A Great Alternative to Microsoft Office

While it is common knowledge that Microsoft Office is the standard Word Processing/Spreadsheet/Presentation/Productivity software package, there are some excellent alternatives out there. Microsoft Office is expensive, and in recent news, once Office is installed, it is permanently installed on that computer. In other words, if you install office on your computer, you cannot ever use the same software license on another computer. Previously, you could “reassign” a license of Office to a different computer. Say, for instance, your computer breaks. You can reassign your copy of Office to a replacement computer. Now you will have to actually buy a new license! In light of this, it is beneficial to know that there a number of Office alternatives out there.

Anyone who is a Mac user will know that iWork is a great Office alternative. iWork is software bundle that includes 3 applications: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote which are alternatives to Work, Excel, and Powerpoint respectively. Pages is an outstanding word processing application and also allows for simple and efficient page layout documents, which is helpful for creating fliers & graphic heavy documents. Numbers is a very simple spreadsheet program, that while quite capable, is not nearly as powerful as Excel. Keynote is, in my opinion, a much better alternative to Powerpoint. It is much more user friendly and makes incorporating images, graphs, and charts incredibly simple. Also, the effects that can be applied to slides are nearly limitless. All and all this is a great Office alternative…if you have a Mac.

As far as PC or Linux users are concerned, iWork will not do you any good. There are a number of cloud based options out there that work on all platforms including Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, and Zoho. These options are really cool because they use web based software. In other words, you don’t need to install anything, you simply log into your account and edit your documents through your web browser. This is a great feature because whether you are working on a Mac, PC, iPhone, Android or any other system, the software always stays exactly the same. These options are great for basic word processing and presentations, but beyond the basics they start to lack functionality.

One of the leading Microsoft Office alternatives is Open Office. Open Office is free to download and includes Writer (Word), Calc (Excel), Impress (Powerpoint), Draw (graphics) and Base (database manipulation). The applications are laid out just like Word, Powerpoint, etc. so making the switch from Word to Writer is simple, and it will open all of your existing Word documents . What’s more is you can save your documents in nearly any format under the sun, so your documents will open on Mac, Windows, Linux and anything else. Open Office also has some really cool features that the Microsoft applications lack. For example, you can open and edit a PDF in Writer without any additional software, which Word cannot do. In addition, you can use Writer to make an editable PDF, so you can quickly and easily make digital forms that you can include in an email or on your website. Open Office has an excellent built in help feature, so its easy to find answers if you run into a snag while you’re working. Plus, they have an online community, so you can post questions and quickly get answers.

Microsoft Office has and probably always will be the standard in productivity software, but as a result of stronger anti-piracy measures, you may find yourself looking for an alternative. Open Office is free, easy to use, powerful, and incredibly versatile.

Links:

Office Locked to one Computer
iWork
Google Drive
Microsoft SkyDrive
ZoHo
Open Office

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Emphasis on the ‘Experience’ of Connected Learning

A Day in the Life of an Audio Production student at The Digital Arts Experience.

by Emily Angell, audio engineer and instructor at The DAE – August 30th, 2012

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Emily Angell demos recording with Rob Kissner, at The Digital Arts Experience

The concept of connected learning implies that a student grows through being an active participant in his or her learning experience, instead of just a recipient of information.  It also implies that the burden of teaching lies with an interconnected network of people surrounding the student, instead of his or her teacher alone.  One of the goals of Digital Arts Experience (nice name guys!) is to implement this process. Picture this scenario:

My student (we’ll call him Joe Shmo) comes to me with a project in mind.  He is a junior who wants to create a guitar recording to help him get into a Jazz Studies program in college.  We begin the class with the basics, and I show my students (there are never more than six) a PowerPoint presentation (with several YouTube clips embedded) about the recording process.  I give them a quick tutorial of how to make a home demo using Garage Band, and have them do a one-minute group project using the technique.

Meanwhile, Joe must make a decision on what to record.  He must practice.  When he goes home he plays a couple of songs for his mother, who gives him helpful feedback on his timing.  Then he does a quick recording of the songs he’s chosen, uploads them to SoundCloud, and posts them to Facebook.  He asks his friends and family to vote on the selection they think is best.  His uncle sends him a helpful article on a finger-picking technique that would work better in the B section of the first song.  After receiving the feedback, he’s decided which tune he will record, and returns to us to make it happen.

Here at The DAE, he must go into the live room to set up his own amp and microphones, connect cables in the correct manner, and warm up so that he’s ready.  If he doesn’t know how to do something (which happens quite frequently), he has to ask.  A member of his class is in the control room manning the console and operating Logic.  She must record-arm tracks within the software and check that the sound levels aren’t too high or distorting.  Someone else must communicate with Joe, who is on the other side of the glass. “Miss, how do I get him to hear me?” one student asks.  I don’t say a word.  “Press that button to your right, it’s called the talkback.” says another student – connected learning at its finest!

Joe finishes his recording.  He’s got a great-sounding project.  Then, I send him to our Photography department, where the students there take some amazing photos of him.  He brings his photos to the Graphic Design department, where the students there create a professional-looking package for his demo CD.  At the end of it all, a student from the film department records and edits a simple music video of Joe playing his song live, so that he can put it online and link it to his college applications.  And voilà! Mission accomplished, and then some.

The moral of this story is this: I did not teach Joe how to record.  Instead, we at The DAE provided an environment in which the people in his network could support his quest to record the perfect demo.  Parties involved included his mother, his Facebook friends, his uncle, his fellow classmates, and the photography, graphic design, and film departments within The Digital Arts Experience.  In addition, he was able to use resources such as PowerPoint, YouTube, SoundCloud, GarageBand, Logic, Final Cut, and Photoshop.

In essence, the process of connected learning is exactly as it sounds.  It is the concept of evolving by being connected to those around us, as well as being invested in what we are learning and teaching.  Those are the concepts we’re trying to foster here… one experience at a time.