5 Productivity Tips for Educators

Posted by: on Mar 19, 2013 | One Comment

There are many occasions when I saw what my fellow teaching colleagues are struggling with using their PCs to create lesson materials, including lessons notes, worksheets and examination papers. I observed that many of the struggling could be reduced if these educators are aware of 5 tips that I am going to share in this post.

Tip 1: Get a Full version of MathType and Learn Some Latex

I know there is a version of Equation Editor in Microsoft Office but that version does not support Latex shorthand. Though MathType cost $97($57 for academic use), it is a worthwhile investment seeing that you will be using it day-in and day-out. MathType is also a very mature software, and it has been in version 6 for ages with minor updates, all being free downloads for licensed user (I am not affiliated to Design Science in any forms).

I can’t stress enough the importance of using shorthand to type equations, especially if you are a Mathematics or Physics teacher. For example, to type a fraction of half, you need to do these steps:

  • Move mouse to menu and click Insert Equation
  • Use mouse to click on fraction button
  • Use mouse to click on the type of fraction you want
  • Shift hand to keyboard to type “1”
  • Use arrow key to move cursor to denominator
  • Type “2”
  • Close the equation window

Using Latex shorthand,

  • Move mouse to menu and click Insert Equation
  • Type the following code \frac{1}{2}
  • Close the equation window

Ignoring the first and last steps which are common to both processes, using Latex shorthand uses 1 step while using mouse and keyboard totals 5 steps. Time is also lost during shifting on hand between mouse and keyboard. And my example is only a simple fraction. If powers and subscripts are involved, there will be many more shifting between mouse and keyboard. Hence, learn a little commonly used Latex shorthand helps improve your productivity many folds.

Tip 2: Use a Diagramming Software

Diagramming software are software that are made for drawing diagrams. Most educators use the drawing tools in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to draw diagrams. However, these drawing tools are not optimized for drawing anything complicated. It is also hard to make the ends meet with these drawing tools. Diagramming software usually have snapping features that join two ends smoothly together.

The most popular diagramming software for Mac is OmniGraffle – The Omni Group. The equivalence on Windows is Visio (not an affiliate either), by Microsoft. Beside the easy drawing of complicated diagrams, what I like about these applications is that I can copy the diagram drawn and paste it onto my word processor. The size of the diagram is retained. For example, if I draw a 5 cm square and I type a font size 12 label, the image that is pasted into the word processor is also by default 5 cm and font size 12. I do not have to adjust the size, which usually take up a lot of time by teachers who are drawing with PowerPoint and then copy the diagram into Word.

Tip 3: Get an External Monitor

A computer screen is a real estate that cannot be substituted. If you set the resolution high, everything appears small. If you set the resolution low, you see less things on your screen. Anyway, most people do not change their screen’s native resolution. Hence, if your laptop has a 11″ screen, then you see less than a 15″ monitor, and a 15″ monitor is not big enough to hold two 100% pages side by side.

As a teacher, we very often need to create materials from relevant sources, and the need to open the reference material and our word processor side by side is a very common task. Hence, if we are able to have an external monitor, our productivity will improve tremendously.

What are the tips to choosing a monitor? In today’s market, most LCD panels are very good. Even though there are the IPS and TFT panels, in most situations when used by an educator for creating lesson materials, there is no difference in experience. TFT is generally cheaper than IPS, though IPS has a greater viewing angle than TFT. But as I mentioned, there is no significant experience difference if used to create lesson materials.

What is more important when choosing a monitor is the resolution. Monitor size must be read together with the resolution. Resolution is measured in x by y pixels while monitor size is measured in number of inches across the diagonal of a monitor. Resolution affect how much you can see, while size determines how big you can see. For example, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air has a resolution of 1366×768 pixels. A non-retina display 13-inch MacBook Pro has the same 1366×768 resolution. This means that a fullscreen photograph zoom at 100% shows the same amount of details on both MacBooks, but the one on the 13-inch MacBook Pro appears bigger. Hence, when choosing an external monitor, look for the resolution because you can see more with a higher resolution display.

As for connection, most laptops support DisplayPort or HDMI. On Mac, you will have to get an adapter. Choose either a DisplayPort or HDMI adapter instead of the VGA adapter because the former will yield better quality images, and that the price of the adapters are almost the same. So choose the better one.

For those who do not wish to buy another monitor, you could use your iPad as an external monitor. You can do this by purchasing display apps. One app that I used is iDisplay. It runs over wireless network, but there is a lag in response, though this lag is not a significant issue for educators making lesson materials. Usually how I use is to put application panels and reference materials on the iPad and my word processor is on my main screen. Application panels are those tiny windows that shows the format settings of objects in the main window. Most Mac applications use panels extensively, but Windows applications that use panels are not so popular.

Tip 4: Do Not Use Numbering

This one small tip that I observe when using a word processor, be it iWork Pages or Microsoft Word, is that auto numbering always skew the formatting of the page. It make formatting difficult. Hence I seldom use auto numbering. Instead, I type the number follow by an option-tab. This will create a tab space without indenting the numbering. You can set the default tab spacing. 1 cm is a nice tab spacing I found.

Tip 5: Use a Mac

Lastly, I might get flamed for this, but I seriously believe you can do things faster on a Mac than on Windows. Windows users cannot understand this point because what exist on Mac also exists on Windows. But Mac users tend to use keyboard shortcut extensively, but Windows users do not, even though most keyboard shortcuts exists on both platforms. Why is this so? One reason I can think of is that Mac applications tend to be more consistent in the use of keyboard shortcuts than Windows. For example, command+, show the preference, command+a selects all the content etc.

Another reason why Mac is more productive is that I can use Preview to create a new PNG image and do a resize easily. I can also select a rectangular region and copy-paste into the word processor, and the image pasted on the word processor will have the same size as the original copied source. You may install Adobe Reader on Windows and do the same task, but the image that is pasted on the word processor will not be of the same size as the original. Though one can resize it, but we are talking about productivity right?

Summary

I hope that this long post can help you be more productive when making your lesson notes and worksheets, which are exactly the things that I do everyday.

Please share more productivity tips that you employ in your workflow using the comments below. I will be very glad to learn more from you.

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1 Comment

  1. Mark McKnight
    April 8, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this very informative article and for sharing the 5 productivity tips for educators. I agree with you on using Mac, for applications tend to be more consistent in the use of keyboard shortcuts than Windows.

    Reply

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