Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back to school with your Mac

back_to_school-4852-2010-08-29-17-17.jpgThe first app I want to talk about is one to help study for the big tests. Cram for the Mac from Simple Leap software is sure to get you into the test studying groove. Cram for the Mac is a great study aid for students preparing for tests. Once you enter the questions and answers from a study guide or download a test file from the Cram Test Portal or Quizlet sites you can take a test or make flash cards to help prepare for a test. The User Interface has a simple layout and is very clear. The new test button allows you to create your own test and randomize the order questions are asked and randomize the multiple choices. You can also select a timed test if you need.

Once you create your test you can edit the questions. This is where you add your multiple choice questions, answers, and any photos or sounds to your questions. Be careful when uploading photos for tests there is no zoom or adjustment features within the test so always make sure your image is large enough to be legible when you insert it into a test.

The Flash card interface is clever and looks just like a standard flash card with a button to flip the card over and view the answer. Forward and back arrow buttons allow the user to move thorough the cards. The movement through the cards is complete with a sound of flash cards being flipped. The buttons on this screen could be a little clearer by being labeled and a shuffle option would be nice.

Cram also has a feature to export your tests to your iPod touch or iPhone. Transfers occur between with apps via wifi and you can choose multiple tests to move for study while you are away from your computer. I like where Simple Media is heading with Cram and I can’t wait to see what they do on the iPad. iPad seems like a natural platform for studying for tests. Cram can also monitor your progress as you take your tests over again you can see your high score, number of tests attempted and your average score to allow you to track your progress.

Taking tests feels like you are taking an online test like you would use when working on certifications. The interface is clean and uncluttered allowing you to focus on the question and answer. At the end of the test you are shown how you answered each question and what the correct answer is. Your score is displayed on the face of your tests thumbnail.

The CramTest Portal is a site where you can download Cram tests from other users. Cram also support downloads from www.quizlet.com as as source for tests. The tests are not vetted for accuracy or completeness so use at your own risk. Several I downloaded asked me to look at an image to answer the question where no image was attached. I would suggest building your own tests or sharing tests with others in your class that might be using Cram to study.

Cram is an excellent app for teachers to create quizzes to give to students as study guides or perhaps an in class study game. Currently there is not a lot of software out there that does what Cram does and I haven’t seen any others that connect with a database to share tests. If Simple Leap software can work with Apple, Microsoft, Comp/TIA and others to create tests that are accurate they have a winner of a product. I have subscribed to services that charge $100 a year to study for certification tests and the software is poorly written, only available on Windows or just not very accurate.

Cram is cheaper, well written, and infinitely more useful than the online services I have seen. At $29.99 for the Mac app and $3.99 for the iPhone app it isn’t a bad deal. Although it would be nice to see discounts for volume licensing for schools who may want to deploy Cram and a server component to manage tests. Overall SimpleLeap is on the right track and have a great app with huge potential.

Head on over to the Simple Leap Software site and get your copy just in time to head back to school.

The second app I want to talk about is Circus Ponies Notebook version 3. We all need to take notes in class and Circus Ponies Notebook is the fastest and most powerful way to do that. Notebook looks just like a notebook when you open it. You can create tabs and have index pages already prebuilt and update as you type. You can attach sticky notes to pages, draw, copy images, web links, even attach PDF’s right into your notebook. I create a notebook for each of my classes and I can search using the notebook multidex or spotlight right from my OS X desktop. Sitting in classes or even in meetings Notebook has a feature that will allow you to record audio while you are taking notes. As you add bullet points a small speaker appears next to the bullet so you can jump right to the point in the audio recording when you typed that note. It is great for recording lectures or taking meeting minutes.

If you have a digitizer tablet Notebook also support hand writing recognition. You can also get handwriting recognition with inklet and a pogostylus from tenonedesign. (Note: after talking to tenonedesign it was determined there was some confusion regarding the website and handwriting recognition does NOT work in Notebook at this time. You can still draw diagrams and write but it isn't converted to text. Hopefully Tenonedesign will correct this in the future. The link I provided from Amazon offers the bundle for a 12.00 discount. Notebook is an extremely flexible application that can be used in as many ways as a user can think up. It is a little daunting at first with the large number of options that are available but once you get started and check out a tutorial or two you will find how Notebook can best work for you. There is no wrong way to use it, just the best way for you. Screencasts online has a well done video showing us how to use notebook. It is worth checking out at www.screencastsonline.com.

So we ended up with a few good recommendations this week and none of them break the bank. We have Cram for the Mac at $29.99, Cram for the iPhone/iPod Touch for $3.99, Notebook for $49.99 or $29.99 for students, and inklet and pogo stylus for $29.43 with shipping. Last but not least don’t forget to check out Screencasts online to teach you how to use some of your new apps especially if you are new to the Mac. A membership to www.screencastsonline.com is just $57.00 for three months.

Enjoy your school year, study hard enjoy your Mac, and if you are studying programming on the Mac and think you have a cool app to share with my readers let me know paultscott@gmail.com I will check it out and I just might review it on my blog. Thank-you to SimpleLeap Software for providing me with a copy of Cram to test out for this review. Notebook, inklet and pogo stylus I purchased myself for school and daily use. I have been a fan of Don McAllister and Screencastsonline for some time. Keep up the good work.