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Archive for June, 2008


Floss Manuals is a great website that lets you build manuals for a wide range of free software. You can pick and choose which software you want to know about and it will build a manual that you can download as a pdf.

There are loads of free open source tools out there that can do the same thing as software you can pay for – free software available online you can download and use without paying a license fee. So far so good, but, unlike Microsoft and other standard suppliers, it can sometimes be hard to find user-friendly information about how to use it.

It’s all very well installing a free copy of Open Office if you’re confident about learning new software skills, but it’s a lot harder for people who aren’t happy clicking about trying to make it work. And there aren’t that yet Dummies’ Guides for even the most popular open source products.

That’s why Floss Manuals is a great idea. It’s a well-designed website that let’s you select the products you want to know about and download pdfs of the manuals. Follow the link to see how it helps you get the most from OpenOffice, which is a free alternative to the suite of Microsoft Office applications including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. OpenOffice manuals

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Do you need to run online surveys? There are lots of free tools for building surveys on websites but one of the easiest to use and most popular is Survey Monkey. It’s now been certified as fully accessible, which means it can be used by people who use screen readers, such as blind people. It has a lot of free features that can be used for smaller surveys or it can be rented cheaply by the month when you need to build bigger surveys.

SurveyMonkey.com is accessible

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The Big Lottery Fund has announced £190m of funding to create new spaces for young people. Looks like a great new initiative but it will be interesting to see in what ways computers, the internet and other technologies feature in the projects that are funded.

It’s often assumed that young people know everything about technology and that us adults are lagging far behind. My experience, however, is that many young people do not have access to laptops, wifi or home computers. They cannot afford them, or they can only use them at school, where they may be face all sorts of restrictions in their use.

They may be evolving massively muscular thumbs but beyond the social aspects of texting, mobiles phones and Instant Messaging there can be a distinct lack of opportunities for more meaningful use of new technology. They may also be short of teachers, parents or carers with enough confidence or creative skills to help them.

I did some work many years ago in Brighton Young People’s Centre. They have had an IT suite for many years – originally ste up with UK Online funding – and recognise that although many kids have Playstations very few will have had a chance to ‘play’ with creative tools like video, music or the web.

The young people I worked with wanted to work together on a video project, or learn about music technology and make songs with their friends. What they needed was a space where they could access cameras, keyboards and editing software, which is those days was not available in schools.

More importantly they were lucky enough to be in a space where the youth workers considered these activities to be an important part of their work. They recognised that it help gives them confidence, build relationships and create stories which reflect their lives. It helps create the sort of buzz which draws in young people who are put off by formal education and can help tackle social exclusion.

They could build on their youth work training to learn relevant technical skills, or see when they needed to bring in experts to help with things like DJ skills, video editing or web design. In contrast to my work in schools at the time they seemed more open to these ideas than the formal education system, where technology was often seen as creating as many problems as it solved.

That was all before MySpace and bebo and IM and even texting, so the landscape has no doubt shifted enormously. There may be more ready access to the web but that brings new issues into play, such as personal safety and responsible uuse of social networks.

What hasn’t changed is that young people will continue to benefit from access to high quality technology, supported by knowledgeable and supportive youth workers with relevant skills. I know there are lots of young people’s projects that have seen how IT can help transform lives. Hopefully the BLF will see that and encourage applicants to think big when it comes using new technology.

myplace

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Fundraising is the lifeblood of the sector, but how can the internet help? Well, it can help you with:

  • Research that supports your fundraising
    • Where’s the money?
    • Information to support my bids
  • Raising money from donors
  • Improving your fundraising skills

I compiled the following list of sites as part of a review of useful sites for a training course I’m planning. Although a lot of it may appear to be local information I’d suggest it all has some value wherever you work:

East Sussex Bidding Bulletin
The Bidding Bulletin is updated monthly and is the most comprehensive listing of current funding sources I have found anywhere in the country, including deadlines, contact details of all live funding pots. Mainly relevant to south east of England, but worth a look for any fundraiser.

West Sussex Grant Finder
Where’s the money? Use this free service to search for current grants information. Not 100% relevant to Brighton & Hove but better than anything we have online here.

Government Statistics
Relevant facts and figures emphasise the value of your work and add weight to your application. Now you can view all sorts of Government statistics – just put in your postcode and see the census data for your neighbourhood, plus loads of other useful information to cut and paste into your funding bids.
Take donations online at bmycharity
Take donations online – you pay a commission but can easily take donations and add tax relief without having an online banking facility. You can also try www.justgiving.com for the same service.

Popular local funders
Brighton Resource Centre maintains a list of popular funders, especially aimed at small local groups. Every CVS or local support group could do this quite easily – does yours?

Professional fundraising information
This is at the professional end of the fundraising spectrum but may alert you to training courses or new ideas.

Advice about how to make a bid
Lots of useful leaflets and information to download from the Funderfinfer website about how to do fundraising – from beginner to expert level.

You can also subscribe to various email alerts to receive news updates about fundraising by email. Keep your eye open as you surf these links and let the information come to you.

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In the age of Google Docs, websites and wikis Microsoft Word may feel like a dinosaur to some, whilst many will be stumped by the bewildering range of functions and short cuts and menus it offers. It remains a valuable tool for many tasks, however, and not least when preparing and collaborating on long reports. You just have to put a bit of time into learning a few key tools.

As I’m running a course about report-writing next week I’ve been brushing up on a few of the basics – many of which I use all the time when compiling reports. Because of a background in desk top publishing I’m particularly keen on style sheets and all the automated functionality that flows from them – saving time and effort and bringing a professional-looking consistency to how your report is presented. Whichever function you favour you may need a bit of work to get it to do what you want, but once you do you’ll never look back.

I’ve complied my top ten tips below, but along the way I found a very nice site that explains style sheets and other functions in a jargon-free way that is useful to beginners and experts alike.

My Top Ten Tips for Getting the Most from Word when Writing Reports

1    Start with an outline
Start building your report by laying out the bare bones using the Outline View, and then starting to add the flesh. Especially useful for planning and then reviewing the overall structure of your report as you go along.

2    Headers and Footers make the report look smart
Display the same piece of text, eg date, page number or title, on every page in the top and/or bottom margins. Another way of adding polish to your report, as well as making it easier for your reader to use.

3    Get to grips with style sheets

Style sheets are used to store formatting instructions for headings and paragraphs, which can then be easily applied to other paragraphs. It helps you produce professional-looking documents and can save you loads of time and effort if you know how to use them.

4    Use Outline Numbering

You can automatically add numbers to your headers as you create your report, and  heading numbers will even update themselves if you move things around as your report takes shape.

5    Create a Table of Contents

Create a list of headings in a document that can be inserted anywhere in your document, and can be easily updated as you go along.

6    Use graphics

Photographs, logos and charts can bring the report to life. You can insert graphics into Word documents including graphs imported from Excel that you can update later. It is especially useful to learn how to make pictures appear exactly you want on the page.

7    Check spelling and grammar

Use the built in tools to highlight possible errors, and always leave plenty of time at the end to use the spell-checking tool to run through your final document.

8    Track other people’s changes

See the changes that have been made quickly and easily when you get a document back from someone else. You can run through a complex document easily accepting or rejecting suggested changes .

9    Create an Index

You can create and then update and edit an index containing key words and the pages where they can be found. This makes you look *really* clever…

10    Keep it simple

Use as few fonts and font styles as possible, don’t add unnecessary details, use graphics sparingly for maximum impact.

For more help about using Word try Shauna Kelly’s site at www.ShaunaKelly.com

By the way I also found a lot of interesting articles foretelling the death of Word as Google rolls ouit its plans for Google Docs – here’s a good one… MiramarMike.co.nz: Google Docs … so what – the ONE reason why you should care

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I’ve just stumbled across a wonderful example of how tools such as Powerpoint and graphs and charts can be a tool for powerful and highly effective communications. I urge you to watch it through to the end to remind you just what makes a great presentation work – and also because it’s about world poverty and raises all sorts of questions about its causes and effects.

I’m preparing notes for a workshop on presentations, which will combine a session I run on the use of powerpoint with a workshop that someone else delivers that focuses on body language and confidence-building. We’re taking the best bits from each to produce a two-day course for staff and volunteers from community and voluntary organisations in Brighton & Hove.

Whilst Powerpoint may be a staple tool of business there are many people in the voluntary sector who do not use it, and in fact are often anti-Powerpoint. This may be because they don’t have access to the tools, or often because they feel an aversion to it – having suffered too many times at the hands of a poor quality presentation made worse by awful slideshows.

The availability of cheaper laptops and projectors means it is now becoming more common for people to use them – we hire them out at SCIP and have seen a massive change in the numbers being borrowed in the past few years. Today a new laptop plus projector may cost no more than about £700 , and it’s a great tool for community work and outreach.

But, instead of being liberated by the opportunity to prepare and share information in such a flexible way there is still an underlying assumption that Powerpoint = boring, and an antipathy towards its use. Mainly this is because too many people have suffered as people use all the gadgets at their disposal without any consideration about how it helps tell their story. Rather than embrace the technology and use it as a tool it has become someting you have to apologise for.

I think this video shows how we need to look beyond the technology to see that it is the story and the storyteller that matter – but also how they can use the tools available to help you listen, learn and respond. It subtly underlines that you need to be in control of your tools – this is a master craftsman cleverly combining highly technical skills to make an incredibly powerful point.

TED | Talks | Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty and life around the world (video)

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