Mar 232015
 

I’m on the road, taking a bit of a mini-vacation during spring break. Looking at my electronics and electronic-related gear I packed for this road trip, I am reminded of a question I was recently asked. What mobile accessories do I recommend? (Shout-out to Lisa at Xavier University of Louisiana!)

Bluetooth keyboard, backup batteries, cord wrangler, and laptop lock.

 

Rechargeable back-up battery

If your mobile devices are aging, as mine are, the battery life just isn’t what it used to be. This isn’t a problem when stationary because you can plug into an outlet. This also isn’t a problem when traveling by car, train, or, increasingly, by plane because you can plug into the vehicle’s power source. But when traveling by foot as I have done for much of this trip, I have been very thankful for my back-up batteries.

IntoCircuit Power Mini (pictured) (currently $12.99 at Amazon) was the first one I bought. It will give me two or so full charges to my phone battery. Connect one end of a USB cable into the battery and the other end to your mobile device. When you want to charge your back-up battery, plug it into an outlet or your computer. Oh. And it also works as a flashlight.

After a recent trip, I couldn’t find my IntoCircuit battery thus thought I had lost it, so when I saw the RandomOrder Power Bank (pictured) on a recent Costco run, I picked it up; they were packaged in pairs. This battery and the IntoCircuit battery use identical cases, although the IntoCircuit battery carries a bit more oomph under the hood. Unfortunately I promptly dropped one of the two RandomOrder batteries rendering it inoperable. But then my IntoCircuit battery magically reappeared in my backpack. I just checked the Costco website, and I’m not seeing it in stock there. You can, however, purchase the 2-pack from Amazon for $19.99.

Cord wranglers

If you’re charging your mobile devices, you have USB cables. I use two different cord wranglers.

For my longer cables, I use the medium Bobino cord wrap (pictured). You can get a 3-pack for $7.95.

For my shorter cables, I use Nite Ize 3-inch gear ties, available in a 4-pack from Amazon for $2.98. (Not pictured because I was out Geocaching, and I lost the only one I had with me. I have more at home, though. Or if I go buy more, it will apparently reappear.) Your hardware store probably also carries them. Look wherever they display the bungee cords.

Laptop lock

When I have to hole up in a coffee shop or some other public space, I don’t want to have pack up all my stuff just to get a coffee refill or run to the restroom. (Which of these I do, of course, depends on where I am in the input/output cycle.) I use a Targus Defcon CL laptop cable, available for various prices at Amazon (pictured). Also check out this review of laptop locks. It’s a couple years old, but the information is still good.

The cables all work pretty much the same way. Put the cable around a table support or some other immovable or not-easily-movable structure. Thread the lock through the loop (and your backpack and anything else you don’t want to walk off) and attach the lock to the back of your laptop. I wouldn’t leave my stuff for hours this way, but it’s unlikely that someone will, while you’re in the restroom, run into the coffee shop with cable cutters.

Keyboard

On a trip a couple years ago, as I was walking to the departure gate of my hometown airport, it occurred to me that my backpack felt suspiciously light. Upon inspection I discovered that I had managed to pack my laptop charging cord but not the laptop itself. I did have my tablet (and phone) so I had ready access to all of my files (let’s pause a moment to appreciate how cloud storage has changed our lives), but I wasn’t looking forward to spending two days in meetings without a keyboard. I don’t mind swiping the on-screen keyboard for a quick email, text, or search. But for extensive document editing? No thank you. Typically I do extensive research on a product before I purchase it. In this case, my research consisted of finding an electronics store in my connection airport that had a Bluetooth keyboard. Fortunately it was Minneapolis, which is one big mall that happens to have airline service. My only option was Belkin; you can get it for under $50. I couldn’t, but you can. I like that the keyboard is free-standing so I can position it wherever I’d like in relation to my tablet. That’s especially nice in cramped spaces.

Stylus

I had been using a cheap rubber-tipped stylus on my tablet (3 for a dollar, or some such thing) that worked well once it was nice and broken in. When it was just plain broken (the rubber tip developed a tear), I pulled out its sister stylus from the pack. I was surprised by its stiffness and how hard I had to work to get it to work. I was not prepared to put in the hours that were evidently necessary to break it in. Besides, it’s been a couple years, surely there is something better out there.

Musemee Notier stylus

This is the Musemee Notier stylus (pictured), available from Amazon for $16.99. My tablet is very responsive to the clear rubber disk. The stylus produces a harder sound when tapping the tablet surface than did my well-worn rubber-tipped stylus, but I suspect that has more to do with me than the stylus. I was accustomed to a firmer touch, so I’m still getting used to not having to tap so hard.

More suggestions

If you’re looking for more things you didn’t know that you absolutely needed, search LifeHacker for go bag. Start with this article.

What I wish I had but don’t

A Grid It organizer. It’s just a firm backing with interwoven elastic bands. Tuck your gear under the bands and toss it in your bag. It will keep things like back up batteries from getting lost and USB cables from getting tangled.

What’s in your go bag?

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Jan 272015
 

Mick MacLean (Buffalo State) emailed me with an interesting problem. When you’re teaching in a classroom without an easily visible clock or an easily visible but inaccurate clock, getting class started and ended on time is a challenge. He thought this might be a problem technology could fix. He wanted an alarm of some kind to sound at the beginning class, with five minutes left, and then at the end of class. Ideally this would happen all on its own without his having to remember to set alarms.

Here’s the solution for Android users.

We’re going to have your Android device read your Google Calendar. When your Google Calendar says that it is time for Psych 100 to start or end, the device will emit a sound and then turn off on its own.

From Google Play, download Automagic to your phone or tablet.

Try the free version first or just pony up the $4.  This website explains how Automagic works: http://automagic4android.com/en/

Here are instructions on how to set a “begin class” and a “2-minute warning” alarm.

When you run Automagic on your mobile device, tap the three-dot menu icon. Select “New Flow”. Flow is the term Automagic uses for these little programs that you can create to make your Android device do just about anything you want short of washing your underwear.

A box will appear. Tap the box, then tap the lined-paper icon that will appear above it.

Select “new” at the bottom of the screen. This will create a new trigger.


 Since we want our Android device to do something in response to a calendar event, scroll down, and choose “Calendar Event.”

 

 We can see that Automagic has already entered the Trigger Type as “Calendar Event.” Leave the Default Name the same. Once Automagic creates a particular trigger, it will save it so that you can use it in future flows if you’d like; you’ll be able to select it using that name. Under “Trigger at event start” choose, say, 0m (as in zero minutes) before. This will be when the “class is starting” alarm sounds. Under “Trigger at event end” select 2m before. This will be your two-minute warning to wrap it up. Since you don’t want this signal for every event you have in all of your calendars, check the Calendars box, and then tap the “…” to the right to select the calendar you want to use. Because you don’t want the alarm to sound with every event in that calendar, check the box under “Titles.”  Enter whatever you have named your class time in your calendar.  If each class entry in your calendar is different, such as “Psych 100: Chapter 1″ and “Psych 100: Chapter 2,” use Psych 100*. The asterisk at the end is a wildcard. It says that this trigger will apply to any calendar entry that begins with Psych 100. If you scroll down this Automagic screen, you will see that you can use words in the description or the location you have listed in the calendar event. If you always teach in the same classroom, you can create an alarm based just on that location, provided you put that location in your calendar. If you always teach in the same two classrooms, you can enter them both on this line; just use a comma to separate them. (For more options, tap the question mark icon to the right of the “Trigger Type” line in Automagic.)


Let’s do a quick recap. I have created a trigger. When Automagic sees that it is zero minutes before an event called Psych 100 in my Sue Frantz Google Calendar or 2 minutes before the end of that event, Automagic will… do something. I haven’t told it what yet.

Tap “Save” at the top of the Automagic screen.

This takes you back to the flow screen. Tap and drag the plus sign icon down and release it. Select “Action”.

 

 Tap “New…”

 

 Scroll way down. And I mean way down. As you scroll take a look at some of the actions Automagic can do. Select “Sound”.

 

Under “Sound Type,” select “Built-in sound.”  Later you can change this to “File” if there is a specific file on your Android device you want it to play. (Are you thinking of a snippet from your favorite classic rock band?)  Directly under that, choose the sound you want by tapping the three dots to the right of “Sound.”  I selected “Alarm” and chose Platinum.  Tap “Save.”  (With “alarm” I know that the sound will play even if my phone is silenced.  I don’t know if that is true with other types of sounds. This is especially important for me because I have a flow that silences my phone ten minutes before events where my calendar is marked as “busy” and turns the ringer on again ten minutes after the event. Alternatively, I could create a flow that sends my phone into airplane mode while I’m in class. That way the sound could still be on since there would be no danger of phone calls or texts. Mick tried the alarm, but it just kept ringing, so he switched to a “Notification” sound. Try out different ones until you find one that works for you and your device.)

 

Tap “Save.”  You’re back on the main flow page.

 Let’s rename this something more descriptive. Tap the three-dot menu in the top right corner. Select “Rename Flow.”


 I chose “Begin and end class alarm.” If the on/off switch is set to off, slide it to on.

 

Try it out by setting a calendar event with the appropriate title just a few minutes from now. Leave at least two minutes between when you set the calendar event and when you expect the phone’s alarm to go off.

Of course this flow will sound the same alarm at the start of class and again with two minutes left. If you want a different sound for the beginning and the two-minute warning, or if you want another sound for the very end of class, create additional flows.

If your classroom is big and there is a setup for laptops, you can plug the audio cable designed for laptops into your phone’s headphone jack.  When your phone plays, the sound will go through the classroom’s speakers.  Just make sure the speakers are turned up.

Other favorite flows

I don’t even think about the flows I have any more. I mentioned above that when my calendar says I’m busy, my phone is set to silent. When the “busy” event it over, the ringer comes back on.

In that same vein, my phone is automatically silenced at 9pm and the ringer comes back on at 8am.

When I am at home or at work (by GPS location), my phone’s wifi is turned on. When I leave, my phone’s wifi is turned off.

Anything you ask your Android device to do on a routine basis can be automated.

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Jan 032015
 

I first wrote about Akindi in 2013 (see this post), and boy has it undergone some amazing changes in 2014. With this first post of 2015, I hope to convince you to give it a try this term.

With Akindi, you print out bubble sheets for a test. Students take the test in class. You run the filled-in bubble sheets plus an answer key through a scanner to create a pdf. Upload the pdf to Akindi, and Akindi grades your test. And gives you all the statistics on that test and its questions you could want. Want to give the corrected bubble sheets back to your students? Just download the pdf and print.

This is what the dashboard looks like. I’m inside a course called “Psych 100 Fall 2014.” In the top right corner you can see that I had 62 students in that course. This particular assessment was called “Final.” Using the buttons at the bottom, I can edit the bubble sheet template, download those bubble sheets for printing, upload a pdf of the scanned completed bubble sheets, and, finally, view the results.

Let’s start near the beginning.

Creating a template

As of this writing, you have two template options. “Template A” is 100 questions; “Template B” is 50 questions. Since this was my comprehensive final, I used the 100-question template. I can just print blank sheets and let my students fill in their names and student ID numbers, or I can go prefilled. Personally, I like prefilled; there are fewer mistakes that way. (Although, if I had 100 students…) I entered my students’ names into my “Class Roster” for this Akindi course; okay, I confess, I pasted their names in a csv file and uploaded their names into this Akindi course. Rather than use my students’ actual student ID numbers, I allowed Akindi to assign them random numbers. Since I’m not connecting Akindi to my course management system*, what number is used doesn’t matter. Akindi just needs a number to connect the student’s bubble sheet to their name on the Akindi website. When you choose prefilled, Akindi pulls the names and student IDs from this class roster and enters them on the bubble sheets for each student. In “Header Info” I also ask Akindi to put the student name at the top of the bubble sheet to make it easier for me to distribute them in class.

[*Side note about course management systems. I believe this option is only available when institutions adopt Akindi, not individual instructors.]


Download blank bubble sheets and upload completed bubble sheets

Once you have your bubble sheets created, download them. If you went prefilled, the answer key ID number (0000) is also prefilled. There is nothing for you to bubble in but the answers. Print out the bubble sheets. Akindi will even add a few blank ones in case you need them, say, if a student spills coffee on their bubble sheet – and both of their neighbors’ bubble sheets. [Pro tip: If your printer is set to auto-duplex, turn it off. Otherwise you will have two students bubbling in different sides of the same sheet. Awkward.]

After students have taken the test, collect the bubble sheets and your answer key, and run them through a scanner to create a pdf. Our building’s copier will also scan to pdf, and let me email the file. I have two choices. I can email the pdf to myself, save it to my computer, and then click the “upload responses” button you see in the image above. Or I can just email the file to Akindi directly using the special email address Akindi created. The email address is given in the light blue highlighted text in the screen above, and, very thoughtfully, given on the first page of the bubble sheet pdf. If I choose to have my copier email the pdf to Akindi, the test will be graded before I get to my office. And my office is not that far away.

The results

This is where you see the magic.

Results are divided into three screens. “Overview” which you see here, “Graphs,” and “Responses.” If Akindi isn’t sure of a student’s response, another option will appear here, “Exceptions.”

In “Overview,” we see the class average on the left with the high score and low score noted. And then we see the three easiest questions and three most difficult questions. When I moused over “Question 24″ the graph on the right changed to show me the data for question 24.

Scrolling down the “Overview” page, I can see the discrimination scores for the test as a whole (.30 in this case; it’s in the blue, so it’s acceptable) and for six of my questions: “Best constructed questions,” “Questions which could be improved,” and the diplomatically-worded “Questions which require intervention,” i.e. these questions suck. Akindi looks at the top third of performers on this test and sees how they answered this question and then looks at the bottom third of performers on this test and sees how they answered this question. For a strong question, we expect that the top performers would answer it correctly and the bottom performers would answer it incorrectly. A high discrimination score indicates that exactly that has happened. For my best-constructed test items, the discrimination scores are .54, .55, and .58. My could-be-improved questions have discrimination scores of .01, .05, and .06. My require intervention questions have discrimination scores of -.10, -.10. and -.05. A negative score means that the top test performers did the worst on the question and the bottom test performers did the best on the question; not a good thing.

The graphs really help me see what is going on. As above, I can mouse over each question to change the graph to that question.

Let’s take a closer look. This is the graph for question 51, discrimination score of .54. I can see that most of the students who got this question right (blue) were the highest performers on the test (right side of the graph), and that most of the students who got this wrong (orange) were the lowest performers on the test (left side of the graph). Akindi even tells me a bit more about what was going on in the “Insight” text below the graph.


This is the graph for question 54, discrimination score of -.05. The highest performing students got it wrong, and of everybody else, about half got it wrong (dark purple – that’s blue and orange overlapping) and about half got it right. Given that so many (9) of the best-performing students got this question wrong means that I really need to look at this question.

If I switch to the graphs screen, clicking on “Point Biserial” at the bottom shows me the discrimination scores for all of my questions. Here I’ve scrolled over so you can see problematic question 54 in orange, a string of yellows that are worth a closer look, and beautiful question 70. If I mouse over a bar, I see the actual score for that item.

On the “Responses” screen, I see the data for each student: Student ID number, name, grade (percent), mark (number of questions correct out of total possible), scan (clicking on the magnifying glass opens a new page in my browser where I can see that student’s scanned bubble sheet), and responses to each question (questions in orange boxes are incorrect). All of the columns are sortable. I can click on the heading to sort by that column. Clicking on “Grade” will sort by grade high to low, click again to sort low to high.

If Akindi runs into trouble deciphering a student’s response, you will see “Exceptions.” Clicking on that link calls up the exceptions screen. Unlike optical scanners like Scantron, Akindi doesn’t care what writing utensil a student bubbles with. In this case, a student used a pen and, of course, had no way to erase. Akindi just saw that two answers had been bubbled in, and so flagged them as “exceptions.” Akindi just shows me the relevant questions from the student’s scanned sheet and asks me to manually select an answer. Akindi then automatically adjusts all of the data accordingly.

The “Actions” button

In the top right corner of any Akindi screen related to a particular assessment, you will see the “Actions” button. It’s sort of a quick access button.

Of particular note are the four middle download options.

“Download CSV” will download all of the data from the “Responses” screen to a spreadsheet.

“Download corrected PDF (answers)” will give you essentially the same scanned set of bubble sheets that you uploaded, except that a test score will be printed on them, and a green checkmark will appear next to the questions students got right and a red letter representing the correct answer will appear next to the questions students got wrong. Good for printing.

“Download corrected PDF (no answers)” is the same as above, except that the right/wrong answers are not marked. Good for printing.

“Download corrected ZIP” is the same as “Download corrected PDF (answers)” except that the student bubble sheets aren’t in one big pdf; when you unzip the file, each student’s test is a separate pdf. Good for, say, distributing to each student individually through your course management system.

How I use the data

I primarily use the data to improve my test items for the next term. The first thing I do is look at the questions with the lowest point biserial scores. If I decide it’s a bad question, I may just toss it completely. If I think it can be salvaged, I will reword the stem or the possible answers.

For questions that have A, B, C, D options, if no student chose, say, option D, I may just go with options A, B, and C the next time I use the question. There is nothing magical about four or five answer choices. If one is clearly not being chosen, there’s probably no good reason for it to be there other than to give students something more to read. When I’ve shortened questions this way, I have seen no difference in exam scores. Nor should I. The question option is doing nothing.

Having this kind of data available makes it easier to see what concepts students are getting and what concepts students are struggling with. The most difficult question in the test I used for this blog post was question 12. That question, I see, had a point biserial of .22, which isn’t too bad. What was question 12 about? It was addressing the correlation-does-not-equal-causation concept, a difficult one for students to get. The next thing I need to do is look back at the first exam and see if students got that concept there. If not, then I need to spend more time on it up front, perhaps adding in an assignment to give students practice with it. If students got it on the first test, but not on the final, then they lost it along the way. In that case, I need to embed more practice with it throughout the course.

What’s next?

Akindi continues to develop this product. Look for some additional, and very helpful, functionality in 2015. Including the ability to have multiple versions of a test.

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Sep 202014
 

I’m not a big fan of flashcards, although I have found an interesting use for them. Flashcards take the material you’re learning out of context making it harder to learn, but easier to memorize. Students can use flashcards, for example, to memorize the bones in the body. They will be able to remember that the ulna is in the arm, but without context, they won’t know the ulna’s relationship to, say, the humerus. Having said that, the sheer memorization that flashcards afford does have a place. If you want to just learn new vocabulary words, flashcards can certainly help.

Having said that, I have a colleague (shout out to Liz Hammer at Xavier University of Louisiana!) who suggests having students create application cards. For each concept in a course, ask students to generate an example of that concept from their lives or from other sources such as news media. Students write the concept on one side of the card. On the other side, students provide an example of the concept. Now picture these as virtual cards where all students have access to the card deck… on a website or on their mobile device. The exercise’s greatest power comes from generating examples, but students being able to see an example, and then trying to figure out what it is an example of makes use of the testing effect where the act of retrieval strengthens memory.

There are a bunch of flashcard makers out there, but I’m particularly enamored with Flashcard Machine. Creating flashcards is easy through both the web interface (free) and the mobile app (iOS and Android for a small fee). A group of students, or an entire class, can share flashcard sets.

On the mobile device, students will see the “definition,” in our case an example, come up. Tapping the bottom of the screen will reveal the term that goes with the example.

In one chapter of the textbook I use, I count about 30 terms. If, say, 30 students each generated one example for each of those terms, that would be 900 flashcards – just for that one chapter. Perhaps students could be in groups of 5. That would be 150 flashcards per set. It would require some background work, but students could have editing power for their own group’s flashcards but be able to see and use the flashcards of other groups. Want to increase accountability or grade individually? Have each student initial their cards. Or perhaps each student makes their own set of (gradable) cards but then makes them available for their group members to use. Or each group member could choose their best cards, and copy those cards into the group set that each group member could use for studying.

Creating flashcard sets

After creating an account, click on “New Flashcard Set.”

Enter the “General Set Details,” including a short title and description. Leave the “Flashcard Library” disabled if you don’t want the set to be publicly available. Enable “Private Sharing” so you can give the url to other students in the course allowing them to use the flashcards without the power to edit them. Enable “Collaborative Editing” to invite students to add flashcards.

After saving the set, you will see the editor tool bar. Click “Quick Editor.”

In the Quick Editor, add the term in the first box, add the example in the second box. Then click “+Add Another” to add another new card.

Studying

Students click on the flashcard set they want to study, and then click “Start Study Session.”

On the “Configure Study Session” page, students should select “Definition then Term” since, for our students, examples have been entered on the definition side of the card. When given an example, can students identify the term?

Conclusion

If your students try Flashcard Machine, I would love to hear what they think of it! More importantly, when your students create examples and work with examples created by others, do you see an improvement in exam scores?

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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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