag the vertical guide to 6.50″.  A small tooltip will appear indicating the distance from zero of the rulers.  Use this to position the guides precisely.  Since the default slide size is 13.33″ x 7.5″, half the slide is 6.67″ x 3.75″.  Placing the guide at 6.50″ leaves a margin of 0.17″.  To produce the identical margin with the horizontal guide, pull it to 3.58″ (i.e., 3.75″ – 0.17″).  Since you are positioning these guides on the slide master, they will appear on all slides in the presentation for later use, and can be turned off by simply clearing the check box next to Guides on the view tab.  (I use guides so often that I include them on my quick access toolbar).

Now, to many (most) people precise positioning like this may appear to be a waste of time—and to be honest I do not try to teach it to beginners—but once you feel more confident with PowerPoint, the more care you take with positioning of elements the more professional your presentation will appear.  For those more artistically inclined, just drag the logo where you want it.

6.  Drag the formatted logo to the intersection of the guides.  To nudge an object a pixel at a time, hold down the Ctrl key and press the arrow keys.

Now take a look at the layout thumbnails in the Slide Master thumbnail pane.  Each of them has inherited the logo from the slide master.  Which means that the logo will appear on every single slide in your presentation, since all slides in the presentation are based on one of these layouts.  Close Master View and take a look.  Now go to the Home tab and create a new slide, based on the Title and Contents layout.  It too contains the logo, as will all future new slides.

Slide Layouts with logo

What you have done is place a piece of background artwork on all slide layouts.  So what if you want to create a slide that does NOT have the logo on it?  Simple.  Go to Slide Master View, click on the layout you want to use for the slide without the logo to select it, press Ctrl-D to duplicate the layout, right-click the new layout thumbnail and choose Format Background…  In the Format Background pane that appears, in the Fill section, check the box “Hide background graphics.”  Now, it is true that this will also suppress any other background art on the slide, but if this matters (and it often does not) you can simply copy it from the slide master and paste it back onto the logo-less layout.  Seeing this happen in the video below may be easier than trying to understand this tortured description…


Tech Toolbox: Educreations

Educreations icon

Occasionally when the techs here are speaking with faculty, particularly in the free-form discussions that come up at our Wednesday morning “Blackboard with Cream & Sugar” sessions, the techs will mention tools we use that faculty are unaware of. Sometimes those tools can be adapted to use in the classroom, so I’m highlighting some such tools on the blog under the “Tech Toolbox” name.

Today’s addition to the Tech Toolbox is an educational content creation and distribution tool: Educreations.

From the website:

“Teach what you know. Learn what you don’t. Create and share great video lessons with your iPad or browser.”

Image of the Educreations app on an iPadEducreations may be created using the free iPad app, or by using the website. Of course, creating via the website may be tricky if you do not have some good drawing surface. Of course you could run out and purchase a multi-thousand dollar Wacom display tablet, but it might just make more sense to borrow one of the Inspiron Duo touch-sensitive portable computers from Academic Technology.

But what, at its core, is Educreations? In a nutshell, an Educreation is a recording that will play back an audio recording of what is said, along with a video feed of the drawing you do either on a blank canvas or over the top of still images. It is NOT an actual screen recording, so you won’t be recording the activity of any interactive websites. However, it is certainly possible to do quick screenshots from a website, then pull them into Educreations and annotate the result.

As an example of that, I used one of the ATRC Duo computers to create this brief video on how to get help on Blackboard using our support helpdesk.

Now that recording was just using the built-in mic on the Duo; I’d have a much more robust sound quality if I’d bothered to hook up a good external microphone, such as the USB wireless mic available for checkout from the ATRC. I also used a stylus instead of my fingertip, which accounts for much of the shaky line fidelity. (Sometimes a stylus works really well; this was not one of those times.)

I’m not utterly pleased with the screen interface on the PCs at my disposal (although any touch screen makes recording simple compared to using a mouse – I have no idea how the Kahn Academy videos come out so well using a mouse as the drawing device), but I am quite happy with the interface on the iPad. This video was recorded using just the iPad’s built-in mic, while working through some 2nd-grade math homework with my son:

The iPad gives a much smoother interface, and on all the systems I have tried out Educreations on, it wins best of show. However, as touch interfaces become common on home computers (my own personal computer I purchased this spring has one) then the ability to just record marking up and drawing content will become that much more useful.

Regardless of which device you actually do a recording on, once the recording is complete you save it to the Educreations website, which actually has provisions for organizing your recordings into courses, and even contains some basic question and answer function. In theory you could run class discussions wholly from the Educreations website, although this is not something I would recommend. (After all, the true value of Palomar’s Blackboard system is that individual faculty do not need to bother about managing student account information and the minutia of other such administrative drivel. Trying to maintain your own course system elsewhere would dump all those tasks right back in your lap.) Once your recording is posted to the site, if you have made the video available to the public you can then grab the embed code off the page and drop that into a blog post (such as this one) or even into a Blackboard Item in a content area. (Since the embed code is HTML you will, of course, need to toggle over to HTML Mode before pasting the code in, then toggle back and Submit the Item.)

If you found my own recorded videos to be lackluster (I know I find them that way) then I’d encourage you to take a look at the numerous recordings made available on the Educreations website. Their gallery of offerings are far more complex and well done than my own, such as the following video on the nature of light:

Still have questions about Educreations? Chances are the company already has your question answered on the Educreations FAQ page.

Tech Toolbox: ZoomIt

Occasionally when the techs here are speaking with faculty, particularly in the free-form discussions that come up at our Wednesday morning “Blackboard with Cream & Sugar” sessions, the techs will mention tools we use that faculty are unaware of. Sometimes those tools can be adapted to use in the classroom, so I plan to begin highlighting some such tools on the blog under the “Tech Toolbox” name.

For the first installment of Tech Toolbox, I’d like to focus on a simple Windows-based tool that can aid when doing presentations in the classroom: ZoomIt, from Microsoft.

From the download site:

“ZoomIt is screen zoom and annotation tool for technical presentations that include application demonstrations. ZoomIt runs unobtrusively in the tray and activates with customizable hotkeys to zoom in on an area of the screen, move around while zoomed, and draw on the zoomed image.”

What does this mean? That the ZoomIt program will allow you to show an enlarged picture of whatever is on your computer screen, and allow you to draw on the screen to illustrate points.

ZoomIt is easy to install (on Windows workstations running XP or higher, or Windows servers running 2003 or higher), and easy to use after just a couple minutes of horsing around. Since the program is free, I’d strongly suggest downloading and installing ZoomIt, should you ever have occasion to present to a class or meeting from a Windows system.

From 35mm slide to digital

Remember 35 millimeter slides?

Yeah, me neither. No, really, although most of us don’t have occasion to use slide projectors any more, there are still boxes and carousels of slides floating around out there. Occasionally we in Academic Technology are asked “is there some way to have my slides scanned?”

Yes, yes there is. Meet the ImageLab slide scanner.

As you can see demonstrated in the video below, this little device makes it easy to digitize any 35 millimeter slides or negatives you have lying around. The scanner outputs JPG files, so there’s no fuss about using non-standard file formats; there’s not even any custom software to worry over, just pull out the SD card or plug the scanner in via USB to pull your pictures off the scanner. This thing even runs on AAA batteries, so you could sit in your living room easy chair with a box of slides and the scanner and just work away until you are done.

As mentioned in the video, the Academic Technology department does have one of these available, either to use in the LL-111 Faculty Technology Center or to check out to faculty for short periods of time. It doesn’t take long to actually scan the slides, either. That slide carousel shown in the movie contained 76 slides, and I was able to digitize the whole batch of them in just under 25 minutes.

So, if you’ve got slides or negatives to convert to image files, we’ve got you covered. Just come on down to the Academic Technology offices and we’ll help you get started.