Mike’s Top 10: Technology for Creatives and Educators
“The best camera is the one that’s with you.”
– Chase Jarvis
As a designer and educator I find I have a need to keep on top of technology. In my personal/professional lives I use a range of devices, including my Note 3 and my Macbook Pro. I couldn’t imagine not using either of these devices – as Android is more flexible a mobile platform than iOS and Mac OSX (and the newer MacOS) are more flexible than Windows.
I want to create, design, educate and entertain myself with the best options available. So for me, that’s Android and Mac. And yes, I know that using an iPhone with my Mac would have some benefits, but I’m an Adobe and Google software user so mostly I’m good – I can work on any device.
This article is about the most useful technologies in multiple categories. Some of the priorities I have cover areas such as:
- design and media
- education and e-learning
- project management
Some of these items will be useful in your personal and/or professional lives. Some will have very specific uses. All however enhance your digital capability and expand what you can do.
A note on where to shop: Although Amazon isn’t my first choice for electronics, occasionally they offer competitive pricing on smaller items. I wouldn’t buy a laptop on Amazon for example, but a scanner, camera or similar? Absolutely. Just shop around. For Canadians, an online price aggregator like Shopbot.ca is a great tool to find a deal. Having said that, I bought my compact camera through Amazon Warehouse sales – and got a hefty discount (technically I bought a used item that wouldn’t have had the normal warranty).
The following is broken into two sections: hardware and software. You’ll note that this is a biased subjective post. I prefer some products and I say so. However in general I argue that you should use tools that are platform agnostic – that is to say you’re not dependent on proprietary technology. So though I use a Mac, I use Adobe software which is broadly compatible and considered industry standard. I also use an Android phone – which allows me to use many open formats and get things done on the go (photography, light graphics or audio work).
Note also that the list is numbered for convenience and readability, the numbers do not indicate one item is more important than another.
Happy reading. I hope you find this useful.
Pictured above: Bluetooth audio recorder by Olympus.
Hardware: Media players, Computers, Smartphones, Cameras and Audio Recorders
1STREAMING MEDIA PLAYER
Mike’s Pick: Chromecast
No longer a secret, but probably still low on the radar, especially for Mac users with Apple TV and those who picked up a Roku. Chromecast, however is the leading platform for wireless streaming and it’s really cheap. Set up your home, studio or classroom with a few compatible monitors or TVs and you can broadcast nearly anything from a mobile device or Chrome browser tab on your computer.
2MOBILE DEVICE OS
Mike’s Pick: Android
Android narrowly wins. Apple hasn’t been innovating in the mobile space, while Samsung is killing it with their recent Galaxy line. iOS does have a slight edge in the so-called app ecosystem. If I want to edit audio or music on mobile for example, my iPad is the place to do it. However, enough of the most essential apps, like Snapseed, the photo editor, exist on Android and iOS, that it’s almost an even split. Read this article about Android superiority to understand the differences between Android and iOS better.
Mike’s Pick: Mac
Mac narrowly wins for its versatility and slight edge in software. Personally I find Timemachine for backups and virtualization software to run Windows very handy. However looking at the big picture, Macs still lack touchscreens which is crazy in 2017. If you are mostly using Adobe CC for creative work it’s a draw. The adage that Macs are better for creatives hasn’t had much relevance for years. If I were an illustrator for example I’d be ecstatic about the new touchscreen devices by Microsoft. By the way, Mac never wins because it’s “easier” or “more secure.” Smart PC users don’t often have issues with viruses and the biggest security issues are password hacks and the like, something that can afflict users of any kind of device.
A caveat in this category is that Chromebooks and Linux are obviously solutions that have their place, particularly when it comes to education tech and servers.
Mike’s Pick: Nikon Coolpix P7800
Compacts and mirrorless are what you need. If you have a flagship your smartphone takes remarkable photos but real cameras are where it’s at. My personal camera is a Nikon P7800 which features a compact size, 7X zoom, a flip-out LCD screen, and RAW capability. It’s about half the size of a DSLR but takes comparable pictures and it blows any smartphone away. It doesn’t replace either the DSLR or the smartphone but it’s a good combination of quality and portability.
Key feature: A foldout, vari-angle lcd monitor is absolutely crucial. I wouldn’t want to shoot at high or low angles, or shoot video without one. Selfie mode is very handy too.
5PORTABLE AUDIO RECORDER
Mike’s Pick: Zoom H2 or Olympus LS-P2
If you are recording an important event, you need a high quality portable recorder. Yes your iPhone takes superb video (especially if you stick it on a tripod), but the audio is lacking. If I were shooting anything important, or wanted to capture voice, I’d always use my Zoom H2 Handy Recorder. It costs about $200 but adds a super professional quality to your audio/video. If I were buying a device like this today I’d get the Olympus LS-P2, one of the few devices in this category with bluetooth (listen wirelessly with headphones or speakers and control from a smartphone). Watch a video overview.
RUNNER UP: PROJECTOR
Some educators and creatives may find themselves in situations where they would like to share or show off some imagery or media and there’s no large display at hand. This is where a projector saves the day. I don’t personally have a portable projector but long term I expect to own one. You don’t even need a screen – a blank wall and a room with a little darkness will work perfectly.
Software: Websites, Design, Media, E-Learning, Security, and Cloud Storage
6DESIGN / MEDIA
Mike’s Pick: Adobe Creative Cloud (CC)
For a long time Adobe CC (previously CS or Creative Suite) has been the go to standard for working in graphics and media. From Hollywood films, visual effects, interactive design, photo editing, digital illustration, web design and many more, Adobe software is the king. Apple used to be a leader, but Final Cut and other creative software have fallen out of favour with pros. Keep the indie software companies in mind as well: WordPress instead of Dreamweaver (web design), and Tumult Hype instead of Adobe Animate (animation, interactive design).
Mike’s Pick: WordPress
For educators I often argue that any CMS or website system like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix or WordPress can be used, inside or outside of the classroom. Mostly they’re all easy to use and flexible. Use them for business, personal, or education. If it comes to design and media though I argue WordPress is the first and best choice. Ultimately that’s my recommendation. If you’re investing time in building a website go for the industry leader. That would be WP.
For any general purpose I would suggest using a theme framework like Divi by Elegant Themes. It’s flexible, allowing a great deal of customized modular design, but this kind of website design doesn’t involve extensive coding. I love the Divi theme and intend to use it with many projects going forward.
Recently I started building e-learning website with WordPress and using LMS (learning management system) plugins inside WordPress. These sites look beautiful and have amazing functionality.Additionally if you work in e-learning / education it’s amazing what can be done with WordPress. An area I’ve recently been exploring is the implementation of an LMS or learning management system plugin. For this purpose I’ve settled on a plugin for WordPress called LearnDash. Using LD is not a turnkey solution – however the course I’m designing will be excellent, both in look and function. For the intrepid user, WP is capable of some amazing things.
Mike’s Pick: Dashlane
This remains a neglected area for many people but it shouldn’t be. We live in a world where passwords need to be complex. They need to be changed easily. They’re hard to memorize and keeping them in a notebook is a hassle. Enter the password manager. I use Dashlane and found a promotion where I paid about $50 for 3 years. Worth every penny, even at full price. Many are free though, especially if you use them on one device.
9TWO-FACTOR (Multifactor) AUTHENTICATION
Mike’s Pick: Use all of them (incl. Google Authenticator)
Related to password managers is the need to turn on two-factor authentication. Whether it’s your Apple or Google account, Facebook or Linkedin, the ability to have a second step in logging in (from a new device for example) is paramount in terms of security today. Knowing how many people have had their personal email accounts hacked I feel much more secure knowing I am using Google’s two-factor authentication when I attempt login from a new or unknown device. Turn this on for your websites, social media accounts and banking.
Mike’s Pick: Google / Sync
No clear winner in this category but I have tried the following: Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and Sync.com. I don’t use iCloud though I have access as an iPad and Mac user. Pricing generally favours Google Drive but my account with Sync is priced fairly and their service is pretty unique. There are many uses of cloud storage, and you probably have web-based email, online photo albums and files stored with one provider or another. A use case which you may not be aware of is backing up all your files to the cloud and simultaneously syncing your files between your computers. In other words, a perfect solution for backup and easy access to important documents. I have started experimenting with syncing a Google Drive folder I named “G-Sync.” It works great but by default it puts everything I upload that’s not assigned to a folder into this folder (and I get them downloaded to my laptop, which obviously is imperfect). The main software I use for cloud backup is called Sync – and it does exactly that. It’s a lovely solution for people who use multiple computers. I save a document on my laptop to my Sync folder, it gets uploaded to the cloud, and when I’m next at my iMac my file will be waiting for me, exactly in the folder I placed it (i.e. Sync/photos/2017). It’s really a miracle and makes even a Timemachine-type solution look like caveman technology.
If you decided to try Sync.com (5 GB free) please use my referral code (we’ll both get a 1 GB bonus).
RUNNER UP: Learning Management Systems (LMS)
I include this topic area as an option because many educators don’t have choice or input into what LMS they might use, or if they use an LMS at all. If you work for a large organization or school they may be already using Moodle, Blackboard or Desire2Learn. These aren’t normally tools we associate with going DIY or adapting for individual use. I am however, a big fan of having all kinds of tools at one’s disposal – and LMSs are great. D2L in particular is hot right now. Very capable – cutting edge tools. Easy to configure. D2L is more or less what you would expect if you wanted to user-friendliness of a website like Facebook, in your e-learning experience. Which brings me to my favourite in this space, Schoology.
I really like Schoology because though it would be great to use at an institution level, individuals can set up two courses for free. Schoology is the definition of a cloud-based LMS. Like using Google software you are always assured that you’re using the most recent version.
Key feature: Platform agnostic software is the way of the future. The idea that you are stuck with Mac or Windows only files is ridiculous. In this graphic I show some of the software I use on a day to day basis. Obviously examples could include WordPress or Office. It’s necessary in this day and age to work with open formats and software that works across all platforms and devices.
Thanks for reading. I hope this information is useful for you. If you are interested in a presentation or workshop I offer “Turn it On: Creating Digital Capability in the Classroom.”
If you have any questions feel free to get in touch.