Category Archives: Sharpening The Saw

Sharpening the Saw: Organizing My Social Media House

Ducks in a rowAt the beginning of the year, I’d made a commitment to learn 10 new tools and blog my findings. A quick review of this blog shows that I didn’t meet that goal.

To this, I’ll swiftly blame a busy schedule. There’s the family (of course), and work (don’t get me started), and the internet with all its shiny baubles.

But there’s also this: it’s challenging to learn a new tool well. Take, for example, my Google Hangouts post. It indicates that I’ve learned how to use the tool. But have I adopted it as a tool in my personal learning network?  Have I used it to support any of my training sessions? No.
And as I checked Jane Hart’s list of tools, I realized that there are quite a few on that list that I use poorly.  I have a Twitter account(#1 tool for learning, according to Jane Hart). I subscribed to blog feeds via Outlook once upon a time, and switched to Google Reader when I realized I could access the feeds on my more convenient mobile devices, then switched over to Feedly(#19) out of necessity. And I’m on Facebook(#9), and Google+(#10), and Tumblr(#65), and*… I think I once had a Diigo(#21) account, or a, or both. I was basically subscribing to information overload, and thus ensuring I paid little attention to any of my feeds.

So the latter half of the year I’ve focused on consolidation and organization.

I once believed that I needed multiple accounts for most of my information services: one for “business,” one for “personal” pursuits. With the advanced search algorithms available in email, and the prevalent use of hashtags, and other advances in the tools we use, no more. So I’ve consolidated:

  • I’m directing all correspondence to one email account;
  • I’ve transferred all those folks I follow into one Twitter account (I once managed (poorly) three of them);
  • I’ve given up on the news aggregator accounts altogether.
  • I’ve mothballed my personal blog; my whimsical posts on Facebook fulfill that need to boast about my kids to family and friends.
  • I have done away with about 7/8 of my e-newsletter subscriptions. Goes a long way to reducing my Inbox clutter.

I’m not doing away with my information feed.  Rather, I’m working to refine my personal learning network so I can get to this information readily.  All that talk about mobile learning? The way I see it, it’s really key for informal learning.

For most of those e-newsletters I’d unsubscribed from, I’ve been able to add them to a blog feed. Of the rest, many of these topics get repeated in my Twitter feed, or Google +. And if not, well, I’ve learned that I don’t need to read everything that crosses my path. I’ve done fine. I’ll do fine.

My primary source for articles to read will be Feedly, which I’ve sorted into lists: Training, Work Related, Corporate News, etc.  My other feeds, such as Google +, will probably fall into dis-use (although that’s a tough call as I’ve found some fairly intelligent discussions there), and I’ll sign into Twitter rarely — to join one of the Twitchats I appreciate, for example.

Future Considerations:
Most of these decisions are about time and mental bandwidth.  I have so little of each.  But again, it comes down to learning the tools. Each social media account I’ve opened, I’d done so because I’d gotten caught up in the press. But I’d never tapped into their potential.

One of the tools whose potential I should harness is LinkedIn.  These posts feed there automatically, but LinkedIn is about managing your professional presence, and a wayward post or two a quarter doesn’t do it. It’s likely that I’ll be more participative in some LinkedIn groups in the coming year.

For the other tools, I’ll need to ensure they align with what I’m trying to accomplish. Twitter is a perfect example. Most of the people I follow primarily post links to articles that they believe are interesting. Well, I’ve already subscribed to feeds of articles I believe should interest me. Which do I spend my time on? I may benefit from honing the people I follow in Twitter. I may benefit from better application of lists. I may do just as well to chuck Twitter altogether, and focus on the lengthier discussions available in Google +.

At the end of the year, I find that I appreciate Jane Hart’s challenge. It showed where my personal learning gaps were — not with new tools, but with the resources I’d already signed up for.


* and there was Plaxo, and Ning, and Posterous, SlideShare, ScoopIt, Yammer, Klout…

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Sharpening the Saw: Google Hangouts

This “Sharpening the Saw” post comes on the heels of a conversation I’d had at the end of the Total Trainer: Distance Learning session I had facilitated back in May. I’d encouraged the participants of that class to practice designing webinars, and provided two free resources in which to do so:

I’d spoken of AnyMeeting previously in this blog. I used that resource a few times. I’d dabbled with Google Hangouts, but their interface had changed enough at the time of the seminar that I didn’t want to do more than mention it.

I knew I’d have to go back and try it out.

I’ve since started another side project (more on that later, as it develops) where I’ve had the opportunity to use Google Hangouts as our meeting center. I don’t believe it’s suitable as a fully-fledged virtual training resource, but it can be a remarkably facile tool for seminars, brainstorming, or other basic meetings.

Main display for Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts Main Interface

You May Already Have It

If you’ve got a Google account, and you’ve poked around a bit in Google +, you’ve already got access to Google Hangouts.

For my web meetings, I was able to create a Google Hangout invitation using my Google Calendar. I found a link in the calendar invitation form that says: “Add video call.” I clicked that, and the Google Hangout was created for the time I stipulated in the Calendar entry. The link to the Hangout was sent to all invitees via email. All they had to do was click that link and presto! they were in the meeting.

Google presumes that you are “hanging out” to collaborate with other humans, so it doesn’t default to a whiteboard or a PowerPoint presentation. Instead, the one window that is available for presenting information starts out with you as your webcam fires up and your computer microphone goes live (Hangouts uses VOIP for its audio communication).

This isn’t to say you can’t share anything other than your smiling face. Google Hangouts offers plenty of tools to help you say what you have to say.

Hangout Tools


(The first two buttons on the apps toolbar pictured to the left will expand the toolbar to include text, and invite additional participants, respectively.)


Chat is fairly ubiquitous in webinar software. I mention it to ensure you’re aware it’s included in Hangouts.

One thing to note: where other webinar software provides dropdown fields to help you specify who is to receive your chat, Google Hangouts assumes that you’re there to talk to everyone else who’s there. Want to chat to a specific participant? There are some commands for that. Type “/?” in the chat box to find out what those are.


Screenshare allows you to share any window that you have open on your computer.

In the apps toolbar, click the green monitor with the white arrow to display thumbnails of the windows you’ve got open on your computer. Select the image of the screen you want to share with your participants, and your webcam video will be replaced by that content.

In my meetings, the team either saw my smiling face or a different window I’d opened in preparation for the event. I shared a site I’d set up for the team, some documents that we needed to review, and typed up notes from a brainstorming session.


Photos taken by “capture” are shared with everyone on the call.  If you don’t want to display video, but aren’t sharing a screen or a document, I guess this is the feature you’d use.


This is an app I loaded into my Google Hangouts that allows me to search for presentations on Slideshare and share them in my Hangout. In the image above, I’ve shared an old ASTD-OC Slideshare deck about Mentoring.

That slide looks pretty small in this post’s first image. I was able to expand it to “full screen” mode, making it easier for participants to read.

Google Drive

Connecting with your Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) account, you can share documents that you have stored in the Google cloud.  You can use the Google Drive app to also create Shared Notes, or a Shared Sketchpad.

I was excited about this feature — I had wanted my first brainstorming session to allow all participants to contribute to the document I had displayed on the screen. It didn’t work as planned; each time I loaded the document I got an error message and a prompt to try again. After reloading the document enough times, I finally resorted to sharing the document via Screenshare, and typing in whatever the team said.

Google Effects

This resource gives you the opportunity to be a bit silly. If you’re sharing with family, you can “place” a “tiara” on your head or “glasses” over your eyes. A fun way to let off some steam.


I mentioned that I loaded a Slideshare App to my Google Hangout. There are others to try as well, including a “digital whiteboard with sticky notes,” which could be useful for group brainstorming, drawing and doodling tools, and more.

What’s Not There

Audio Bridge

As I mentioned earlier, Google Hangouts uses VOIP for the audio component of the meeting. You’re limited to your system’s microphone and speakers. I’ve got a decent USB headset, so I’m prepared for this.  And you can operate just fine on your laptop’s default microphone and speakers. But what about your learners?  You’ll need to determine before your session if everyone has the proper technology to participate in your Hangout. Otherwise, you may need a resource that allows for communicating over the phone.

Feedback prompts

WebEx Training Center allows the learner to respond to basic yes/no questions via icon, raise his hand, and even share their status via emoticon. AnyMeeting also has a mood indicator, which allows for the raising of hands. Google Hangouts relies solely on chat or voice for communication.


I’ve come to appreciate the power of polls in my web training sessions, and the lack of polling in Hangouts likely means that if I need to use a free resource for training, I’ll stick with AnyMeeting.

Unlimited participants

Google Hangouts is limited to 10 video call participants. OK, that’s a HUGE obstacle. However, Google also offers “Hangouts On Air,” which also allows for up to 10 video participants, but can be seen by as many people that have the link. Hangouts on Air has the added benefit of publishing your Hangout automatically to your YouTube account to share with whomever you so choose.

Final Thought

Frankly, I’d like to try a Hangout on Air.  That said, Google Hangouts won’t be my go-to freeware if I’m planning to facilitate a virtual training session.  But if I’m preparing a collaborative meeting, or one that applies more informal learning skills for small groups, Google Hangouts is more apt to be my free web meeting resource.

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Sharpening the Saw: Notes in the Cloud Addendum

A few posts back I discussed using OneNote as a document curation and note-taking tool. The features I described were primarily associated with the work I do for CCi, on the computer. But what note-taking tool do I use when I’m away from my desk – in meetings, or struck suddenly with inspiration?

OneNote does have a mobile application. I’ve tried using it on my iPad, but ran across some difficulties. The program works well when you sync your existing notebooks through Microsoft’s Skydrive*. My challenge: IT won’t let us do that.

So: with OneNote Mobile effectively rendered useless, what other mobile-ready note-taking resources exist?


Back when I was reveling in the novelty of using an iPad, I was reading about apps that were trying to improve on the functionality of the iPad Notepad. The Notepad is a pretty good tool, and I was making decent use of it, but the idea of “notes in the cloud” appealed to me. I elected to attend a conference armed with an app called SpringPad.


SpringPad provides several templates for their cloud-based notes.

SpringPad allows me to create robust notes that can include audio recordings and pictures to enhance my recall. I’m able to organize these notes into separate notebooks. This was my first foray into the cloud, so I was intrigued that all the stuff I captured while out and about would be synced to a SpringPad app in my Google Chrome browser, making it easier to retain and review those thoughts at a later date. Additionally, I would be able to share my notes with anyone who also had SpringPad. And since I was going to a conference that many of my co-workers were interested in, well, that made sense to me. Let them see my notes.

SpringPad uses templates to support your note-taking efforts. In other words, you don’t necessarily start with a blank page and fiddle with it to create what you need. Looking at the image on the right, you can see that it allows you to create a note or paste a link. Below that are options for creating a checklist, a task, or an event. You can create notes for books, music, and movies. Select one of these latter options, and you’ll be linked to databases that connect you to readily-available information about that media. In other words, if I want to record a fascinating insight gleaned from “Road-Tested Activities,” I won’t need to first record title, author, and ISBN – SpringPad will make all those connections for me.

Additionally, SpringPad comes with two features that support ease-of-use on my iPad: a quick shortcut to create a note directly from my desktop (rather than open the software and then select what I’m trying to create), and a Safari web page clipper that sits in my iPad browser’s shortcut bar. This is a handy way to take a snapshot of something that I can’t readily link to. An error message, perhaps. Or an online receipt.

Unfortunately, I haven’t utilized many of the cloud-based and co-authoring features available in SpringPad since the conference. My co-workers weren’t interested in learning another bit of software just so they could read my notes, which tend to be cryptic when they’re not rambling. Plus, I had other note-taking mechanisms in place. SpringPad quickly became an under-utilized app on my iPad.


When I started this Sharpening the Saw exercise, I decided I’d check out EverNote. Why? While EverNote and SpringPad do practically the same thing, like, everyone has EverNote. I actually know people who are using it. It’s number 12 on Jane’s list of Top 100 tools..

At its heart, EverNote is that blank notebook on which you can record a great many things and arrange them to remind and prompt you into action. You can include pictures and audio, manually create checklists, etc. Just as in OneNote and SpringPad, you can group your notes into notebooks for easier access to the information you’ve stored.

But EverNote aspires to be more than just digital notepaper. With one account, you get access to a great many tools to support your activities while on-the-go. There’s an EverNote Web Clipper, which allows you to save a web page (from your PC’s browser) into a notebook. There’s EverNote Clearly, which allows you to save blog posts or articles into a notebook for reading later, without all the web distractions. There’s Skitch, which allows you to annotate pictures that you’ve saved in EverNote. EverNote appears to work well with third party vendors; there are a slew of programmers out there creating apps to make your EverNote experience easier. This is important, for it appears that these sorts of note-taking programs are best when you use them for all the stuff you take note of, not just a select group of things. I recall a blog post once suggesting that Evernote works best when you use it, gosh darn it, for everything.

One EverNote tool that I was quite interested in was Penultimate, an app that lets you write with a “pen” on your iPad. It’s a cool feature, once you get the hang of writing on a digital surface. If you’ve ever seen my signature scrawl when I sign for my credit card purchases at the grocery store, you know I need more practice.

Unfortunately, Penultimate ultimately didn’t pan out. My Penultimate notes had to be kept in a separate EverNote notebook, meaning: if I wanted to revisit what I drew, I wouldn’t be able to find them in the binder where I’d kept all my other (typed) notes on the topic.

One neat EverNote feature: audio recording that lets you type your notes while recording the conversation. SpringPad does record audio, but it doesn’t appear to let you type at the same time. This is a feature I wouldn’t readily use, given people’s reticence for being recorded, and state law requiring consent be made before I make any recordings, but it could be handy for future conferences.

What I’m Using

For now, it appears that OneNote will be my document curation tool of choice. Why? It’s integrated with all my work products. EverNote does work with Outlook to allow you to post emails into your notebooks, but that’s it. Although EverNote appears to be ubiquitous on the web, it’s just not as available where I need it to be.

For my mobile devices, I’m leaning towards SpringPad. It allows me to store my notes in the cloud for easy access and transfer to my OneNote notebooks (or wherever I decide they ought to go).
But I mostly use SpringPad to create checklists of action items when I’m in meetings. SpringPad’s checklist and task list templates make this much easier than fiddling around in EverNote. I imagine someone out there has created an easy-to-use app that works with EverNote, but I’m not motivated to search for it. Plus, I like how SpringPad itself integrates with my iPad, rather than rely upon a bunch of third party vendors to get the job done. Mind you, I might have a different opinion were I using an Android tablet.

A bit of advice, whatever you decide: it’s important to keep your notes with one tool. We’re all familiar with the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, but equally important is our tendency not to bother searching for content (unless we really have to) if we’re not exactly sure of where it is in the first place. For nearly a year I hadn’t paid attention to my conference notes because I’d stopped using SpringPad. Now I’ve got some test notes in EverNote that I need to import into either OneNote or SpringPad, lest I forget them.

After my OneNote Sharpening the Saw post, several of you indicated you might try the program. If you have, and have used OneNote Mobile successfully for your on-the-go note-taking efforts, let me know in the comments!

*Skydrive is Microsoft’s version of cloud-based document storage. Like DropBox. Or Google Drive.

(This was a high-level overview of two popular and powerful cloud-based note-taking tools. For a deeper look, check out this article: EverNote vs. SpringPad.)

Sharpening the Saw: OneNote

ImageAll the way back in February I made a commitment to explore new tools in support of my professional development. This was inspired by a post by Jane Hart, social learning and collaboration expert. In my post, I pledged that the first tool I would discuss would be OneNote, and then we’d see where I’d go from there.

On Jane Hart’s Top 100 Tools, she briefly describes OneNote(along with EverNote) as a “note-taking tool.” I’d challenge that description as a bit confining – OneNote has a variety of uses that extend beyond note taking. Notepad is a note taking tool. OneNote easily serves more as a curation resource.

Let’s start with the basics:

Remember your TrapperKeeper back in high school? The one that you used to carry your class notebooks, and homework assignments, and notes, and pictures, and all that other stuff necessary to survival in high school? That’s OneNote.

Yes, you can take notes on it. But you can also store emails in that notebook. Or documents, Or images, including web screenshots and PowerPoint slides. Anything. In one place.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Different Nooks in the Iceberg:



The Move to OneNote button in Outlook 2010.

Our company is heavily invested in email as its primary source of communication. So much so that several of us frequently max out our email server quota. There are ways to manage this, of course, but those ways frequently cause me to spend more time searching for the emails that I need than I’d like.

“Is it in my archives? No? Did I put it in the wrong folder? Maybe I’m looking for the wrong subject.”

OneNote has a convenient button in the Outlook Ribbon. Press it, and your email goes to the Notebook/Section Group/Section of your choosing.  Attachments will go with the email, openable from OneNote. PLUS, you can then change the title of the page on which the email is located to better find your notes after the fact. PLUS, you can type any of your notes to the page holding the email to add context.



From the OneNote 2010 Home menu, you can opt to insert Meeting Details into your OneNote page.

Once upon a time, I had tried to use Outlook as a central location for many of my notes. It made sense: I’m in there a LOT.

I attempted to keep my meeting notes in Outlook: for a brief moment, attached to the details of the meeting; for another brief moment, within a Journal entry that corresponded to the meeting time. Both methods required that I search for these notes later, and remember how and when I had stored them. “When was that meeting again?” became a tough question to answer with my meeting-packed schedule, especially since Outlook pulls old meetings off my active calendar after they’re done.  Now, I keep my meeting notes in OneNote.

OneNote allows you to insert the meeting details from your Outlook Calendar to provide context to the notes. I merely create a page for the meeting, placed in the appropriate notebook section, and select “Insert Meeting Notes.”  The meeting subject, date and location, and invited attendees will be inserted on the OneNote page.  If your Outlook Calendar has the meeting agenda included in the details, or some talking points to address, those will be included as well.

Things To Do:


You can sort OneNote notes into to-do lists, question lists, even Outlook tasks by selecting a (fairly) descriptive statement, and then clicking a tag.

I do a lot of project-based work. I’ve tried to use Microsoft Project to keep organized and set schedules, but I’m rarely successful. Again, it’s a matter of where the information lies for me. I can make a list, I can check it twice, but all the other stuff I need to be successful lies scattered in Outlook.

I tend to use tasks in Outlook to keep on top of the things I need to do. However, those aren’t necessarily project-based. (Yes, I do use the Categories feature, and that mitigates some of my  issues, but not all.)

Since I’ve already got a OneNote Notebook section set up to hold my project emails and meeting notes, it becomes an easy task to create a front page that lists all the tasks I need to associate with that project. I can then:

  • Create a checklist  using the To Do tags.
  • Mark items as important using the Star tags.
  • Indicate a item I have a question about using the Question Mark tag.
  • Use the “Insert Outlook Tasks” feature, which will place that task in my Outlook with a link to the OneNote page.

A caveat to this feature: I still need to be rather thorough in describing what I’m tagging. Let’s use the Outlook Tasks feature as an example: because it will appear in my Outlook, I’ll want to be sure that when I look at the task, it doesn’t make me scratch my head and wonder what I’m supposed to do (The details don’t transfer from OneNote to Outlook.). An example of what I mean: one of the first tasks I created in OneNote was: “Step One.” It made sense in the context of the page, because the page contained SO many more details and links, but it made little sense within Outlook.

Other stuff:

OneNote provides other tools for you, and suggestions on how to use them.

  • You can store audio clips in your notebooks. You can even record a meeting in OneNote using your laptop microphone.
  • You can send PowerPoint slides to a notebook, and annotate them. Useful for presentation reviews.
  • I mentioned screenshot clipping – that’s a nice feature that many of the MS Office programs have. If you haven’t used that, try it out!  However, OneNote works with Internet Explorer to allow you to select content from a web page and send it to a notebook.
    There’s a lot going against IE, and I do tend to use Chrome, but this feature enhances IE’s usability.
  • I  mentioned that I create a front page to list the tasks for a project. I can also create links on that front page to other pages in my Notebook – sort of a cross-referencing tool.
  • I haven’t used the SideNote feature yet, which opens OneNote in a side window to capture notes while you’re reviewing content in another program. As an instructional designer, however, I can see how this could be useful in the Analysis or Evaluation phases.


Frankly, there appears to be a lot that you can do with OneNote, and with each new discovery I find I’ve only scratched the surface of how much more I can do. I’m currently in the process of adopting OneNote as my central source for the information I need to do my job. I’m able to store my notebook on the network, and sync it to my computer’s hard drive. I’m able to reduce my “Outlook footprint” and hopefully the amount of time I search for notes and information buried within the emails I receive. I’m able to keep task lists and meeting notes close to other information surrounding the topics.

Ultimately, it’s all about collating the information I need in one space. For that, OneNote seems to fit the bill.


Footnote: Yes, there’s a plethora of other cloud-based note-taking software available. I mentioned EverNote at the beginning of this post. I’ll post in a little bit about why I’ve decided to cancel my EverNote account and stick with OneNote, and why I’ve retained my SpringPad account.