Technology for Educators

November 28, 2010

Outlook: Managing the Email Onslaught

Filed under: Email — Sue Frantz @ 9:19 am

One of the nice things about living in a digital world is the amount of contact we can have with other people via email. Of course that’s one of the bad things about living in a digital world as well. How much of your work day is spent writing, reading, filing, deleting, or searching for email? In previous posts, I’ve suggested some tools that can help with this (see Subtextual, SimplyFile, Phrase Express, Xobni). In this post I want to talk about some of the built-in power that comes with Outlook. Specifically, I’m going to talk about how to set up rules so that at least some of your email is filed automatically.

Setting up rules

I’m on a few listservs, a couple of which are high-volume. I don’t want to have to deal with messages from those listservs as soon as they come in. Instead, I have Outlook file them into a folder in my inbox when they arrive, and then I read them later at my leisure.

If you don’t already have a folder set up for filing such messages, create one. Right click on ‘Inbox’ folder, and select ‘New Folder.’ Name your new folder whatever you’d like. For this post, I’m going to be filing messages from the PsychTeacher listserv, so I created a folder called ‘PsychTeach.’ Clever, I know. (You can also create folders inside of other folders if you are so inclined.)

When email arrives from this listserv, I want Outlook to immediately file it in this new PsychTeach folder. I chose one of the messages that came from that listserv, and I right-clicked on it. I selected ‘Rules,’ then ‘Create Rule.’

That generates this pop-up window. I checked ‘Sent to,’ and ‘Move the item to folder,’ and clicked ‘Select Folder’ to locate the PsychTeach folder I created.

That’s it. Now any time a message arrives from that email address, it will be filed in the folder I designated. If you want to get really elaborate, click the ‘Advanced Options’ button. But in this post, I’m keeping it simple.

If there are unread messages in the folder, the name of the folder will be bolded and the number of unread messages will appear in parentheses next to the folder name.

When you visit the folder and click on the unread messages, the number disappears and the bold print returns to normal.

Set up a few rules, and you’ll spend less time sorting email and more time doing what needs to be done.

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November 24, 2010

YouCanBook.Me: Customizing for My Purposes

Filed under: Collaboration,Productivity — Sue Frantz @ 10:26 am

Last month I wrote about a new service (YouCanBook.Me) that lets students schedule appointments with you themselves. (See the original blog post.) Now that I’ve been using it for a couple months, I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned.

The booking form

The default booking form asks those making an appointment with you to give you their email address (required) and leave a note (not required). I, however, want more information than that, and YouCanBook.Me gives me the power to ask for whatever I’d like. Specifically, I want the appointee’s name, email address, and the reason for the meeting. And I want the appointee’s name to show up in the subject line of my calendar.

In the YouCanBook.Me dashboard, clicking the ‘booking form’ tab allows me to make those changes. Each line produces a separate input box. The asterisk means the appointee must enter something in that field. Whatever is entered in the first line will be entered as the subject line for the appointment.

Default Booking Form

My Customized Booking Form

What the appointee sees:

How to get it to look that way:

[Thanks to my colleague Rich Bankhead for his suggestion to add a ‘bigbox’ for the ‘reason for meeting’ area instead of the default small box.]

A different calendar for each quarter

With the fall quarter coming to a close, it occurred to me that I didn’t want students to be able to schedule an appointment with me after the last day of the quarter, but I didn’t want to block off all of the days from mid-December to early January in my Google calendar since I use my calendar for things other than scheduling time with students.

YouCanBook.Me lets you select start and end dates for booking, so I changed the dates to match the dates of fall quarter.

But then I thought that some students may want to schedule an appointment with me next quarter right now. If the calendar ends on December 9, they won’t be able to do that until I change the calendar dates on December 10. Keith Harris at YouCanBook.Me suggested that I solve this by creating separate calendars for each quarter. What a great idea!

On the main dashboard, you’ll find a list of all of your calendars. If you have just one calendar, you’ll see just that one. Once it’s set up as you’d like, click ‘copy.’

I created three, one for each quarter. I changed the dates of each to match the dates for the quarter. Then I changed the title and the subdomain (on the ‘basic’ tab) to match the quarter.

For example, for the winter quarter calendar, I changed the title to Winter 2011, and I changed the subdomain from sfrantz to sfrantz-winter. Here are my three calendars.

Rather than link to each of these separately, I embedded the calendars on a newly-created ‘appointment’ page on my website. On the top of the webpage I put the instructions for scheduling an appointment which I deleted from each calendar. And then I copied the embed html code from each of the calendars and pasted it on the webpage. You can use the embed code wherever you can use HTML code, including on pages inside your course management system (e.g., Angel, Blackboard).

The embed code can be found right above the preview pane in your YouCanBook.Me dashboard for each of your calendars.

[UPDATE 12/3/2010 : To embed calendars on a page, YouCanBook.Me uses iframes.  Unfortunately the security settings on some browsers keep some users from viewing that content.  After having a couple students say that they couldn’t see the calendars, I deleted the web page I created and am again linking directly to my YouCanBook.Me calendar.  In the calendar instructions I’m including a link to the next quarter’s calendar for students who want to schedule an appointment further out.  When this quarter ends, the hyperlink on my website will go directly to next quarter’s calendar whose instructions include a link to my spring calendar.  To see what it looks like, go to my main web page and click on “Schedule an Appointment with Me.” ]

Schedule 15 minute appointments for the first two weeks of the term

Keep the ability to create different calendars in mind if, say, you want students to set up 15-minute appointments with you at the beginning of the term, perhaps as a ‘come introduce yourself’ sort of meeting.

Copy an existing calendar, change the subdomain to something like YourName-15, set the start and end dates to whatever you’d like, then set the appointment length to 15 minutes. Give the link to students.

If you want to do the same thing at the end of the term, edit this calendar so that the start and end dates are for the end of the term.

Syncing with Outlook

I sync my Google calendar with Outlook 2010, and I’ve discovered that Google has a weird bug. When events with guests are scheduled in Google calendar, they get stuck in a weird loop with Outlook.  A ‘ghost’ version of the event (only those with guests) gets created and set to 1979.  Whenever Outlook syncs with Google calendar, that 1979 event gets dumped into Outlook’s deleted folder.  Since it happens every time they sync, that deleted event shows up over and over again.  The only solution I’ve found is to go into Google calendar, search for the appointment (which is not 1979) and remove the guest from the appointment (or delete the appointment altogether).

The default for YouCanBook.Me is to add the appointee as a guest to the appointment. This is handy because if you delete the appointment, you’ll be asked whether you’d like to notify the appointee that you’re canceling the appointment. If you don’t sync with Outlook, or if you do but don’t have the 1979 experience, there’s no need to change anything.

If you’re in my position with those ghost appointments showing up in your Outlook’s deleted folder, you can change YouCanBook.Me so that appointees aren’t brought in as guests. On the ‘afterwards’ tab, uncheck the ‘add participants’ box. That’s it.

If you’re using YouCanBook.Me, I’d love to hear how it’s working for you!

 

November 22, 2010

MS Office: Quick Access Toolbar

Filed under: MS Office,Productivity — Sue Frantz @ 4:08 pm

One of the cool features of MS Office 2007/2010 is the quick access toolbar. I have a sneaking suspicion it is underutilized. It allows you to quickly access any function, thus the name: Quick access toolbar.

This toolbar is at the very top of the screen in all of the MS Office programs. For example, this is what mine looks like in MS Word.

A click on the appropriate icon lets me quickly do that icon’s function. Or pressing ALT on my keyboard will assign numbers to each of the icons.

Then I just press a number that corresponds to the icon I want. For example, if I wanted print preview, I would press ALT followed by 2. That’s it.

Word comes with some default icons in the quick access toolbar, such as save (the little blue floppy disk). Its real power is that it lets you add and remove whatever functions you’d like. Since I grade papers electronically, I’m frequently accessing ‘track changes’ and ‘save as PDF.’ So, I added those functions to my quick access toolbar. ALT then 4 turns on track changes. ALT then 5 saves the file as a PDF.

I’ll walk you through how to add ‘track changes’ to your quick access toolbar.

Click the down arrow on the far right side of the quick access toolbar. It will give you this menu.

If the option you’d like is there, great! (The checkmarks show the commands that are already on my quick access toolbar.) Since we’re looking for ‘track changes,’ select ‘More Commands.’ That will generate this pop-up window.

On the left side of the screen, Word gives you popular commands. Scroll to the bottom, and track changes is there. Alternatively, use the dropdown menu (where it reads ‘Popular Commands’ highlighted in blue) to select from the various tabs. Track changes is on the Review tab.

 

Once you find the command you’re looking for, click the ‘Add’ button in the middle of the screen. The command is now available in your quick access toolbar. Use the arrow buttons on the right to change the order of the commands.

That’s it! If you want to remove a command, select it so it’s highlighted, then click the ‘Remove’ button.

Note the commands you frequently use. Consider adding them to your quick access toolbar for easy access.

November 21, 2010

Dropbox: Share a File via a Link

Filed under: Collaboration,Productivity — Sue Frantz @ 7:40 am

Yesterday I wrote about a way others can upload a file to your Dropbox. (If you’re not familiar with Dropbox, see this post.) Today I want to tell you how others can download files from your Dropbox without them having to have a Dropbox account.

When Dropbox is loaded on your computer, it automatically gives you a folder named ‘Public.’ Any file you put in this folder can be shared with others simply by getting the file’s hyperlink.

To get the hyperlink, open the Public folder in Dropbox. Right click on the file you’d like others to download. Mouse over ‘Dropbox,’ then select ‘Copy Public Link.’

It will seem like nothing has happened, but your link has actually been copied to your computer’s clipboard. Let’s say you wanted to send the link in an email message. Open your email message and paste it into the body of the message. The hyperlink will appear.

I did a few tech presentations in November 2010, and here is the 4-page handout I gave the participants. You’re welcome to download it from my Dropbox: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/261051/Tech%20Presentations%20-%20Nov%202010.docx. Just follow the link, and your browser will ask you what you’d like to do with the downloaded file.

If you download the file, you’ll recognize several tech tools from this blog. You’ll also see some you may not have heard of. All of them are slated to appear in this blog at some future point. Enjoy!

November 20, 2010

DROPitTOme: Let Others Upload to Your Dropbox

Filed under: Productivity — Sue Frantz @ 9:17 am

As you know from previous posts, I’m a fan of Dropbox. If you’ve never heard of Dropbox, check out my blog post from a year ago.

DROPitTOme is a web-based service that allows others, to whom you’ve given a password, to upload files to a DROPitTOme folder located inside your Dropbox folder. If you don’t want the hassle of students emailing you their assignments, you can have them upload their assignments directly to Dropbox where they will automatically be downloaded to your computer. Actually, they will be downloaded to all of your computers where you have Dropbox installed and to your smartphone if you’d like, since the folder works just like any other Dropbox folder in that regard.

To set up DROPitTOme you first need to have a Dropbox account. If you don’t have Dropbox yet, go to my earlier blog post, read about Dropbox, then get it set up. Once you have Dropbox up and running, come back here. If you already have Dropbox, keep reading.

Go to DROPitTOme. Click ‘register.’ You will be asked to give Dropbox permission to allow DROPitTOme to access your Dropbox account.

After clicking ‘Allow,’ you’ll be redirected to this page where you’ll create a DROPitTOme account. The username will be your DROPitTOme URL. For example, my username is sfrantz. To upload files to my Dropbox, you would go to http://dropittome.com/sfrantz. The email address is where DROPitTOme will send notification that files have been added to your DROPitTOme folder. The password here is NOT your Dropbox password. The password you create here allows you to access your DROPitTOme account and change things later, such as your email address. The upload password is the password you will give to people, say, students, who will be uploading files to your DROPitTOme folder.

After this quick registration process, you’re ready to go. Give your upload address and upload password to whoever has files that need to be uploaded to your Dropbox folder.

My students would navigate to my upload page: http://dropittome.com/sfrantz.

After entering my upload password, they can now browse their computer to find the file they want to send me (file maximum is currently 75MB):

After clicking ‘UPLOAD,’ they’re assured the file is loading.

Once uploaded, DROPitTOme says that the file has been successfully uploaded.

After the first file has been added using DROPitTOme, a folder by that name will be added to your Dropbox folder. Every time a file has been uploaded, DROPitTOme will send you an email message that looks like this:

The time on the email tells you whether or not the student submitted their assignment before the deadline.

Managing student assignment files

If you’re going to go this route for having students submit assignments, give students very clear instructions on naming their files. For example for each assignment, tell students how to name the file. “For this assignment name your file: YourLastName YourFirstName Psych100 ApplicationPaper1.”

After papers have been submitted, use the emails DROPitTOme sent you to identify the ones that were sent late, and rename the file with “—LATE” at the end. Save all of the DROPitTOme emails in case a student disputes the lateness of their assignment.

Consider setting up ‘rules’ in your email so that all emails from DROPitTOme go directly into a subfolder in your inbox. If you have 100 students submitting assignments at once, you don’t need 100 emails from DROPitTOme cluttering your inbox. (Creating rules in Outlook is worthy of a blog post of its own. Look for that one coming soon!)

November 18, 2010

Zamzar: Download TED Videos

Filed under: Video — Sue Frantz @ 10:46 am

Earlier this week I posted information on how to use Zamzar.com to download YouTube videos. I’ve since had some inquiries from readers regarding downloading TED videos.

To download any video using Zamzar.com, you need to locate the video file itself. With the TED videos, this takes a little extra effort.

Go to the webpage that displays the TED video you want to download. Click the red share button below the video. Then click the copy button next to “embed this video.”

Open Word, or your email program, or anything that will let you paste and view a healthy chunk of text. After copying the ’embed this video’ code, this is what I get when I paste it. Do not be frightened. If you wanted to put this video on your own webpage, say, inside your course management system, this code would do it. But since we want to download it, we only need to find one thing: The URL to the video file. You’re looking for something with a video file extension, like avi, flv, mp4, or wmv. TED uses Flash video, so the extension will be flv.

<object width=”446″ height=”326″><param name=”movie” value=”http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf”></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” /><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always”/><param name=”wmode” value=”transparent”></param><param name=”bgColor” value=”#ffffff”></param> <param name=”flashvars” value=”vu=http://video.ted.com/talks/dynamic/PhilZimbardo_2008-medium.flv&su=http://images.ted.com/images/ted/tedindex/embed-posters/PhilZimbardo-2008.embed_thumbnail.jpg&vw=432&vh=240&ap=0&ti=272&introDuration=15330&adDuration=4000&postAdDuration=830&adKeys=talk=philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil;[Remaining code deleted.]

To download this video, go to Zamzar.com, select the ‘Download Videos’ tab, and paste the highlighted URL above into step 1. Follow the rest of the steps, and the video will be downloaded to your computer to use when you’re offline.

November 15, 2010

Zamzar: Download and Convert Video Files

Filed under: Video — Sue Frantz @ 9:06 pm

Zamzar, a free online file conversion tool, has been around for a while. But just because it’s been around doesn’t mean that you know about it, right?

Zamzar lets you convert audio, image, document, video, and ebook files from one format to another format. I can envision many scenarios where you might want to do that, but I’m going to cover how you can download videos from a site such as YouTube. Instead of streaming the video from a website, you can download it to your computer. Once downloaded you can either open the video file on its own, or you can embed your video in your PowerPoint presentation. (PowerPoint also allows you to link to videos on the internet and stream live, but downloading videos is the way to go if are concerned about not having an internet connection in your classroom or are concerned about the video disappearing one day.)

How to do it.

When you visit Zamzar, you’ll see this. It actually defaults to the ‘Convert Files’ tab. Since we’re downloading a video from a website, select the ‘Download Videos’ tab.

Go to YouTube and find your video. Directly under the video screen, click the ‘Share’ button. The link to the video will appear. Copy it.

Paste it into the Step 1 box. In the Step 2 box, choose your file format. If you’re planning on embedding the video in PowerPoint, choose wmv. [Note: PowerPoint 2010 can now handle more video file formats than it used to, but wmv is still a fine choice.] In Step 3, enter your email address, then click ‘Convert.’

After uploading, you’ll get this message.

Now you wait. In a few minutes, you will get an email from Zamzar. After inviting you to register the email will read something like this:

Following the link takes you to a webpage where you can download the file.

After downloading, save the file to whatever folder you’d like. That’s it!

 

November 13, 2010

BridgeURL: One Web Address for Multiple URLs

Filed under: Social Bookmarking — Sue Frantz @ 12:59 pm

BridgeURL lets you save multiple web addresses in one web address. Send your students to one URL, and they can flip through them in a slideshow. BridgeURL is a brand new tool, and they are continuing to add features.

To create a BridgeURL, visit the BridgeURL website, create a title for your link, then enter your web addresses.

Click “Create Link.”

Here’s the link I created: http://bridgeurl.com/Sue-s-Favorite-Email-Tools. Follow this to see the links in ‘slideshow’ view. This is what it looks like in my browser. When I took this screenshot, I had my mouse hovering over the right side of the screen. Clicking ‘next’ will take you to the second URL I entered. Mouse over the right side of the screen to go to the previous URL, in this case it would be the fifth URL I had entered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quirks:

It uses your title to create the URL. If that title is already in use, BridgeURL won’t generate a new URL, but it also won’t give you an error message. The page just sits there, staring at you blankly.

Websites that don’t allow the use of IFrames (like Facebook) won’t display in the slideshow view. BridgeURL has an ‘all’ option. Just add “all” to the end of your BridgeURL to get this view (for example, http://bridgeurl.com/Sue-s-Favorite-Email-Tools/all ). Click on the URLs individually, or if you click “open all links at once,” all of the links will open in your browser, each one opening in a new tab.

Bonus tip:

If you want your students to visit several websites, such as NY Times articles, this is a terrific way to package them all together. Use this service in combination with MarkUp.io, WebNotes, or Eyejot. Add your annotations to a website using one of those services, then take those created URLs and add them to BridgeURL to create one URL. Keep in mind that students will be viewing the websites in whatever order you choose.

[Thanks to Mashable for posting information about this resource! http://mashable.com/2010/11/09/bridgeurl]

November 12, 2010

A Little Reflection

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sue Frantz @ 9:52 am

I started writing this blog in April 2009, and I see that the blog recently passed the 10,000 views mark. That could mean that 10,000 individuals stopped by once and have never come back. It could mean that one person has been sitting at home clicking through my website, day after day after day. No, that’s not me. WordPress tells me that they don’t include my visits in their statistics.

I know that many people drop in because they’re searching for something specific, and Google sends them my way. I even know what they’re looking for; WordPress tells me. I have one post that accounts for 40% of the hits on my blog – 40%, that’s not a typo. It is the Smartboard Alternative post. If you haven’t read it, you’re apparently missing out on something. It’s probably the most magic-like technology that I’ve written about. It’s truly a phenomenal idea. You point a Wii remote at the wall, and using an infrared pen you click on the wall to control your computer. How is that not magical?

Here are the top 21 search terms used to find my blog. All of them point to that Smartboard post. All of them. All 1,100 of them.

I’m not sure what it means though. Is it something cool that people just want to try out? I know that must be true for some. Or are people using this in their classrooms? I have some friends who are. Given the cost of smartboards combined with decreasing educational budgets, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Visits to my homepage account for 20% of the hits on this blog. Those are my regulars, most likely including you, visiting my homepage to see what’s new. Thanks for stopping by! You’re who I have in mind when I write. Leave a comment every now and again. I love hearing from you!

The next two most popular blog posts are PowerPoint’s presenter view and using mailmerge to link Word and Excel. Together they account for 15% of hits, almost equally split between the two. I get that. I have no quarrels with Microsoft, but their help files don’t operate like I do. (In all fairness, lots of people may be searching for Microsoft Office solutions simply because so many people use Microsoft Office.) When I’m struggling for a solution, I toss my request to the search engine gods. I ask The Google (or The Bing, or The Yahoo – okay, rarely The Yahoo). Almost invariably I find my solution in someone’s blog or discussion board of some kind. They’re real people asking real questions and getting answers from real people.

And that’s why, 560 years after Gutenberg gave us the printing press, we still have teachers.

November 11, 2010

Eyejot: Video Record Your Email

Filed under: Email,Social Bookmarking,Video — Sue Frantz @ 3:53 pm

For those who worry about being misunderstood in email, how about video recording your message instead? The cleverly named Eyejot provides an easy web-based user interface for recording and emailing video. They also provide a bookmarklet, a small program that runs inside your web browser, for attaching your own video commentary to web pages. Their bookmarklet is called “Eyejot This!” You just drag the bookmark to your browser’s bookmarks toolbar. Surf to any website, click the “Eyejot This!” bookmark. This window will appear – with your face on the screen, if your webcam is working. Hopefully you won’t see my face on your screen. That would just be creepy.

Click the red record button. Say what you’d like to say. Hit the square black stop button. Type in the email address of who you’d like to send it to. Send a copy to yourself if you’d like the URL. Eyejot keeps your old videos in your online Eyejot account; you can forward or delete previously recorded videos.

I used the Eyejot bookmarklet to record a video. I then emailed it to myself using Eyejot‘s interface. This is what the email looks like:

The text of the email reads “click on the image below or here to watch video.” When you click the link, this is where you’re sent. Check it out.

Of course you don’t have to tie your video recording to a website. You can record a stand-alone video. When I log in to Eyejot, this is what I see:

My inbox holds Eyejot videos others have sent to me. As you can see that’s empty. The sent tab shows my recordings. The deleted tab is more like the recycling bin. When I delete a video, it goes to that tab until I go in there and REALLY delete it. To record a new message, click “compose new message.” That turns on my webcam and launches this popup window:

When I’m done recording, I type in an appropriate subject line, the email addresses of my recipients, add any written commentary I’d like to add, and include an attachment if I’d like. Click “send eyejot,” and that’s it. To cancel a message, click the X in the top right corner of the video recording screen.

Before the beginning of a new term, I email my students with a link to my course website. Next term, I think I’ll add a little video commentary for a more personal touch. Eyejot is free for users who are fine limiting their recordings to one minute. If you’re on the wordy side, $29.95/year gets you five minutes of camera time.

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