openclipart – free clip art (yes, really free)

Open Clipart LogoThere are a lot of sites that offer “free clip art” but they are, in fact, a hassle to download. Some have viruses or spyware.

Openclipart ScreenshotOpenclipart is truly free… find a piece of clipart and download it. No registration, no watermarks, no royalties.

Openclipart has 50,000 images which may seem like a lot but you can not have enough clip art! As I browsed around this site, I sometimes didn’t always find what I wanted.

Even so, I suggest you bookmark openclipart and make it your first source for clipart.


Tools: openclipart
Description: free clip art
License: public domain
Alternatives: many others
Rating: very useful

Free Music Archive – legal music for your students’ projects (and yours, too!)

jjffjj Free Music Archive LogoObviously, many students steal music without a second-thought.  As educators, we can make them think twice by not accepting projects with stolen content.
And, by “think twice,” I mean teaching them about respect for artists.
But, it is not a reasonable requirement if permission is too hard to get or if royalties are more than a couple of bucks.jjffjj Free Music Archive Screenshot
Free Music Archive helps solve that problem because nearly all of the artists have given permission to use their songs non-commercially.   And, importantly, the music is usefully organized by genre and properly documented.
Free Music Archive is a service of WFMU, one of the great “open”  radio stations in America (another is KEXP who also contribute to this project).
With 63,000 songs, organized into 15  genres (including some specifically for video soundtracks) it is reasonable to require that students use legal music for their videos and multi-media presentations.   While licenses vary at FMI, nearly every song I surveyed had a Creative Commons license that would allow classroom use.


Tool:  Free Music Archive
Description:  Free music, mostly licensed for re-use.
License: mostly  Creative Commons
Alternatives: Audio archive at Archive.org
Rating: very useful

IBM Lotus Symphony – integrated office suite with some unique features

I normally wouldn’t review software on the verge of being orphaned but IBM Lotus Symphony is still worth considering. It is free and works on Linux, Windows and Mac. And, as you would expect with IBM, it is polished and stable.

Notably, Symphony is one integrated, multi-function program as opposed to a bunch of programs thrown together. Symphony has never crashed on me (great!) but if it did , all the documents would presumably go down at once (bad!). It’s strictly a personal preference  but I like the one-program approach.

Symphony back from the dead…

I used Lotus Symphony in the DOS days and was delighted when IBM brought it back about five years ago. It’s based on OpenOffice with a couple of innovations that make it worth considering. It is free software and I think IBM hoped to make their money off of support.   I suspect that IBM rightly perceived that companies are suspicious of open-source software and wanted the security of a big-name brand.

… only to be orphaned?
IBM quit development with version 3 in January 2012 and they released a service update at the end of last year. So, it’s still a fresh piece of software.

According to Wikipedia, IBM has given the project to Apache who will incorporate it in the long-overdue new version of OpenOffice. I hope they keep the main two features that make this product unique from LibreOffice – an integrated web browser and widgets.
This is a consideration if you chose to adopt Symphony. If the rocks stars at  Apache are smart (and they are!), you might be an early-adopter rather than an orphan.

The standard three modules integrated one tabbed interface.
As opposed to most suites, Symphony keeps you in one tabbed interface, whether you are doing word processing, presentations or spreadsheets. Unfortunately, thats all the productivity modules it offers. I wish it included the Draw module and I’m sure some business users would like a calendar/planner module.

The formatting controls are on the right side of the screen which takes advantage of the newer, wider desktop screens. On a laptop, it can be a little cramped. The formatting controls are smartly contextual and well organized – a problem with MS Office, in my opinion.

Integrated web browser

This is such a great feature that one wonders why every suite does not offer it. Many of us constantly use the web while we write, so it makes sense to bring the web into the word processor. Sadly, Symphony doesn’t support dragging content from the web tab into the word processor. This would be a great feature, if it did. You can still cut-and-paste.

Widgets – an easy way to customize Symphony

IBM offers only a few widgets but you can import Google Gadgets. This is huge since it gives Symphony many of the features of Google.

The most useful feature, for me, is that you can create a widget from an RSS feed. If a blog, calendar, newsletter, shared docs, etc generates an RSS feed (many do) you can create a widget from that feed and monitor it within Symphony while you write or work on your spreadsheet.

(Click here for my little rant on how how RSS could make your life simpler.)

This is a very useful feature that I hope the people at Apache keep in the next version of OpenOffice. This has potential to be a killer app.

The bottom line: a solid implementation of OpenOffice with a couple of innovative and useful features. But, you risk being orphaned.


Tool: IBM Lotus Symphony 3.0.1
Summary: customizable office suite with web integration.
Rating: very useful
License: open ethos (proprietary but free)
Alternatives: LibreOffice, Google Docs.

Educational Technology Clearing House – art and photos for schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Educational Technology Clearing House provides clip art, stock photos, presentation art and maps, all organized around educational themes. The organization is especially useful, allowing teachers to browse according to subject.

Most of the clip-art (“ClipArt ETC“) is similar to what you find in the famous Dover books/CDs.  In my youth, during the Golden Age of Photocopying, I had great fun with Dover but I don’t see kids using it much these days. Even so, ClipArt ETC attractive and potentially useful.

 

 

 

 

 

The “ClipPix ETC” section  is organized into twenty different categories and is very high quality although, I suspect, most students would have better luck finding exactly what they want on Wikimedia.

Presentations ETC is potentially the most useful, providing 20,000 different items for themes/backgrounds/buttons/letters/etc. The themes I looked at were very attractive and imported nicely into LibreOffice Impress. I didn’t test them but they also have themes for the Mac-based Keynote program.

If, like me, you prefer to build your own themes, the site also provides some very nice backgrounds and buttons.

Unfortunately, most of the designed are very corporate-looking, perhaps better for teachers than students. One would have hoped that an educational site would have lots of youthful designs.

The least useful is probably the map collection (“Maps ETC“)  since most are old but they are organized nicely, should you need an old map.

This service is provided by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, part of the College of Education at the University of South Florida. The license for students and teachers is clearly stated on the front page, typically limited 25 or 50 items per project.


Tool: Educational Technology Clearing House
Description: Well-organized photos, clip art, presentation graphics and maps
License: free with quantity limitations
Alternatives: Wikimedia, Flickr
Rating: useful

The LibreOffice challenge — learn it this summer!

LibreOffice WelcomescreenWhy not learn LibreOffice this summer? Install it on your laptop and learn it at the beach! If you have even a passing interest in the open-source world, this is the place to start. For educators, there is no better tool.

Once you have learned it, make LibreOffice files one of the formats you accept for assignments. It could be your first step to solving the chronic problem of students giving you files you can’t read.

LibreOffice is a split from OpenOffice because of some sort of dispute. You can think of it as essentially the same product but definitely install LibreOffice rather than OpenOffice which hasn’t been updated for awhile. This may change, of course. As far as I know, all the file formats are the same. Usefully, Google Docs imports/exports to LibreOffice file formats.

The components of LibreOffice are:

Writer

A word processor with similar functionality and file support to Microsoft Word or WordPerfect. It has extensive WYSIWYG word processing capabilities, but can also be used as a basic text editor.

Calc

A spreadsheet program, similar to Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3.

Impress

A presentation program resembling Microsoft PowerPoint. Presentations can be exported as SWF files, allowing them to be viewed on any computer with Adobe Flash installed.

Draw

A vector graphics editor and diagramming tool similar to Microsoft Visio and comparable in features to early versions of CorelDRAW. It also includes features similar to desktop publishing software such as Scribus and Microsoft Publisher.

Base

A database management program, similar to Microsoft Access.

Math

An application designed for creating and editing mathematical formulae. The application uses a variant of XML for creating formulas, as defined in the OpenDocument specification.

(From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LibreOffice#Components)

I suggest you first learn “Writer” “Draw” and “Impress”. If you are a math teacher, you’ll surely want to learn “Math.”

I use Writer the most. (I’m using it right now.) Writer reminds me of Microsoft Word 95.

For class presentations I use Impress. Nobody seems to notice that I’m not using PowerPoint. I put my presentation on a thumb drive along with a portable version of LibreOffice. While other students often struggle getting their presentations to run, mine always go flawlessly

For desktop publishing I use “Draw.” It took me awhile to learn “Draw” but I can now do almost anything with “Draw” that I did with Microsoft Publisher.

I have yet to learn “Base”. I’ve tried! The learning curve is steep.

I use “Calc” as well, but not for teaching. Like Word, it seems like Excel from about ten years ago.

Seeming like a 10 year-old Microsoft Office is not a bad thing. If you are like me, I don’t need all the fancy menus and extra features of the current version of MS Office. I find the old-style menus more intuitive. If you are super power user, LibreOffice is probably not for you.

Tool:

LibreOffice

LibreOffice Portable for your flashdrive

Description: a free office suite available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Reads and writes to MS Office and Google Docs.

License: free, GNU

Alternatives: GoogleDocs (free but not open-source)

Rating: very useful