May 192016
 

I made the jump from Windows 7 to Windows 10. I generally like this upgrade, although connecting to my college’s VPN has gotten much harder. Well, not harder, just more tedious. In Windows 7, I could click on my internet connection icon in the system tray, and then click on “HighlineVPN,” and I was connected. I didn’t think it such a miraculous thing until that functionality disappeared in Windows 10. I can still do those same steps, it’s just that now when I click on “HighlineVPN” a new window opens where I can click on “HighlineVPN” again (?) which then gives me the option to connect by clicking the connect button(?!). I guess the programmers wanted to make sure that I really, really, REALLY wanted to connect to this VPN.

With a little effort, I now have a keyboard shortcut that will connect/disconnect me from my college’s VPN. Sweet!

[Why do I want to connect to my college’s VPN? The VPN provides extra security when I’m connected to, say, my local coffee shop’s wifi – hackers monitoring that wifi wouldn’t be able to gain access to my computer without weaseling their way through my college’s IT security measures as well. And when I’m connected, I can do things just as if I were sitting in my campus office, like print to my building’s copier.)

Ready? First, make sure you have already set up a connection to a VPN. If you’re not sure how to do that, contact your institution’s helpdesk.

Creating the code to connect/disconnect your VPN

Open up Notepad on your computer, then copy and paste this code, replacing myvpn with the name of your VPN. (Shout out to the good folks at StackOverflow for this solution!)

@ echo off
Ipconfig|find/I “myvpn” && rasdial myvpn /disconnect || rasdial myvpn

Do File -> Save as. Type a descriptive filename, and end it with .bat. Put the file somewhere on your hard drive where you can find it. Not on your desktop. You have too much stuff on your desktop already. Choose someplace like your C: drive. Mine is here — C:\Users\sfrantz

This is what my HighlineVPN.bat file looks like in Notepad.

You have just created a little computer program. Good job! When you open this file, those lines of code will run. The first line just tells the computer not to show you the second line of code. The second line of code handles the VPN connection. If you’re not connected to your VPN, it will connect you. If you are connected, it will disconnect you.

A black window will briefly appear showing you what the computer is doing. It will show this when connecting.

Note: If you want to edit your .bat file, right-click on it in the folder, and select edit. Double-clicking on it will run the program, and your VPN will connect/disconnect.

Creating the shortcut

Desktop shortcut. Navigate your folders until you find your .bat file. Right-click on it, and select “Create Shortcut”. Then drag that shortcut to your desktop. If you want to connect/disconnect from your VPN, double-click on your shortcut. Frankly, if you’re going to do this, you might as well just put the file itself on your desktop rather than bother with the shortcut. But as I wrote earlier, you already have enough stuff on your desktop.

You can create keyboard shortcuts to these kind of Windows shortcuts, although it didn’t work for me with this shortcut. Maybe because of the nature of this kind of file, I don’t know.

Instead, I used Phrase Express. Phrase Express lets Windows users create a keyboard shortcut for just about anything. I mostly use it to expand something short into something much longer. For example, when I type !STP it expands to Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In this case, I’m going to use Phrase Express to create a keyboard shortcut that will open my HighlineVPN.bat file – and opening it is what causes my computer to run the code that connects/disconnects my VPN.

Within Phrase Express, I created a “new phrase” by clicking the button at the bottom of the Phrase Express screen. I typed a useful description so I could find this later if I needed to – like when writing a blog post about how to do this. I selected Macro -> Automation -> Open a file. Phrase Express asked me to navigate my folder structure until I located my HighlineVPN.bat file. After selecting it, Phrase Express entered #open in the “Phrase content” box. Below that box, I clicked the Ctrl and Win buttons, and selected V from the dropdown menu, and clicked ok. That was it!

All I do now is press CTRL + Windows + V, and I connect to/disconnect from my college’s VPN.

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Jan 302016
 

Years ago you created a Dropbox account and installed Dropbox on your home computer, your work computer, your personal laptop, and maybe even a work laptop. It was, and is, a great way to access all of your files wherever you may be. Do you remember when you used to email files to yourself? Or tried to remember whether the newest version of a file was on your home computer, your work computer, or a flashdrive – wherever you might have left that flashdrive, whichever flashdrive it was? Dropbox has even more powerful functionality with Microsoft integration. You can now edit documents with others, live, via Dropbox.com. But that’s not what this post is about.

Not only did you find Dropbox useful for storing your work files, you found it useful for storing your personal files. But do you really want your vacation photos on your work computer? One issue I’ve seen with those non-work photos on a work computer is that many work computers are backed up to an institutional or company server. Even if the photos are Rated G, they are taking up tons of space on servers that don’t have a ton of space. It’s one thing if those photos are work-related. It’s another thing if they are not. Or, less ethically troublesome, maybe you just have some folders that contain files that you don’t really need anymore. You’d like to keep them as an archive, but they don’t need to take up space on your computer’s hard drive.

Let’s separate the Dropbox folders you don’t need on your work computer from the folders you do need using “selective sync”.

Selective sync lets you tell Dropbox which folders you want to sync with a particular computer. To choose which Dropbox folders you want synced on your work computer, from your work computer click on the Dropbox icon in your system tray. Click on the gear icon, & select “Preferences”.

In the Dropbox Preferences window, select “Account”. Click on “Selective Sync…” The popup will show you all of your Dropbox folders. Leave checked the ones you want to sync to this computer; uncheck the ones you want removed. Click “Update” and “OK”.

Dropbox will delete the unchecked folders from your work computer, but they will still exist at Dropbox.com. I promise. Those unchecked folders will also still sync with any other computers you have. If you want to remove, say, 2009 committee minutes from your home computer, repeat this process from your home computer.

You can always resync those folders by going back into preferences, and checking the folders you want to sync to that computer.

You’re not doing anything else this evening. Take the opportunity to free up some space on your computer disk drives.

 

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Jan 282016
 

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you may be a long-time user of Doodle for helping you and others find a good meeting time. But did you know that you can also use Doodle to help make a choice? Yesterday a friend, who is one of my college’s awesome librarians, wrote to say that she works with an instructor who has her students read books related to the course content and then report on what they learned from the book later in the course. The instructor has worked with our librarians to identify a lengthy list of titles, and she doesn’t want more than one student to read each title, for the purpose of the course, of course – if students want to read all of the books on the list on their own, then great! The current approach, where students write their name and book choice in a notebook, is not working. Students have to scan the sign-up list to make sure their book is still available, and sometimes they miss it, and the instructor ends up with two or more students reading a particular book.

If you don’t have assigned books, you may have assigned paper topics or assigned topics for group projects.

How it works

On Doodle’s main page, where you create a new poll, select “Make a choice”.

On the next page, name your poll and add a short description if you’d like. After clicking through to the next page, you can add your book titles (or paper/project topics). If you need more than 10, click “Add further text slots” at the bottom of the list.

On the “Settings” page, decide how you’d like your poll to work. I have selected “Hidden poll” so that students can’t see who chose which book, “Participant can only choose one option” so that a student can’t click on three books now and decide later which one to read, and “Limit the number of participants per option” (set to 1) so that I’m assured that only one person will indeed be assigned to a book. If this poll was for assigned group project topics, I would change the number to match the largest group size I would allow.

Doodle Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the poll is created, Doodle gives me the link that I can make available to students, say via email or on a page in my course management system. When students click on the link, this is what they see. Students just enter their name and click on the button that corresponds to the book they are interested in.

When I completed the poll myself, I selected, for example, Book 1. Since this is a hidden poll, the next person who went to the Doodle poll would see this; notice that Book 1, the one I chose, is greyed out. If names weren’t hidden this person would actually see my name.

Doodle Participant 1

 

 

 

Let’s say Snoopy chose Book 3. This is what I’d then see as the administrator of the poll.

Doodle Snoopy

 

 

 

 

What makes this approach especially attractive is that when the quarter is over, the poll can be reset by deleting all participants or the poll can be copied – both features of your poll’s “Administration” tab. If you want a more permanent record of who chose what book (or topic), perhaps just to keep track of which books are chosen first, which books are chosen last, or which books are most often not chosen, you can export the poll results as a spreadsheet or pdf – also features of your poll’s “Administration” tab.

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Jan 212016
 

It’s official. Our faculty contract permits us to hold some of our office hours virtually. This quarter I decided to do one office hour online (Tuesdays, 10am to 11:30am PT through March 22, 2016, if you want to stop by. Click here to go there). But what platform should I use?

Our campus has Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate). It’s a powerful program that’s great for full-on web conferencing. But for online office hours, I wanted something lighter weight. I considered both Skype and Google Hangouts. Both have an-easy-to-use interface and screensharing, but both require the other party to have an account. And in Skype’s case, it just bugs me that you can’t close the program by doing things like clicking the x in the top right corner of the window or even selecting “close.” Close should mean close, not minimize. Join.me was closer to what I wanted. If others have the room address, they can come visit without needing a login themselves. But the free version of Join.me generates a new url each time. If I want a dedicated address, and I do, I’d have to sign up for their pro version at $20/month. There’s no way I can justify that when I have free access to something like Bb Collaborate.

I had been hearing chatter through my technology news feeds about the newest kid on the video conferencing block: appear.in. It was time to take them for a spin.

They advertise themselves as “one-click video conversations,” and that’s absolutely accurate.

Go to appear.in, create a room, and follow the signup instructions. I named mine sfrantz, so my appear.in address is http://appear.in/sfrantz.

When I enter my room, this is what I see.

In “Settings” I changed the background picture to a photo of my campus. Since I don’t like to be surprised, I keep my room “Locked.” Any visitors who arrive have to knock to be granted permission to come in – a feature activated in “Settings”. In the bottom right is a chat icon. Not something I need when meeting with one on one, but if I had a group of people (me and up to 7 others), chat would be handy. Mousing over my video display gives me a mic (mute/unmute), camera (on/off), computer (share screen or specific windows/not share), and “send a sticker” (not for me) icons.

Appear.inwill use your most-recently used mic and camera. If you want to use something different, click the camera icon in your browser’s address bar to select the mic and camera you would prefer to use.

In this screenshot, top right corner, you can see that I installed the appear.in Chrome extension. From what I can tell it’s essentially a bookmark that takes you to the appear.in homepage. They may have bigger plans for it, but for now I’ve uninstalled it.

Visiting my appear.in room

Let’s say you start by visiting my college’s faculty and staff directory. When you search my name and go to my entry, you will see this – or something like this.


If my dogs, Murray and Tanner, clicked on the link provided in my Tuesday office hours, they would see this. They are visiting my room through my smartphone – they have an easier time manipulating a touchscreen than a keyboard, and it’s my smartphone because we’ve decided they’re too young to have their own smartphones. Here they’re using a web browser, but appear.in also has an easy-to-use app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When they tap “Let me in,” they get a “waiting” message, and I get a popup notification on my computer letting me know that someone is knocking along with a live view from their camera. I can choose to open the virtual door or not. If you wait too long to say “let them in!” it will time out and they’ll automatically be rejected.

I’ve chosen to let them in, although Tanner is the only one who has stuck around – frankly, only because we’re coming up on dinner time.

In both of our windows below, you can see I muted my mic and Tanner muted hers. The white crown on a blue background on my image denotes me as the room owner. The icons at the bottom of Tanner’s camera image are controls that I have as room owner. I can mute/unmute her, share my power with her by giving her permission to lock/unlock the room, kick her out, or just ban her altogether. Her view is pretty much like mine, but without the power. Notice that the room is still locked. The next person to come along would also have to knock to be let in. Unfortunately the only option I have is to reject them. I don’t have a way to communicate to them that I’m currently with someone. I’m hoping that comes with a future update.

Conclusion

Appear.in makes it easy to create a room and makes it even easier for visitors to stop by. Exactly what I needed for hosting online office hours.

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Jan 082016
 

Did you know that when you crop images in MS Word, PowerPoint, etc., the full image is still there? Anyone who has a copy of your file can restore the image back to the original.

This is especially problematic if you frequently crop after doing a print-screen. Do you remember what was in the background that you just cropped? A sensitive email? Student grades? Your credit card information?

Fortunately, you can ask MS Office to delete the cropped areas of your images, but you do have to ask. For each image. In, for example, a Word file, click on the image, select the Format tab, click the “Compress Pictures” icon. In the pop-up window, make sure the “Delete cropped areas of pictures” box is checked. Click Ok.


Why doesn’t MS Office automatically do this? I guess because they want to make it easy for you to restore the image back to the original in case you didn’t like your cropping job. Fair enough. But a warning somewhere that says that the part of your image that you can’t see is really still there in the background would be nice.


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Nov 172015
 

We want students to understand our course content, obviously. The better students know something, the better they can explain it using simple language.

Send your students to the Up-Goer Five Text Editor, and ask students to type in their explanation of that particular concept, such as poverty, classical conditioning, or Hamlet’s motivation.

Here I’ve pasted in the classical conditioning definition from Wikipedia. The words with a red underline are not included in the 1,000 most used words. Students need to edit their explanation so that all red-lined words are removed. If you’d like to grade it, have students send you a screenshot of their non-red-lined explanation.

Special thank you to Lynn Davey of DaveyStrategies.com for introducing me to this tool

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Sep 282015
 

Over the summer, Dropbox added a nifty new feature.

Save bookmarks from your web browser in any Dropbox folder.

Highlight the URL in your web browser, left click on the highlighted URL, and drag it into your chosen Dropbox folder. Notice that the file “type” is Internet Shortcut.

Like filenames, you can rename your URLs by right-clicking on the filename and selecting rename.

Yes, if you share a Dropbox folder (read/write privileges for your share-ees) or share a link to a Dropbox folder (read-only for your share-ees), the links are also shared.

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Jun 302015
 

I’ve written before about polling options like Socrative and Plickers. ParticiPoll is for those who like to have polls embedded in PowerPoint (works in Office 2010 or 2013; Windows only as of this writing) but don’t like the cumbersomeness or participant limitations of PollEverywhere.

During your presentation, your participants will use a designated URL to access the polling buttons through any web-enabled device they have, such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

With ParticiPoll, you download and install the PowerPoint add-in to your computer. If you don’t have the ability to add software to the computer you use in your classroom and your IT staff won’t install it, ParticiPoll provides a work-around that you need to do each time you want to use it.

When you sign up for a free ParticiPoll account, you will be asked to create the URL your participants will visit. I chose sfrantz, so the URL my participants use is sfrantz.participoll.com.

Since ParticiPoll is a PowerPoint add-in, everything you need to use it is in PowerPoint. Open your presentation and create your question just like you add any other content. In this case I used text boxes. With a question created, you’re ready to add the magic.

Select the ParticiPoll tab. Click “Insert Poll” to add the polling graph to the slide. You will be asked how many answer choices you want; you can have up to six (A-F). The graph will appear at the bottom right corner of the slide by default. You can change its location by selecting all of the graph elements and moving them wherever you’d like. ParticiPoll does not recommend resizing them though; unpredictable things can happen when the votes come in.

Click “Start Polling” to activate the poll.

Run your slideshow.

What your participants see when they visit your polling URL in their device’s web browser

All six answer options will appear as lettered, colorful buttons. The participant just taps or clicks on their answer choice. As long as the question is still open, participants can answer or change their answers.

In the free version, the participants will see ads at the bottom of their screens, although I only saw ads when voting with my mobile device not with my laptop.

Participants will also see a box that encourages them to “Ask the presenter something.” If you are using the free version, the box is there and participants can indeed submit something. However, free-version-account-holders can’t see what was written. You will get an email from ParticiPoll telling you that something was written, though, for what that is worth.

Showing the results

The graph at the bottom of your slide has a counter on the far right to tell you how many votes have been recorded.

 

When you are ready to reveal the results, advance your slide. Be patient! It can take a few seconds for the results to appear. The slower your internet connection, the more time it will take for the results to appear. When you advance your slide again, all of the results will disappear. Going back to the slide will reveal a reset poll, and your participants will have to re-vote.

How many poll questions and how many participants?

You can have as many poll questions as you would like. Since it’s essentially the same poll interface over and over again, it doesn’t matter to ParticiPoll how many questions you ask. The only limitation is that each poll question needs to be on its own PowerPoint slide.

The number of participants is also unlimited. This is welcome news for those of you with large classes.

What does the paid service get me?

ParticiPoll does have a referral program. After creating an account and logging in, visit their “refer” page to get your referral link. When 5 or more people register through your link, you get one year of the pro version for free. Each person who registered gets one month of the pro version free. [Full disclosure: All of the ParticiPoll links in this blog post are my referral link.]

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