Friday, November 23, 2012

Five Great School Tools: Google Scholar, Cmaps, Zotero, Adobe Creative Suite in the Cloud, and Balsamiq Mockups

I've survived the first quarter of my new graduate program, and now have a couple of days of a break. I loved my classes and the work has been challenging but very rewarding. During the semester I was introduced to a few new tools. Let me amend that to new to me. They have been around for a while. 

Google Scholar has been a huge boon. It can be used to locate journal articles and books on all topics. As students will know, not every article is available for free. But once I know about the article, I can go to the Wallace Library site and search for it. Most everything I want has been available there. Another thing Google Scholar does is to tell you who has cited the resource in their work. This has led me to many new sources of information. 

Cmaps is a free concept mapping tool. Think Visio, but also available for the Mac and free. I still can't make the elegant charts that I've seen around, but it is a very useful tool. I was writing a final paper last quarter and having difficulties getting the organization just right. I used Cmaps to get my thoughts down on paper, and then could rearrange chunks until finally I had a flow that worked. It was very useful. I'm using it now in my new job to create a new workflow. Check it out, it's not hard to learn and very useful.

Zotero is a citation management program that you can use for free. It allows you to save citations, add metadata, group citations into projects or categories, add notes, and best of all, include a copy of the website or a pdf or other document to the citation. So what was formerly an unruly stack of paper on my desk is now an organized group of citations in the cloud. You can also add things by typing in the DOI or ISBN number. Then Zotero populates all the pertinent fields for you. I did this with all my books, and used a metadata tag to say where the book was located ("Living Room", "Bedroom", "Office"). Then, when it's paper-writing time, you just drag a citation over to a Word doc and viola! A correctly formatted bibliography!

Cloud-based Adobe Creative Suite makes CS affordable for students. For $19/month, I can have access to any of those tools I want to use. When I got my new computer, I decided I couldn't afford Creative Suite,  - until I heard about this version!

"Wiring framing" is a term that was new to me. It means making a non-functional mockup of an interface or website. Although my program is about human-computer interactions, I'm not much of an artist, and was a little worried about how I was going to be able to do this when the time came. Then I discovered Balsamiq Mockups. For $79, you can download software that, "helps software designers and developers build great software by letting them easily sketch out their ideas, then quickly collaborate and iterate over them." I haven't actually used this, but am looking forward to doing so soon. It looks like a great product, and a great company as well!
Hope you enjoy exploring these products. Even if you aren't in school, you might find them useful!


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