Sue Frantz

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.


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.


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!

Dec 092013

While EasyBib isn’t the only citation service out there, it is the easiest to use. Enter the title of a journal article, URL, book title, book ISBN and EasyBib will kick out the reference – in MLA, APA, or Chicago style. Compile all of the references for a particular writing project in one place, and then when you’re ready ask EasyBib to produce the reference list. EasyBib is free to try, but if you want APA Style, and I do, EasyBib Pro is $19.99 a year. It’s a completely reasonable price for the time it saves me.

The similar services of CitationMachine, Mendeley, and Zotero are all worth a look. With CitationMachine, you manually enter the citation information yourself, and CitationMachine will format it for you. Mendeley is more of a PDF storage service. Drag and drop your PDF into Mendeley, and it will both store it and gather the file’s metadata into a citation for you. Strangely, Mendeley is awful with books; you need to enter the book information manually. Mendeley does fine creating citations for webpages, but it doesn’t save the page itself as a file in Mendeley. Zotero does. In fact, Zotero’s strength is in saving websites. I’ll let Zotero tell you about itself; take the video tour at the top of their quick start guide. Because Mendeley and Zotero are both saving sources, they have a steeper learning curve than EasyBib, whose primary function is citations.

EasyBib organizes your stuff by project; think of it like a folder. Here I’m working on my “Psych 100” project.

Let’s start in EasyBib’s wheelhouse: The bibliography tab. Click on the kind of resource you’d like to cite: Website, book, newspaper, journal, database, or one of 54 other options.

Web address

After selecting “APA” style as my preferred formatting choice, I pasted the URL of a recent blog post. EasyBib enters what it can, and then tells me what’s missing or might be incorrect in bright red. In this case, the article title capitalization is probably incorrect according to APA style, I’m missing the article’s author, and the date the article was published. I’m going to fix those entries and include the “date accessed” since I do periodically make minor revisions to old blog posts. Since I accessed that article today, I’ll just click “Today” to the right of that field. Near the bottom of the page are two buttons. Click “Annotation” to add, well, an annotation to this reference. “Website evaluation” is a handy tool for students. Clicking it produces a popup of helpful tips in evaluating the credibility of a website. When I’m satisfied with the content for this particular reference, I click the “Create Citation” button at the bottom of the page.

EasyBib gives me the citation at the top of the bibliography page and also adds it in the correct alphabetical spot in the bibliography. If you have dozens of references, click “see in list” to go directly to the reference in the bibliography. If you’re not happy with the citation, you can “edit citation” here. In the bibliography, you can add “Comments,” go directly to the website via “Link,” “Tag” the reference with keywords so you can see all the references you have related to a particular keyword, get the “parenthetical” citation, “edit,” or “delete” the citation.


For a book I can enter the title or, in this case, an ISBN.

When I click the green “Cite this” button, I see the book and click “Select.” That brings up the citation page.

I’m fine with the information that EasyBib has already entered, so I’ll click “Create Citation.” Here you can see that the citation has been added.


I can cite journal articles by entering the article title, the article’s DOI, or I can even search by keywords, and EasyBib will return whatever matches from their database. For this search I entered the article’s title.

EasyBib returns the citation I’m looking for, so I click “Select.” Here I see that the article title is not formatted correctly, so I need to fix that before click “Create Citation.”

Once I fixed the title capitalization, I clicked “Create Citation.”

Caution #1

You still need to know the basic citation rules for the style you’re working in. Just like you shouldn’t blindly follow your GPS, you can’t turn off your brain when using citation services. EasyBib does a pretty good job at sending up flares in the form of red text and red-lined boxes to let you know that you need to proceed cautiously, but it’s not perfect. Your brain still needs to be engaged.


If this is a project I’m working on with others, I can share it by one of three methods. I can email the completed bibliography to others (or myself).

I can invite others into my project by selecting “Invite others.”

With the invitation, I can decide what permissions level I want my invitees to have. They can just view my bibliography, they can edit it, or they can comment on it. If you want to use this with students, you can have your students create EasyBib accounts, create a “project” for your course, and then ask your students to grant you permission to comment on their sources. You can keep an eye on what they’re doing before they get themselves in too deep with inappropriate sources.

If you want to make your bibliography publicly available, select “Share public link” from the “Sharing” button menu. You will get a URL you can use however you’d like. If you use a learning management system, you can add the link there or embed the page, for example. Create a bibliography of optional or required readings. Every time you update the list in EasyBib, it will automatically update where your students are seeing it.

Export or print

When you’re done creating your bibliography, you have a number of options for getting it to your paper. These all work as you would expect. “Print as Word Doc,” for instance, automatically downloads an RTF file to your computer – and if it doesn’t download automatically, there’s a link that you can click to initiate the download.

This is what the download file looks like for “Print as Word Doc.” How cool is that?


Want to know where your sources are coming from? Click “Analyze.”

This data is from a larger project I’m working on. For each graph, you can mouse over each slice to see the key and percentages. If you’re students are using EasyBib, you can require that the students save this page as a pdf and submit it as part of the assignment.


The EasyBib mobile app scans book barcodes (or searches by book title) and creates the citation. Unfortunately the app doesn’t connect to my EasyBib account. To get the book citations to me in a usable form, I need to email them to myself. My guess (and hope) is that they’re working on some sort of app/account integration. On the plus side, the mobile app book barcode scanner is ridiculously fast.

Research tab

The citations you create in EasyBib can (and will) be used by EasyBib; the terms of service spell that out. That’s where the information in the “Research” tab comes from. Enter a search term and get the related citations.


Click on the “Notebook” tab to create an outline of your paper, including notes and their accompanying citations.

Double-click on the gray-ish workspace to create a new note. Enter a title of the note (in the screenshot above, the title is “Case Study 1”), use the source dropdown menu to select a source from your bibliography, add a direct quote or a paraphrase or a comment. Add a page number or some other more specific location for the citation.

Double-click in the outline window to add new levels to the outline. Drag and drop notes from the main workspace into the outline. Drag and drop outline elements or use the arrow keys to move the outline elements.

While EasyBib’s terms of service are clear on how they’ll use your citations, they’re not clear on how they’ll use your “Notebooks.” If you have concerns about that, I encourage you to contact EasyBib directly.

Caution #2

A web-based service is only as good as its up time. I was in the middle of working on this blog post when the service went down. In a disappointing move, in the 19 hours users couldn’t access their bibliographies, there was no communication via EasyBib’s Twitter feed or their blog about what was happening. Unlike college students I’m not going into finals week with a paper due, so accessing my references isn’t quite so pressing, but a cursory look at student comments on Twitter, the desperation was palpable. As of this writing, EasyBib has not, on Twitter or on their blog, offered an explanation as to what happened, so there’s no way to judge the likelihood of it happening again. If you have a time sensitive project, I recommend downloading your bibliography periodically as you get closer to your due date.

[Update 12/10/2013: EasyBib posted a message to their blog regarding the outage.]

EasyBib/IFTTT integration would be especially awesome. Every evening, EasyBib would automatically add my bibliographies to Dropbox. Cool, right?


Try it out. It’s an easy service to use. Even if it’s not for you, suggest it to your students.


Nov 192013

In 2011 I wrote about YouCanBook.Me (see this blog post), the very cool service that lets others schedule themselves into your calendar. YouCanBook.Me has business as its target audience, so many of its features are more than what the run-of-the-mill academic needs. Calendly has arrived on the scheduling scene with a manageable set of features in a user-friendly interface. Like YouCanBook.Me, Calendly will sync with your Google Calendar. Those who have been intimidated by YouCanBook.Me will find Calendly to be as approachable as a golden retriever puppy.

What Calendly looks like from the student’s perspective

A student goes to my Calendly calendar:

In step 1, students click on any of the 3 (customizable) meeting options. I selected “15 Minute Meeting” for this example.

In step 2, students see today’s date blocked in green. The available options show in blue. The student can navigate to a different week. While the time zone defaults to whatever time zone the student’s computer is set at, the student can select a different one.

A student clicking on the Friday AM option generates this popup where the student has chosen 9:00 am. The selection turns green, and the choice is noted at the bottom of the popup screen. The student clicks “Continue.”

In step 3, the student enters their name, email address, phone number, and answers an open-ended question. In the settings you’ll see below, the name, email address, and phone number are questions built in to the program. The open-ended question is optional and customizable.

Here are the responses for a sample student.

I apparently moonlight at a dog obedience school.

This is the confirmation screen. I like that students are able to add this appointment directly to their own calendar.

This is what’s generated when the student selects “Google.”

Regardless of whether the student adds the event to a calendar, the student gets an email with the pertinent meeting information as well as another opportunity to add the meeting to a calendar. And, like YouCanBook.Me, there is a link for canceling the meeting. If the student cancels, there will be a text box where the student can add a comment. The event will be removed from my Google Calendar and an email will be sent to me. [Correction: The event isn’t removed. “Canceled” is added to the front of the event name and the event is marked as “free” instead of “busy.”  I like this even better than having the event completely disappear.]

As the owner of the calendar, I also get an email about this appointment. The email gets sent to my gmail account since that’s the email account that was used to create the account. While I’d rather have Calendly notifications sent to my college email address, at this writing there is no mechanism to change it, however one of the developers tells me that they are working on adding that feature.

And, of course, the genius of the whole system is that it’s automatically added to my Google Calendar.

And here’s what the entry looks like. Pay particular attention to the note at the bottom: “Should you need to cancel the event, Calendly recommends you use the event cancellation feature in Calendly.” Later in this post I’ll return to why you would want to cancel this way and how to do it.

Setting up Calendly

When setting up your account, because Calendly uses your Google Calendar, you will be asked to give Calendly permission to connect to your Google account. Granting permission takes a couple of steps but it’s painless.

Next, fill in your time zone and your Calendly URL. This URL is what you’ll be giving to students.

The next couple screens tell you what to do once your account has been set up. You won’t do any actual configuration at this point.

No configuration here either.

Now you’re ready to go. You can skip the “copy URL” and “Send via e-mail” buttons. Until you do some customization, you’re not going to be ready for anyone to use your Calendly scheduler. Click “Finish.”

Synching with Google Calendar

Use the dropdown menu in the top right corner of your Calendly dashboard. (You can always get back to your dashboard by going to and clicking on “Go to Calendly dashboard” in the top right corner of the screen. Your dashboard is actually a calendar that shows all of your Calendly appointments and only your Calendly appointments. Even though my calendar is synched with my Google calendar, none of my other Google calendar appointments appear here. While Calendly does know my free and busy times from my Google Calendar, it doesn’t look like that here.

Let’s start by synching Calendly with Google Calendar. After selecting “Calendar sync” click the “Sync” button and tell Google that you’re giving Calendly permission to access your calendar.

Once Google knows you’re fine with Calendly, you’ll get this screen. On the left you can choose which of your Google calendars you want Calendly to check for free/busy times; choose as many as your like. On the right, tell Calendly which calendar you want your appointments to appear on. When done, click “Save changes.”

Customizing event types

From the dashboard dropdown menu, select “Event types.”

“Event type” is Calendly-speak for “appointment options.” They start you off with 3 options, but you can edit, delete, and add to your heart’s content.

After doing some editing, these are the options my students how have.

The color coding only appears in the dashboard because these are the colors that will be attached to these appointments in the Calendly dashboard. The color coding does not carry over to Google Calendar. And the color coding doesn’t carry over to the Calendly student view. The blue boxes that students appear in row order by length of meeting. They cannot be moved, although this would be a very desirable feature. Don’t be surprised if this functionality appears in a later version of the service.

In dashboard view, click “edit” for the “event type” you’d like to edit. Here are your options.

Clone/delete. Clone will copy the event exactly as is, and it will add “clone” to the event name. You can then change the name of the event and any other features you’d like to be different.

Event name/duration/event description. The event name will be the blue box that appears in the student view. Name it whatever you’d like, but it’s probably a good idea to keep the length of the appointment in there so students know from the beginning what kind of time commitment they’re making. In “Duration” choose how long you’d like this particular appointment to be. Your shortest option is 15 minutes; your longest is 12 hours(!). The optional event description is a subtitle that appears in the student view blue box. I used an event description in the “Test review” event.

Event URL. The event URL will default to something based on the event name. Here’s a nifty feature. If I’m sending out an email to my advisees reminding them that it’s time to make an appointment, I can just send them the advising appointment URL. That URL will take them directly to that event; my advisees won’t have to select from the array of boxes. By giving them the URL, I have effectively selected the “advising” box for them.

Event color. Choose the color you’d like for the event. But remember, color-coded events will only appear in the Calendly dashboard calendar and no where else.

Additional questions. If you toggle this to “Yes,” you’ll be able to enter your additional question. This question appears at the point of making the appointment when the student is entering their contact information.

Weekly recurring availability. Choose the days you’re accepting appointments. This could be different for each event type. Maybe you only want to accept advising appointments on Thursday and Friday mornings. For that event type only select Thursday and Friday mornings. This means that even though your Google Calendar shows you’re available at other times, anyone who selects the advising blue box will see that the only options are Thursday and Friday mornings. The “add interval” option is handy. If you always want to have 2pm to 3pm on Wednesdays set aside for nap time, you can either schedule into your Google Calendar showing that you’re busy at that time, or you can have your available times on Wednesday be 10am to 2pm and “add interval” for 3pm to 5pm. The in-between time of 2pm to 3pm on Wednesdays would be blanked out by Calendly.

In “Advanced settings”…

Max number of this event acceptable per day. If this is your advising event type and you can only handle advising no more than 4 students per day, then enter 4 in this box. While it’s an interesting feature, I’m not sure that I have a use for it.

Scheduling notice. Calendly defaults to 24 hours. This means that the earliest appointments available to students are 24 hours from the time they look at your Calendly page. I generally prefer 12 hours, but again, this can be customized for each event type. Perhaps for test reviews, you need 24 hours advance notice but for advising, you may only need 12 hours advance notice. Choose when those appointments can be made. One term I did a “meet and greet” for extra credit. If students made an appointment and came by my office within the first two weeks of the term, it was worth a couple points extra credit (out of the 1,000 points in the course). I could create an event type where I set the from/till dates for the first two weeks of the term. After the two weeks passed, I could go into this event and switch “Public” from yes to no, making it invisible – until the next term when I can flip the switch to yes to make it publicly visible again.

Buffer. The buffer option is nice if you need time to prepare before an appointment or, say, make notes after an appointment. If I had a 10-minute buffer before an advising appointment and a 15-minute afterwards, anyone setting an advising appointment for 10am to 11am would also block off 9:50am to 10am and 11am to 11:15am on my calendar ensuring that no one else could schedule during those times.

Decide what kind of “event types” you want, and then customize each to meet your needs.

How to cancel a meeting

You’ve set up Calendly, given the URL to your students (or a particular event URL to a particular group of students), and students are making appointments. All is working according to plan. And then your Dean requests a meeting with you – completely bypassing your Calendly calendar, something about a pay raise – at a time you’re scheduled to meet with a student. Go to your Calendly dashboard. Click on the appointment in question. At the very bottom of the popup screen click “Cancel.” A textbox will open giving you the option to add a note to the student. Click “Cancel event.” The event will still appear on your Calendly calendar, but the text will have a line drawn through it. (What’s the past tense of strikethrough? Struckthrough?)

The event will be deleted from your Google Calendar. And the student will receive an email. [Correction: Again, not deleted. “Canceled” is added to the front of the event name, and the event is marked as free.]


If you had the time to read this blog post, you have the time to set up a Calendly appointment calendar. Once you have your calendar set up, in the comments section I’d love to hear the event types you’ve created and any special settings you have for them. If you’re a YouCanBook.Me user and have decided to try Calendly, what Calendly features were the most persuasive in influencing your decision?

Nov 172013

I’ve written before about Join.Me for communicating with others while sharing your computer screen. (See the most recent post.) But let’s say that you don’t want to share your screen. You just want to have a conference call (maybe join via your computer or by phone), see who is speaking during the call, and maybe even share some files. And maybe you have some people who will be on the call who haven’t bothered with downloading Skype or figuring out Google Hangouts. Like Join.Me, Speek just needs users who can follow a link. is one of the newest kids on the audio communication block. Give your Speek URL to your conference call participants (in the free version up to 5 people can join a call including you), and Speek will give them three options for connecting to your call. Only the person originating the call needs to have a Speek account.

When you create your free account, the username you choose will be your Speek URL. Visiting that URL brings up the connect page. Before you connect, be sure to log in to Speek. This will give you administrative privileges on the call. More on those below. Your conference call participants will see the same screen when they visit the page. Connect to the call by using the mic/headphone on your computer, have Speek call your phone, or you can call in to the Speek number then enter a PIN. Your participants can choose any of the three methods as well.

Once connected, you’ll see everyone on the call. Here it’s me and my guest where my guest was actually me calling in on another device. At the bottom of the screen are a set of tabs. The “Conference” tab shows who is on the call, who is currently talking (outlined in green), and the percent of time each person has spoken displayed under each avatar. I don’t know that this last feature actually keeps certain problematic people from dominating the call, but for those who don’t wish to dominate, it’s useful feedback.

If you mouse over one of your conference call participants, you will see the options to mute them or remove them from the call altogether. How’s that for power?

To mute yourself, click the speaker icon in the top right corner of the screen. This is an essential tool for when the postal carrier comes and your dogs go bananas – hypothetically speaking.

Click the “Files” tab to share files with the others on the call. Drag and drop a file from a folder onto the gray box on the right side of the screen. Or you can click “file browser” to navigate to the file you want to upload. Participants who are connected to the call by something other than a phone can click on the filename to download it. The only people who can see the files are the people who are currently on the call. If someone arrives late, they won’t be able to see the already-uploaded files. I see the “link your accounts” option, but I’m not sure what benefit that serves when you can just drag and drop. Maybe it makes sense if I’m using a computer that is not mine. I could access my files directly through, say,

Click on the “Comments” tab to, well, add comments. This is a useful space to take notes or put together a to-do list for each conference call participant.

Have someone else you want to add to the call? Click the person icon in the top right corner, and enter the person’s phone number. Speek will give them a call. When they answer, they will hear, “Welcome to Speek,” and then they will be connected to your conference call. Since there isn’t much information for them to go on, you either need to speak very quickly once they’re connected or drop them an email or text message to let them know that Speek will be calling on your behalf.

After the call is over

You’ll be given the option to name your call. It’s not a requirement, but it may make it easier for you later.

Click on “Hey <your name>” in the top right corner to access your Speek dashboard. You will see a summary of your Speek usage for the last 30 days, which you can change to a different time period. Click on the “Call History” tab. On the left are the calls for the last week. The ones with paperclips have files that were uploaded during the call. If I click on a call, I see the name of the call (“Blog Post Test Run”), call begin/end (total time), who the participants were along with their participation time percentage (minutes) – if Speek has their contact information, it’s provided to the right of the name (phone number and Twitter handle, in this case), the files that were shared which can be downloaded again by clicking on them, and the comments that were made in the comment pane during the call.

If someone joins your Speek conference call when you’re not on, their call will also appear in your call history.


Aside from the obvious uses for collaborators or committees working at a distance, I could see where someone might want this when, say, advising students over the phone. Share files and make notes as you talk. If you’re hyperconscious about documentation, Speek is certainly the tool for you. If you want to be notified by text message when someone joins your Speek conference call when you’re not already on the call, go into your dashboard ( click on “Hey <your name>” in the top right corner), and select the profile tab. Under “SMS notification” select the number you want to use for texts.

Mobile app

There is an app for Android, iOS, and Windows phones. Interestingly the Android app is compatible with my Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, but not my Samsung Nexus tablet. While I could connect to the call through my tablet’s web browser, the mic worked fine, but I couldn’t hear anything. I did just try one web browser though; I may have better luck with a different one. You’re probably better off with the app.

Pro version

For $10/month or $100/year, you can have an unlimited number of participants on your call. And you can have Speek audio record your conference call. Speek’s page (updated August, 2013) that describes the difference between the basic and pro accounts says that the pro account grants file sharing and commenting. The basic account, as of this writing anyway, includes those features.

If you would like to try a free month of Speek Pro, you just need to convince 3 people to join. On the dashboard page, on the far right you’ll see the offer. Click on one of the avatars to get to the sharing options page.


Ready to give Speek a try?

Nov 162013

Want to receive text messages on all of your web-enabled devices? If you have an Android phone, install ZipWhip (free) on your smartphone, laptop, desktop, and Android tablet. Any time you get a text message, the message will appear on all of your devices. When I’m working at my computer, like now, my phone is who-knows-where. But when a text message comes in, I will get a pop-up on my computer screen showing me the text. It doesn’t matter on which device I read the text, ZipWhip will mark it read on all of my other devices. I can even reply from my computer. It is much easier to type a message on a full keyboard than it is on my phone’s keyboard. For new text messages, I can send them now or schedule them to go out at some future time. ZipWhip will tell me when I have a call coming in on my phone and the number that’s calling. If it’s from a number that’s in my contacts, ZipWhip will tell me who it is.

If you connect to the internet when you fly, you can receive and send text messages via ZipWhip. Gogo is launching a “Talk & Text” app for both iPhone and Android devices that will allow you to send and receive texts and phone calls although it’s unlikely that the talking half of the service will exist on U.S. domestic flights. I certainly don’t want that – not because I don’t want to talk to my wife, but because I don’t want to listen to you talk to yours – the support that I can give to your relationship has limits. The pricing on this app is still a mystery as of this writing, but it probably won’t be free. If you’re buying internet access for your laptop or tablet anyway, might as well text using ZipWhip.

How it works

After installing ZipWhip and launching the application, the ZipWhip webapp will open in your web browser. The interface is ridiculously easy to navigate. On the left are the numbers from which I have received texts or phone calls. On the right are the text messages/phone calls I’ve received or dialed. If I want to reply to a text, I mouse over the text, which I have done with the second text, and click “Reply.” Clicking the arrow will let me forward it. The trash can will delete it. Since ZipWhip synchronizes with my phone, anything I delete here will also be deleted on my phone.

Click “New Text” to send a new text. Click the down area to the right of “New Text” to access the scheduling option.

Arriving text

Text messages appear in a bright orange box in the top right corner of my computer screen, and then slowly fade.

Privacy mode

If you don’t want messages appearing on your screen because you’re presenting in class from your personal laptop – or perhaps you are giving a talk on technology to a large group of workshop participants, right-click on the orange ZipWhip “Z” icon in your system tray (bottom right corner of your computer screen). Click on “Privacy Mode.” The orange “Z” icon in your system tray will turn half gray and half orange, making it easy for you to confirm that no embarrassing text messages will appear unbidden.


Back on the ZipWhip webpage, click “ZipWhip” in the top left corner of the screen and select “Settings.” In the popup window, click the messaging tab.

My new-message volume is set to zero. The bright orange box is enough notification for me; I don’t need sound, too. I don’t include a signature with my text messages; I type everything I want to say.


Not bad for free, right? Now, if you’re willing to pony up $19.95 per month, you can receive text messages sent to your landline. Students could text you at your office phone number; their texts would appear on your computer screen and all of the rest of your connected devices. If you like that idea and are willing to put a little effort into setting it up, check out, a free text messaging service (see this blog post).

Nov 132013

EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) conducts an annual survey of undergraduate students regarding their use of technology. Read more about the 2013 study. In this post I give some commentary on the data presented by Eden Dahlstrom, Director of Research at EDUCAUSE, in her 11/12/2013 webinar. Want to watch the very well-done, hour-long webinar? Watch it here. Want to just see the slides? They are here. In 2014 EDUCAUSE will include a faculty study. Want to participate?

The slides are ECAR’s; the commentary is mine.

Here’s the survey methodology for the 2013 student survey.

Students see the value of technology, although only 61% perceive it as helping them “prepare for the workplace.” Is this because students don’t know what technology is being used in the workplace? Or even what their future workplace will look like?

Two-thirds of students that we, as faculty, “have adequate technology skills,” “use technology effectively,” and “use the right kinds of technology.” What do the other 1/3 think we should be doing? But what’s most fascinating is that only 52% think we “have adequate technology training.” What are those 52% of students seeing that make them think that? Are we fumbling too much with the classroom computer? Are we being compared to their instructors who are early adopters of technology?

Even though half of our students don’t think we’re adequately trained, more than 2/3 want us to train them in the use of technology. I’m not entirely sure what to make of these data. It sounds like 60% or so of students would like to have a technology module added to their face-to-face content courses.

The student/technology landscape changed considerably between 2010 and 2013. Course/learning management system (CMS/LMS) use jumped from around 73% in 2011 to about 97% in 2012. Interestingly, that number dropped to 91% in 2013. This could just be sampling error. Or it could be a reflection of an actual drop in the number of faculty using a CMS/LMS. Anecdotally, I have been hearing from more and more faculty who are interested in developing their own websites. Partly it’s driven by wanting to make content available to students before/after the course is over, partly it’s driven by a frustration of updates to their institution’s CMS/LMS or movement to an entirely different CMS/LMS platform, necessitating a boat-load of work on the part of the faculty to port their courses.

Less surprisingly we see big jumps in the use of web-based citation tools and e-books. For those who aren’t familiar with those web-based citation tools, look for an upcoming blog post on that topic.

This was the first year for the open education resources and simulations or educational games options. I’m curious to track those responses in future surveys.

CMS/LMS use is high, although about half of us are not using their full potential.

And 2/3 of students think we should use them more. I’m not sure what features students would like us to use, though. This is an opportunity to check in with your own students. If you aren’t using a CMS/LMS, would your students like you to? If so, why? If you are using a CMS/LMS, do your students want you to “use it more”? If so, what would they like?

Students overwhelmingly prefer print books over digital. If they have to go digital, they prefer to read on a desktop/laptop. David Daniel, psychologist at James Madison University, has data on the difference between reading a textbook in print versus reading a digital version; it takes students longer to read a digital version. I’m not all surprised that reading a textbook on a smartphone came in last – tiny print and frequent page turns. If you increase the size of the print, you have to turn the page even more frequently.

Almost 75% of students say they “studied differently with e-textbook than paper textbook.” Given the number of students who prefer print textbooks, “differently” was evidently in a less desirable direction.

Students aren’t impressed with the “features” that may be packaged with e-books. Largely if they’re using e-books it’s because they’re less expensive. David Daniel has also found taht those “features” in e-books serve as a distraction. If I’m reading, I want to read the narrative. I don’t want to stop mid-paragraph to click on a link to a video or mouse over a word for a definition. If I do that, I lose the thread. I recently read “The Telling Room” where the author made liberal use of footnotes. He used them purposefully as a distraction from the main text, and that they were. I finally got to the point where I skipped the footnotes until I had finished a chapter.

A big deal has been made of “digital natives.” If you’re a follower of this blog, you know my thoughts on this already. People know what they know. Younger students are masters at texting and downloading music. That does not mean that they know how to leverage technology to help them learn.

Students perform better in hybrid courses compared to online or face-to-face courses. See South Texas College, for example. You can find additional references in this 2004 Academic Quarterly article.

MOOCs are a tiny piece of the puzzle. While the number of students taking a course completely online may increase, I don’t anticipate MOOCs having too much impact on undergraduate education. Who are taking MOOCs? People who already have degrees or people living outside the U.S. Read more here.

To paraphrase one participant in the webinar, do institutions have strategies for “badging competency-based learning”? I would add, how many institutions have a “MOOC strategy”? The sense I get is that most are in a wait-and-see mode while letting others venture out into that particularly murky mess. San Jose State decided to try MOOCs for their remedial math courses. Those of us in community colleges weren’t surprised at the results. “In January [2013], San Jose State announced plans to offer three online math courses in the spring semester through the Udacity platform, which students could take for just $150 each and receive credit for if completed. However, pass rates for the courses turned out to be worse than for students who took the comparable courses on campus.” (See full article here.)

Students are ready to use more technology in their courses. Do faculty know how to make use of those technologies?

I’m not surprised at the increase in the number of students who have smartphones. The increase in the number of desktops does surprise me, though. I’m not sure why it should. After years of being desktop-free, we recently bought a desktop for my wife’s office. (Shout out to Puget Systems who custom-built it.) Desktops have a lot of power for a lot less cost. With cloud-based email and file storage, the need to have a laptop as one’s primary computer is behind us.

Students seem pretty comfortable mixing and matching operating systems. Laptops and desktops are Windows, tablets are iOS, and smartphones lean toward iPhone, but Android has a healthy share of the market.

The checkmarked items are ones institutions can help with. With better campus wi-fi we eliminate “slow network,” “cost of data service,” and “limited network access.” While we can’t improve battery life, we can go the route of airports, and make more outlets available. One person in the webinar said that his institution’s library has installed charging stations.

What are you and your institution doing to make use of student-owned technology?

I am surprised that students aren’t using technology to connect more with other students. What can we as faculty do to foster greater communication among and between students?

I can’t blame students here. I also prefer to keep my social and academic lives separate.

These graphs seem to be largely a lesson in normal distributions. The early alerts graphs skew more toward desiring these resources, though.

Students want more face-to-face interaction, more email, and greater use of the CMS/LMS. The presenter noted that in focus groups students said they like email for documentation. “You said I could turn this in late. Here’s the email you sent me.” Or “I turned in that assignment before the due date. Here’s the email I sent with the assignment attached.”


There is a lot to think about in this data. In the comments, please add your reactions to the survey results. Are you going to do anything differently with your students?





Nov 062013

Free webinar.

November 12, 2013 at 1pm ET (10am PT).

The EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) conducts an annual study about undergraduates’ technology experiences and expectations in higher education. The results of this study provide a unique look at students’ perceptions about technology use, trends, challenges, and opportunities in higher education. In 2013 ECAR partnered with 251 institutions and surveyed more than 112,000 undergraduates about their technology perspectives. Join us for this webinar to learn what students say about their technology experiences and hear ECAR’s plans to expand this work to include faculty perspectives. Participate in polls and backchannel discussions to inform ECAR about what matters most to you and your institution regarding research about technology in the academic community.”

I blogged live from this webinar in 2011 if you’re interested in seeing the kind of information they present.

I hope to see you at the webinar! Register here.

If you can’t make it, I don’t know that I’ll blog live or just hit the highlights afterward, but you’ll be able to read more about their findings here.

Oct 152013

If you are going to hand your laptop to a prostitute as collateral while you visit an ATM, might I suggest that you use a service like FolderLock to secure the personal health information of the 652 clients you have stored on said laptop?

This was the news story I was reading this morning that immediately preceded me choking on my toast.

The woman of ill-repute thought the laptop more valuable than the forthcoming cash, so she pawned the laptop. Now, I doubt that anyone who had their mitts on the laptop really cared about the healthcare records, but I still wouldn’t want to be the owner of the laptop – or one of the people whose healthcare records were compromised. Or the prostitute, for that matter.

While I hope that most of us would not use our laptops filled with private student data, such as grades and assignments, as collateral for, well, any activity really, legal or illegal, having a laptop stolen is a real possibility. If it’s portable, it can walk away.

This might be a good time to review the FolderLock post and get your sensitive student information locked up.

Laptop cable lock

Now is also a good time to get a laptop cable lock to physically secure your computer if you don’t already have one. Granted, a cable lock wouldn’t have been much help in this circumstance since he voluntarily surrendered his laptop. But work with me. I’m trying to provide some new information here.

You’re at the coffee shop grading papers. You need to make a run to the restroom. Do you pack up your laptop and take it with you? Do you let it sit there unguarded? Perhaps you ask a stranger (!) to look after it? My recommendation? Use a cable lock.

On your laptop is a little slot built just for cable locks. The location varies from computer to computer. On my Fujitsu, it’s on the back corner. If you look carefully, you’ll see the lock icon to the left of the slot.

Take the lock end of the cable and wrap it through an open slat in a table or a chair. I also wrap mine through a handle on my laptop bag. Next, send the lock end through the loop at the other end of the cable. Now, attach the lock to the computer. If it’s a combination lock, enter the correct digits, then press the button on the lock. That will cause the tabs at the end of the lock to come together. Slip the compressed tabs into the lock slot on your computer. Let go of the button, and give the numbers on the combination lock a twirl. That’s it.

Of course this isn’t exactly high-tech security. Bolt cutters would slice through the cable in no time, but someone walking around a coffee shop with bolt cutters would certainly draw the attention of the other patrons.

Here’s a video of how to use one of Kensington’s newer models, the “Click Safe.” This video shows a keyed lock, but you can also get it as a combination lock. Mostly I just wanted to show you how to use any locking cable, regardless of the actual locking mechanism.

Oct 152013

You are working with a student or a colleague. You are both standing in front of a whiteboard drawing, writing, and discussing your topic. But how do you do this online if you and your collaborator are not in the same physical location? I love for screensharing, but it’s not very useful if you want to draw something – unless of course you have some type of drawing program on your computer, like EpicPen.

Try Scribblar if you’re looking to share a whiteboard, in real time.

After setting up a free account (maximum of one room and only two users per room; see plans and pricing for more information), create your first room. You can play on the whiteboard without anyone else in the room, but to get a true feel for it, invite a friend by copying the URL for the whiteboard and emailing it to them.

The drawing tools

The menu to the right of the whiteboard provides the drawing tools. In Scribblar, mouse over each icon to see the popup descriptor.

Selector (arrow): Once you’ve written or typed on the board, click on this icon, and then click and drag on the whiteboard to select the elements you’d like. Dragging over any portion of an element will select the whole thing. If it’s a drawn image, you can click and drag to move it. Selected elements can be deleted with your keyboard’s delete key.

Pencil: This is the basic, freehand drawing tool. You can change the color and thickness.

Smooth pencil: You can change the color of this tool, but not the thickness of the line. It does appear to render a smoother line than the regular pencil.

Text (the “A” icon): For those who’d rather type than draw.

Shapes (straight line, square, circle, triangle, polygon, wedge). Select, then click and drag to set the size. Each shape element has its own features. The wedge, for example, includes a slider that lets you determine how much of a wedge you want to show, from 1 degree to 360 degrees. The straight line tool has options for adding arrows to one or both ends of the line. Change the fill color, line color, or both.

Highlighter: It works just like a highlighter. Change the color and the width.

Stamp: This tool comes with 6 premade stamps: Star, arrow, diamond, trademark symbol, registered trademark symbol, and copyright symbol.


The editing tools

The menu along the top of the whiteboard space provides the editing tools. Like the drawing tools, mouse over each icon to see the popup description.

Cut, copy, paste, undo, redo, delete, flip horizontally, flip vertically, lock the page to editing, unlock the page, clear the page, clear all the pages (how to add pages is explained below), take a snapshot of the whiteboard (your best option for saving what you produced), pointer (for, well, pointing – if you’re pointing, no other whiteboard tools will work for you. Click the icon again to toggle it off.), make the background a grid, equation editor, Wolfram/Alpha (for those with a paid plan), and change the whiteboard to a color other than white.

Adding new boards

In the lower left corner of the whiteboard, you can add new whiteboard pages to your room. Just click the right arrow, and a new page will appear. To switch back to the first page, click the left arrow or click the dropdown menu and navigate to the page you want.

If there is a way to delete a page once you have created it, I haven’t found it. If you erase an entire page, the page will still be listed here; it won’t be deleted. You can always delete the entire room and start over.

Audio, chat, and files

To the right of the whiteboard is the list of participants. The icons to the right of each participant’s name let you determine what kind of control that person has. Click the pencil, chat bubble, and microphone to toggle those off. If you’re the “admin” for the room, you cannot turn these off for yourself. The chat window is directly below the participant window. Above the participant window is the microphone. Click it on to talk.

The “assets” tab icons give you the power to upload an image, import a snapshot of a webpage, add a Flickr image, set a selected image as a background to your whiteboard page, download the selected image, delete the selected image, and refresh the “assets” window. If you want to just add the image to your whiteboard screen, click and drag it from the “assets” window to your whiteboard page.

Embed code

Want to embed your whiteboard room in a webpage? In the top right corner of the Scribblar whiteboard screen, click the little arrow next to “Room Options” and select “Embed this room.” A popup screen will give you the html code.


Scribblar is built on Flash, so it won’t work on many mobile devices.

Scribblar only allows for audio communication, not video. If you want video, use Skype or some other video communication service.

No screensharing. Scribblar is only about sharing this particular program; you cannot share your entire desktop. For that, consider or Google Hangouts.

Caution: If you create a room, and then don’t visit it for 60 days, Scribblar will delete your room. If that’s a concern for you, use a service like to remind yourself to visit your room every 59 days.


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