It was through twitter this morning that Ewan McIntosh pointed to a new web-based word processor – Buzzword. Move over Google docs, there is now competition! I played around with it for a while and was impressed by a few of its features which are improvements over Google docs – the tables, for example, really rock! Easier to use than a wiki or google docs and much cleaner look. Apparently, the word processor is flash-based, not html, which makes it a little less messy. I could not get the application to import docs or images, but others on the network had no problems, so it could have been my connection. Another small criticism I had was that there was no apparent way to insert html links.
I think the important point here about Buzzwords is that it shows that there will be an increasingly wider choice of web-based collaborative tools to use (and hopefully they will remain free!). With greater choices comes the competitive drive to create better, more facile, and lighter (on bandwidth) tools.
The number of web-based, easy-to-use tools that permit collaboration between many users is growing steadily. When I was in the classroom last year, my students used a number of the tools to facilitate their projects and assignments. While my school permitted wikispaces to be open to anyone on campus, I did not have the same luck with google docs. There was a concern about bandwidth if many users were working on docs collaboratively. I am wondering if that concern is justified. It will be interesting to see if buzzword faces the same hurdles. I would like to test its use of bandwidth sometime.
One of the first things I check out when using new applications – whether web-based or not – is what file types the app will import and export. This is critically important when designing or creating resources that need to be available cross-platform and in a ubiquitous computing setting.
In my new position at LEARN, I have been creating resources and tools to support the learning and evaluation situations and activities that are hosted on our site for the use of Québec teachers. As well, I have created several conference presentations in the last few months. Because of this, I have had to work with new applications and software. Oh yeah, and I moved from a PC to a mac, so I have become very sensitive about cross-platform apps.
Some of the new apps I am using:
Final Cut Express – pretty powerful, even if not pro version! It only runs on a mac, but more importantly, it exports to a variety of file types – wmv (imports this as well), flash, ipod, as well as .mov.
Omnigraffle – also exports to jpg, html, pdf and a variety of image file types. One has to go pro to export as a visio file type (which is handy to me because my colleague has visio and offered to help with some of my visuals!) Beware Leopard users! There was serious bug in omnigraffle that causes you to lose the data of a file when you export! Be sure to check out the Beta version so you don’t lose your data when you upgrade to Leopard!
Keynote (from iWork ’08) – this version really rocks because it will export to ppt, flash, html, ipod, .mov and will import PowerPoints. Can we expect PowerPoint to do the same? I think not. Also the graphics and design of keynote is just plain elegant – much sweeter-looking than ppt. I especially like using this app when I am working with a visual resource or tool because I can export to so many different file types and permit some flash animation if I would like that in my tool.
Google docs – exports as Word doc, html, pdf, OpenOffice, rtf and txt as well as its own Presentation slideshow mode
Wikispaces – does not currently export – but here is my workaround – send to printer, copy and paste onto a word processor doc and then save as you like (see google doc)
And for all those file types that cannot be converted within their own applications, there is always zamzar – free online conversion tool. Zamzar also will convert youtube videos as standalones. So, if you are like me, you will download the youtube video if the place where you want to show it off does not have reliable Internet access.
An educator I recently shared zamzar with was very concerned about this ability to convert documents so easily because of copyright and plagiarism issues. We are now very capable of taking something online and claiming it as our own work. It is the evil flip side of a web that permits user-generated content so easily. To me, this speaks of a GREAT NEED to change our teaching practices. Why are we giving assignments that can be so easily found on the Internet? The assignments and learning situations we give our students should challenge them to create (or re-create) information in meaningful ways that demonstrate their learning. A powerful way to get students to understand the value of intellectual property is to have them create their own IPs and share it on the web. Am I being too naive about this issue?