Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday Tech Tip: Reading (and Annotating) Library Books in Your Browser

Yesterday, the Denver Post ran a front page article about the shift in Colorado schools from print to electronic resources (you can read it here).  While focus of the article was (unfortunately) textbooks, we wanted to follow up with a post about accessing books using a browser.

Since we're implementing Chromebooks across Cherry Creek Schools, we're using Chrome, but you can use any modern browser to read and interact with books from the library.

Borrowing Library Books to Read in the Browser

If you have a library card, you have access to books that you can read in your browser.  In our district, over 50 of our 60 schools have access to our district's OverDrive catalog, and any staff member in CCSD has access through our District Library & Media Services department.  Steps for borrowing a library book to read in your browser are below, but if you have a mobile device, you can also use various apps to read library books as well.
  1. To read a book in your browser, log into your chosen library's OverDrive site and find a book (you'll need your library card number for public libraries).  If you're a CCSD staff member, your library card number is your employee ID, and if you're a CCSD student, your library card number is your student ID.
  2. For any book, you'll see the available formats, copies owned by the library, and the book's description.  OverDrive READ is the browser version.  (Our district's OverDrive catalog often includes helpful information about a book, including lexile score, grade level, and interest area, but this information is not available for all titles.)  
  3. If copies are available, choose the blue "Borrow" button.  If the book is already checked out, you can place a "Hold" and you'll receive an email when the title becomes available.   
  4. Once you have checked out the book, you will see the option to "Read (in your browser)."  Selecting that option will take you to a new tab or window in your browser where you can read the book.
  5. If you want to have access to the book when you're offline or without an internet connection, you can download the book onto a device (the "offline" copy will be on that device, but you can still use any browser with an internet connection to read the book).

Highlighting, Annotating, and Bookmarking a Library Book in the Browser

If you're reading an OverDrive book in Chrome (this also works in other browsers), you'll see a toolbar like what's pictured on the right.  This provides a linked table of contents, a list of any bookmarks, highlights or annotations, search capabilities, and reading preferences (like text size, font, and background).  The last icon on the right, the cloud, lets you also download the book for off-line reading; however, this "off-line" copy lives on the device itself.  You can still read the book in any browser with an internet connection.

 Holding the cursor on any word will bring up an embedded dictionary and the option to highlight in 3 different colors and add a note.

So, what happens after the book is returned to the library collection?  Those notes & highlights are actually saved for your library card #, so if you check out the book again at a later time, your notes, bookmarks, and highlighted content will be there.

Finally, don't forget about your local libraries.  In the state of Colorado, you can get a library card to any library, which gives you access to their electronic collection (I happen to have 7 different library cards!).   Now that we can access on any device, we can really encourge kids & adults to read more both on and off-line.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday Tech Tip: Using Voice Search in Chrome

Most computers and all current mobile devices today have built-in microphones, and one of the things you can leverage in Chome is voice search and actions.  Giving students the option to speak into the computer for searching or other activities (and hear a verbal response) could add a new dimension for learning, especially for students with accommodations, younger students who aren't yet proficient at the keyboard, students who are not native speakers, or students who just need another method of input.

For those who have used Siri on an iOS device, Chrome gives you similar functionality in a browser.   When you are in the basic Google search page in Chrome, look for the voice search icon, which looks like a microphone.  Clicking on it will activate your computer's microphone, and you can speak your search or action terms into the microphone (you may need to "allow" Chrome to access your computer's microphone).  You can also set it to speak the results of your search (see more info here).

So what types of things can you ask?  You can ask questions about trivia, the weather, sports, mathematical computations, events, translation, etc.  Google also recently released the beta extension for Google's Voice Search Hotword for Chrome.  This just listens for the phrase "OK, Google" and it initiates a voice search without having to click on the microphone icon.  You can get more information here or watch the video below:

While not extensive, voice search isn't limited only to Google Search.  One of our district-wide resources (Encyclopedia Britannica) also lets you use the microphone icon to speak in your search terms.

If you have a mobile device, you can also install Google Now (available for both Android & iOS).  In addition to voice search, Google Now also can give directions, alert you to flight changes, and it even suggests departure times for a Google calendar event based on current traffic.

While not yet a replacement for a fully-featured speech-to-text program like Dragon, voice search & actions could be a very useful tool for students using Chome & Chromebooks.