Kenya: Crowdsource mapping of election problems

The Uchaguzi project is preparing for tomorrow’s Kenyan elections by enabling citizens around the country to instantly report any instances they see of voter intimidation, election violence, ballot stuffing or other irregularities. Reports will be aggregated and displayed in map form on the Web for all to see as well as forwarded to gov’t agencies and NGO’s for action. The public will be able to send reports via text messages (cell phones are the most popular and cheapest method of telecommunication in Africa), email, Twitter and Facebook. See the map showing incidents to date and access a sample report form at

The Uchaguzi project is an outgrowth of the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform, developed by Ory Okolloh & others during the 2008 post election violence (over 1,000 killed) to keep track of killings, house burnings, etc. Since then the Ushahidi software has been used by human rights activists around the world – in Haiti after the earthquake to collect details of emergency needs, in Syria to give women a platform to submit reports of sexual violence, in Egypt to track over 2,000 incidents of corruption, and in Canada to collect & map reports of the numerous (often unsolved) murders of indigenous women. Too often the technical contributions of Africans are overlooked, and the developers of Ushahidi deserve more recognition than they have received.

Read more about Ushahidi and one of its founders, Ory Okolloh, in this 2011 article in the UK’s  Guardian newspaper or visit Ushahidi’s website.

Convert Word to Clean HTML

Copy and paste from a Word document into Blogger or an HTML web page often is disastrous, since Word bloats everything with unneeded, copious HTML which other software has difficulty interpreting.

One can always copy from Word into Notepad, which strips out all of the HTML, and then into Blogger or your newly created HTML web page.  But copying into Notepad also removes all text formatting (bold, italic, bulleted lists, etc.) and all hyperlinks.

Alternatively, one can use an online Web app to produce clean HTML from Word. Today [3/2/13] I tested several to see which worked best.

Word to Clean HTML worked best for me.  When I copied a borderless table into Word to Clean HTML, and then copied the resulting HTML code into KompoZer (free Web page editor), the result was a pretty faithful copy of my original.  Copying the code from Word to Clean HTML into WordPress (the ‘Text/HTML’ mode of the editor) also produced a good copy of my original table.  View the result in HTML and Tables in WordPress.

Note that Word to Clean HTML does not work in Firefox, my favorite Web browser.  One must use Internet Explorer.

Text Fixer is recommended by several academic sources I respect, but I was disappointed with the results.  The code produced did indeed produce a table, but not a very attractive one.  Instead of 2 columns of equal width (as in the original), TextFixer produced a very wide right-hand column and a very skinny left-hand column.  If you are using a decent WYSIWYG web page editor, this is fairly easy to fix.  However, if you must paste the HTML code directly from TextFixer to some online Web page, you will be disappointed with the results.

WordOff is an online converter I would avoid.  In my test, the code from WordOff did not produce a table at all – it only produced a plain text list of the entries in the right-hand column of my original table.  The ‘About’ page at the WordOff website does indicate that it strips most text formatting as well as the div and span and many other bloated codes from a Word document.

HTML and Tables in WordPress

Today [3/2/13] I wanted to insert a table into my WordPress blog, but found no ‘insert table’ icon in the Editor, so I played around with developing some model HTML code for a 2 column table that I hoped I could insert in the Text/HTML mode of the WordPress editor.  I proceeded by copying a table from one of my Word files into the online Word to Clean HTML converter, then copying the resulting HTML code into the free web page editor KompoZer (so I would have a permanent record).  I then copied the HTML code from KompoZer and, using the Text/HTML editor mode in WordPress, pasted in the code.  The result turned out quite well – faithful reproduction of my borderless table from Word.

Result:  Table created by inserting HTML code in Text mode of WordPress editor

Cloud Storage Deleted-Warning your
online account could be deleted anytime as happened when Microsoft deleted someone’s SkyDrive account – no reason given.
IE 9 Better/Faster than FirefoxFirefox Shortcuts
Why VLC Media Player free when others
must pay for included Codecs.
Font Removal in Win7-how delete pesky
foreign fonts

end test – and, yes, it works just fine.  I was glad to see that the free WordPress accepted HTML code.

I then noticed that the WordPress editor provides an icon for ‘Paste from Word’ which I will try below and compare the results with my HTML created table above. As you can see, it comes in quite nicely. I also learned that one can change the text within the cells after table is imported from Word.

Result: Table Created by using the ‘Paste from Word’ icon in WordPress editor

Cloud Storage Deleted-Warning your online account could be deleted anytime as happened when Microsoft deleted someone’s SkyDrive account – no reason given. IE 9 Better/Faster than FirefoxFirefox Shortcuts
Why VLC Media Player free when others must pay for included Codecs.  Font Removal in Win7-how delete pesky foreign fonts

So I really don’t need my HTML coding method to insert a table into WordPress, but the method may prove handy for use with other online Web apps.

Piazza: Discussion Board for Classes

David Korfhage at ED: Social Media provides the following description for Piazza which might be a useful alternative to Google Groups or discussion boards on Moodle, Blackboard, D2L, etc. For an illuminating demonstration of how it actually works, see this demo page at the Piazza web site.

Piazza  describes itself as “a place where students can come together to ask, answer, and explore under the guidance of their instructor.”  In practice, it’s rather like a fancied-up discussion board.  Students can post questions for other students to answer, or post private question for the instructor’s eyes only.  In addition, the instructor can post notes (for announcements, or such like) for all students to read.  There are a few bells and whistles (for example, the instructor can “validate” a correct response to a student), but largely the purpose seems to be to encourage student interaction for purposes of mutual aid in studying and learning.

Pros: Easy to use interface.  It’s good to have a forum in which students can learn/be encouraged to ask their own questions.  Anything that gets students to take the lead in learning, rather than just relying on the teacher, is welcome to me.

Cons: If it’s really a big discussion board, why not use an existing service, such as Moodle (at my school), Edmodo, Schoology, even a Facebook group?  Does Piazza’s extra functionality really make it worthwhile to add one more site to the students’ on-line agenda?

UPDATE: The good folks at Piazza have contacted me to tell me that Piazza has integration with both Moodle and Facebook connect.  I haven’t looked into the details yet, but if so, that would at least address the concern about “one more account to remember.”  There is still the question of whether it’s worth using Piazza rather than an alternative service.  But given student dislike of Moodle, I imagine they’d prefer Piazza to Moodle, at least.

Schoology, referred to above, is a free LMS (course management system).  As an alternative to the better known Moodle, it has the advantage that can be used by just one teacher (doesn’t have to be installed/purchased by a school system) and is available entirely online.

Cross posted in my ProfPat blog.

Learn by Writing Multiple Choice Questions

Peerwise, a free online app developed and widely used in Australia, encourages students to create multiple choice questions. Students must provide at least four possible answers and a justification for the answer they think is correct.  Other students then comment on the question, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. Peerwise seems to used by many math and science instructors at university level.

David Korfhage at ED: Social Media discusses the pros and cons of Peerwise (post dated 7/29/12):

Pros: By forcing students to write their own questions, as well as explanations for the answers, Peerwise forces students to process the material more actively.  Writing questions will also help prepare students for multiple choice assessments, and with proper modeling, they can also use their question writing to work on analytical thinking (and not just recall questions).  The social aspects and competitive/gaming aspects could be fun for some students.

Cons: The focus on just multiple choice questions is fairly narrow, and could tend to encourage students to focus on convergent, rather than more open-ended questions.  In a history class, students already tend to see the learning history as a matter of memorizing facts; used improperly, Peerwise could merely encourage that way of thinking.

Bottom line:  Since I use multiple choice questions in my classes (if for no other reason than to give students practice for the multiple choice college board exams), this looks like this could be a useful tool.  I have in the past encouraged students to write their own multiple choice questions as a way of studying; the social aspects of this site could make it more enjoyable for students to do that.  Again, a structure well be necessary: Peerwise recommends a minimum question contribution requirement, to which I would add clear guidance about writing multiple choice questions.  In particular, students need to understand that questions should not be just about memorizing facts.

Cross posted in my ProfPat blog.

Annotate PDFs – Uses in Grading

In Grading with my iPad,  the author says he first converts all his students’ papers (submitted digitally) to PDFs, then imports them into iAnnotate ($10 for iPad, free for Android) which has lots of tools such as text comments, lines, and stamps (for importing a graphic).  Apparently you can use your fingers to “write” annotations in iAnnotate as well as using iPad’s keyboard.   Author uses a Pogo Sketch stylus to make writing on the iPad easier.  In Prof. Yearwood’s article “App of the Week Review: iAnnotate PDF“, which provides a comprehensive description of the features, he claims you can also add a voice recorded note.

iAnnote’s usefulness is not limited to grading.  It is also handy for annotating articles you wish to study or adding notes to PDF versions of PowerPoint.  iAnnotate syncs with Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive, thus making a wide range of PDFs easily available.  According to an article at PRweb, iAnnotate is used by 600,000 people worldwide and has been purchased by many universities for use by their students.

From the description of iAnnotate in the ProfHacker blog (6/4/10), the tools in iAnnotate look very similar to ones I use in the free PDF Xchange Viewer (download desktop version from Tracker Software or a portable version from Softonic).   Both apps allow the saved annotated version of the PDF to be read in Adobe Reader, etc. with all the annotations visible .  iAnnotate is only available for tablets, while PDF Xchange Viewer is limited to Windows computers . I like the text annotation tools in PDF Xchange better because comments can be placed in any white space available and are always viewable.  With iAnnotate, the text Comments are in a special box which is only visible when you click a red bubble in the text. See screenshots for both apps below.




Why VLC Media Player is Free

In the United States, DVD player software for computers costs money – software developer must pay a $2 license fee for MPEG-2 Codec and a 50 cent to $1 license for Dolby Digital Sound Codec (both necessary to view DVDs) for every copy of software sold. Microsoft will not include a DVD player in Windows 8 – one must purchase separately to avoid adding these license fee to cost of basic Windows 8.

So how can VLC Media Player be free to consumers and include the above Codecs (plus many others)?  Because VLC is a French nonprofit organization and “Neither French law nor European conventions recognize software as patentable.” Interesting to see that other developed, industrialized countries do not patent software. (Source: Ed Bott at ZDnet)

So, to watch DVDs and all video formats for free (& legally) on your PC, install VLC Media Player, available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. VLC offers Blue-Ray support, can convert videos from one format to another, and provides many other features.  Download from the VideoLan homepage.