Technology for Educators

April 24, 2009

Scratch the Repetition. Automate.

Filed under: Productivity — Sue Frantz @ 6:06 am

I feel like I spend a lot of time typing the same phrases over and over again. For instance, when students send me an assignment via email, I send them back a ‘got it’ message. When I send them their graded assignment, I write a ‘your assignment is attached’ message. Isn’t there a keyboard shortcut that will do that for me?

With PhraseExpress, there is.

My preference in this blog goes to free programs and services, and this one technically is. However, if the program thinks you’re a business (by identifying certain business-like words) it will start to give you an annoying little popup prompting you to purchase it. The popups bugged me so much that I uninstalled it, but I missed the features so much, I re-installed it and sent the company the money. A decision I have not regretted.

PhraseExpress works wherever you type text – in email, in Word, in Excel, in your browser’s search box.

What it does.

  1. It automatically enters text. When I type #g followed by a space, it automatically replaces ‘#g’ with ‘Got it!,’ the message I send to my students when I receive their emailed assignments. When I send back their graded assignments, I just type #gr followed by a space and it replaces it with ‘Your graded assignment is attached! – Sue.’This is fully customizable. You can decide what keystroke combination will generate the phrase you want. For instance, I could choose $student followed by a ‘Tab’ to generate a phrase. There doesn’t appear to be a limit on the phrase size. You can use it to produce several lines with just a few keystrokes.
  2. It automatically runs programs. For me, #word automatically runs MS Word, #xl opens Excel, and #calc opens the calculator. Again, you choose the keystroke combination that you want. Perhaps you have your browser open and you want to open PowerPoint, and you designated #ppt as the magic keystroke combination. In your browser’s address bar, type #ppt and PowerPoint will automatically run.
  3. It automatically opens folders and files. With #md I open my “my documents” folder from anywhere I can type. I can also ask it to open a particular file — #grades opens my grade spreadsheet in Excel.
  4. It automatically does web searches. Highlighting any text anywhere and hitting CTRL-F8 generates this ‘search’ popup. If I select ‘’ then the highlighted text (buried under the popup) will be run in a Google search. The search services listed are customized; you pick what websites you want as options.

5. It automatically keeps a clipboard cache. Usually when you copy and paste, you can only paste the most recent copy. With the PhraseExpress clipboard cache, CTRL-ALT-v gives you a list of your 20 most recent copies. Just click the one you want. If 20 is too many for you, you can change the PhraseExpress settings to give you less.

6. It automatically opens a calendar. Select a date, and the date is entered as text. For instance, typing #cal gives me this popup. When I click on a date, the date is entered where I was typing. In the PhraseExpress settings, you determine the format for the date. I have mine set so that if I selected the date highlighted below, “5/7/2009” would be entered where I had typed #cal and the popup calendar would disappear. If I just wanted today’s date entered, #date would do that. For that matter, if I wanted to enter the current time, #time or #now would paste the current time.

7. It automatically opens websites. Let’s say I’m typing along in Word, like I’m doing now, and I wonder, “What’s new?” I can type cnn, and PhraseExpress will open the CNN website in my default web browser.

8. This is not a comprehensive list. Visit their website for more.

One application

With all of the examples above, you get a sense of what PhraseExpress can do. I want to give you one more example that’s a little fancier that really shows its power.

Let’s say I wanted to send reminders out to my students about due dates for upcoming assignments. [Actually, this isn’t something I would do, but I can see where someone would.]  By typing !due PhraseExpress asks me to pick a date, and then it generates an email in Outlook with my students’ email addresses entered, with “Psych 100: Next assignment due” in the subject line, and some appropriate text and due date in the body of the message. All I have to do is hit ‘send.’ The next time I type !due, I can send the same message to the same students but have a different date.

To do this, inside PhraseExpress, I click “New Phrase” then “Add Macro” then “Automation” and finally “Create an email.”

That generates this popup:

In the To: box I’d put my student email addresses, of course. (Actually, I’d put my email address in the “to” box and put my students’ email addresses in the “bcc” box.)

When I click “OK,” in the “phrase content” space, I get this scary looking bit of code:

{#mail -to, -subject Psych 100: Next assignment due -body Hi all,

Just a quick reminder that your next Psych 100 assignment is due…

Please contact me if you have any questions!}

I want to replace the ‘…’ after ‘due’ with a date I pick. So I delete the ‘…’ and then click “Add Macro” then “Phrase manipulation” then “Insert a phrase within another Phrase.”

Since I already have #cal opening a calendar for me, on the next screen I type ‘#cal’ and that is entered right after ‘due’ giving me this code:

{#mail -to, -subject Psych 100: Next assignment due -body Hi all,

Just a quick reminder that your next Psych 100 assignment is

due {#insert #cal}

Please contact me if you have any questions!}

After clicking “OK” my shortcut has been saved and is ready for use!

Since I’ve designated !due as my shortcut, when I type that, the calendar pops up, and I choose a date. In this example I chose May 7, 2009. And then Outlook opens this new message:

To recap, to send a due date reminder to my students, I type “!due” wherever I can type, click a date, and hit “send.” Done.

Next term, all I have to do is delete my student email addresses and enter the new ones.

Not perfect

As powerful as this program is, it’s not perfect. For instance, it works as a spellchecker, but its spellchecking isn’t as powerful as MS Word’s. It will tell me that I’ve misspelled ‘the’ when I type ‘teh,’ but I can misspell all sorts of words, and it doesn’t blink: spull, blunk, wirk.

It has an ‘autotext’ feature that I turned off because it got on my nerves. When PhraseExpress detects that you’ve typed the same phrase repeatedly, it will offer you that phrase when you type the first few words of it. The problem for me was the few words it was picking up on were the first few words I used in a lot of phrases (so I discovered). What it would offer wasn’t usually what I wanted.

When you type in your keyboard shortcut, like #cal, the PhraseExpress default is to ask you to hit “tab to execute.” I found always going to ‘tab’ bothersome, so I changed the default to “spacebar to execute.” That has worked better for me, except it’s tougher to get around if I don’t want to ‘execute.’ Under most circumstances, I do want the calendar to popup when I type “#cal” otherwise why would I type such a combination? But writing this blog was cumbersome since every time I would type a particular combination followed by the spacebar, PhraseExpress would execute the command. How dare it do what it’s supposed to do. (To get a command phrase like #cal to not run the calendar, I typed #cals in my sentence, then went back and deleted the ‘s.’)

For reasons I haven’t been able to discern, sometimes PhraseExpress just executes the command without asking if you that’s what you want to do. Generally, I’d prefer that it did it without asking, but I’d at least like to know why it sometimes asks and sometimes doesn’t. It may be that the program is just a little buggy. I don’t know.

Having said that, what PhraseExpress gives me makes these issues very minor ones.

In summary…

Anything you do repeatedly on your computer (type phrases, open programs, open files or folders, do web searches), you can ask PhraseExpress to do for you.

April 18, 2009

Share Your Bookmarks: Mmmm…. Delicious!

Filed under: Social Bookmarking — Sue Frantz @ 8:44 am
Tags: , ,

You’re sitting at home, and you come across an amazing website that you think is perfect for your students.  How do you get it out to them?

  1. I wait and tell them in class.
  2. I email them.
  3. I add an announcement to my course management system.
  4. I add a link to my website.
  5. I just bookmark it and let Delicious do the rest.

I mentioned in an earlier post that cloud computing is taking content off your computer and moving it up into the internet ‘cloud.’ You can take your bookmarks out of your browser and move them to where you can access them from any computer. (You’re already thinking how great it would be to have the same bookmarks on your home and office computer, aren’t you?) You can also decide which of those bookmarks you would like your students to have access to, and you can automatically post those bookmark updates to your website or your course management system.

And, yes, you can designate whether you’d like a particular bookmark to be public or private. Just because you can share doesn’t mean you have to!

Viewing bookmarks.

If you visit my Delicious bookmarks, where my online moniker is ripley32, this is pretty much what you would see. Because these are my bookmarks, I have the option to do things like edit and delete bookmarks that obviously visitors don’t have.

Here you can see my bookmarks, organized by date with the most recent at the top. The numbers in the blue boxes tell me how many other Delicious users have bookmarked that site. Three of these links have descriptions; I added those when I bookmarked them. Each also has ‘tags’ that I typed in on my own at the time I made the bookmark. On the far right you can see my tags. Tags just make for easy searching.

Let’s say that you were only interested in seeing the videos that I have bookmarked. Clicking the ‘video’ tag gives you just the 46 bookmarks that I tagged ‘video.’

Now I see just those ‘video’ bookmarks, and on the right I now get ‘related’ tags. I can see that 5 bookmarks that carry the video tag also carry the cognition tag. Clicking on ‘cognition’ will give me just those 5 videos that I said relate to cognition. If you did that, we’d go down one more level where you’d see that of the videos that are tagged video and cognition, there are 2 that are tagged ‘language.’ Clicking that tag would just give you those 2.

If you didn’t share your bookmarks with another soul, Delicious is incredibly valuable for organizing the dozens and dozens of bookmarks you have. Now is probably a good time to mention that Delicious makes it easy to move your bookmarks off your computer and into your Delicious account. After logging in, go to ‘Settings,’ and then upload your bookmarks. You can also download your bookmarks to your browser if you’re so inclined.

The social part of social bookmarking.

Do you have your RSS feed reader set up? (For more on RSS feed readers, see this blog post.) Let’s say that you’ve found my bookmarks so interesting that you want to know when I add something new. Scroll to the bottom of my bookmarks page and click ‘RSS feed for these bookmarks.’ Any bookmark I add will be sent to your RSS feed reader. If you’re only interested in hearing about new videos I bookmark, click on the ‘video’ tag, then scroll to the bottom of that page and click the RSS feed link. You’ll only hear about my new bookmarks that I’ve tagged ‘video.’ If you’re only interested in new video bookmarks that are cognition-related, click on ‘cognition’ under ‘related tags,’ then… you get the idea.

Saving new bookmarks.

Delicious makes it easy for you to save new bookmarks.

When you download the Delicious toolbar for Firefox or IE, two new icons are added to your navigation toolbar, just left of the URL. The blue one with the white stripe that looks like a bookmark takes you to your bookmarks. The other tag is for creating new bookmarks. Visit the page you want to bookmark, then click the ‘TAG’ button. A box pops up with the page URL and the page title pre-entered, the latter of which you are free to change. Add any notes you’d like to include, type in your tags, and click the ‘do not share’ box if you’d like to keep this bookmark private so only you can see it. Click ‘Save,’ and you’re done.

Posting bookmarks to your website or course management system.

This is a snapshot taken of my Intro to Psych main webpage. My Delicious bookmarks (not the ones designated as private) show up as a ‘link roll,’ the term used for ‘rolling links.’ Although you can only see 2 links here, there are 15 on the actual page. When I add a new bookmark to Delicious, the bookmark pops in at the top of the list and the bottom one rolls off. The descriptions for each bookmark are what I added in the ‘notes’ field when I created the tag; you can edit that whenever you’d like. If you visit the page, clicking on the title will take you to my Delicious bookmarks. Clicking a bookmark will take you to the bookmarked website.

You can also create link rolls based on tags. For instance, I post pages that contain my lecture outlines as well as other content my students might find helpful or interesting. On these pages I’ve added link rolls specifically related to that content. Here’s an example from my neuroscience page where the only links that appear are the ones I have tagged ‘brain.’

To create a link roll, go to ‘Settings.’

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on ‘Link Rolls.’ On that page, choose your ‘display options,’ such as title and the tags you want (if you choose video and cognition, it will just give you the bookmarks that have both tags). How the link roll will look is displayed on the right. Once it’s configured to your liking, scroll to the top of the page and copy the html code. Go to wherever you edit your webpage, put the cursor where you’d like the link roll to appear, switch to html view, and paste the html code.

Tag Rolls

Instead of posting the link titles, you can just post your tags as a ‘cloud.’ The tags with the most bookmarks are bigger. Visitors can click on a tag to see all of the bookmarks for that particular tag. You can add this to your website in the same way you added link rolls. Visit ‘Settings,’ scroll to the bottom, and click ‘Tag Rolls.’ Select the parameters you’d like, then copy the code. Edit the webpage where you would like to include the tag roll, switch to html view, and paste the code.

Mmmmm…. Delicious!

April 16, 2009

Entering the Blogosphere… in 3… 2… 1…

Filed under: Blog — Sue Frantz @ 7:44 am

When most people think of blogs, they think of what you’re reading right now: An individual writing about a particular topic.  Blogs, however, have become so much more than that.

For instance, I maintain a semi-private social networking site for my current and interested former students; that’s a blog post unto itself.  I blog there about psychology, and I ask my current students to do the same.  There, blogs are used to create a sense of community and foster intellectual curiosity.

A number of people are moving their websites into blogging software (hosted on the server of a blog service provider or downloaded to their own server, either way).  You can still create pages that hold static content, just like your website already does, but making announcements becomes much easier (see the section on MS Word 2007 below).  You don’t have to be the sole blogger for your blog.  Let’s say that a psychology department decided to create a department website using WordPress.  After creating pages that hold information that don’t change much (e.g., degree and course information, faculty bios), decide who will be able to add blog updates.  I can imagine a number of people who would have blogging privileges: the chair, the advisors to the psych club/Psi Chi/Psi Beta, the department secretary, subject pool coordinator.  Anyone who has something to say to your students can be given the power to post.  It doesn’t have to fall to one person.  Or maybe your department would like to have a research blog where everyone can share what they’re doing — both for the input from colleagues and to show students what research looks like behind the scenes.  Rather than each of you setting up your own blog, all of you could contribute to the same blog.

Blogs come with built-in RSS feeds.   Imagine your students getting word of department news as soon as its posted… (If you’re not familiar with RSS feeds, see my post below titled “Here Comes the News.”)

Ready to start your own blog?

You only need three things.  1.) Something to say.  2.) Somewhere to say it.  3.) Someone to whom to say it.

I’m a relatively new blogger, but I’ve read my share.  Pick a schtick and stick to it.  Once you have built an audience around a theme, shifting too far afield from that theme will cause your audience to vaporize.  For instance, aside from the occasional strategically placed photo, you’ll unlikely hear about my dogs in this blog.  That’s not why you’re here.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t blog about your life.  One of the fun blogs I bring into my Google Reader is written by Lorrene, the 80 year old “grandma blogger” from Yakima, Washington: Pet Peeves and Other Ramblings.  She started her blog as a way to stay in touch with family which is probably a more common use of blogs than you may think.  Gradually she started to pick up other readers — the local newspaper article that made its way into other papers undoubtedly helped expand her readership.  In any case, choose your topic and stay focused.

The somewhere and someone questions are interrelated.  I mentioned above the social networking site I have for my students.  The psychology blog I write there is just for my current and former students, so that site is closed to the general public.  Since this blog you’re reading now has a broader audience, I needed it to be in a more public space.

If you’re going public, opening your blog to the greater world wide web, you have a number of hosting options.  First, do you want it hosted on your institution’s servers?  Some colleges already have blogging software installed.  For instance, WordPress (host of this blog) offers a download to your server or, if you’d rather, WordPress would be happy to host your blog on their own servers (as this blog is).  There are other major blogging services such as Blogger and LiveJournal. These three all offer free service; some offer ‘upgrades’ for a fee that give you things like more space.  Check with your IT people about what’s available on your campus, and then decide.

I confess to not doing a lot of searching around for the best blogging solution.  I had some experience with WordPress, I like the aesthetics of their blogs, and the blog layout is fully customizable — but you have to know some CSS to take advantage of that (on my summer to-do list). Fortunately others have already created some “themes” from which you can choose.  If you do know some CSS, you can alter the appearance of your blog very easily (a $15/year upgrade, not an unreasonable price for that kind of customization).

Getting started with WordPress — nuts and bolts.

Visit WordPress.  Click the big, blue “Sign up now” button.  Follow the on-screen directions, and you’ll have your blog ready to go in a couple minutes.

Here you can see my WordPress ‘dashboard.’  This is the screen that allows me to manage everything related to my blog. (Click on the image to blow it up.)

WordPress Dashboard

WordPress Dashboard

The menu on the top left lets me keep track of things like stats (e.g., number of visitors).  The menu on the bottom left allows me to create and edit posts, view all the images I’ve uploaded, create links that can appear in the right margin (or at least that’s where they appear with this particular layout), add pages (right now I just have an ‘about’ page), look at all of the comments that have been submitted, add a poll to a blog post.

Going further down, I can also change the appearance of my blog.  Since I don’t know CSS (yet), this means selecting from a menu of themes — entire packages of layouts, including fonts, colors, two or three columns.  Then I can add ‘widgets;’ these are extras that appear on the page.  For instance, everything you see in the right margin of my blog page is a widget.  There are many more I can add, e.g. a calendar, Delicious bookmarks (another future blog).

In the “Users” section, you can grant others permission to post to your blog.

The center panel is for editing, and you can see the standard editing toolbar.  For those who are so inclined, you can switch to “HTML” view to enter your own html code.

On the far right is where you can save your writing as a draft and set whether this particular post will be public, password-protected, or private.  Once your post has been finely crafted to your liking, you can either publish it now, or set its publication for a later date.  Finally, you can choose a category (broad) or tags (more specific) for your post.  This makes it easier for your readers to find posts once you have a bunch available.

Once you have your blog design set up as you’d like, you don’t have to come back to write your posts.

Using MS Word 2007 for blogging.

The absolute easiest way to post to a blog is to set yourself up in MS Word 2007.

Open a new Word document, click the Office button in the top left corner, select “Publish,” then “Blog.” Word will then ask you who your blog-provider is and will ask for your username and password.  That’s it.

On the blank slate that appears, type in your title and edit your document as you normally do in Word.  When you’re ready, click “Publish.”  Done. Your post is now available on your blog for all to see.  When you want to write another blog post, click the Office button, then “New,” and select “New blog post.”


Also note that in Word, you can select a category for your post from the list of categories you have already created in WordPress.  Unfortunately, you cannot add tags or add polls.  But once it’s up, you can certainly opt to visit WordPress to tweak it. If you’re not ready to publish it immediately, hit the little down arrow on the publish button, and select “Publish draft.”  For the most everyday of blog posting tasks, MS Word works nicely.

See you in the blogosphere!

April 14, 2009

Classroom Presentations… Unplugged!

Filed under: Presentations — Sue Frantz @ 4:57 pm
Tags: , ,

Classroom Presenter is the coolest thing that’s happened to my teaching since I got a computer in my classroom.

If all it did was allow me to present slides in a way that’s a whole lot easier than PowerPoint, it’d be worth it.

This is what is displayed to the students in class through the projector.

Classroom Presenter: Public View

Classroom Presenter: Public View

And this is what I see on my TabletPC.

Classroom Presenter: Instructor View

Classroom Presenter: Instructor View

Classroom Presenter runs PPT slides, so I don’t have to do a lot to transition to this program.  (I do have to do a few things; see below.)

To navigate I just tap on the slide I want.  As my colleague Rich pointed out to me, the slides on the right are large enough that you can tap them with your finger; this, of course, is only an important feature if you have TabletPC.

With the pen or highlighter, you can draw on the image.  You can open a ‘whiteboard’ that gives you blank slides.

So, not only is it much easier to navigate and write on than PPT, but I’m completely mobile.  I’m unplugged.  I’m doing this through my classroom’s WiFi, so I can wander around the room, teaching from wherever I’d like.  I could even hand a student the laptop and ask them to write on it.

As if that weren’t cool enough, any student with a laptop can access my slides, live, also through WiFi.  They not only see my slides on their screens, but they see my annotations to them in real time.  They can add their own if they like for their own use.  But… they can also send a particular slide to me.  So, let’s say I had 7 students with laptops.  I could put my students in groups of 4 or 5 (one laptop per group) to work on something, such as generating examples of positive and negative reinforcement and punishment (or a math problem, or a physics problem, or editing some text, or…).  The group could generate examples, the laptop owner could type them in (or mouse draw).  Once they had completed the assignment, they could send me what they did, in real time.  I could look at the slides from each of the groups, and then tap on them to show them to the class.

There is also a polling feature where those with laptops could click in with their answer, and the poll results are displayed in graph form as they come in. You can either choose to show that graph as the results come in or wait until everyone has voted.  Again, a perfectly fine feature using small groups.

The annotated slides can then be saved as HTML if you’d like to post them to your website, course management system, or email them out.  Students with laptops can also save the slides, complete with their own annotations.

And that’s not all!  =)

You can designate objects on the slide as “instructor only.”  With a PPT add-in, within PPT, you can select an object, say a textbox, and with the click of a button designate that box as something that only you can see on your tablet when you present the slide in class.

Classroom Presenter: PPT Add-in

Classroom Presenter: PPT Add-in

Classroom Presenter: Public View

Classroom Presenter: Public View

Classroom Presenter: Instructor View

Classroom Presenter: Instructor View

At the bottom, the yellow-highlighted text is a textbox with a yellow fill.  I designated that textbox as an ‘instructor note,’ so it only shows for me; notice its absence in the “public view” image above.

There are a couple downsides, but ones I’m willing to live with given the freedom I have and the tablet-friendly presentation.  Classroom Presenter can’t handle animations.  For instance, the blue boxes you see in the graphics above, in PPT, are animations.  When I click them, they disappear, revealing the label underneath.  I thought that would be a hard feature to live without, then it occurred to me (V-8 moment!), I don’t need to move the boxes.  I can just write the label on the box!

A little harder to live without are hyperlinks to websites and video links… and clickers.  I can run the clickers on the desktop carrying the files I need on a flashdrive.  As my colleague (Rich, again), helpfully suggested, I’ve created an HTML file on my flashdrive that holds my hyperlinks, videos, etc., so I can just open that file on the desktop, and move over there when I need to show those.

Did I mention that Classroom Presenter is free?

Check out this 5-minute video on using this program in class courtesy of the University of Washington.

[A heartfelt thank you to my colleague Rich Bankhead for getting me set up with this!]

April 12, 2009

Here Comes the News

Filed under: RSS — Sue Frantz @ 8:30 am

How many websites do you visit a day?  When do you find time to go into your college library’s database to look at what’s new in your professional journals?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had your own personal web-butler?  You know, someone who could go visit all of those sites and databases and let you know if there’s anything there you might be interested in?  Ah yes, kick back with your $4 cup of Starbucks coffee, snap your fingers, and your own personal web-butler brings you your news.  Yeah, that would be nice… <sigh>

Good news!  Meet your web-butler: Google Reader.

In fact, there are many different web-butlers at your service, collectively they are called RSS feed readers or news aggregators, but I think web-butler has a certain ring to it.  Some are web-based, like Google Reader.  Others are software you download to your computer.  Actually, you probably already have a feed reader.  MS Outlook and Firefox, for instance, both can read RSS feeds.  In Outlook, you can find “RSS feed” below your inbox, just above your “sent items” folder. In Firefox, they’re called “live bookmarks.”

Lots of webpages have implemented RSS feeds, content that is readily readable by RSS feed readers.  Many post this sporty little icon:

Look for this icon on webpages. It tells you an RSS feed is available.

Look for this icon on webpages. It tells you an RSS feed is available.

[For the curious, RSS is an abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication.  And it is really simple.  So simple, in fact, you don’t need to know how it works.  Just trust your web-butler to handle it.

In the end, which RSS feed reader you choose comes down to personal preference.  Is it easy for you to use?  Great!  You’ve found the one for you!

I like a web-based feed reader because I can access it from my work computer or my home computer… or my Wii, if I’m so inclined.  The downside to most web-based readers is that you have to have internet access to read your news feeds.  One of the reasons I like Google Reader is that I can read my news feeds offline by using Google Gears, an addin for Firefox and IE.  When I reconnect to the internet, Google Reader takes the information from my computer and updates my feeds on their site.  For instance, at the airport before boarding, I visit my Google Reader page so my computer has the most up-to-date feeds, then I click a little button, and it switches me to offline use.  Once we reach our cruising altitude, I get caught up on the news, blogs, etc.  I even can mark articles from my professional journals that I’d like to read later.

Since Google Reader is the one that works best for me, I’ll be talking about how you can get set up with it.  But all readers work in basically the same way.  Subscribe to a news feed.  Read the news feed.

Here’s the one-minute overview courtesy of Google Reader:

My Google Reader

My Google Reader

On the left you can see some of the feeds I’m subscribed to.  The ones in bold are the ones with unread content; the number in parentheses tells me how many unread items are in that feed.  On the right is content from some of my unread feeds.

A lot of faculty are unaware that their library’s databases have RSS feeds.  For instance, in the image above, I have an “APA” folder that has two APA journals in it.  Google Reader retrieves each journal’s table of contents giving me the title, author, journal info and some journals even give me the abstract.  Clicking the article title takes me directly to the article in my library’s database.

To subscribe, visit your library’s website, and open your favorite database.  Locate the journals, magazines, or newspapers you are interested, and look for the orange RSS icon.

Library Database Title List

Library Database Title List

Click the icon.  An additional box may pop up and you may need to click the feed link to get to the page where you click the button to add to Google Reader.  Alternatively, you can copy the feed URL, go to Google Reader and click the blue “Add a subscription” button, then paste in the URL.

If you find this blog helpful, consider adding it your feed reader.  Just click the RSS icon on this page!

A word of warning.  Do not feel like have to read everything!  Your RSS feed reader is not going to pass judgment on you if you don’t read absolutely everything it brings you.  Think of this as your personalized newspaper, but just like any newspaper, you are not going to read everything.  And that’s okay!

Oh, one more thing.  People often wonder how you delete individual items inside a news feed.  In Google Reader, you don’t.  They just get marked as read when you read them.  That means that everything that came to you in a news feed in Google Reader is searchable.

Use Google Reader for work, but don’t forget to have a little fun!

LOL Dogs

April 11, 2009

Online Collaboration the Quick and Easy Way

Filed under: Collaboration — Sue Frantz @ 12:41 am
Tags: , ,

For online collaboration, there are Google Docs and Zoho.  Both are tools that allow collaboration on word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentation slides, among others.  This is ‘cloud’ computing — moving files off desktops and into the internet cloud.  Both seem to try to mimic as much of the desktop experience as possible.

But if you want quick and easy (no logins, no ‘sharing’ of files and folders) click-a-link-and-go online collaboration, ScribLink and EtherPad may be exactly what you’re looking for. Both of these are great for working with students during virtual office hours as well as collaborating with colleagues.

If you’ve tried either of these, please let me know how they worked for you!


If all you want to do is collaborate on writing text in real time, EtherPad is an excellent choice.



This is real time editing.  As you type, all others in the room can see what you’re typing, and more than one person may type at once.

There is a chat box for communication, although one user testimonial on the EtherPad site says that when their team meets, they open EtherPad and login to a conference call.

You may save as you go, and those revisions are saved in perpetuity.

This is a very simple little program that does exactly what it needs to do and nothing more.

Do you have a student who is having trouble with a paper?  Meet with them in real time to discuss the problem areas (they can copy and paste their paper into EtherPad) and watch as they make the edits or offer your own suggestions.    Do colleagues come to meetings with laptops in hand?  Have everyone join you on your EtherPad to keep meeting minutes or if you’re working on rewriting policy, use EtherPad to wordsmith.

Update (9/7/09): Etherpad added a new feature called a “time slider.” Etherpad now ‘records’ your edits as you go. Use the time slider to play back all the changes made.


When you visit the Scriblink website, this is the screen you see.  With a quick glance you can see that Scriblink is more involved than EtherPad.

Scriblink: Blank screen

Scriblink: Blank screen

Scriblink boasts an intuitive interface, which is great because there doesn’t appear to be a user’s manual.

Everyone who is in the room can use all of the features… at the same time.

The tools include:

  • Drawing tools (marker, straight line, square, circle), text, eraser, and grid (which turns the entire white board into graph paper).  Change the color of the drawing tools, the color of the background, and the size of the drawing tool.
  • Math symbols (click the pi button) using Latex; click on the image to embed the equation you created. [Note: This feature didn’t work in Firefox for me.  When I told Firefox to simulate IE, it worked perfectly.]
  • Upload images. Be aware that to upload images you need to have popups enabled.  If you enable popups after you already have content on the whiteboard, your screen may refresh and your whiteboard may go back to its original, unwritten upon state.

On the far right of the screen are the communication tools.  Users are automatically numbered as they arrive, but you can certainly change your name.  An interesting feature is that your name changes color as you change the color of your drawing tool.  To invite people, you can either “Get URL” and send that out via email, IM, or whatever way you’d like, or you email directly from the scriblink page.

When you are done, you can save the file. In which case, the file is saved on the Scriblink servers, and they’ll email you a link to access it.  To print, Scriblink loads a new webpage where it rotates the (png) image 90 degrees in a nice printable format.   Finally, by clicking “send” you can email the weblink to whomever you’d like and include a little message with it.

“Send file” allows you to send a file from your computer, say a spreadsheet, to everyone in the room.

The chat window is straight-forward.  Type to chat. If you’d rather talk, there is a VOIP and free phone conference (long distance rates apply) option, although I confess to having not used either of these features.

Here I have used some of the Scriblink features:



The only thing I find cumbersome about this program is that once something is on the board, there isn’t a way to select it as an ‘object,’ grab it, and move it.  With the equation editor and image uploads, when they are first brought onto the whiteboard, you can move them, but once they’ve been placed, they are not going anywhere.  You’re only options are the eraser (use the size control to change the size of the eraser), the undo button, or to clear the entire whiteboard.

In March 2009, the Scriblink folks wrote that they “have some huge announcements on the horizon,” but the nature of those announcements were unspecified.

As a side note, I first used Scriblink in the fall of 2008 while on sabbatical in Georgia.  A friend of mine joined me for a rousing game of vice presidential bingo.  I found bingo cards online, took screen shots of two of them, saved them to my computer, then uploaded them into scriblink.  We each chose a different color marker and marked our bingo cards as we watched the debate from our respective coasts.  I confess that I did make an attempt to erase her marks without her knowing it, but she caught me.

Update on 5/11/2010. Etherpad has officially closed its virtual doors.  But there are others you can try.  MeetingWords looks pretty much like Etherpad.  Check out this CNET blog post for additional suggestions.

April 10, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Sue Frantz @ 6:16 pm

Let me start with my ‘blog goal’ and a little bio.

I have a minor addiction to new technology.  But not just any technology.  I’m looking for technology (ideally, free) that either makes my job easier or makes it easier for my students to learn.

Yes, I have students. I started teaching college students in Kansas as a grad student back in 1989, and I’m still teaching college students, but now in the beautiful Pacific Northwest at Highline Community College.  If you’ve ever flown into Seattle, you’ve likely flown over my campus.

The tools I’ll be talking about aren’t always ones I’ve tried with my classes.  I don’t believe in using new technology just for the sake of using new technology.  It has to serve a pedagogical purpose.  But just because a tool doesn’t work for what I’m trying to accomplish doesn’t mean it’s not useful for someone else.  For example, psychology is my area, so I don’t have much need for math tools that can handle calculus, but when I come across such tools, I’ll be sure to fill you in.

Some of the technologies I’ll discuss are well-established tools.  Others are hot off the press; so hot, that they may still be in beta testing.  Although, keep in mind that Google Docs and Gmail are both, technically, still in beta testing.   ‘Beta testing’ has more meaning in some circles than others.

Your comments are most welcome!  If you’ve tried some of the technologies mentioned in this blog, let me know how they worked for you.  If you’re trying to solve a particular pedagogical issue and are having trouble finding the right tool, let me know.  If you come across a new tool that you think should get an airing here, let me know.

With that as a quick introduction, let’s get to the content!

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