PortaBase is an open source application that makes database design and management easy. It was initially designed for the Maemo operating system (which runs on SmartPhones and tablets), but it runs just fine on desktop PCs. I was drawn to PortaBase predominantly because its ease-of-use reminds me of FileMaker Pro, one of the easiest database applications to use.
The first aspect of PortaBase that I’d like to address is its interface. It’s simple, yet in its simplicity lies genius. A menu and toolbar at the top of the window provide all of the features needed to create and manage a non-relational (single table) database, which is fine for most users. By default, a newly created database looks similar to a spreadsheet. Clicking on the headings will sort the table according to that category.
Straightforward Database Creation
Creating a database is easy. Upon start, users are prompted to do that or to open an existing database. Next, a window will open in which users can create their database by naming and assigning a data type to each field (referred to as Columns when in database view). Available field types include String, Integer, Decimal, Boolean, Note (multi-line text), Date, Time, Calculation, Sequence, Image, and Enum (used to define user-defined data types). .Additionally, in terms of security, users are given the option to encrypt a new database when it is created.P ortaBase can import files from SV, XML, and MobileDB formats and export to CSV, HTML and XML.
Just Jump in and Start Adding Records
When the database has been set up, the user needs to click the Add Row button. As each record is added, it will appear in the database table as a Row. In PortaBase, a Row constitutes one item listed in the database table. Once there is at least one Row available, it can be clicked on to open the Row Viewer window, presenting all data in that row in a single window. If you’ve added an image Column and have added an image to each Row, this is what must be done to view the image. This window can be easily quickly to return to the main screen. Finally, querying the database is made easy through Quick Filter. Simply click on the desired Column and set the criteria for the search (e.g. Column: “First Name”, Search criteria: “Juan”). Databases can even be printed without the need to generate a report, as is often required in more complex applications of this type. Another great feature is the integrated calendar for adding dates. Users can use navigation arrows to find a desired date.
What kinds of things can be done with PortaBase? PortaBase has a number of potential uses in the classroom. It’s ideal as a means to track media, such as books in a classroom library. Next, reference charts can be created easily for classroom handouts. Furthermore, It’s ideal for creating to-do lists, which could be modified into a student job chart. Finally, lists of needed supplies and materials for class projects can also be easily created. PortaBase is also a great way to introduce learners to databases.
I can’t guarantee that PortaBase will resolve all your classroom problems. It can, however, be used to streamline your classroom and students’ learning experiences. Take a look. Give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised, like I was.
I’m going to take a break from my usual review of open source educational technology and take a look at some open source applications that can help with system security.
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to keeping computer systems secure is antivirus software. Towards this end, we have ClamAV, a virus scanner available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and MacOS. While ClamAV actually runs from the command line. ClamTk provides a graphical interface for users who are less familiar with the command line.
So, how does ClamAV stack up to its commercial counterparts? First of all, it is free. Next, ClamTk can be configured to automatically download updates and to run scans. Furthermore, as it is a virus scanner, it does not actively block viruses. This may sound like a weakness, but this means that it only runs when set to do so or when it is launched, which in turn means that it’s easier on system resources. Additionally, ClamTk is highly configurable and scans can be easily modified if needed. Finally, plugins, such as ClamAssassin, a mail scanner, can be added to enhance functionality.
Online security gurus will tell you that one of the best things you can do to protect yourself online is to use complex passwords (upper/lower case letters, numbers and special characters). They also advocate that you should never use the same password for any online accounts you may have. How do they expect people to keep track of which password is used on which site? The prospect seems daunting. The good news is that, thanks to KeePassX, you don’t have to go through this.
KeePassX is an application that keeps track of passwords for you. KeePassX actually utilizes a database to keep track of passwords. What features does it offer? first of all, there is extensive management for each entry (includes a title for each entry, attachment insertion and user-defined symbols for groups and entries, among others). Next, there is the integrated search feature. Additionally, there is also a secure password database. Other features include a secure password generator, encryption and the capacity to import/export entries. Best of all, KeePassX is free and available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.
To the unfamiliar, the prospect of encrypting files sounds like something done by government agencies or corporations. If you’re storing data on a cloud drive, like Google, you should give file encryption a thought. Any data stored on the cloud is potentially vulnerable. An encryption program encrypts files and sets a key for decoding them. To decrypt a file, you must have the encryption key. Fortunately, this process isn’t as complicated as it sounds and the right software makes it downright easy.
Enter VeraCrypt! VeraCrypt is hard disk encryption software. With VeraCrypt, users can encrypt individual files, hard drive partitions or whole devices. Additionally, encryption is automatic and takes place in real time. Furthermore, encrypted files, partitions or drives are mounted as virtual hard drives. Therefore, writing changes to encrypted data is just as quick and easy as it would be with unencrypted data. Finally, VeraCrypt is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and MacOS.
In closing, I just want to add that I hope readers will find this applications useful in their efforts to surf the Web securely and safely.
ClamAV [computer software]. (2018). Cisco: GNU General Public License.
ClamTk [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU Gneral Public License.
KeePassX [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
KeePassX screenshot retrieved from https://www.keepassx.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/.
VeraCrypt [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
VeraCrypt screenshot retrieved from https://a.fsdn.com/con/app/proj/veracrypt/screenshots/VeraCrypt_Creating_Volume.png/max/max/1.
Hydrogen is an open source drum set that runs on your computer. We’re going to take a short look at this exciting piece of software. For those uncertain as to what a drum kit is, just imagine a virtual drum kit (drums, cymbals, etc.) on your computer, but with an interface of sliders and knobs in lieu of actual drums. Read on. You’ll see.
Hydrogen presents an approachable interface that anyone familiar with audio-visual equipment, such as equalizers, should have little trouble finding his or her way around. Hydrogen’s interface is modular and incorporates timelines, sliders, knobs, toolbars, tabs and menus to help users get the job done.
The screenshot gives you an idea of what to expect. The screen is divided into panes, each one offering something special. Some components, such as the Mixer, operate from their own window. The upper pane is where compositions are created. The lower left pane presents instruments in the drum kit. The panel in the lower right allows users to toggle between modifications for the currently selected drum set and accessing the sound library.
Hydrogen is replete with features. One of these is a Pattern-based Sequencer. Hydrogen is designed to work with patterns. To facilitate this, the developers have also included an integrated Pattern Editor. Another impressive feature is unlimited instrument tracks. That’s right. A composition created in Hydrogen can have unlimited instrument tracks. It’s almost mind-boggling.
Hydrogen offers support for QT5, MIDI and OSC file formats. Hydrogen also provides support for sound library images. If drums are not your thing, it’s possible to import different musical instruments. There is support for managing different sessions. Support for basic exportation to LilyPond is also available. Playback capabilities and menu editing are two more useful Hydrogen features. Hydrogen can be easily customized via the Preferences option under the Tools menu. Tutorials and full documentation are available on Hydrogen’s Web site.
What You Can Do With Hydrogen
Arguably, users are limited only by their imaginations when using Hydrogen. Compositions can be played back as desired and easily modified. There are some pre-designed drum kits available for Hydrogen on SourceForge with which to experiment. In short, users can create the musical composition of their dreams. More advanced student programmers may interested in knowing that Hydrogen is written in the C++ programming language. As it is open source, this opens up wonderful opportunities for collaboration between music and tech departments. If properly implemented, students from the realms of computer programming and music could meet, share ideas and create that indispensable Hydrogen component. How cool would it be if students from your school could make this claim? Best of all, Hydrogen is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS, so it probably will run on the platform of your choice.
Hydrogen [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
Piraino, A. et al. (n.d.). Hydrogen manual. GNU General Public License.
Veyon is open source and offers a collection of applications that allows teachers to monitor students’ computer activity. This is done from the teacher’s computer. This makes it easier to check on your students’ activities and not to have to rely on the tell-tale signs of giggling or the student who constantly looks to see if you’re paying attention. Let’s take a look at Veyon.
Ease of Configuration
Upon installation, users can run the configuration component right from their main menu. This component employs an interface that is approachable. Before entering this phase, I would recommend having all of the information regarding your computer, the network to which its connected and the computers students will be using. From here, users can set up Veyon and its components, or modules, as needed. Looking at the screenshot, the categories for configuration can be seen on the left. A few items of note are Authentication, where the administrator account and password are configured, Rooms & computers where computers and rooms covered by the current installation are set up, and Rooms & computers, where rooms and computers to be covered by Veyon are created.
One-stop Control with Veyon Master
Veyon Master is the module from which the educator works. It offers a user-friendly interface, predominantly via the horizontal panel of buttons at the top of the screen and tabs at the bottom of the screen for additional functionality. From here, an educator has complete control over those connected via Veyon Services, the student component of Veyon. Looking at the screenshot at right gives an idea of what can be accomplished through Veyon Master. Teachers can use Remote View to see what is on students’ screens currently. Remotely, teachers can lock all computers to regain student attention. Teachers can use Window demo to share an open window on their computers with students. Educators can even take remote screenshots of students’ computers. The default mode, Monitoring, allows teachers to just monitor student computers. Computers in the network can also be simultaneously and remotely turned on, powered down and rebooted. Teachers can even send individual text messages to students through Veyon.
Backwards Compatibility with LDAP/AD Support
Some readers may be thinking “Well, this is great, but will I still be able to use files on our LDAP/ActiveDirectory server from our previous system?” (For those not in the know, this is the format used by earlier computer management software.) The good news is that the answer is “Yes, you can!” To utilize these files, simply configure the LDAP module. From that point on, Veyon will automatically update computer and room data.
I’ve only touched on a few of its features here and I recommend you experience it for yourself. Veyon offers everything teachers need to control their students’ online learning experiences. With this application in place, supervising these activities becomes easier and can free teachers up to work with students who may need additional support or to observe student performance, among other things. It will definitely make it easier to teach. Veyon is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows operating systems.
Junghans, T. (2018). Veyon [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Junghans, T. (12 August 2018). Veyon administrator manual. GNU General Public License. Retrieved from https://media.readthedocs.org/pdf/veyon-admin-manual/latest/veyon-admin-manual.pdf.
Marble is an open source virtual globe for your desktop or device. Unlike a popular proprietary application, Marble works without an Internet connection. That’s right. You don’t need an Internet connection to use Marble. It is part of the KDE Education Project and this article will seek to provide a better look at Marble and why it can be so useful in the classroom.
Marble uses an interface that is approachable. A menu is offered at the top of the screen with a simple toolbar below that. The rest of the window is divided into panes. A small pane on the left allows users to toggle such things as type of map viewed, current location and map legend colors. The right pane occupies the majority of the screen and displays a map of the world There is a minimized world map in the upper left corner that shows users where in the world they are. In the opposite corner is a compass providing orientation.
Using the mouse, users can be explore Marble , but keyboard shortcuts are available. Users can navigate the maps by clicking-and-dragging to find their desired location. With the mouse wheel, users can zoom in for a closer look. Clicking on a specific location opens a window which provides information about that area such as location (elevation, longitude , latitude), a short description of the locale and, in the case of specific geographic areas, such as cities, provides such data as population, nation and time zone. Additionally, users can navigate using the compass/scroll tool on the right-hand side of the screen. Orientation items, such as the world map in the upper left corner, the scale bar near the bottom or the compass, can be relocated simply by clicking-and-dragging them to desired locations.
Many Maps to View
Users can toggle between various views of the current map, using the Map View tool in the lower left-hand pane. Available views include flat view, stereographic view, Mercator view and Gnomonic view. Here you can even toggle whether you’re viewing a map of Earth or of the Moon. As much fun as exploring the Moon may sound, while looking at Earth, more options are provided as to the type of map/data displayed. There are too many to list them all here, but here are a few available options: atlas, street map (via OpenStreetMap), satellite view, Earth at night and Historical 1689. These are available in tje default installation, but plugins can be installed to enhance the types of maps available.
So, how could Marble be utilized in a twenty-first century classroom? The most obvious way would be as a tool to teach map reading skills to young geographers. However, there a several historical maps that could be employed to enhance learning experiences. Students could even study the history of United States moon landings using the Moon map. Such maps as temperature and precipitation would be valuable tools in both the biology and ecology classrooms. While on the topic of science, your class could explore the Moon or, by zooming out, get a look at some of the constellations that surround us. In regards to mathematics, data could be collected on average rainfalls from locations around the world. Rainfalls for extreme climates like rain forests or deserts would be interesting to compare. Then there’s computer programming. For computer programmers, Marble is written in the C++ programming language and can easily be integrated into C++ programs with the stipulation that said programs are released under the GPL 2.1 (GNU General Public License (i.e. open source)).
I’ve informed you about Marble, given several strong arguments for its utilization in the classroom and provided some ideas for curriculum integration. The next step should be for you to experience Marble first-hand and discover what an engaging application it is.
Rahn, T. (2015). Marble virtual globe [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
In this era of Student Information Systems, the idea of using an electronic spreadsheet to create a gradebook may seem a bit outdated, but not all schools or districts can afford an SIS or have the resources to implement one. Furthermore, homeschoolers hardly need an SIS to track student performance. For these groups, an electronic spreadsheet makes a fine gradebook and, in keeping with this blog’s focus on open source, I’m going to use LibreOffice Calc, a spreadsheet in an open source office suite, to do this.
First, a quick vocab check. A spreadsheet is an application designed to work with numbers. It’s divided into columns and rows, much like a checkbook register or ledger. An individual spreadsheet is referred to as a worksheet. Columns are identified by uppercase letters, called column headers. Rows are identified by numbers, called row headers. An exact spot where a column and row meet (e.g. A1) is a cell. An individual cell would be identified, as shown above, by putting the column and row headers together (e.g. A1). When a cell is clicked on, it becomes the active cell, which is indicated by a bold outline around the cell. While working with the cells of a spreadsheet, the mouse pointer turns into a rectangle with which individual cells can be selected, or multiple cells, when clicking-and-dragging. Cells can be customized in terms of the data they contain (text, number, etc.) as well as in terms of physical appearance (font color, background color, etc.).
While typing in a cell, the contents will appear in the formula bar below the menu and toolbar near the top of the screen. Near the bottom of the screen are sheet tabs. Tabs allow users to have multiple worksheets in one spreadsheet. This is ideal for a subject in which multiple types of data are collected (e.g. homework grades, assessment scores, etc.). Simply click the + to add a new tab as needed.
Your first step is to determine what grades you are going to record. This is important as it affects the labels for each column head, among other things. A spelling grade book might just have a date that corresponds to each weekly spelling test. A math grade book might include multiple worksheets (one for homework, one for classwork, etc.). For the sake of this article, I chose to create a math grade book. Put some thought and planning into your gradebook and you’ll get more use out of it.
In regards to my platform, I’m using LicreOffice 5.0 on Xubuntu Linux 16.04.4. You should be able to do what I’m going to show you in any spreadsheet application, not just Calc. You may want to consult your application’s documentation in regards to formula syntax. Let’s get started and open Calc (or the spreadsheet application of your choice). At the top of each column, you will want a column heading that will serve as a label. The first cell in each column is reserved for a label and is exempt from sorting by default (we’ll take a look at sorting shortly). In the first cell of the first column, type “Student Name“. I’m putting student names (last name (well. the first initial of the last neme for the sake of confidentiality), first name) in one cell so that they can be sorted alphabetically. Thus, if I get a new student, I can add his or her name to the gradebook and re-sort the names alphabetically so the new student’s name will be sorted in with the others. The next header depends on the subject for which you’re making the gradebook. As this tab will be for homework grades, I’m using dates.
If you look at my screenshot, you’ll notice that my “Student Name” label doesn’t quite fit. Most spreadsheet applications allow for easy column-width adjustment, which certainly aids in legibility. Positioning the mouse pointer between two column headers turns it into a double arrow. Just hold down the left mouse button and drag to the right to resize the column (as shown in the screenshot). Row height can be adjusted in a similar fashion. Regarding legibility, I also increased my font size from the default of 10 points to 12 points. To do this, click on the “button” to the left of the A, B, C,… column headers and above the 1, 2, 3… tow headers. This selects all cells in a worksheet and works in every modern spreadsheet application I’ve used. Once you’ve done this, any changes you make (e.g. font size) will affect the whole worksheet.
In the first cell of the second column (B1), I typed the date (9/1/17) which is automatically formatted as 09/01/17. Hit the Tab key, which moves the cursor to C1, and enter 9/8/17. One of the cool things about electronic spreadsheets is that they can detect patterns. Click on CI, drag over cell D!. Now move the mouse pointer to the lower right corner of cell D1. It should turn to a set of cross-hairs. Click and drag a few cells to the right. and continue on to select cells EI, Fi and so on. The dates will automatically be filled in. Thus you can fill in dates for the entire semester/trimester/term). For the last column (column I) of the semester/trimester/term, type in the heading of your choice (Average, Grade, etc.).
In cell I2, type the following (also shown in the formula bar screenshot): =average(b2:h2). In human terms, this means that cell I2 will present the average for the numbers listed in cells B2 through H2, as seen in the screenshot. As I look at my results, I see that my averages contain multiple decimal places. This is fine for complex mathematics, but I just want to display to the average to the closest half point. Right-click on the I column header and choose Format Cells.... In the Format Cells dialog box, click on the Numbers tab. Below the Category field are available Options. From here, change the number of decimal places from the default (blank) to 2 or 1, depending on what your desire is, and click OK. After having done this, you’ll see how much more approachable the numbers are (check out the screenshot).
One more thing that I’d like to share is the ability to rename worksheets to help yourself and others navigate your gradebook. Double-clicking on a sheet tab opens the Rename sheet dialog box. Simply type in the new name and click OK or press Enter. It’s that easy to customize your new gradebook. You should now be able to create a gradebook yourself using a spreadsheet application. If you have any questions, please contact me. Good luck creating gradebooks!
Web development is an ideal platform for young learners to enter into the world of computer programming. In this article, I’m going to show why this is true and how easily you can get students into programming as well as helping them to develop essential skills, such as proofreading and problem-solving.
First of all, (X)HTML, the language used to create Web pages, is easy to learn and uses syntax and mechanics found in true programming languages. Like programming languages, (X)HTML utilizes elements and these elements use attributes to better define them. Arguably, this is where the fun begins. As learners become familiar with elements and their attributes, they will certainly want to experiment with them. Changing an attribute’s values can affect such things as physical appearance or placement on the Web page. Young programmers will quickly familiarize themselves with the practice of tweaking elements’ attributes and, undoubtedly, will be very anxious to learn about more elements, even if it requires doing so on their own time.
A very strong argument for introducing learners to (X)HTML is that working with it can cultivate two highly desired abilities -proofreading and debugging skills. These skills are essential in the programming world and proofreading is valued well beyond the world of programming. When a Web page or one of its elements does not look right, there’s only one way to fix it and that’s to find its reference in the code and alter it as needed. This means combing through lines of code sometimes, looking for one thing in particular. Towards this end, problem-solving skills are also developed. If changing the attribute of one element fails to get the desired result, sometimes a developer will have to experiment to find something that works.
Text editors such as Microsoft Notepad or BBedit for Mac are fine for creating Web pages. However, as your burgeoning Web developers’ skills grow, they may feel constrained by the limitations of such tools. Open source Web development suites/HTML editors such as Bluefish or BlueGriffon, can provide them with a more rewarding environment in which to work. Both are WYSIWYG and include tools that will make Web development easier. Better still, with the W3C’s (World Wide Web Consortium) Tidy installed, code can be validated to identify mistakes and to ensure that it meets W3C standards. The W3C also offers a CSS validation service. These tools make it much easier to debug. Tidy can also be used to “tidy up” code so that it’s easier to read. This is a useful habit for budding developers to get into for just this reason.
The final argument for using (X)HTML as a platform for launching the careers of young developers is the cost. Unlike some commercial programming languages, (X)HTML is free. Not only is (X)HTML free, but so are the open source tools mentioned above, Bluefish, BlueGriffon and Tidy. If, like so many schools and districts, your school or district’s budget is tight, then this is a logical course to pursue. Not that expenses matter to the kids. They’ll just sit down and, after a little instruction, start coding.
NtEd is an open source musical score editor for Linux. It seeks to provide a platform for music teachers and students alike for the instruction of reading music, composing music and learning to play instruments. NtEd is an abbreviation of Noteedit, the application’s full name.
NtEd developers strove to create an intuitive WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface. This they have achieved with aplomb. The interface is very approachable with a menu bar at the top of the window, and a toolbar below this. Below this is a pane presenting what appears to be a sheet of paper with a stave along the top. A free-floating Toolbox is included for added functionality. Within this toolbox are arrows that allow users to scroll between five different options of items to add to the stave. These include notes, rests and the like that can be clicked on and dragged to a desired location on the stave. Musical composition couldn’t be easier than that.
So what can users do with NtEd? By clicking on two notes, they can be tied (legato). These can be used to build cords and tuplets. Instruments can be added to every staff and, thus, a complete orchestra can be created. The Play button allows users to hear the music that they have written. Additionally, NtEd offers support for up to 4 instruments per staff. NtEd includes full compatibility with MIDI, both in terms of MIDI files and MIDI devices.
Other features include, but are not limited to, the ability to transpose a score to a new key, the capacity to mute selected staves and a copy and paste feature. NtEd can create files of the following types: PostScript, SVG, MIDI, PDF and PNG. Creations can be exported to MIDI and MusicXML. Completed projects can even be exported to LilyPond, an open source, text-based musical score editor.
If you’re a music teacher, NtEd is software that your budding impresarios deserve. Check it out. Introduce your students to it. Watch the magic unfurl.
Anders, J. (n.d). NtEd [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Anders, J. (n.d.). NtEd a new and free musical score editor for Linux. Chemnitz, Germany: Chemnitz University of Technology. Retrieved from http://www.iiis.org/cds2010/cd2010imc/iceti_2010/paperspdf/eb505ay.pdf.
BRLTTY is a background application that runs in UNIX/Linux and that provides access the Linux/UNIX console for a person using a refreshable Braille display, which is connected to the computer. BRLTTY also serves as a driver for the connected device so that it will run on a UNIX/Linux computer. Like all of the software I review here, BRLTTY is open source. Let’s take a look at what it can do for its users.
BRLTTY is feature-rich. These include the usual screen review facilities one would expect to find, as well as cursor options (block, underline or none) and underlining for highlighted text. One feature that I thought was wonderful was screen freezing. This allows users to review output at their leisure. Intelligent cursor routing allows for users to readily fetch the cursor in such applications as a word processor or Web browser without having to move their hands from the Braille display. There are far more features available than I could cover here.
In terms of capabilities, BRLTTY has much to offer. For example, it can be configured to run at system start-up to help users log onto the system. It supports scrolling back to review prior messages (those that came up during the boot process for example). BRLTTY supports video modes which offer more columns and/or rows than the default 80×25. It also offers basic speech support and a preferences menu. Supported Braille displays include those manufactured by Alva, HandyTech and B2GBaum among others. Voice synthesizers supported include, but are not limited to, eSpeak, GenericSay and Alva.
If you’re in need of a full-featured console for a refreshable Braille display for a UNIX/Linux system, BRLTTY should meet your needs.
BRLTTY [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
BRLTTY man page. (22 December 2015). GNU General Public License.
Figure 1 retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plage-braille.jpg.
Figure 2 retrieved from httsp://asd-hs.wikispaces.com/file/view/braille-alphabet.jpg.
So, what is exportability and how does it relate to open source educational technology? Exportability is the ability of an instructional product to be utilized in a setting other than the one for which it was designed. How do you make an educational product exportable? It’s not as complex as it sounds. You simply need to create an instructor’s manual providing information about how to employ the product. That’s it. So, if you have a student for whom you’ve created some great instructional materials, be sure to create instructor’s manuals so the educators with whom your student will work in the future will know how to use them.