Tag Archives: productivity

5 Mac apps that can improve your work efficiency

Here are 5 applications that I use every day on my Mac, making my work life a bit easier. If you’re a Mac person, please leave a comment with your favorite work productivity apps and how you use them.

When I got my new work computer, I immediately loaded the 5 applications that I find most useful: LaunchBar, Adium, SoundSource, Growl, and iShowU HD.

LaunchBar5LaunchBar might be the most powerful productivity application for the Mac. Ever. Quicksilver is a similar application, though it hasn’t been updated in a while. Among other things, you can launch every application, document, web page, email … anything from your keyboard. It’s like Spotlight on steroids because within LaunchBar is a system of widgets and AppleScripts that add other features like searching the Web, calculating, copy and paste history, moving files. It’s kind of crazy because most people never use all of the available features. I’d like to do an experiment to see how many days I could go learning one new feature every day. I suspect that it would take more than a year before I exhausted all the features of LaunchBar. If you have any intention of become a Mac power user, get LaunchBar.

soundsourceSoundSource is a wonderful free app that does one thing well: helps you choose the source of your sound and where it’s supposed to be output. It loads on start-up, appearing in your menu bar, and from there you choose the various options where the sound is coming from and going. You could do this by opening the Sound Preference panel all the time, but I’m making sound adjustments on my computer at least 5-6 times a day, which would be a pain in the neck. Normally I have one set of ear buds through the headphone jack and a USB headset/mic at the same time. I listen to sound through the external speakers, the ear buds, or USB headset. SoundSource is the traffic control for all those inputs and outputs.

growlDo you know Growl? It’s a notification system that works in the background, letting you know when activity is taking place in various programs on your Mac. It’s real simple. When I get an email, chat activity, or am using my favorite FTP program, Transmit, Growl gives a graceful pop-up on the screen with information like the email subject line. Not a must have, Growl does make the work day marginally easier.

adiumOne thing that irritates me about instant messaging are the too numerous standards: IM, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google/Jabber, and many others. I have three different instant messaging accounts myself! Adium is an open source (free) program that handles all your different chatting accounts in one interface, seamlessly. If you have to use instant messaging for work, get Adium.

I believe one of the most under used tools in online education is the screencast. Depending on your discipline, screencasting can be a useful tool to describe and demonstrate procedures on a computer screen (read my blog post Common elements of effective screencasts). There are probably a half dozen different Mac applications that can help you create screencasts, but I find iShowU HD the best. Based on price and ease of use, iShowU HD is the best. Unlike some others, it’s Mac only; in general I find applications with both Mac and PC versions to be a lesser grade than those developed strictly for the Mac.

iShowU HD comes with presets for creating videos that can be posted to all the major video sharing sites, allows you to create watermarks on your videos, record your face using the built-in iSight camera at the same time as creating the screencast, among many other features. If you need a tool for creating screencasts, I recommend iShowU HD.

Okay, Mac people, what applications make your work day a little easier and more productive?

I haven’t forgotten the Windoz people; stay tuned for a future post running down the best work productivity apps for Windows.

Photo by mag3737 and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Common elements of effective screencasts

People research the darndest things. I found this useful article published in the online journal, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, about common elements and instructional strategies of screencasts.

Based on the screencasts of the three journal authors and other professional screencasts, a framework with two categories was developed:  structural elements and instructional strategies.

Structural elements describe the format of a screencast in terms of “sectioning, screen recording, and general narrative elements”. The three common structural elements the authors identified  were

  • Bumpers – formulaic intros and “outros” to the videos
  • Screen movement – there are two options here: dynamic screencast movement (the video follows the mouse movement on the screen, like a movie camera) and static screencast movement (there is no point of view movement following the mouse, just a static frame). The default production choice is for static screencast movement; the authors hypothesize that dynamic movement is most often used in advanced screencast topics.
  • Narration – the authors have identified two types: explicit and implicit narration. Explicit narration coincides with the procedure that the learner can see on the video, while implicit narration is a more general description of the procedure that can be viewed on the video. Often both types of narration are used in the same screencast, the authors note.

The authors found five instructional strategies used in their screencast samples. While none of the screencasts used all of them, no other strategies were found.

  • Provide overview – “overview of a particular topic by introducing the topic, giving a rationale for studying the topic, and connecting the lesson topic to future lessons.”
  • Describe procedure – providing procedural, or even sub-procedural knowledge of routines and tasks.
  • Present concept – “an explanation of a specific concept related to the screencast topic,” a similar strategy was to “describe options available in completing a procedure.”
  • Focus attention – “The narration and/or cursor location direct learners’ attention to a particular component on the screen or to a certain part of an overall procedure.”
  • Elaborate content – “[elaborate] beyond the topic with regard to a particular procedure, concept, or other aspect of the screencast. This instructional strategy facilitates opportunities to enrich learners’ understanding and to encourage learners to consider other aspects of the process or concept associated with the screencast’s subject-matter.”

I think you could probably argue with this framework, but it’s a good starting point if you’re new to the world of screencasts. New screencasters can draw on the framework to structure their videos and use clear instructional strategies.

In a future blog post I’ll have a screencast that will demonstrate this framework.