Photos For Class–for writers and teacher-authors

photos for classA question I get a lot from readers is where to go for free, teacher-safe images. Photo sites are either too sparse or poorly vetted. And–while we’re on the subject of online images–it needs to be easier to add citations because otherwise, students will just skip that step.

Photos for Class(but not just for classes), brought to you by the folks at Storyboard That (a premier digital storytelling site that quickly and easily enables users to mix avatars, backgrounds, and talk bubbles to tell a story–like your latest book in comic form) does all of these. It uses proprietary filters to search millions of Creative Commons-licensed photos from the Library of Congress, the British Royal Archives, and Flikr’s safe-search setting to curate a classroom-safe collection of topical photos in seconds.  There is no log-in, no registration, no fee or premium plan, and a zero learning curve. All you need to know is how to use a search bar and a download button.

Here’s how it works: Go to the Photos for Class website (no registration or log-in required), search your topic:

free online photos

…and then download the selected photo. Each downloaded photo includes an attribution and license detail.

online photos

There is no charge, no delay, and lots of choices.

In addition to photos, the site offers suggestions on citing and filtering photos, and a list of the top 250 searches.

Pros

Photos for Class is intuitive, easy-to-navigate, with child-safe content for even the youngest searchers. It makes it easy to develop good habits for properly citing online content.

If users find an objectionable image, they can report it to the site with the assurance that–if inappropriate–it will be removed from the site.

Cons

Besides downloading, photos can be saved with a right-click. This is a con only because they don’t include attribution. You have to add that yourself if needed–like with Flikr photos.

Insider Tips

Storyboard That’s premium service includes the ability to add photos from Photos for Class to Storyboard That projects. This is a great way to share your upcoming novel with authentic pictures in a way that people like to read. It’s a pleasant change from video trailers..

Writing applications

This is a great source of high-quality photos for your book marketing, your blog, or any other place you need pictures for your writing. It’s not as large as Pixabay but focuses on G-rated and kid-friendly. The thumbnails are big and bright. The search bar is prominent, and the results are fast.

More about online images:

Quick Search for Plagiarized Images

5 Image Apps

What Online Images are Free?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Survival of the Fittest, Spring 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

Advertisements

Top Tech for Writers

In case you missed this in April, here’s an article I wrote for Ronel (at Ronel the Mythmaker) for her T entry in the A to Z Challenge. I love talking tech but generally bore friends and family with it so was beyond excited when Ronel invited me to discuss it as much as I wanted.

These are five of my favorite tech tools for writers:

self edit1. A good editing program

Whether you’re self-published or agented, you want your manuscript as clean as possible. You can edit it yourself, use beta readers, or pray, but one more option to include in your toolkit is a good online editing program. Often, these ask you to copy-paste your text into a dialogue box on their website and they take it from there. Sometimes, you upload your entire manuscript. What they do varies from simply checking your grammar and spelling to analyzing pacing, word choice, and more. I like Grammarly for basics and AutoCrit for more detail.

See my Grammarly review here.

 

2. A digital deviceipad tips

I know lots of people who write the first draft of their novels with paper-and-pencil but almost always, the next version is completed on some sort of digital device. That might be a Mac, PC, iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or in some cases a dedicated word processor like the Retro Freewrite or Alphasmart. Pick one or more that work for you, doesn’t matter which as long as it’s digital and allows you to type and edit your manuscript.

See my reviews here for Chromebooks, iPads

 

3. Google Forms

Google Forms are an easy digital way to collect information from readers, sort it, and throw it into a spreadsheet. They’re professional-looking, intuitive, quick to create, and can be personalized to your needs. I use them to collect data for blog hops, curate my newsletter list, ask for feedback, sign up interested readers for an upcoming book, and more. There’s just no reason to struggle through this sort of design by yourself anymore.

See my Google Forms review and another form program I like, JotForms.

 

4. Canva

It’s hard enough writing a novel and bringing it to publication, without then being forced to also market it. That includes banners, logos, fliers, headers, announcements–yikes! Years ago, I knew I had to reform when my kindest beta reader wrote, “Is the flier supposed to look like that? No–really, I like it!” Right. I found Canva.com. Canva provides all the tools writers need to create headers, banners, Facebook placards, Twitter tweets, informal book covers, and the myriad of marketing materials that are part and parcel of publishing a book. It provides templates, size options, samples, even a design school–all for free. And it didn’t take long to get used. Now, I create what I need usually in less than five minutes. You heard that right. Try it out.

See my Canva review.

 

5. Book Trailer Program

Book trailers are quite popular because movies are a nice way to get readers excited about your book. If you’re creating your own, you want a program that is easy to use with a shallow learning curve, looks professional, and is as free as possible. I’ve seen a lot of options for this task, everything from Animoto to Tellagami to even a storyboard program like Storyboard That!

 

More tech for writers:

Best-in-Class Digital Storytelling Tools

8 Digital Tools for Writing

5 Must-have tools for Writers Conferences


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today and TeachHUBmonthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. Look for her upcoming trilogy, Crossroads, eta Spring 2019.

What Authors Should Know About MS Sway?

Lately, among teacher-authors (these are teachers who also write), one of the most talked-about webtools is Microsoft Sway. Though fairly new, Sway may unseat PowerPoint as the presentation-tool-of-choice because Sway projects are visually appealing while minimizing the amount of time spent formatting.

What is Sway

Sway is free from Microsoft and part of Office 365 Education. It is an easier, more versatile alternative to the popular PowerPoint slideshow program. Using the Sway canvas, writers select a theme and then add notes and media. Sway organizes the content, suggests images and even data, and then helps the writer to quickly arrange everything into a comprehensive and fully-fleshed project. If the selected theme doesn’t work, simply click “remix” and get a different look. More advanced users can edit the pieces to fit particular colors and interests. When everything’s perfect, it can be shared, embedded, and/or published.

Sway accepts almost any file format including videos, PDFs, text, audio, images, native camera pictures, charts, audio clips, audio recordings, and links. A completed project can be embedded into any Office app (such as Excel, PowerPoint, or Word) and automatically updates with the original. Sway works in Windows, on iPads, iPhones, and desktops.

How to get started

  • Install the Sway app to your iPhone, iPad, Surface Pro, or use it on the web.
  • Create an account so you can collect all of your Sways in one place.
  • Click the “Create new” button or alternatively, create a Sway from a topic or an uploaded document.
  • Click to add new “cards” (these are content areas; you might think of them like slides in a PowerPoint deck). These are stacked to the right of the screen and easily moved by dragging-and-dropping. Each of these contains space for all content related to the theme of that card.
  • As you add content, Sway suggests web material that may be relevant and might be good additions to your document.
  • When your Sway is finished, add it to any site that accepts embed codes, send it out as a link, or share it to a variety of social media outlets.

Prosms sway for writers

It’s free — so much power for no money. That’s amazing.

It’s easy to use and has lots of automated options that take the stress out of being creative.

Sways are automatically saved, by default to the MS Office account you used for the sign-up.

Multiple people can collaborate on a Sway. All you have to do is send the Sway link to collaborators.

Sway will create a project from a theme. You type in the theme and Sway suggests text, pictures and more that fit that topic.

Cons

Sway requires a Microsoft account (but not Office 365). This isn’t bad, just one more place that requires a log-in.

While Sways can be shared on various social media or via an embed code that can be played in situ, other options aren’t as easy.

8 Writerly Uses for Sway

Here are some of the ways my teacher-author colleagues and I use Sway:

  1. Easily create quick book trailers that pop to share with your writing community.
  2. Create a linear website for your book with content that’s revealed with a flick of the finger.
  3. Create a website with your resume and/or writer’s portfolio.
  4. Research and collect notes in OneNote, then send that information to Sway to be mashed up as a presentation
  5. Write and format marketing materials. Input the text and then let Sway suggest images and other resources.
  6. Prepare any presentation, much as you might a PowerPoint.
  7. Create a themed newsletter quickly to share with your (GDPR-approved) mailing list.
  8. Create digital stories with a mix of text, images, and other multimedia pieces.
  9. Create a portfolio of artwork, poems, or writing that can be shared to showcase your work.
  10. Collaborate with your writing team on your WIP or marketing materials.

Overall, Sway does a great job of minimizing formatting in favor of writing — a real plus in today’s busy world.

More on writer’s tools


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a weekly contributor to TeachHUB, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

I’d Love Help Launching Born in a Treacherous Time

I just launched my latest novel, the prehistoric fiction, Born in a Treacherous Time:

Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive in a world where nature rules, predators stalk them, and the next species of man threatens to destroy Lucy and everything she understands.

If you like Man vs. Wild, or have ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. 

If you read To Hunt a Sub and loved the cameos of Lucy, the ancient female, Born in a Treacherous Time reveals her life, why she appeared to Kali as sad, and how she set off on what would be man’s African exodus. Also: Learn how to knap tools, steal carcasses from Scimitar-tooth cats, and avoid the many dangers that preyed on early man.

If you are interested in featuring my book on your blog, I’d love to share your site on my writer’s website, WordDreams. I have a series I call ‘Traveling’ where I visit your website article about my book and promote that on my blog. To participate, add a comment to this post with a way I can contact you and I’ll reach out.

Here are some details:

Summary

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist).

Kirkus Review:

“Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout.

A well-executed tale of early man.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Click here for the entire review

An reader review

Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.

 “I devoured the book in 2 sittings.”

–Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis

Continue reading

Best-in-Class Digital Storytelling Tools

digital storytellingA digital story is a series of images connected with text and/or a narrated soundtrack — captured by a digital device such as an iPad or smartphone — that tell a story. It can be fiction, non-fiction, narrative, biographic, expository, or even poetry. Think of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, or Colin Low’s City of Gold. Because of its multimedia approach and appealing blend of text, color, movement, sound, and images, it has fast become one of the most popular formats for visual writers.

According to Center for Digital Storytelling, there are seven elements critical to a good digital story:

  1. Point of View — What is the perspective of the author?
  2. Dramatic Question — A key question that keeps the viewer’s attention and will be answered by the end of the story.
  3. Emotional Content — Serious issues that come alive in a personal and powerful way and connects the audience to the story.
  4. Voice — personalize the story with the author’s unique writing style to help the audience understand the context.
  5. Soundtrack — Music or other sounds that support and embellish the story.
  6. Economy — Using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer.
  7. Pacing — The rhythm of the story and how slowly or quickly it progresses.

These elements are conveyed by the vast swath of multimedia tools available in digital storytelling.

Writing a digital story includes five basic steps:

  1. Research the topic so you are clear on presentation.
  2. Write a script, a storyboard, or a timeline of activities.
  3. Collect the required multimedia parts — text, images, audio, video, oral selfies, and more.
  4. Combine everything into an exciting story.
  5. Share and reflect on the completed story.

These five steps are stepping stones for beginners and critical to experienced storytellers.

There are so many online options for digital storytelling, rarely is there a writer who can’t find a web tool that fits their communication style. Here are some of the most popular. Try them all and then pick the one that works best for you:

adobe voiceAdobe Spark Video

Free; iOS

Adobe Spark Video is an easy-to-use digital storytelling app for iPads. It integrates text, images, royalty-free clipart, background music, and your own artwork into a story you tell and then render as a movie to be shared easily through the cloud. As the name implies, the storytelling revolves around your voice. While it lacks many of the bells and whistles of more sophisticated digital storytelling tools, it includes everything necessary to relay exciting, creative stories.

puppet palsPuppet Pals

Freemium; mobile app

With Puppet Pals, you add a voice-over to a selected cast of characters (only one available with the free version) and animate them to tell a story. The paid version provides additional characters and more storytelling options, but the free version allows for a great deal of flexibility in the writing process as well as an authentic expression of ideas.

storybird kindergarten digital storytellingStorybird

Freemium; web and mobile app

Storybird is a gorgeous collection of high-quality artwork that has inspired over 5 million to write. You pick an artistic theme for a story, then add text to as many pages as you’d like. Once finished, the story is saved as a booklet that can be shared via a link, printed, or embedded in blogs or websites.

storykit1Storykit

Free; iOS

Storykit makes it easy to tell stories with photos, text, personal drawings, and audio. Each page is created individually using images from the camera roll, the optional addition of audio, and then curated into a link that can be shared with others or uploaded to the Storykit server and made available to all users.

tellagamiTellagami

Freemium; iOS

With Tellagami, you create a thirty-second story using an animated avatar (called a gami) that moves and talks in response to a recording of your own words (added via voice or keyboard).  After customizing the gami’s appearance and emotions, it is placed in a background selected from the camera roll, taken with the device camera, or hand-drawn directly onto the screen. Finally, the audio overlay is added.  When completed, it can be saved to the camera roll or shared via email or a variety of social media options. This app is well-suited for book trailers or anyone who wants to promote their book but doesn’t like a visual recording of themselves. The cartoon character makes it easier to communicate required information without what is–for some–the embarrassment of seeing themselves on video.

voicethreadVoiceThread

Fee; web or iOS

VoiceThread is an interactive, cloud-based slideshow approach to digital storytelling that can share images, documents, videos, voice, and more. It’s intuitive to use, as simple as adding the media you desire with the click of a button and a drag-drop from your digital device. Once published, viewer comments are appended via typing, audio, or video. As others comment, they can draw on the screen and/or add other documents (images, files, and more) to better explain what’s being said. When completed, it’s saved as a video and can be shared in a wide variety of methods.

This is one of the most powerful digital storytelling tools, allowing users to share a wide variety of media in support of their story, narrative, documentary, or argument.

***

However you start the use of digital storytelling, just start! It will change the way you think of writing.

More about Digital Storytelling

Storyboard That–Digital Storyteller, Graphic Organizer, and more

8 More Digital Storytelling Websites

19 More Digital Storytelling Apps


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

9 Breakout Tips from Donald Maass

I have a huge bookshelf of self-help books for writing. If I get stuck, I roll my chair around to face my floor-to-ceiling shelves and explore tips from Donald Maass, Bob Mayer, Strunk and White, or James Frey on my problem-du-jour. These books are a wealth of information and take a long time to digest. I thought I’d take a few of my favorites and distill their highlights.

Literary agent Donald Maass is also the author of more than sixteen novels. I must admit, I’ve read none of those but have devoured his thoughts on how to write. I’ve reviewed both Writing the Breakout Novel (Writers Digest Books 2001) and The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for the Career Fiction Writer. These next nine tips are a distillation of both:

  •  When novelists whose previous work merely has been admired suddenly have books vault onto the best-seller lists or even achieve a large jump in sales, publishing people say they have ‘broken out’.
  • I first came to my conviction that the techniques of breakout storytelling can be learned around the moment that I first met one of my best clients…
  • Writing the breakout novel is… the habit of avoiding the obvious or of covering familiar ground, and instead reinforcing the conviction that one’s views, experience, observation of character and passion for chosen story premises can be magnified and pushed so one’s novels achieve new levels of impact and new degrees of originality
  • To survive in today’s book publishing industry, it is not good enough just to get published (as true today as ten years ago when Maass first wrote those words)
  • Most authors commit to story premises instinctively. Their gut tells them this is the one. There is nothing wrong with that, except the gut can sometimes be mistaken. It cannot hurt to subject your breakout premise to a little scrutiny.
  • The key ingredients I look for in a fully formed breakout premise are 1) plausibility, 2) inherent conflict, 3) originality, and 4) gut emotional appeal.
  • If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes
  • Relegate setting to the backseat or make it the chassis on which everything else rides, but do not ignore it.
  • …if you do not have a moment of unexpected tragedy or grace in your novel, …consider where you might put it in

What’s your favorite how-to-write tip? Share it in comments.

–published first on Today’s Author


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

14 Websites to Read Free Digital Books

For all of us addicted readers, we know that the cost of the ereaders that curate our ebooks is minor compared to the cost of the ebooks we are reading. The books of many best-selling authors cost just as much if you purchase them digitally as print though there is no cost of paper, machinery, distribution, shelfspace–all that. Still, I am getting used to digital books and like them better for a lot of reasons–I can write on the pages without getting arrested, I can bring ten books in case I don’t like the first five, they are light-weight, the font can be enlarged (that’s a new appreciation as I get older).

But, it’s increasingly difficult to find affordable ebooks. Thankfully, the library now offers Kindles (or similar) with the digital book on it at no cost. I know over time, they’ll get a bigger selection but right now, they’re just getting into it. Here’s a list of free book sources I like:

Bookopolis

Bookopolis is a large collection of fiction and nonfiction books for ages 7-12. Here, students can read, get ideas for new books, comment on books, and earn badges and points to reflect their love of reading. Educators sign up with a Teacher account and then set up classes and accounts for students. Students can practice persuasive writing, comprehension, and typing skills by completing reviews, reports, and reading logs online. Parents can sign up home accounts to help students keep track of favorite books. Available books include Newbery Award Winners as well as many other reader collections. Kids can even watch book trailers before making a selection.

Books can be read online or on most mobile devices.

Classic Literature

A free collection of the most popular public domain pieces in classic literature (Shakespeare, Jane Austen and more)

Great Books Online

By Bartleby. An extensive collection by the preeminent internet publisher of literature, reference and verse providing students, researchers and the intellectually curious with unlimited access to books and information on the web, free of charge.

Gutenberg Project

This site provides thousands of digitized books, audio recordings, DVDs/CDs from the public domain (or out-of-copyright). This includes Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, A Tale of Two Cities, Heart of Darkness, and more. These are great for all ages to not only read but research topics that might have been well-covered years ago but not so much now (like primitive tribes).

You can read them online, on a mobile device, or download them.

International Children’s Digital Library

The ICDL offers over 4,600 digital children’s books in over 59 languages that exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages, and ideas. Books are made available from a variety of sources including the Library of Congress. Readers search by title, author, country, or category (or several other options such as ISBN). By setting up an account, readers can add tags to books and organize them according to their preference. Many ICDL books are classified as “activities” meaning they are perfect for digital story times, scavenger hunts, and creative writing exercises.

Most books are only available through the website or a link to the website.

Internet Archive

Internet Archive offers over 12,000,000 freely downloadable books and texts. There is also a collection of 550,000 modern eBooks that may be borrowed by anyone with a free archive.org account.

Librivox

Free public domain audio books that can be listened to on computers, iPods or other mobile devices, even burned onto a CD.

Loyal Books

Free public domain audiobooks and ebooks in many genres, for all ages.

Many Books

Over 33,000 ebooks that can be browsed by language, author, title.

My Books

My Books is an app that includes over 51,305 free books of various genres, even nonfiction. You can read online or download and read offline. There are also 5,199 audiobooks. 

Online Books Page

Listing over 2 million free books on the Web that can be searched by author, title, series, and keyword. They also offer news and other special features.

Open Library

Open Library is a curated list of over 20 million books (and growing) that are available worldwide to all age groups whether from the public domain or under copyright protections. Once you find a book, you access a scanned version (if available, say from Project Gutenberg) or purchase it at a linked bookstore. 

Access this catalog via the website.

Read Any Book

A wide collection of genres included, for all ages.

World Cat

World Cat is a comprehensive curation of books, CDs, articles, videos, and more available at all libraries in a geographic area or around the world, for all age groups. This includes not only public libraries but colleges and universities. Once you’ve located a resource, you check it out from that local library. You can get help from a librarian, leave comments and reviews, even factual notes (much like Wikipedia).

World Cat only includes libraries that have joined the World Cat group.

More on reading

Forget Summer Reading. The Classics are Timeless

National Poetry Day

Unconventional Research Sites for Writers

My Research at the Library of Congress 


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Digital Literacy–What does it mean to a writer?

digital literacy‘Digital literacy’ is one of those buzz words floated by experts as being granular to the 21st-century. It’s on everyone’s tongue but figuring out what it means can be daunting. ‘Literacy’ is simple: the ability to read and write–so ‘digital literacy’ should be achieving those goals digitally.

Not that simple. Here are a few of the definitions I found:

the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.“.

–Cornell University

“the ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information”

–Digital Strategy Glossary of Key Terms

“the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers:

–Paul Gilster, Digital Literacy

“a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments

–Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan: Connecting the Digital Dots

Philosophically, these are all good definitions, but after fifteen years teaching K-8 technology and grad school, I know ‘digital literacy’ is much more complicated than a couple of sentences, especially when we’re talking about a generation baptized in iPads and smartphones. Here are the seven transformative skills required to be digitally-literate:

Basic tools

Digital literacy implies skills you and your characters already have but without paper, pencils, books, or lectures. It’s purpose-built and user-driven and includes the following:

  • digital devices–such as laptops, iPads, Chromebooks, or desktops, used daily
  • a digital calendar–with due dates, activities, and other events
  • an annotation tool (like Acrobat, Notability, or iAnnotate), to take notes wherever you are
  • email–or some method of communicating quickly–more real-time than email. This can be messaging, Twitter, or a dedicated forum

social mediaSocial media

Social media has the reputation as a gossip column–where people meet to chat. But, it’s not your mother’s water cooler. Over a billion people use Facebook and Twitter every day. That’s over 80% of internet users, about 70% in high school or under. It crosses both sexes and all income levels. In short, it has become the communication method-of-choice for millennials and younger, where users share information, collaborate on ideas, and update deadlines.

As a writer, your goal is to represent characters as they are in the real world. That’s social media.

cloud computingCloud computing

The digitally-literate can start something in one place and finish it in another. It may require switching seamlessly between the work PC and the home Mac. It means sharing a report with team members without worrying that you don’t have email addresses or they can’t read the format you published in. Cloud computing makes all that happen. It’s accessible from anywhere with internet or WiFi, on any device, by whoever you give access. Whether that’s one document a week or ten, people expect you to be that versatile.

Writers need to understand how cloud computing works and which ‘clouds’ are used by their characters.

Digital databases

Physical libraries are often closed when inspiration strikes. Plus, their supply of resources is dictated by how many shelves they have. The Library of Congress, while almost infinite (with a copy of every copyrighted tome) can only be accessed from Washington DC. Digital databases are the new library. They’re infinite, everywhere, and welcome visitors at all hours. Writers should learn how to roam these virtual halls and access not only online libraries but dedicated databases like the Smithsonian and the History Channel.digital library

Virtual collaboration

Writer’s groups struggle to find a time that works for all participants, agree on a meeting place, and then actually get there (schedule conflicts with other family members or car problems can make that difficult).  Virtual collaboration has none of those problems. Documents can be shared with all stakeholders and accessed at will. Many digital tools (like Google Apps) allow writers to review submittals for a critique group even if the dog ate their printed copy. Meetings can take place in the bedroom or their backyard, through virtual sites like Google Hangouts and Skype. A wide variety of resources can be shared without lugging an armful of materials to the meeting and ultimately forgetting to bring half of them home. These get-togethers can even be taped and shared with absent members or rewound for review.

Writers should become comfortable using these if for no other reason than that their characters may use them, especially if they’re under forty.

Evaluate information found online

Just because information is online doesn’t mean it’s not ‘fake news’. Writers will quickly lose their reading audience if they don’t present accurate information that fits the facts. To do that, writers need the tools to evaluate the reliability and veracity of what they find online. This includes questions such as:

  • is the site legitimate or a hoax
  • is the author an expert or a third grader
  • is the information current or dated
  • is the data neutral or biased

Digital citizenshipcollaboration

Because we-all spend so much time online, we need to learn how to act in that digital neighborhood. This includes topics detailing the rights and responsibilities of digital citizens, such as:

  • cyberbullying
  • legality of online material
  • buying stuff online
  • digital footprints
  • privacy and safety while traveling the digital world

Being a good citizen of the digital world is no different than the physical world. There are practical strategies that revolve around proper netiquette and an understanding of the culture that permeates a vast, anonymous, Wild West-like territory often defined by the accountability of those who visit it.

Consider these eight topics the organic workflow to be covered as you and your characters travel the internet. I’ve only touched on them–let me know if you have questions about any and I’ll direct you to more resources.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

5 Ways to Personalize Wallpaper on 3 Digital Devices

Personalizing a digital device with unique wallpaper is a great way to take ownership of your iPad, Chromebook, laptop, PC, or another digital device. To do this, choose the method below best-suited to your digital devices.

  • Method One: Use your digital device’s organic method of changing wallpaper. Most devices have 1) a wallpaper collection that’s available to users, and 2) a method of using images from user Pictures folder (or camera roll).
  • Method Two: Create your own wallpaper using school drawing program (such as KidPix, Paint, TuxPaint, Photoshop, or another). Save it to your digital portfolio. Use this personalized drawing under Method One or Four (as available). 
  • Method Three: Right click on an internet picture you like (that’s in the public domain) and select ‘set as desktop background’:

wallpaper 2

  • Method Four: Go to digital device ‘Pictures’ folder; select picture you like and ‘set as desktop background’.
  • Method Five: Go to one of the many wallpaper websites (‘wallpaper’ is another term for ‘desktop background’) and download one, then apply it using one of the above methods. Try National Geographic. They have beautiful nature wallpapers.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

How Great is MS Office Mix

office mixI first met Office Mix a few years ago, before I had the required Office 2013 or higher. I loved the demo I watched, cried a bit that it wouldn’t work for me, and then forgot about it. Now that I’ve upgraded to Office 365, I’m eager to use all the features that got me so excited back then.

Before I get into those, let me back up for those who have never heard of Office Mix. It’s a free PowerPoint add-on that turns your existing PowerPoint slideshow program into a fully-featured presentation tool. Using the traditional slide decks you love, you can now collect all the resources required for a presentation, webinar, or book launch into one place including video (book trailer), narration (book blurb), audio (author interview), form (sign up for the blog hop), screen captures, photo albums (images related to your book), and more. Just like with PowerPoint, you start with either a blank slide or a professional-looking template. Once the slide deck is completed, you share it via link or embed it as a slideshow or video on any device.

Because Mix uses audio and video tools to communicate ideas, users are eager to view the result making it a perfect addition to a book marketing program.

How to get started

To get started, download the add-on from the Mix website. When you open PowerPoint, Mix will appear on the toolbar, toward the right side. Click and you’ll find the features that have made Mix a new favorite digital tool with so many educators.  You can watch a collection of how-to videos, but if you’re in a hurry, Mix is intuitive enough to skip right to the “get started” step.

Pros

Because most people already use PowerPoint, this feels natural. There’s nothing tricky; in fact, it’s intuitive and easy.

I like that you can include a Discussion Board, encouraging readers to add their thoughts and react to those of others.

Mix videos can be downloaded as .mp4s making them easily used in a wide variety of places, including a YouTube channel.

Cons

Mix allows you to embed a web page into a slide, which is cool, but it only allows those with https — the designation for secure sites. I was surprised how many sites don’t include that and were, therefore, unable to be shared.

You have to have MS Office 2013 or above to run Mix. This isn’t really a “con”, more of a warning.

Writing applications

There are dozens of authentic uses for Mix in your writing. Let me share the top three mentioned to me by my community:

  1. Use the screen recording tool to capture just a portion of a longer video (from, say, YouTube) and embed that into a slide.
  2. Videos recorded using the screen recording tool can be saved as a stand-alone video and embedded wherever you need (keeping in mind appropriate copyright protections) such as your book’s website or blog.
  3. Rejuvenate slideshows you created in the past by uploading them to your 2013 or later PowerPoint and “Mix” them by adding video, screencasts, audio, whiteboards, and more.

Overall, Mix is one of the most exciting free tools from Microsoft in years. It’s one of many of the free add-ons now available through MS Office and reason enough to update to MS Office 2016.

More on Microsoft tools:

8 Ways to Use Minecraft in Your Classroom

OneNote–the all-in-one digital notetaking app

Tech Tips for Writers #100: Top Nine MS OfficeTips


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 20 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. Read Jacqui’s tech thriller series, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days.