May 292014
 

My Android phone has been running slowly, but I haven’t thought much of it because it happened so gradually, I didn’t realize exactly how slow it was. Until my wife used my phone. She was ready to chuck it through a window. Instead, she suggested that I go through it and delete the apps I don’t use. Now that I’ve done a need/don’t need analysis for each of my apps, I thought I’d share my current set of essential Android apps. Many of these are cross-platform (they also work on iOS and Windows mobile devices), but I don’t know which are and which aren’t. If not you’re not on Android, you’re on your own.  (Update 5 hours after initial post: My wife was right. My phone is speedier after I culled the app herd.)

If you don’t see your favorite Android apps here, please add them in the comments!

Automagic lets me automate functions on my phone. When the clock strikes 9pm, my phone is set to silent. At 8am, the ringer comes back on. If my calendar says I’m busy, my phone goes back to silent. When the event is over, the ringer is enabled. When I’m at home, my phone’s wifi is enabled. When I leave home, wifi is turned off. When I get to campus, wifi is turned back on. Whatever information your phone can use and whatever functionality your phone has, Automagic can link them up. Very powerful app. While there are several apps in this genre available, I have found this interface to be the most intuitive while retaining it’s power.
CamScanner uses your phone’s (or tablet’s) camera as a scanner. I use it a lot for scanning receipts – and for scanning my Wipebook notes I want to keep.
Dropbox, but this is a no-brainer. Mark your favorite files in the app both to get to them easily and to tell Dropbox to let you have offline access to them.
FoxFi turns my Android phone into a wifi hotspot. When I want to have internet access on my laptop and the hotel wifi is too expensive, I can access the internet through my cell phone’s data connection.
Glympse tells my wife when I’m going to be home. I send a Glympse when I leave campus, set for 45 minutes. For the next 45 minutes she can see a map of where I am with a time estimate of when I will arrive. That means no more phone calls or text messages asking me where I am or when I’ll be home. About a week ago, she was at an all-day workshop in a hotel near the airport. I sent her a Glympse when I left to pick her up. She knew the exact moment I pulled into the hotel parking lot and came out to meet me. (Does anyone remember when you had to decide in advance where and when you were going to meet someone?)
Google Authenticator gives you two-step authentication. To get into sites/services where I have this enabled, I need to know something and I need to have something. What I need to know is my username and password. What I need to have is my phone. When I go into a site, like Dropbox, from a computer that is not my own, Dropbox asks for my username and password. After I get those correct, Dropbox asks for my authentication code. I go into the Google Authenticator app on my phone, and I see a 6-digit number and a timer. When the timer expires in 30-seconds, a new number will be generated. I enter the current number into the box on the Dropbox website, and Dropbox grants me access. That means that anyone who knows my username and password cannot get into my Dropbox account unless they also have my phone. If someone does steal my phone, Lookout (below) will protect my information.
Hootsuite is for managing all of my social networks – both reading and posting. Set up your Hootsuite account through a desktop/laptop browser first; it’s easier that way.
InoReader is my current RSS feed reader. It does everything I want an RSS feed reader to do. Like Hootsuite, set up your account through a desktop/laptop browser first. I really need to write it up in its own blog post.
Instant Heart Rate isn’t an essential app, but it is pretty nifty. Use your phone’s camera to measure your pulse. Measure your heart rate both before and after class. Or before and after your favorite caffeinated beverage. Or while on the exercise bike.
LastPass securely manages all of your passwords. With a 2014 update, LastPass became much more mobile friendly.
Lookout keeps my phone safe. If it disappears, I can ask Lookout to use my phone’s GPS to show me where it is. I can even lock it remotely and add information to the screen so the person who finds it can contact me. If it looks like recovery is impossible, Lookout will wipe my phone’s data.
Opera is my go-to mobile web browser, because it allows me to easily add my own search engines. Why is that so important? To use Shortmarks, I need to be able to add it as a search engine.
OurGroceries has been described as a marriage-saver. Create a grocery list for everywhere you visit, such as Safeway, Costco, and your local hardware store. Add stuff to the lists, and the lists are synched across all of your devices – and your spouse’s devices. Any item you enter is saved so you don’t have to re-enter it every time. In a hurry? You start at one end of the store and your spouse starts at the other, marking off items as you go.
TimePin creates a new phone unlock code every time the time changes. If it is 9:06am, 0906 is the unlock code. Before you get cocky thinking you can get into my phone any time you’d like, I may have chosen an offset number such as +7, so that if it’s 9:06am, the unlock code is 0913. If I have chosen an offset of -7, then the unlock code at 9:06am would be 0859. Or maybe I’m using a reverse pin. At 9:06am, my unlock code would be 6090. After 5 failed attempts, TimePin will lock you out for 30 seconds.
Trello is a task management/project management system. The web interface is wonderful, and the mobile interface is just as good. Install the mobile widget for quickly adding cards to your boards.
TripIt is an essential tool if you travel any amount. Set it up in your web browser first, and then use it to track your airline tickets, hotel, ground transportation, and any other plans you happen to have. When your air travel itinerary arrives in your email, TripIt will automatically cull the information from it, put it into their format, and drop it into the app.
ZipWhip gives me my phone’s text messages on my computer screen, and I can respond via my computer.

 

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May 102014
 

I am a big fan of Shortmarks. I type a few letters into my web browser’s search bar on my laptop, and the browser takes me where I want to go. When I type in, say, hr, my browser takes me to my college’s Human Resources website. It also makes it ridiculously easy to search a website. When I type in, say, bn brilliant brox, my browser will direct to me to the Barnes and Noble website where it has already done the search for the book Brilliant by Jane Brox. (You can read this post for more information about Shortmarks and how to create your bookmark shortcuts.)

Let’s do a quick overview of how Shortmarks works, why this has been a sticking point on mobile devices, and, finally, the solution.

How Shortmarks works

Shortmarks behaves like a search engine. On my laptop, I tell my web browser to use Shortmarks as its default search engine. When I enter text in the browser’s search bar, my browser uses Shortmarks to do the search. If the text I typed matches something I have entered in my Shortmarks account, like hr, my browser will return that page, like my college’s Human Resources page. If the text doesn’t match, Shortmarks will run the text through the search engine I told Shortmarks to use, in my case, DuckDuckGo.

The problem with Android mobile browsers (and iOS, too?)

In order to use Shortmarks on my Android devices, I need to be able to change the default search engine to Shortmarks. I had been using Chrome for Android, and while Chrome has a handful of search engines I can choose from, I can’t add my own. Firefox for Android does allow the addition of custom search engines, but there doesn’t appear to be any way to set a search engine as a default or even easily switch among them. (I haven’t explored this issue with iOS devices, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same issue exists there.)

The mobile browser that solves the problem (Android, iOS)

On your mobile device, download the mobile web browser Opera if you don’t already have it installed. Using Opera on your mobile device, visit Shortmarks and log into your account. Long-press in the Shortmarks search bar. You will get a little pop-up that reads “Add search engine.” Tap it. Opera will ask you want you to call it. It defaults to “Shortmarks – Fast custom searches and keyword bookmarks.” For the sake of simplicity, delete all of that except for “Shortmarks.” Click “OK.”

Tap in the top search/address bar in your mobile device’s Opera web browser. On the far right you will see the Google ‘g’ logo. Tap it. You will see a row of search engine icons. Shortmarks will be on the far right; the icon is a generic magnifying glass. If you don’t see it, you may need to swipe left. Once you locate the icon, tap it. Shortmarks is now your default search engine.*

Ready for the magic?

Now when I type hr in that search/address bar and tap the enter button my on-screen keyboard, I am immediately taken to my college’s Human Resources page. How cool is that?

*Default doesn’t always mean default

Sometimes Opera reverts back to Google as the default search engine. I don’t know why. If this happens, just tap on the Google ‘g’ icon, select the Shortmarks magnifying glass, and continue on as if nothing was ever amiss.

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Apr 292014
 

You know you have an awesome product when you launch a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $4,000 and, instead, you raise $424,314. Wipebook is a dry erase notebook ($29.99-$34.99). Using Staedtler Lumocolor correctable pens, write on the notebook page (available in blank, lined, grid, and music – or some mix thereof). After a few seconds, the ink will dry enough so as not to smudge. To erase, use the eraser on the correctable pens.  If it’s been sitting for a while, I use a lightly dampened towel or tissue. With more elbow grease, a dry towel/tissue works. For ink that’s been sitting there for a few weeks, use isopropyl alcohol.

Any notes I want to keep in perpetuity, I scan using the CamScanner app (Android/iPhone/iPad/Windows Phone) which converts the image from my phone or tablet’s camera to PDF, and I save the file to, say, Dropbox for easy access.

Wipebook isn’t the only player in the dry erase notebook game. Letterforms launched their own Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $8,000. They raised $107,777. In addition to 8×10 notebooks, it looks like they plan to offer 8×5 and 6×4 versions, too. While not quite ready for production, you can pre-order the 8X10 notebook ($19.99) for an anticipated June delivery. And then there’s Writerase who raised over $32,000 in their Kickstarter campaign. They offer 4 sizes ($15-$48): 3×5, 5×8, 8×11, and 11×17. You can order them from the Writerase website.

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Apr 122014
 

You’ve probably heard about Heartbleed by now. This Gizmodo article does a nice job explaining what it is and why it’s problematic. How do you know which of the sites you’ve logged into are at risk? How do you know if that service has updated their software to fix the bug making it safe to change your password on that site? There are 496 sites for which I have a username and password. How am I supposed to know which ones are vulnerable. As a LastPass user, LastPass will tell me. [If you're not yet a LastPass user, this previous blog post, although a bit dated now, will give you the overview of what LastPass does.]

Run the LastPass security check

Log into the LastPass website. On the far left, click “Security check.”

On the next page, click the big red “Start the Challenge” button. You will be asked to re-enter your LastPass password. You’ll see your security score and ranking which is based on things like how many weak passwords you have and how often you reuse a password. Scroll down and you will see this.

For the websites marked “Go update!” go change your passwords. Remember to use the LastPass random password generator to create strong, unique passwords. When you assign a new password to a website, be sure to tell LastPass that you are replacing an existing LastPass website so you avoid having duplicate LastPass entries: one with the old password and one with the new password.

Dropbox example

I went into my account settings in Dropbox, clicked on the Security tab, and selected “Change password.” That generated this popup. I clicked the LastPass icon to automatically fill in my current password. Next, click lock/arrow-around-it icon to generate a new password.


LastPass will give you a new password based on the parameters you used the last time you generated a new password. You can change the length of the password, and if you click on advanced options, you can decide if you want special characters, numerals, etc. Once you’re happy with your password, you will get this popup. Click “Yes, Use for this Site.” The new password LastPass just created will replace the old password in your LastPass Dropbox entry.

Click “Change password” and Dropbox will make the change.

Done!

Now, go do it for all of the sites LastPass says you should update.

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Apr 012014
 

When asking students during class to respond to multiple choice questions, you have a number of options. You can use a dedicated clicker system like iClicker where you can have students use a remote or a web-enabled device to respond. You can use a completely web-based system like Socrative. You can go the low-tech route and have students hold up one of their A through D cards. Or you can merge high-tech and low-tech and use Plickers, although this doesn’t feel low-tech at all.

With Plickers, each student gets a unique QR code (download the PDF). The orientation of the QR code determines the student’s answer. This is card 1 showing B as an answer. Rotate to the left and C would be the student’s answer. Ask your multiple choice question, and have students respond by holding up their cards with their answer pointed up.

Working with the app. [Updated 5/10/2014:  The day after I posted this article I got an email from a kind person at Plickers telling me that they just overhauled the mobile app. Ignore the app screenshots.  It looks different now.  I'm working on an updated blog post.] 

Open the Plickers app on your smartphone or tablet* (Android/iOS). If you have assigned cards to students, you’ll see the students’ names on the left. If you haven’t, you’ll see the card numbers. Notice how they are all gray.

Click “scan.” Your device’s camera will come on. As you stand at the front of the room panning from one side to the other, the app will register the QR codes your students are holding up. (The 5.5″x5,5″ cards are readable from 20-25 feet; I had no problem picking them up in the back of my classroom. If you have a larger room, you may choose to use the bigger 8.5″x8.5″ cards.) As each code is scanned, you’ll see an orange outline appear around the QR code and the answer the student selected will appear in blue above the QR code. This is much easier to see on a tablet than on a smartphone. As each student’s response is recorded, their gray box will turn blue. If you tap the menu button (three vertical dots), you can toggle the student names off and toggle the bar graph of results on. If you want to be the only one to see this information, you can stop here.

Working with the website.

If you want the students to their names and the results, let’s switch over to the website, Plickers.com. Go into the course you created when you signed up, and click the “Teach!” button. (More on course creation below.)

This is what the webpage looks like before scanning the QR codes. (“Grid” shows you each of the cards.)

As you scan with your device, students will see their box go blue so they’ll know their response has been recorded.

While that’s all good, what you really want to see are the results. Click “Graph.”

If you want to see how each student responded, click on the “Classes” button, select your class, then select the poll you’re interested in. Unfortunately there isn’t a way (yet?) to download the responses, but it’s easy enough to copy and paste the student responses into a spreadsheet.

Creating a class and assigning cards to students.

Click on “Classes” and then “Add a new class.”


After naming your class, you can enter your students’ names. Cards will be assigned in order. (Yes, it would be cool to upload a .csv file with names and card numbers already entered, but alas, not yet.) Click on a student’s name or card number to change it. This feature is a little buggy. Sometimes the changes stick and sometimes they don’t. Navigating to another page and coming back seems to help.

Note: Students can change their answers as long as you’re still scanning. You can even switch to the graph view before you’re done scanning, and students can watch their answers come in. Let’s say, for example, you ask students how well they believe they understand a particular concept, from A (totally get it) to D (totally confused). If you have a number of students at the D end, you can leave the question running as you try a different way to help students grasp the concept. Tell students to hold up their cards as their understanding changes, and do another scan. Have the responses slid toward the A side? If so, you know you can move on.

Plickers is a new product, so keep your eyes open for new features and improvements!

*If you are going to use your tablet, test it first. On my Ellipsis, Plickers worked great. On my Galaxy Nexus, it read the QR codes incorrectly; it read them as though the student responded with the letter on the left, not the letter on to. [Updated 5/10/2014: As part of the mobile app overhaul I mentioned above, the developers have built in the ability to "rotate answers." Run a question as a test. With the device's camera on, scan a Plickers card. If the top answer is not the one that's recorded, tap the menu button (three vertical) dots, and select "rotate answers."  Once you calibrate the device, the settings will stick, and there won't  be any need to redo it.]

 

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Feb 282014
 

In academia, email continues to be our primary means of communication. Since this is where we spend most of our working hours, it makes sense that we use email to keep our lives sorted. For email messages I want to follow up on, I forward them to followup.cc. For email messages I need to do something with, I forward them to Trello, my preferred task management system. And this is why I’m excited about the newest addition to my email arsenal: Super.cc. Now I can use email to add appointments to my Google calendar.

Signing up.

Go to Super.cc, and enter your email address (you can add more email addresses later), and give Super.cc permission to add stuff to your Google calendar. Now you’re ready to go.

Adding an appointment.

Send your email message to add@super.cc. In this example I have written the day of the week (I could have said March 3rd), the time (I could have included the time zone), and the location (expressed as “@ location”; if it’s a notable landmark, Super.cc will look up the address. Or you can enter a phone number for location as @ 800-555-1234). Here I’m setting up a time to get together with myself. If I were reading an email someone had sent me, I could forward it to add@super.cc. Super.cc does a pretty good job digging the time and date out of the body of the email.

Within seconds, I got an email confirmation from Super.cc with the appointment information in it, which is nice to see, but the magic is my calendar. In Google calendar, I can see that the appointment has been added to the next available Monday, March 3rd at 8am with a default meeting length of one hour. The subject line of the email message becomes the subject line of the appointment.

This is what the appointment itself looks like. The location was automatically added to the “Where” field. The description contains what was written in my email.

Conclusion

This is one of those tools that’s going to slip right into your workflow. You’re going to wonder why it ever seemed normal to open up your calendar to add an appointment.

Super.cc is a new product, so keep an eye out for added functionality. They’ll email you with new features, but you can always check in on their FAQ page.

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Feb 042014
 

Here’s the problem I ran into. What seems like years ago, I gave up carrying my files on a flash drive from my home laptop to my work laptop to my classroom computer. Dropbox has been my go-to service for synching files across computers. Dropbox works beautifully for making sure my files are up to date on my home and work computers and for accessing those files on my mobile devices. My classroom, however, has continued to be a bit of a thorn. Yes, on my classroom computer, I can open the web browser, navigate to Dropbox.com, and download the files I want for that day’s class. But with only 7 minutes between the end of the previous class and the start of my class. With the previous occupant needing time to pack up and log off after his class I really only have about 3.5 minutes.

My college gives faculty a universal storage location accessible from anywhere on campus. If I can log into a computer on campus, including when my work laptop is connected to the campus network, I can access this space. On our campus, our IT people have named it the M drive. I don’t want to put my work laptop Dropbox folder in there; I would only have access to those Dropbox files on my work laptop while on campus. I could manually copy my course files to my space on the M drive, but then I’m pretty much back to the flash drive problem where I have to remember to copy over newly revised files. So then I thought, “There must be software that will let me automatically clone a folder, where any changes to one folder would automatically be synched to another folder.”

FolderClone (30 day free trial; $29.95 one-time fee for the standard edition; Windows7 and earlier) will do a one-way synchronization. Any changes made to the source folder will automatically be made to the target folder on whatever schedule you choose, or/and you can sync them manually.

When you install FolderClone, a short tutorial appears. Feel free to go through it, but FolderClone is pretty intuitive. FolderClone calls each act of folder cloning a “task.” When you create a new task, the new task wizard will ask for a task name and description. I’ve named my task “Psych 100 folder,” and I’ve added a description.

After clicking “Next” I’m asked for the location of the source folder. Just “browse” for it like you normally do. My source folder was my Psych 100 folder in Dropbox.

Then FolderClone asks for the location of the target folder. I decided I wanted a folder on my M drive called “Psych 100 FILES” to be the target. If there are files in the target folder, they will be erased and replaced with just the source folder content. You can note that you don’t want the target folder’s content replaced, but if I were you, I’d either remove the files from the source folder or create a new source folder. Since I’m cloning a folder, I want the content to be identical; I don’t need extra files floating around in there. See the little folder icon on the right side of the screen shot? I can add more target folders if I want, say to an external hard drive as well. For my purposes, just one copy on the M drive is good enough.

Now I get to pick which files I want to copy. Since the point is for me to have all my files at the ready, I’ve chosen “All Files in Source Folder.”

In step 6, FolderClone asks me how often I want it to compare the source and target folders. (If you’ve been paying close attention, you will have noticed that there is no step 5. I looked for it. It’s just not there. Beats me.) The default for how the sync is done is “Manual Clone.” That means files will only be copied when I tell it to. Since I want this to be automated, I chose “Run Only on Selected Days of the Week” (Monday through Friday) at noon since I’m likely to make changes to course files in the morning before my afternoon classes. In the summer, when I’m not teaching, I’ll turn FolderClone off altogether (and schedule a followup.cc reminder for the week before fall classes to tell me to turn it back on again).

In the last step, I get a summary of what I created. Clicking “Run Now” immediately copies my Psych 100 folder in my work laptop’s Dropbox folder to my space on my college’s M drive. And it did it quickly – 822 MB of data (415 files in 30 folders) were copied in under a minute.

FolderClone will run in the background. You can find its sheep icon in your system tray.

Even though I have scheduled a time for automatic synching, I can always run FolderClone manually. Right click on the sheep icon in the system tray, and then click “Run Task.” If I have more than one task, I can pick the one that I want or I can “Run All Tasks.”

If you select “Show Main Window” you can see the tasks you have created, when those tasks last ran and when they are schedule to run again, create a new task, delete a task, manually run a task, etc.

To recap, all of my Intro Psych course files are synched across my devices using Dropbox. And now, using FolderClone, they are also synched to my college’s M drive. When I log into my classroom computer, I can open the M drive and find all of my (current!) Intro Psych course files.

Problem solved!

 

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Feb 032014
 

As readers of my blog know, I’ve been a big fan of Join.me for screen sharing. While Same.io doesn’t allow others to control your screen like Join.me does (yet?), Same.io does have video conferencing. Let’s take a look at how Same.io works.

Go to Same.io, and click the big “Share my screen” button in the center of the page. Your web browser will give you a popup asking if you really want to share your screen. Say yes. [Tip: If Same.io slows down your computer, close all of your other web browser tabs. I found that with the 9 tabs I had open, Chrome slowed down so much, I couldn't do anything.]

In the center of the screen with be the URL you can share with whomever you’d like. As long as you’re in screen sharing mode, this URL will connect whoever has the URL to your computer screen. At the very bottom of the screen, you can see that Same.io is sharing your screen. When you’re done, click the blue “Stop sharing” button. If you just want to communicate via microphone, click the mic icon in the top left corner of the screen. If you want to communicate with both audio and video, click the camera icon.

Here you can see I’ve turned my webcam on. Clicking the microphone icon will mute the mic. Clicking the camera icon will ‘mute’ the camera. At the bottom of the page, you can see that I have someone who has accepted my invitation. The location is determined by IP address. Don’t be surprised if it’s not where the person actually is. It should be close, though. To the right of the location is the IP address. Now I can invite my collaborator to share their microphone (by clicking their mic icon) or both their mic and camera (by clicking their camera icon).

When the person accepts, their webcam image shows directly below mine. In all of these screenshots, I have the Same.io webpage up on my screen. I could have switched to my Word document, my email, a spreadsheet, or even just my desktop. Whatever I see on my screen is what others will see on their screen. Important note: If you have dual monitors, both monitors will be seen by those with whom you are sharing your screen.

The URL is a one-time use only URL. After I stopped sharing my screen, this URL no longer worked. The next time I share, Same.io will generate a new URL. If you upgrade ($9.99/month or $99.99/year), you will get your own custom URL and the ability to password protect it. In other words, I could send people to same.io/suefrantz, and give them a password to get in.

Your mobile experience may vary. I tried connecting to the shared screen using Chrome on my Android tablet, and all I got was the main Same.io page.

The developers are actively working on this product, so look for new features in the coming months.

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Dec 262013
 

I have put MS Office 2010 to bed and have moved on to MS Office 2013. There’s nothing like new software replacing old to knock you out of equilibrium. This post is going to deal with the “Save as” menu. When I first saw the “Save as” options, I was pretty stoked. I could save to my newly-created college SkyDrive account. I could save to my personal SkyDrive account. I could save to my computer. With “Add a Place,” I naively thought, “Cool, I can add places like Dropbox and Google Drive.” Using MS Office 2013 out-of-the-box, as it turns out, you cannot do this perfectly reasonable action.

This is what I wanted.

To get there, you have to do a quick and easy work-around. This method worked for Windows 7. I make no guarantees for Windows 8.

Close all running MS Office programs.

Go to this webpage and follow the directions. On that webpage you will download and run two scripts: One for Dropbox and one for Google Drive. Of course, if you just want, say, Dropox, then just run the Dropbox script. To finish running the scripts, you will need your computer’s pathways to your Dropbox and Google Drive folders. If you’re not sure what those pathways are, there’s an easy way to get them. Navigate to your Dropbox folder, and right-click in the address bar. You can even right-click on the word “Dropbox”. Select “Copy address as text.” Open a new tab in your web browser (or open a non-MS Office text editor, such as Notepad), and paste. That’s the path to that folder. If you want to do the same for Google Drive, repeat for your Google Drive folder.

Once you’ve finished running both scripts, open MS Word. Create a new document, and tell Word you want to save it. On the next Window, click “Add a Place.” You will now see Dropbox and Google Drive there as options. Click to add them.

Next time you want to save your new document to Dropbox, just click “Save,” click “Dropbox,” and you’ll be able to quickly navigate your Dropbox files. Doing this in one Office product, say, Word, makes it work in all other Office products, say, Excel.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be the first of many Office 2013 tips and tricks blog posts.

 

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Dec 202013
 

Are you looking for a tool that works as a to-do list manager and a project manager? A tool that will work for your own use as well as being good for collaborative work? A tool that is as effective and easy to use as it easy pretty? A tool that works well on both your computer and on your mobile device? Trello has it all, for free. Trello Gold, $5/month or $45/year, gives you added functionality. Everything you see here is what’s available in the free version.

Do you remember the old school video games that came with a thick user’s manual that you had to read through before you could play? Then someone in the gaming world had the genius idea of building tutorials right into the game. You didn’t need to read the manual. The game taught you what you needed to know as you moved through it. Trello has taken a page out of the gaming programmer’s playbook. When you create an account in Trello, you are provided with a “Welcome Board” that shows you the ropes.

Now, if I were you, I’d take a glance at the image below, get the gist of it, and then go create a Trello account. Play around a bit, and then come back here for the specifics.

Boards and lists

The first column introduces you to the basics. In Trello, each task is placed on a card. To view the information attached to a card, click on it. You can write a simple description, attach pictures, files, or URLs. Or build a checklist

On the intermediate list you learn about adding team members to your board, assigning team members to cards, color-coding your cards, adding lists, dragging cards, and archiving cards you’re done with.

The advanced list reminds you that you can create multiple boards. Create one for your personal to-do list and a different one for that committee you’re chairing or your research assistants. Or share a board with your classroom students so you can monitor their group projects. (For each person you get to join Trello, you get a month free of Trello Gold – up to 12 months.)

Cards and lists

Clicking on a card generates a popup window. Think of this as being the flip side of the card. In this example, I clicked on the card aptly named “Click on a card to see what’s behind it.” At the top we see both the title of the card and the list that it’s in (Basics). The card’s description is below that. The “Activity” panel shows who has done what with the card

On the right side of this popup window, click “Edit Labels” to color code the card – add as many labels as you’d like. Click on the color bar to select them. Click “Change label titles” to add labels to your color coding. If you or one of the people sharing this board with you are color blind, click “Enable Color Blind Friendly Mode” to make patterns overlay the green, orange, and purple patterns.

If you are sharing a board with one or more other persons, and you want to identify who is working on what, click “Assign Members,” and then click on the person or persons you want to assign to the task. The “Welcome Board” Trello starts you with, you share a board with Trello. Here I have clicked on me to assign myself to this particular card.

In the “Actions” section, you can add a checklist, add a due date, attach a file, move the card, subscribe to get a notification when something about the card changes, vote on the card, or, if you’re done with this particular card, archive it. Archived cards can be searched later. Later in this post you’ll see where you can find those archives and learn how to permanently delete a card.

While you can attach a file using this menu, you can also just drag and drop a file onto either the front or back of a card. I’m going to drag and drop a photo of one of my dogs onto the card. After my changes, this is what the card looks like now. My image in the corner means that I’m assigned to do something with this card. The eye icon means I’m subscribed to receive change notifications, the pencil means that there is a description on the “back” of the card. The icon with the callout bubble tells me that one comment has been made on this card. The paperclip icon tells me that one attachment has been added – that would be the photo of Lucky.

To add a new card to a list, click “Add a card” at the bottom of the list. To move it to a different place in the list or even into a different list, click on it, drag it to where you want it to go, unclick. To add a new list, click “Add a list” on the far right of the board.

One more word about lists. Mouse over the right corner for any list title. Click on the arrow that appears. You can’t see it in this screenshot, but I circled where it would be. That gives you a popup menu for the list. This menu is all about manipulating the list: Copy it, move it, subscribe to get a notification when something on the list changes, move or archive all of the cards, or just archive the entire list.

Board menu

To the right of the board, click on “Menu.” If “Menu” isn’t there, the sidebar is hidden. Click “show sidebar.”


“Filter cards” lets you identify which labeled cards you’d like to see. If you only want to see the cards you’ve added red labels to, click the red label. Or maybe you want to see all the cards assigned to a particular person. Or maybe you want to see all the cards that are overdue. Or you can mix and match – you want to see all the red and green labeled cards assigned to a particular person that are either overdue or due in the next week. When done, click “Clear filter.”

Cards and lists are not automatically deleted. They are archived. You can always go into the archive. Scroll through them. Search for them. If you truly are done with them and are ready to delete, click “Delete.”

Add stickers to your cards to liven things up a bit. This is the default sticker set. Click and drag a sticker onto a card. If you go with Trello Gold ($5/month or $45/year) you will get additional sticker options.

The “Welcome Board” has the voting option. When you create your own board, voting won’t be there. To activate it, go into “Power-ups” and enable it; “click for details” to decide who gets to vote. “Card Aging” will take the cards that have nothing done with them in a while, and will make them transparent. If you’re going to use this feature, “click for details” and in settings, select “Pirate Mode” to go with a yellowed, cracked paper look rather than transparency. Lastly, the “Calendar” power-up lets you see your cards with due dates in a calendar format. You’ll see a new “calendar” link at the very top right of the board in the board’s title bar.

Lastly “Settings.” You can rename your board here (or you can do that by clicking the pencil icon next to your board’s title). “Change organization” to change which organization this board is connected to. (If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that this is the first you’re hearing of organizations. Let me finish talking about settings, and then we’ll tackle organizations.) Use “Change Background” if you don’t like the default blue. In the free version, there are 5 other colors you can choose from. Upgrade to Trello Gold to get something spiffier like photos, patterns/textures, or create your own custom background. I can decide who gets to see this card through “Change Visibility.” By enabling “Card cover images,” you get to see my dog on the front of the card. If I uncheck this, she would only be visible by clicking on the card to see the backside – that would be the backside of the card, not the dog. If you’re sharing this board with others, you control who gets to comment on cards and who gets to invite others to the board. Use “Email settings” if you want to use email to add new cards to your board. This is a handy feature if you’re ready to stop using your email inbox as your to-do list. Forward those emails you want to do something with to your Trello board.

Back to the beginning

When you log into Trello, this is what you’ll see. If you’re in one of your boards, click the Trello logo in the top left corner to get back to this page. All of your boards are on the left. On the right, you can switch from the “Boards” screen to “Cards.” This will show all the cards on all of your boards to which you have been added. For boards that you are sharing, this is a quick and easy way to see what you should be working on.

Organizations

Farther down on that right-side menu is “New Organization.” Let’s say that you want to share one board with your department, one board with your research assistants, and another board with a committee you’re chairing. You can invite them all to join their own specific boards, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with doing it that way. Alternatively, you can create separate “organizations,” and then add members to each organization. Let’s take your research assistants. You’re working on two projects, and each project is complicated enough that they have their own boards. Rather than having your research assistants join each board separately, you can create a “research assistants organization,” and invite them to join that. Now create your two project boards, and just add your “research assistants organization” to the board, and they now all have access. Later, when you start project #3, you can create yet another new board and add your “research assistants organization” again. This is much easier than inviting board by board.

Mobile app

The Trello mobile app works well on both my Galaxy Nexus 10 tablet and my Galaxy Nexus phone. The interface is very similar to the web-based version of Trello.

Bonus

If you’re a Gantt chart aficionado, you can turn your Trello boards into Gantt charts.

Try it out!

Dive in! Sign up for Trello, check out the welcome board, and then create your own boards. Happy organizing!

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