What Can My Students Do with That Phone?

“…the thing is ‘mobile sets Learning Free’ and we can now learn virtually anything, anywhere and anytime and that’s amazing.”
RJ Jacquez

This blog post is going to different from my others. Instead of a deep dive into a topic, this will be a list of apps that might be of use to faculty and students in distance education. I will focus on apps for the mobile phone, likely tablets as well. In my last blog, I mentioned that if a faculty member wants to use apps with mobile technology, they need to pick things that all their students can use. With that in mind, I will only be talking about apps that are free and will work on both iOS and Android.


Students may not be in the classroom, but writing will go on.  These first two might seem a little dull, but remember, it never hurts to be prepared.



While it is easy to look up the definition and alternative words, these two apps give students direct access.  These apps could be especially useful for international students that might currently find themselves without access to their support infrastructure.  Even if English is your primary language, sometimes, we can all use a little help in finding that perfect word.


It is a document collection and organization tool. It is also a bibliography creations tool. In addition to being usable on iOS and Android, you can use it on your laptop or desktop.


EasyBib is also a bibliography tool; the advantage of EasyBib is that it will create the bibliographic reference using your phone’s camera to scan the book’s bar code.  The disadvantage is that the free version will only produce citations in the MLA format.

Google Docs

While many may find it challenging to write a full document on a mobile device, you never know when inspiration will strike. Also, a section on writing would not be complete without a way to write a full document. The google docs apps allow access and editing to records at any time from any location.

Recording Audio and Video

A lot of classes require presentations, speeches, or performances. The default for a lot of faculty will be services like skype or your school’s video conferencing platform. However, it might be necessary to do asynchronous audio or video communication. Asynchronous audio or video communication requires the recording of a file that can be uploaded. Most phones have built-in audio and video recording options. I have included a couple of additional apps in case the built-in options don’t work for some reason.

Rev Audio and Voice Recorder

Rev audio is a fully functioned audio recording device.  Not only can you record audio, but you can share the audio files using lots of different methods. You may see reviews mentions that there is a fee associated with rev audio. That fee is not for any of the voice recording and file-sharing functions. Rev audio offers a transcription service where you can submit your files, and a transcriber will type them up and send you the document.

Horizon Camera

It was particularly hard to find video recording software as most video recorders are customized for Android, iOS, or have a fee associated with them.  Horizon camera offers full video recording options. In this case, it has an especially useful function of being able to record in several different sizes.

Recording Studio Lite

Recording studio lite is an audio recording app specifically for music.  Not only can you record and work with audio files, but you can also create additional tracks with virtual instruments.


Learning and examinations will go on studying must continue.  These apps can help the user study any were any time.


A flashcard creation and review app.

Studyblue is another flashcard app, allowing the creations of flashcards for study and practice. Users have the option to create their flashcards or use and modify existing ones.

Khan Academy

Everyone likely knows about the Khan Academy and their massive selection of educational videos.  While it is easy to access through the web, the khan Academy app gives students the ability to bypass a web browser and if their device supports it the ability to download and view videos without a live web connection.


The edX app gives uses access to full free (noncredit) college courses. Students can use edX courses as study adds or to provide background information on course topics. Some of the classes cost money, but many are free if you are not trying to get a certificate.

Periodic Table App

The Royal Society of Chemistry developed the periodic table app. It is much more than just a period table. It provides asses to lots of information and video content.


Do you use student response systems as part of your lectures? Kahoot lets you create questions that students can respond to using the app on their phone. If you are doing synchronizes lectures or discussions using a video conferencing system, you can use Kahoot to administer poles and questions.

As we move deeper into the grand experiment in sudden distance education information will become even more critical. In this blog I have focused exclusively on free apps there is another category of apps that are free for students but cost schools/instructors. If you have mobile apps that have helped you teach or connect with your students, share them.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

How Many Times Do We Have to Say Something for It to Be True?

“A typewriter is a means of transcribing thought, not expressing it.”
Marshall McLuhan

There is more to good writing than sitting down and typing.  Almost all writing requires research of some kind.  The question is, when have you done enough research?  How I conduct research often depends on what I’m writing.  I tend to research my blog posts as I write them.

However, even research can cause problems, is the information in your reference correct? Previously I wrote about two commonly cited studies that are either miss represented or didn’t exist, Do You Know If Your References Are Biting You?   In my last blog post, Should We Care About Grammar and Structure?, I talked about grammar and its impact on readability.  Specifically, the effect of two spaces vs. one space after the period.

Today in 2020, the style guides say to use one space after the period.  When I was in school, the teachers taught us to use two spaces. When did the rule about spacing at the end of the sentence change? To answer that question, I will probably need a library, since I don’t own every version of every style guide published.

Several articles did explain why the rule changed while searching for when I ran into the same why argument repeatedly.  An article from the Atlantic, Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces Between Sentences, sums it up nicely.

“To accommodate that machine’s (typewriter) shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong.  … Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more challenging to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule–on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read.”

Therefore, the only reason we used double-spacing at the end of a sentence is because of typewriters.  Typewriters used monospaced fonts, which produced variable spacing inside of words and sentences.  Because of the variable spacing, people used two spaces at the end of the sentence to enhance readability.

Now, if the typewriter and its monospaced font are the sources of double-spacing, then the appearance of double-spacing should correlate with the rise and fall of the typewriter.  According to A Brief History of Typewriters, Pellegrino Turri built the first functional typewriter in 1808. Commercial typewriter production begins in the 1870s.  The end of the typewriter came about with the advent of the word processor, first, as a standalone device and then as a program on every personal computer. IBM invented the term word processor in the 1960s. By the 1990s–2000s, the typewriter had been almost entirely replaced by the computer. Therefore, the commercial lifespan of the typewriter is about 130 years.

Now let’s look at style guides if the argument about one space versus two spaces is correct. Before and after the lifespan of the typewriter, we should see the rule is for a single space. According to The History and Art of Printing, written in 1771.   The author Philip Luckombe states the rule about spacing after periods is “Another rule that is inculcated into beginners, is, to use an m quadrat after a Full-point:” (page 396) An m quadrat is a larger space.

The print shop at the University of Chicago published the first Chicago Manual of Style in 1906; a pdf copy is available here.  According to the Chicago Manual rule 245 on page 83 “A standard line should have 3-em space between all words not separated by other punctuation points than commas,” With regards to periods the 1906 Chicago Manual states “an em-quad after periods, and exclamation and interrogation points, concluding a sentence.”  3-em is shorthand for 1/3 of an em space.  Therefor the Chicago Manual calls for three spaces after a period.

The above examples show for 100 years before, and at least 36 years after the advent of the typewriter, style guides were recommending multiple spaces at the end of the period.  One could argue that for most of the formalized history of typesetting, the preference has been for multiple spaces after the end of a sentence.  Therefore, the argument that typewriters were the reason for double spacing is not valid.  Double spacing existed because typographers felt it made for an improved reading experience.

Why the rule changed from one space to two is not clear.  One common argument is a single space is cleaner. As Farhad Manjoo states, “A page of text with two spaces between every sentence looks riddled with holes; a page of text with an ordinary space looks just as it should.”  The problem with the idea about holes is that it has been well-known as a potential problem for a long time. 

Again, in The History and Art of Printing, the author talks about the possibility of producing a text that looks full of holes.  “but at the same time, they (young typesetters) should be informed, not to do it (use multiple spaces at the end of a sentence), where an author is too sententious, and makes several short periods in one paragraph.  In such case the blanks of M-quadrats will be contemptuously called Pigeon holes; which, and other such trifles, often betray a compositor’s judgment,” (pages 396-397) Specifically spacing is something authors expected trained typesetters to be aware of and correct.

In Two Spaces – an Old Typists’ Habit? the author blames technology and cost savings, specifically, the linotype and the teletypesetter.  These two pieces of machinery allowed publishers to hire typists to replace typesetters. I find arguments concerning the impact of cost and the loss of skilled expertise much more compelling than the typewriter.

One thing I think the typewriter and early word processors did was confuse people about the separation of content and layout.  The content of a piece of writing is in its words and grammar.  The layout is dependent on the item printed and the audience.  It used to be a common practice to publish science fiction stories in multiple monthly parts in magazines.  Later, these stories were put together and published as books.  The layout between the two publications’ magazines and books was different while the content was identical.

With the creation of things like CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and variable layouts, people again realize that content is independent of the layout.  The independence of layout from content led to the realization that publishers should structure the layout to the publication type and use. These realizations will likely open the door to future style guide built around research and skilled practice, not cost savings.

For now, we should use one space (I’m sure I will fail at that) because that is what the style guides say.  Not because we no longer use typewriters.  Lastly, repetition never makes something true.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

PS:  If you are interested in pursuing this question further. There are several other articles about the typewriter not being the reason for two spaces at the end of the sentence.  One of them Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history) uses several of the same sources as I do. However, the author goes into much greater depth.

Additionally, the author seems to have answered the original question that sent me down this rabbit hole.  The eleventh edition of the Chicago Manual of Style published in 1949 was the first edition to adopt the single space rule.  Another good article about the typewriter not being the source of the two-space rule is One or two spaces after a period? How about three?

Technology and Plagiarism

“All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Technology and computers have become central components of modern life.  Using word processors has become such a common practice that if asked, most people know what Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V mean.   On the positive side, technology has made writing and research faster. Modern word processors make writing and editing more quickly than typewriters or handwriting.  Modern computers make changing words, correcting spelling, and moving large blocks of text easy and fast.

The internet makes information available in ways that historically would have been unbelievable.  Libraries, museums, and research journals are accessible all over the world through the internet.  The internet allows access to news in real time from all around the world. The internet has become such an essential source of information that there are individuals that say it is necessary for education.

Like most things with benefits come drawbacks.  One of the most significant disadvantages of technology on writing is how easy it is to plagiarize.  It is just as easy to grab text from someone else’s document as it is to move text around your document. Fortunately, like many things’ technology evolves along two fronts. People start reading your documents we developed encryption. Hackers create viruses, spyware, and trojans companies develop anti-virus software.

To counteract the increasing ease of plagiarism tools have been developed to identify it. Many schools are integrating Plagiarism checkers directly into their Learning Management Systems (LMS).  Additionally, using the schools LMS to accept assignment digitally allows for automatic plagiarism detection. In addition to commercial tools today, there are also free tools. The availability of free tools means even if your school does not have a plagiarism checker, you can still make use of one to test your students’ assignments.  However, what does it mean to “check” the material?

Several years ago, the school I was working at had a contract with Turnitin.com.  When faculty sent an assignment to Turnitin.com, the program generated a similarity report.  Turnitin.com uses a 0-100% scale where the percentage is the amount of the paper that is similar to other sources. Faculty would always ask what number means plagiarism. The faculty wanted an exact number, at X% the student committed plagiarism.

Unfortunately, it is not always that clear. Technically a single sentence can be plagiarism.  The previous sentence is seven words long 0.6% of this document, and if I had stolen that sentence, it would be plagiarism.  The definition of Plagiarizing “: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source” (Merriam-Webster) does not include a word length.  If a writer takes another person’s text and attempts to pass it off as their own, no matter how short or long, it is plagiarism.

However, using the rule that any similarity score is plagiarism can also cause problems.  Most plagiarism checkers will recognize quotes and references.  Beyond that, maybe the writer forgot to add a reference or quotation marks.  Alternatively, there is a limit to how many ways a writer can write something.  Suppose a student is writing a review of a Sherlock Holmes book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  How many ways are there to write a sentence stating where Sherlock lives?

  • Sherlock Holmes lives at 221b Baker Street.
  • Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street, London, England.
  • Sherlock Holmes lived in apartment b at 221 Baker street.
  • Sherlock Holmes lived in apartment b at 221 Baker Street, London, England.
  • Sherlock Holmes made his residence at 221b Baker Street.
  • Sherlock Holmes made his residence at 221b Baker Street, London, England.
  • The story began at the residence of Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street.
  • The story began at the residence of Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street, London, England.
  • Sherlock Holmes shared an apartment with Dr. Watson at 221b Baker Street.
  • Sherlock Holmes shared an apartment with Dr. Watson at 221b Baker Street, London, England.

I can quickly come up with ten sentences; I am sure I could come up with more without a lot of work.  I would also be utterly shocked if someone has not written these sentences before.  A Google search using the sentence “Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street, London England.” produced 324,000 hits.  The sentence “Sherlock Holmes made his residence at 221b Baker Street.” Produced 443,000 hits. Does this mean I plagiarized them?  Well, I didn’t look them up, I didn’t copy and paste them, I created them from my memory of Sherlock Holmes address. I would say no, this is not plagiarism others might say yes, it is plagiarism.

Perhaps this is a situation in which a direct quote would be better.  With very little research I found that 221b Baker Street first appears in the book A Study in Scarlet,

“We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting.  They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows.  So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession.”

The truth of the matter is that just about any plagiarism score below 100% (maybe 90%) you are probably going to have to review yourself.  However, I have found that the schools and faculty that use plagiarism checks the best don’t only use the tools to watch for plagiarism but also as a means of teaching.

Make the plagiarism tools available to your students let them self-check.  The plagiarism tools will help students identify simple mistakes like a forgotten reference or quote.  Additionally, if they find that sections of their text are showing a lot of similarities, perhaps it is time to find an actual quote or reference.  Plagiarism checkers can also enhance research skills, for instance, is that paper, book, or website the primary source for a quote. If your source is not the primary source, what is the primary source? The student might even find that the secondary source misused or quoted the primary source.  Additionally, if the checker marks something on a student’s paper and they are confused by it, they can talk to their instructor generating a teachable moment.

It is easier than ever for students (or really anyone) to plagiarize someone else’s work.  Fortunately, tools that help us uncover plagiarism are also getting better and better.  However, we should remember that the best way to use these tools is not exclusively as punishment but also as teaching tools.  We can use these plagiarism checkers to reinforce research and using references, quotes, and citations.  Remember any tool that can be used to check, and grade can also be used to teach.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg