This is the second blog post, since I decided to change the focus of my blog to reviewing more software and web applications that I use in my classroom and personally.   I want to get a baseline of the software and web applications that I am using right now and some of the rationales I have for using them, as I start down this new road.
So to start this project I have decided to write about the tools I am using in the following order:

1. Productivity suite (mail, calendar, contacts, todo):

2. Office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, slide show, notebook):

3. Social media

4. Internet browser

5. Blogging (blog host, blogwriter)

These are not in-depth reviews of each product discussed, but simply a quick hit of my thoughts about the Software/Web Applications and how I use them right now or if I do).
OFFICE SUITE (word processor, spreadsheet, slide show, noteboook):
Google Docs:  I like Google Docs a lot, it does everything I want it to and its ability to easily share documents with my students within any of the applications is the deciding factor when it comes to usability in the classroom.  The only complaint that I have is that it does not render some of Maine’s Special Education Forms correctly, if it did I might have a tough decision regarding using M/S Word, but it doesn’t so I don’t have to cross that bridge yet.
Since Google announced this week that they will be getting back offline support for gDocs next year in more browsers than just Firefox, it will be even more useful in my classroom, for students that do not have offline access at home (and there are more than we want to think).  I find that I am starting to use the Forms functionality quite a bit lately and if it ever comes up with a easy way to have the Form score and report it out to students when they finish, it will be another reason to use this tool.
Microsoft Office for Mac 2011:  I just recently purchased Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 and love it (I had Office for Mac 2008 and used it only when I had to-I didn’t like it)  I have been a big fan of the Ribbon since it came out, it just works the same way that I do and I am very comfortable with using the Ribbon. When I was out of education for 15 months, I used the Office 2007 suite extensively and it did everything and more that I asked of it.  I now use OfficeMac2011 in tandem with Google Docs, which I use extensively in my classroom since we have Google Apps and the students do not have access to any M/S Office product on their MLTI laptops.

Right now it is about a 70/30 split with gDocs getting the majority of the work, but I find myself using OfficeMac more and more when I am drafting work and then uploading it to gDocs for sharing with my students or doing personal work.  I even use it to draft my blog posts and then copy and paste them to Blogger.

I will be glad when the tool comes out to do the autosync between gDocs and OfficeMac2011, like it has for Office 2010 for the PC.  Then my system will work even better.  Microsoft’s cloud based office suite application is not ready for deployment in my classroom at this time.

Apple iWork:  The iWork suite is a great product and works well, but it does not render check boxes and text boxes correctly on my Special Education forms.  It is loaded on the MLTI MacBooks and many of the students use this as their preferred Office Suite, so I have to be able to use it at a basic to moderate level for when they are having difficulty making it do what they want or where the commands are located.
I like the ease with which I can insert media into a document, spreadsheet or presentation when I attempted to use iWork exclusively for a while, but found that I did not like how the User Interface is setup as much as I thought I would.  The U/I just wasn’t comfortable for me and not intuitive to the way I work, I guess I am not used to opening a new canvass, it is just the difference in perspective, because I open documents.
Open Office:  The final Office Suite that many people are using because it is free is Open Office.  If you like M/S Office 2003 you will like Open Office, it works well and does most everything you want an Office Suite to do. I have experimented with it several times and while it works, I didn’t like it.  Open Office is loaded on the MLTI image, so I have to be able to know where its commands are located and how it use it to a certain level for those students who do use it in class.  If I was required to use it, I could without a problem, but for some reason I just never warmed up to Open Office. I don’t have it loaded on my MacBook Pro now and would have to download and install it, if I needed to use Open Office on it.
I have tried the Zoho Office web suite and it is a very good alternative (I like it a lot) but it is geared towards small business and really is not something that most schools use or adopted. The updated user interface is great and if it had been adopted by schools instead of Google Apps, I would have been very happy, but it wasn’t.

There are other software and web based office suites out there which appear promising, but do not have the following (universality) of Microsoft, Google or Apple’s suites and they would be fine as an alternative for personal use, but are not likely to be adopted as a school-wide program and therefore, don’t meet my needs in the classroom.

Electronic Notebook:
I added the electronic notebook to the office suite category because they fit into this category better than any place else in my mind.
NoteShare: I am learning the basics of AquaMind’s NoteShare right now. It is a powerful Notebook software that I can use to share my electronic notebooks with others.  I thought enough of it that I purchased it last week, because it is on the MLTI Laptops and also available to my students.  I can see a lot of ways that I will use it once I get used to it.  It is as someone said today – counter-intuitive in many ways but really useful when you get familiar with where the commands are and how it is structured.

That being said, I really do not like the user interface, it does not do things the same way that I do now, it is menu based, not toolbar, which I think it needs to be in today’s world.  If and when AquaMind updates the user interface to a more user friendly, it will be in my opinion a much better product than it is now.

The learning curve that it has to get to usability (for me at least), may put some people off on using or getting NoteShare.  Another thing that I really would like to see is one more page level to allow more of a division in the Notebook.  NoteShare would not have been my first choice to use on my Mac if it wasn’t on the MLTI Laptops and available to my students.  If you are not buying it as an educator it is rather expensive, but comparable to some other similar programs.

Evernote:  It works well and I have used it off and on several times since 2008.  It is very powerful, does everything that I ask of it, but I just never been comfortable with how it works.  Evernote has a desktop version that synchs automatically with the web and iPhone versions.  I don’t have any reasons for not liking or not using it more, but I just don’t.
Microsoft OneNote:  I have raved about OneNote on several occasions in the past.  The 2010 version of OneNote is great, I have it on my wife’s laptop.  If I ever were to get one of the Virtual Machine software setup on my Mac, this software would be one of the reasons and one of the first pieces of software that I would go out and buy for my personal use.  Unfortunately, it is not available for my students and therefore, not really an option in my classroom.
Google’s version of the electronic notebook is no longer supported and really isn’t a factor in this category, however, if they ever go back to updating it, it could be a big player, I actually liked and used Google Notebook when it first came out.Zoho’s electronic notebook is great, but again in academia Zoho hasn’t been adopted at a high level by schools and is not used in my classroom.  There are a bunch of other electronic notebook software out there for the Mac, that looked extremely promising and that I might like better than NoteShare, but if my students can’t access them on their MacBook, they have limited use for me in my classroom.

As I go through this review to get my baseline, it seems like a combination of Google for working in the cloud and either Microsoft or Apple products for the desktop has become my system in both Productivity and Office Suites categories.  I found that to be rather interesting that I use mostly a combination of the “big three,” because I try to find Open Source/Free things, but so far this system works pretty well for me right now.

What have you done to make a difference today?

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