Monday, May 14, 2012

Slowly but surely

Ok.  So I am a little late to this party, but that is because I am a slow learner and because my plan had been overly elaborate.

Let me begin by noting that initially I had some difficulty finding the right apps for what I had in mind.  Maneuvering through the wonderful world of apps has been a challenge to say the least.  At first, all I seemed to find were games or so-called ‘productivity apps’ that seemed completely beside the point.  Educational apps seemed no better.  Considering that the Apple store claims 25 billion of these things have been downloaded, I started to panic. 

But then, quite by accident I came across what was to me a most exciting app.  It is called Shazam and the name seems appropriate.  This app allows you to hold your ipad next to an audio source of any kind in order to feed the app a slice of music.  Within about 6 to 8 seconds, the app tries to identify the piece of music.  And amazingly, it thus far seems to get it right about 80% of the time—and sometimes the songs are pretty arcane.  This is an incredibly useful tool to someone like myself whose research frequently involves analyzing advertisements that have appropriated and decontextualized bits and pieces of music from God-knows where. 

Other apps that I have purchased and found useful are Penultimate (which I have tried to use to annotate, diagram and mark up images for the class that I teach on Advertising and Semiotics) and Keynote and Evernote which allow one to throw together a little text (well, actually very little or quite a lot) along with images, graphs, or audio or video for the purpose of putting together mini-presentations that might fit into a lecture.  Keynote is the more elaborate presentation system. 

The Evernote app has been the more useful to me thus far.  It is the one that I have come to most consistently appreciate because it permits me to assemble combinations of notes, images, diagrams, etc.  This is often how I work anyhow in preparing the materials that I might bring to class to get things started.  For example, in a discussion of gated neighborhoods, I might come across a headline in the news that is pertinent, and I can then package this with a visual representation of a gated area, and pretty soon these bits and pieces might begin to resemble an opening to a lecture or a discussion.  I do not use it for the whole of class but usually for the introduction.

The Evernote app worked best after I also installed Evernote on my desktop and with it installed their device for clipping web pages.  I have experimented with creating “notebooks” and sending them via a cool email tool directly to the set of notes that I designate on the ipad.  Along the way I discovered a few small problems that pointed out to me the need to stay more up to date with operating system upgrades and browser upgrades.  These tools often times do not work if one is behind the times with either the OS or the browser, as I found out.  These problems are ultimately relatively easy to solve, but to the novice they can slow things down.  As noted above, Evernote comes with a “web-clipper” device.  Its performance thus far seems a bit more uneven than advertised.  Some reviews of this device express a lot of unhappiness. I still think it holds promise. 

With Penultimate I have imported scans of an advertisement or a screenshot from a television commercial and then diagrammed them in terms of the semiotic principles involved.  It offers a simple tool for introducing students to semiotics.   It can get messy—visually—if one has clumsy fingers/hands such as mine.  The drawing part can look great or it can really be indecipherable. 

I have tried and thus far been unsuccessful with a Moodle reader app.  All I really wanted to do with it was to use the device to focus in on particular bits of writing that students do for my classes.  Once again, I think that the app calls for a particular version of Moodle and although this should have been simple, it kind of defeated me in the short run.  Next time—my plan will be to use Moodle reader to allow student writing to springboard students into more precise discussions of the ideas we are examining.


  1. Hey Bob, I notice you mentioned Shazam. There is another option that some (including myself) would claim works better. It is called Soundhound. It used to cost, but now appears to be free.

  2. I second SoundHound. That's a great idea, to use it for decoding music used in advertising.

  3. I second SoundHound. That's a great idea, to use it for decoding music used in advertising.


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