🎥 The Farewell

I was back at Austin Film Society last night to catch a screening of The Farewell. It was a great film, and the writer/director, Lulu Wang, stuck around for a Q&A session afterwards!

🍿 General Magic

Earlier this week, I attended a screening of General Magic at Austin Film Society. The documentary tells the story of how General Magic attempted to change the world by shipping the first handheld “personal communicator” in the 90’s. Although the product and company ultimately failed, their ideas went on to influence the technology we use every day. After the film, one of the panelists showed off an original device, which still boots 20+ years later!

This is a fantastic film for anyone interested in Apple or mobile technology in general.

Netflix FYSEE

Amazing to hear Ma Anand Sheela in conversation with Mark Duplass and the directors of “Wild Wild Country” at last night’s Netflix event. Sheela is so awesome!

Tanaka Farms

Pickin’ strawberries and pettin’ chickens, y’all. 🍓🐓

Ready Player One Challenge

Search, play, take the leap. Had fun at the Ready Player One Challenge yesterday 🕹

Exploring The Huntington Library

The Desert Garden

Workspaces App

I’m currently working on a service that includes an API, website, and iOS client and have been using an app called Workspaces to efficiently switch between each of those projects.

Workspaces allows you to associate a number of resources (files & folders, websites, emails, etc.) with a project. You can specify which resources are opened automatically when you start working on a project, and the rest are quickly available via the menubar.

For example, starting my API project opens Terminal (at the project’s directory), my Xcode project, and a Paw document for testing the API. I can visit the repo’s Project page (or any of the other resources) from the menubar whenever I need to.

I’ve been very impressed by the app so far and look forward to seeing what the developer adds in future versions.

Quick Tip: Use Alfred to Look Up Apple API Errors

This morning I noticed a tip in the Core Intuition Slack group that DuckDuckGo has added a search !bang (!oss) for https://www.osstatus.com, a website for quickly looking up Apple API errors. For example, if you’re working on an app and want to look up information on CKErrorNetworkUnavailable , you can type !oss KErrorNetworkUnavailable in the search bar to view the results.

If you’re an Alfred user, you can streamline the process even more.

Alfred App Preferences screen - Web Search

  1. In Preferences, click Web Search.
  2. Click the Add Custom Search button in the bottom, right corner.
  3. Enter [www.osstatus.com/search/re...](https://www.osstatus.com/search/results?platform=all&framework=all&search=){query} in the Search URL field.
  4. Enter a name for the search in the Title field.
  5. Enter a keyword for activating the search in the Keyword field. This is what you’ll type to activate the search in Alfred, so I like to keep it as short as possible. I decided to go with .oss
  6. You can test the search by pasting an error name or number in the Validation field and clicking the Test button. With any luck, you’ll see the results appear in your browser.
To use the search, just activate Alfred and type your keyword followed by the term you’d like to look up! Activating a custom web search in Alfred

I have similar searches setup for Stack Overflow and GitHub, two sites I visit multiple times each day.

Manage Tweet Collections With Charm

Charm is a free iOS app that works along with your favorite Twitter client to make collecting, organizing and sharing Tweets incredibly easy. The app allows you to curate Tweets by topic, archive your favorite Tweets, or even create a collection of Tweets for a conference or training session you’re attending. You can easily share your Tweet collections via a Tweet or create an embed code for publishing a widget to your course homepage or personal blog. Let’s take a quick look at how this all works!

Users are presented with a brief tutorial when launching the app for the first time. Make sure to tap the Enable Extension Now button to activate the Collect Tweet in Charm activity extension in your favorite Twitter app.


Before leaving the app, create a new collection by clicking on the + icon in the upper right corner. Provide a name for the collection and add a description as well. Descriptions are optional, but they are useful if you plan on sharing your collection with others later on. Tap the Save button when finished.


Now let’s return to your Twitter app of choice and find a Tweet you would like to save to a collection. In this example, I’m using Tweetbot, but the process is similar for any Twitter app. Tap on the action button and select the Collect Tweet in Charm option. Tap on the collection to which you want to add the selected Tweet.


When you’re ready to share a collection, launch the Charmed app, select a collection, and click on the action button. You can share a link on Twitter, copy a link to your clipboard, or even grab an embed code for use on your blog or learning management system. In the video below, I use Twitter’s publish page to create a widget using the URL copied from Charm.

Download Charm from iTunes.

Innovations Conference Presentation Materials

Earlier this week I attended the Innovations Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to watching some great sessions on student engagement techniques, open educational resources, and storytelling in the classroom, I co-presented a session with Mark Fuentes (Accounting professor at PSCC) titled Sending Students on a Discovery Quest. We discussed our experiences building two scavenger hunt iOS applications that use QR codes and iBeacons to help students locating various offices and services on campus. Mark and I have been collaborating on the project for the past two semesters and have learned quite a bit along the way.

You can download a PDF version of the session Keynote presentation here. I plan on continuing development of the apps, so if you’re interested in offering something similar at your own organization, please get in touch!

Beacon Quest iOS App

In a previous post, I discussed the development QR Quest, an iOS app that encourages PSCC students to explore the many offices and services available at the college. That app, built as part of an internal Mobile Fellows grant, uses QR codes to track students' progress as they solve clues leading them to specific locations on campus. I originally intended to use iBeacons instead of QR codes, but I was unable to order the required number of beacons in time to launch the app. Fortunately, I was able to purchase 10 iBeacons from Radius Networks at the end of the fall semester, which I used to create a new app called Beacon Quest. The new app features a totally new UI, and is also the first app I’ve built using Swift, Apple’s new programming language launched at WWDC 2014.

The initial screen displays a series of clues and uses checkmark icons to show which clues have been completed. Tapping a clue loads a detail view, which shows the clue text along with the user’s proximity to the selected destination. A green ring indicates that the participant is not near the clue destination, a single red ring indicates the destination is near, and an inner red circle is used to show the participant is very close to the destination.

Beacon-Quest-001.jpegIf the app detects a destination is near or close, the camera icon activates, allowing the participant to take a picture of the location. Once students photograph themselves at the destination, the image placeholder icon is replaced with a thumbnail of the captured image and the clue is marked as complete.

Beacon-Quest-002.jpegAt the end of the scavenger hunt, participants submit their progress to earn extra credit from their instructor. Tapping the submit button on the clue list screen generates an email with a summary of the destinations discovered and attaches the accompanying photographs. Once the email is successfully send to the instructor, the submit button is disabled.


We have just started the first round of scavenger hunts, so stay tuned for a future post on student reactions and lessons learned during the development of the app. So far, the feedback seems very positive! In March, Mark Fuentes (accounting professor at PSCC) and I will be presenting a session on the project at the Innovations Conference in Boston. I will post the materials from that presentation on the blog after the event.

Announcing the Mobile Talk Podcast

I’m excited to announce the launch of Mobile Talk, a podcast from the PSCC Mobile Fellows. In this weekly series, Donn King and I will share our thoughts on mobile technology and education. We plan to keep the episodes short (less than 10 minutes) and will feature guest interviews, listener questions, and more over the coming months.

In episode 1, we discuss social media for educators. We have some audio issues, but Donn managed to save the recording with a bit of audio editing magic in Audacity. In episode 2, we discuss some tips and tricks for setting up a new a new iOS device. Episode 3 will be released as soon as the weather allows campus to open again!

If you're new to podcasts, check out this tutorial on subscribing to podcasts using Apple's Podcast app for iOS, which was recently posted on the Mobile Fellows blog.

If you’re interested in joining the conversation, please get in touch!

CodeTN Presentation Resources Available

Last fall, Pellissippi State Community College partnered with Greater Schools to launch the inaugural CodeTN kickoff event. Teams of high school coders were teamed with faculty mentors and tech experts from the private sector in a competition to create web apps that solve real-world problems. The winning team won $5,000 for their classroom along with some great individual prizes.

I was asked to present a workshop on open source tools during the kickoff event. The materials from that session are now available on Github. Feel free to download the repo or submit a pull request with your own tools!

Scavenger Hunts Using QR Codes

Late last year I was accepted into my college’s first Mobile Engagement Fellows program. The program was created to encourage faculty and staff to explore ways of using mobile devices and emerging technology to engage students and foster active student involvement. Participants (10 total) were awarded an iPad Air and given one year to complete a mobile engagement project and report their results back to the group.

My last post describes the first of my projects - an iBeacon-powered campus tour application. In addition, I proposed creating a campus-wide scavenger hunt, also powered by iBeacons, designed to help encourage students to become more familiar with various buildings, offices, and resources on campus. I was unable to order the number of beacons needed to create such a scavenger hunt before the start of the semester, so I decided to move forward with the project using QR codes instead. Version 2, available before the Spring 2015 semester, will use both iBeacons and QR codes

The App

On first launch, users are prompted to create an account or log in to an existing account. The app uses this account to sync progress between devices. The application’s home screen displays a list of all available QR quests. In order to limit access to specific classes or clubs, hunt organizers can choose to password protect a quest.

Select an available scavenger hunt and enter the password

Once a quest has been selected, participants are shown a list of clues, each of which leads to a different QR code hidden on campus.

View a list of clues

When a participant finds a QR code, they tap the clue and use the built-in scanner to verify they are in the correct location and save their progress. If the code is correct, the app navigates back to the list of clues and marks the selected clue as complete. If the the code is incorrect, the scanner highlights the code but remains visible to scan additional codes.

Scan the QR code for a found clue

When finished, participants use the action icon to submit their progress to quest organizer.

Submit progress to instructor

I will be piloting the app with an accounting class this fall and hope to add additional quests as more instructors express interest in the project. If you have ideas for the app or would like to work together on a similar project, please let me know!

Building a Better Tour App Using iBeacons

Estimote beacon deviceSince Apple introduced iBeacons at WWDC in June last year, we’ve seen plenty of announcements from retailers who plan on using the technology to enhance the shopping experience. While there’s no doubt that iBeacons can be valuable in commerce and provide an innovative way for businesses to interact with their consumers, iBeacons have the potential to impact a wide range of industries and become more than just the next great marketing tool.

The technology is powerful and easy to implement, and as an educational technologist, I believe it can make training more efficient, adaptable, and collaborative. I wanted to see for myself how I could take advantage of iBeacons to develop an educational app, so I ordered a set of Estimote beacons, fired up Xcode, and created a versatile audio tour app.

Photo of iBeacons on a table Estimote developer preview packs are $99/ 3 beacons and come in awesome packaging!

Audio Tour iOS App

App icon and main UI screenshotMost audio tours I've seen utilize bulky, outdated hardware. Since the devices have no knowledge of the user's location within an attraction, you are typically responsible for selecting the appropriate audio track for an exhibit or moving through an installation in a linear fashion. To solve this problem, my app uses Estimote beacons to automatically update the app's interface based on the closest exhibit. Since these beacons are much more accurate than GPS, you can press the play button once and walk through an entire museum without needing to touch the app again.

UI ScreenshotAs you move from exhibit to exhibit, the app continuously monitors for beacons and updates the interface accordingly. If you’re still listening to a track from a previous exhibit, the closest exhibit’s information is queued.

UI ScreenshotYou can immediately load the closest exhibit by tapping the Up Next button. Of course, you can also use the play/pause button or drag the audio playback progress bar when you need more control.

I used images from an aquarium in the example application, but this app can be customized to work with any kind of tour and display different types of media. In fact, I’m currently working on a campus tour application and developing additional interactive features, so stay tuned!

Retiring the D2L Reference App

I first released the D2L Quick Reference iOS application in February 2011. Over a three-year time period, the app has been downloaded thousands of times and maintained a 4+ rating in the app store. It has allowed me to meet a lot of awesome people I might not have otherwise had a reason to talk.

If you’re a user of the app, you’ve probably noticed that it hasn’t been updated in quite some time. Although I haven’t pushed any updates iTunes, I’ve actually been working on a major revision off and on for several months now. The reason they haven’t been released is that many of the features I want to add to the app, such as the ability to search a large database of tutorials and an option to customize the app based on your school’s version of D2L, require some sort of interaction with a web server. Since I don’t charge for the app, I just can’t rationalize spending money on a server backend.

For that reason, and because I want to focus on some new app ideas (more details soon), I’ve decided to stop development of the app and remove it from iTunes. Thanks to everyone who downloaded the app and made it a success!

As a side note, I’d be happy to talk with anyone interested in creating a similar app for their organization. Feel free to get in touch and request a quote!

D2L Fusion 2013

This week, I attended Fusion, Desire2Learn's annual User's conference. I've been fortunate to get to attend Fusion for the past 5 years and have always had a blast connecting with other instructional technologists, educators, and D2L staff. This year was no exception. Some of my favorite conference moments were Alec Couros's inspirational keynote presentation, sampling flights of beer from local breweries at the JFK Presidential Museum and Library, learning about some exciting upcoming products, getting recognized by the awesome Barry Dahl for my D2L book, and wrapping up the conference at The Pour House, where I enjoyed my first pickelback with some great friends.

Audrey and I were also fortunate to have the best group of participants we could have hoped for in our session on Replace Strings on Tuesday afternoon. We've posted both the presentation and handout to Github, so feel free to check it out if you're interested.

A Semester With Glassboard

I’ve never been a big fan of Desire2Learn’s mobile interface. The Discussion tool, particularly, lacks many of the features that would make it useful to mobile users. For that reason, I decided to use an external service for all class discussions and announcements in WEB 2710: Web Design for Mobile Devices this semester. In this post, I’ll give a brief overview of Glassboard, the service I chose, and share my experiences using it for a semester.


Glassboard is a collaboration tool that allows you to create private meeting rooms, or boards, where members can post messages and share files with each other. Users can access their boards throught the website or by downloading the free iOS and Android applications. The interface is intuitive and similar to other social networking apps you may already use.

Glassboard's compose screen (web)

Boards are private, so anything you post is only available to members of the board. This means you can create a separate board for each class you teach and you don’t have to worry about students from different sections reading the wrong content. If you’ve ever tried using Twitter hashtags to organize content for different classes you’re going to love this feature! You can create up to 10 boards with a free account and an unlimited number of boards if you go for the pro account ($50/year). Once you create a board, you can invite participants by providing a list of email addresses or by sharing a customized invite code/URL. I prefer the second option because it lets students choose the email address they want to use.Invite code for channel

Users can choose to receive notifications of new content on their mobile devices or through email. Notifications settings are board specific, so you can choose different options for each board if you’d like. I ended up turning on device notifications so I could keep up with the discussion throughout the day.

Notifications preferences

My Thoughts

Glassboard alleviated a lot of my past problems with using social media in the classroom. For example, I didn't have to juggle multiple Twitter accounts or course hashtags this semester. Because students can start their own threads (or even their own boards), I feel the discussions were more engaging and student-focused than in previous semesters when I used the LMS's built-in discussion tool.

Despite being a great tool, Glassboard still has room for improvement though. There's no built-in search functionality, so finding a topic discussed several days or weeks ago can be problematic. In addition, text formatting is minimal - there's no way to bold text or create a bulleted list, for example.

Will I use Glassboard again in the future? Absolutely. It is a fantastic collaboration tool that is both powerful and easy to use. And students seem to love it. My class of 13 (amazing) students ended over a week ago and the board has already had 15+ posts today.

D2L Book Update

(Update - 4/18)

According to the publisher, the corrected version of the book is now available through all channels!

(Update - 2/1)

Great news - it looks like Packt will be releasing an updated version of the book after all! I am not sure when it will be available, but I’ll share details as soon as I find out.

(Update - 1/29)

I finally heard back from Packt Publishing today. Unfortunately, they’ve decided not to release an updated version of the book to address the numerous grammatical errors I discovered after the book’s original publication. I feel this is a huge mistake and a great disservice to potential customers. While I sincerely hope they decide to publish these updates in a future edition, I can’t recommend buying the current version. If anything changes, I’ll add another update to this post.

As some readers of the site are already aware, the current version of Desire2Learn for Higher Education Cookbook contains a number of grammatical errors. Many of these errors were added to the book during the technical editing stage of the book’s production. I’ve contacted the publisher and provided a list of required changes and am currently waiting for a response back from the company. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you don’t purchase the book until these issues are addressed. I’ll post an update to this website when the necessary corrections are made.

Special Delivery

D2L for Higher Education Cookbook cover

Hot off the press! Copies of my book arrived in the mail today. It’s neat to see months of my work all printed and bound. Plus, it’s very cool to have an ISBN attached to my name. Feeling legit!

My publisher is interested in offering a few free copies of the book to folks willing to post a quick review, blog post, etc. If you’re interested, just let me know.

Smart App Banners in iOS 6

One of the less-discussed new features in iOS 6 is the ability to display Smart App banners in Safari. These banners allow you to provide a link to your iOS app from within the web browser. If visitors to your site already have your app installed, the Install button is replaced by an Open button, which makes it easy to jump from the webs site directly into the app. In addition, you’re able to pass information from your website to your app via a parameter in the Smart App Banner code. Let’s take a look at a quick example.

In the header of your page, simply add the following META tag. Make sure to replace the app ID with the ID for the app you actually want to link to. You can find your app ID using Apple’s iTunes Link Maker.

<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=419775687">

That’s all there is to it. With any luck, you can reload the page so see something like the example screenshot below.


Now what if you want to pass information from the browser to the app? For that, you’ll need to use URL schemes. URL Schemes are special URLs that allow you to communicate between apps on iOS devices. You can view information on supported URL schemes in all your favorite apps at this site. Let’s suppose, for example, you want to create a page on your course site for a new reading assignment. In our example, we will display a Smart App Banner for with a link to the iBooks app in the iTunes store. By passing an additional argument, students who already have the iBooks app installed can tap the Open button to be taken instantly to the book’s page in the store. Here’s the code to do just that:

<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=364709193,app-argument=itms-books://itunes.apple.com/us/book/amazing-adventures-kavalier/id497278337">

You can do all sorts of neat things with URL schemes and Smart App Banners - post custom tweets, launch specific videos in the TED app, etc. How are you using them?

iOS 6 in Education - Guided Access

Guided Access helps students with disabilities such as autism remain on task and focused on content. It allows a parent, teacher, or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. - Apple
Guided Access, one of many new features found in iOS 6, allows you to put your device in Kiosk mode, limiting access to other apps on the device. This feature can be useful for secure testing, keeping students on task, and more. In this post, we'll take a look at how to setup and use Guided Access on your device to limit access to a specific book in the iBooks app.

guided access screenshots

  1. Access the Settings app. Then, tap General | Accessibility | Guided Access.
  2. Use the slider at the top of the screen to turn on the service.
  3. Tap Set Passcode. You'll need to remember the passcode you set here to exit Guided Access mode later on.
  4. Launch the iBooks app (or any other app of your choice).
  5. Triple-tap the Home button. Once the Guided Access screen loads, use your finger to draw circles around the parts of the interface that you don't want to students to be able to access. Since we're limiting access to a specific book, we remove access to the Library button.
  6. Tap the Start button to launch Guided Access.
That's all there is to it! Once finished, simply triple-tap the Home button and enter the passcode to exit Guided Access mode. As you can see, there are all sorts of potential use cases for this feature in classrooms and labs.

D2L Edge Challenge

Watchalearning is a native iOS application that uses streaming video and chat functionality to facilitate learning. The main screen of the application shows a title, release date, and thumbnail image for each video in the series. Although the application looks for new content each time it is loaded, users can manually update the feed using pull-to refresh functionality on the main screen.

Main UI for viewing video content

Tapping on a video thumbnail plays the video in a full screen media player.

Users can also collaborate with other classmates using the built-in chat feature. Simply tap the Chat button in the navigation bar to get started. New users are asked to create an account. The account credentials are cached on the device, so users shouldn’t need to login to future sessions. Reload the chat view by tapping and dragging down on the main view.

Chat interface


Participate in the conversation by tapping the Compose button in the navigation bar. Type as much as you’d like in the text field and press Done.

After reloading the view, your message should appear at the top of the list! The rows in the table view automatically resize based on the length of the message.


While work on the Edge Challenge submission is now complete, we plan on continuing development of the app by adding new features such as push notifications, video chatting, and file sharing. We would eventually like to develop a framework that could be used by other educators to create their own mobile apps. If you’re interested in following along, feel free to add this site’s feed to your RSS reader of choice!

2012 D2L Edge Challenge Entry from Brandon Ballentine on Vimeo.

iOS Application for Workshop Handouts

At the D2L UnConference I demoed an alpha version an iPad application I have been working on that is aimed at replacing traditional workshop handouts in the faculty training sessions I offer. The basic idea is that the app communicates with a web server to automatically display a PDF handout of the current workshop and also loads the sign-in and evaluation pages for that particular session. The app will hopefully eliminate unnecessary printouts and allow participants to more easily access to complementary workshop materials during sessions.

Since the conference I have completely rewritten the application, making it cross-platform (iPhone and iPad) and adding several new features. Let’s take a look at how the new version works!

Initial View

When the app loads, it parses a small XML file hosted on a server and loads the correct session information into memory. It then checks to see if the session handout already exists in the app’s documents directory. If so, it displays the previously downloaded version. If that file is not present, the app will download the file to the device and display it in the main window.

Participant Sign In

Participants can sign in using the second icon in the bottom toolbar. This displays a modal window with a web-based sign in form. The app passes the form some hidden fields including the current time and the session ID to help ensure participants get credit for attending the correct workshop.

The form is created using the Gravity Forms WordPress plugin, but any online form would work just as well. Once a participant registers, they automatically receive a personalized email with the PDF handout attached.

UI Screenshot

Website View

The third icon loads a web site defined in the XML file. In my workshops I frequently ask attendants to navigate to external websites, and this will hopefully make that process a bit easier. Participants can use the action menu item to send themselves a link to any of the sites visited during the session.

UI Screenshot

Workshop Evaluation

UI Screenshot

The last icon in the toolbar sends participants to the workshop evaluation form. Like the sign in form, hidden fields are passed to the form to ensure that the evaluations are associated with the correct session.


I had originally planned on using the app in my faculty training sessions, but I now think that I may also use it in the mobile web design course I am teaching this fall. We have a classroom set of iPads in the experimental technology classroom I am using for that course and this seems like a perfect fit. I will post my experiences as the semester progresses.

Feel free to let me know if you have an idea that would make the app better. I am always open to suggestions!