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!

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.