Early this month, I had the opportunity to attend Wikimania 2014 in London, England. Spanning five days, the conference included a hackathon, preconference workshops, and over 200 presentations and had a total of more than 2,000 attendees. While the entire event was very interesting (and warrants more exploration given that many videos are available online), one area that I think may be of particular interest and use for readers is the education preconference. Over the course of two days, the event focused on empowering educators to find new ways to use Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects in the classroom. We heard from a number of experts who have used Wikipedia as part of college level courses, ranging from foreign language teachers who use Wikipedia for translation projects to professors who focused instead on having students create Wikipedia articles and immerse themselves in the Wikimedia community over the course of an entire semester. On the first day, much of the focus was on the Wikipedia Ambassador program, which encourages Wikipedia enthusiasts who are students, professors, librarians, or staff at colleges and universities to act as “ambassadors” to provide support and encouragement for those interested in using Wikipedia in the classroom. The program has had some success in England, where a few ambassadors have been active at universities and have helped professors to find new ways to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool.
The second day started with Wikipedia editing training for those who have not used the platform (which I did not attend, so I can’t comment on it) followed by an afternoon devoted to presentations by educators already using Wikipedia in a variety of ways (including one educator who uses Wikipedia to create open access teaching materials in the sciences). The session ended with an opportunity for attendees to work on designing a curriculum that incorporated Wikipedia in a subject area of their choice.
The event provided a lot of inspiration and ideas about new ways to work with Wikipedia in the classroom, but beyond this abstract inspiration, it also offered many concrete resources. In particular, presenters introduced us to some great resources that are available on the Wikipedia Education Program portal. If you are interested in using Wikipedia for education, I would recommend looking at their resources page and in particular the case studies that they have prepared. They are guaranteed to give you new ideas about how to use Wikipedia in the classroom and excite you about the possibilities that the platform offers.
This week on the YALSA Blog, I introduce readers to the Heyday app. Those of you who have trouble making time to keep a daily journal will want to check this one out. Heyday takes a task that many people want to do but don’t quite manage to and makes it automatic using the data that you already collect on your mobile device. You can check out my full description of the app over on the YALSA Blog.
Rendered entirely in black, white, and shades of grey, you will know from the first moment of this game that it will be a dark and bleak game. The player controls a young boy traveling through a dark and terrifying landscape on a quest to find his sister. Other than this, players have very little information. Throughout this sidescroller, players encounter dangers ranging from giant spiders to dangerous machinery. The world is largely devoid of other humans and the boy never communicates with anyone over the course of gameplay, but slowly as you proceed through the puzzles in the game, you gather more information about how the world works. The game requires a trial-and-error approach that makes the occasional death almost unavoidable (so much so that there is a special achievement that can be unlocked for completing the game with five or fewer deaths), but it nevertheless proceeds fairly quickly. Parts of the game, and specifically some of the character’s deaths, are somewhat gory, but this feels as though it fits into the overall creepiness of the world, though it certainly won’t be for everyone.
Some have complained about the somewhat abrupt ending of the game and feel that the game is over too soon, but for me, this game was a great example of how beautiful a game can be and how intriguing a world can be even when it remains mysterious. As with my earlier recommendation of Braid, this is a game that leaves some questions unanswered, but they are nevertheless worth considering.
This week and next I thought I would make a bit of a departure from most of my posts and write about video games. First up is one of my favorite indie games, Braid by Number None, Inc. and designed by Jonathan Blow. Available for Mac, Windows, Linux, PlayStation and XBox, it is a platformer that involves solving puzzles along the way to advance through the plot.
Braid is set apart from other platformers and puzzlers by both the design details and the way that it plays with the notion of time and sequence. First, the design choices make for a beautiful game from start to finish. Each level looks like a watercolor painting brought to life, which makes sense given that over a year was devoted to the artwork and it represents the combined efforts of an illustrator and a webcomic artist. The unique way that the game deals with the passage of time not only complicates each individual level, but also offers a thought-provoking look at how we think about time both in and out of games, particularly once players have unlocked all of the game’s content.
Players control a character named Tim through six different worlds over the course of the game. Each level requires the player to complete a jigsaw puzzle before moving on, but these puzzles are just one small piece of the complete picture. In order to make their way through the level to get to the puzzle, players must first navigate complicated geographies, with each world offering a slightly different way to interact with and manipulate time. Eight stars are scattered throughout the game to be collected, adding an additional challenge for players who opt to pursue them. The game itself makes for a challenging and enjoyable experience, but it is when the game is completed that its true power is revealed. Though I don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who opts to play it, suffice it to say that there are competing theories about the exact meaning of the end of the game, all of which are more thought-provoking and impressive than the average video game. No matter what type of game you typically prefer, I highly recommend giving Braid a try.
With cameras on mobile devices, and specifically in this case on iPhones, improving all the time, they are becoming the only cameras that anyone uses for casual photography. But, when you might have both photos that you want to share and those you want to keep private on a single device (or even just some images that are relevant to one friend mixed with others that aren’t), it can make it difficult to just pass your phone to someone to share your pictures. Overswipe aims to address this problem.
The first time you use Overswipe, you will probably ask yourself why no one thought of it earlier. Once you give the app access to the pictures on your device, it allows you to indicate which ones should be shared, creating a slideshow of only those that you want to share in a specific situation. You can change your selections at any time and your selection is not saved when you shut down the app, so you can easily customize the selected images for the person you are showing your phone. With the free version of the app, you are limited to selecting only five images, but for $0.99 you can upgrade to the Pro version, which allows you to select as many images as you want and also allows you to set a passcode if you want to prevent people from closing the app to navigate to your full image gallery. If you frequently share images by passing your phone around to your friends, Overswipe is definitely worth a try.
At this point, having a website is practically a necessity for businesses, organizations, and even individuals in many professions. While learning web design and programming is one approach to creating these websites, many don’t have the time, need or desire to learn the skills to create a website from scratch. To fill this need, many tools have emerged that make it easy to create professional looking websites very quickly. One such tool is Wix.
With Wix, the process of creating a website starts with selecting a template. There is a wide range of templates, sorted by type of site that you are interested in creating, along the spectrum from business websites to personal websites. You can also sort the templates by most popular and newest. Once you have picked your template, you can start modifying it to meet your needs. Wix uses simple menus and an interface that will be familiar to those who use online text editing tools, such as WordPress, meaning that there is a fairly low learning curve for getting started with editing. If the structure of the template doesn’t quite meet your needs, you can easily create new pages and drag and drop pages within the site navigation to create your desired structure, even after you have otherwise finished editing the underlying pages. Wix sites can include text, images, videos and audio, and there are even tools that will help users embed content from specific sources, such as SoundCloud and Spotify. There are also options to add interactive content to your site, such as a blog or an online store. If you want more advanced features, Wix also has a built-in app store where you can find apps that let you add functionality to your site including online chatting, forms, comments, online payment, and site searching to name just a few. Some of these apps require a subscription or licensing fee, but many are available free of charge.
As you design your site, you have the ability to preview both how it will look in a computer browser and how it will be displayed on mobile devices. The Wix templates I have tried work well for both types of devices. If you want to work on your site over several sessions, you can also save your progress and come back to finish later. However, it is important to know that Wix does not autosave, so you do need to remember to frequently save your work as you go along. Once you are done with your site, you can name your site and publish it, which will make it public for the first time. Basic websites can be created and published with Wix free of charge, but there are also several premium plans that offer additional features, support and the ability to use your own domain. If you are interested in creating a website, Wix is a nice option.
OKDOTHIS is a fun photography app that challenges you to take photos of the world around you according to the prompts of other users. Want to challenge others? You can also create your own prompts and watch as other OKDOTHIS users take their own pictures interpreting it. This week on the YALSA Blog, I offer a full look at the app. Head over there to check it out if you want to join a photography community and challenge yourself to take new types of photos.