Sue Frantz

Nov 232012

Like having different wallpapers for your desktop? I have 110 different images that change every 15 minutes on both my work and personal laptops. (You’re right. This has nothing to do with teaching. But it is fun.)

Here’s one.

How to do it

Create an account at Desktoppr. During the registration process give Desktoppr permission to access your account. (Don’t have a Dropbox account yet? Sign up here.) Desktoppr will add an “Apps” folder to Dropbox if you don’t already have one. Inside of that folder it will add another folder called “Desktoppr” where it will sync the wallpapers you select.

I filter by “most downloaded first”. For the wallpapers you want displayed on your computer, click the cloud icon under the image. Here you can see that the wallpapers with white clouds are ones I’ve chosen.

The images you select will automatically be downloaded, via Dropbox, to your computer.

Displaying the wallpapers

Now that the images are on your computer, you need to tell your computer where those images are and to display them as wallpaper.

In Windows 7, right click on your desktop and at the bottom of the menu, select “Personalize”. Alternatively, go to Control Panel – > Personalization. (Mac users, see instructions here. I’m guessing that step 4 is where you’d choose the Desktoppr folder.)

At the bottom of the screen, select “Desktop Background”.

Click “browse”. Navigate to your Dropbox folder -> Apps -> Desktoppr. Next, decide how often you’d like the wallpaper image to change.

Changing wallpaper manually

While I have my wallpapers set to change every 15 minutes, I might not be in the mood for the one that is currently displaying. When I right-click on my desktop, I get this pop-up menu. About 2/3 of the way down, I can click on “Next desktop background” to cycle to the next one in the queue.

Deleting wallpapers

Go into your Desktoppr folder in Dropbox and delete the wallpapers you don’t want.

Adding wallpapers to Desktoppr

If you’d like to make your own images (where you own the copyright) available to other Desktoppr users, save your images in your Dropbox -> Apps -> Desktoppr folder. That’s it. If you decide you don’t want everyone to be able to use them, you will need to contact the good folks at Desktoppr and make that request.

Nov 222012

Since I wrote about in February 2011, the developers have added some new features. For those who missed that post, is a desktop sharing application. Run, and the program generates a URL. Share that URL with whomever you’d like, and they will see your computer’s desktop in their web browser.

In the free version of, you use your computer’s microphone to talk with those who are seeing your desktop.  To listen, use headphones, not your computer’s speakers. If you use your speakers, it will sound okay to you, but the others who are participating will hear an echo of their voices. The sound from your speakers is picked up by your microphone so anyone who is speaking will hear their voice through their headphones. If you want conference calling over the phone, sign up for Pro. Or use Or

Multiple monitor support

The center icon in the toolbar has been changed from a pause button to a monitor. Clicking on it still pauses your screen. Let’s say you want to do something on your screen without everyone seeing it, pause freezes your screen for everyone who is watching, but you still retain full control.

Clicking the down arrow under the monitor icon is magical if you are running dual monitors. Click on “Switch screen”. An orange outline will appear around your screen to show that you are currently sharing, say, monitor 1. Mouse over to your second monitor, and the orange outline will move with you. Click anywhere on that screen to share it. Repeat the process to move back to monitor 1. Okay, maybe it’s not magical, but it is pretty cool.

Mobile app (Android/iOS)

Visit Google Play/App Store, to add the free app to your smartphone or tablet. Run the app, and enter the 9-digit code (hyphens are added automatically). If you view someone’s screen from the app, you join the audio as a conference call via a phone number and access code (pro version is not required). The other limitation is that you do not have the option to control the computer screen you’re viewing. You can only look, not touch.

Teaching tip

I have an engineering colleague who teaches in a computer classroom where each student station has dual monitors. During class, the professor runs, and his students watch his screen in the web browser via on one monitor while they do the same steps on the other monitor.

How are you using

Oct 282012

Last week I was at the Clickers 2012 Conference where there was much discussion about whether faculty are okay with students using web-enabled devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc.) during class.

I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, that many faculty ban their use outright. The emotion around this issue runs high. Ask your colleagues “what’s your policy regarding cellphones in class?” Watch how quickly they heat up. At this conference, one person noted that his colleague kicks students out of class if they are spotted using a smartphone.

I have never been a big fan of abstinence-only education; I believe in teaching safe tech.

The psychological literature is rife with studies demonstrating the general ineffectiveness of punishment. Punishment generally doesn’t stop the behavior. We just get better at avoiding punishment. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? Did it stop you from speeding? Of course not. You just got better at not getting caught. You slow down through that section of highway since you know that’s where police are likely to hide, speeding up as soon as you’re past it. Perhaps you’re also more vigilant for police. There is an exception. Punishment can be effective if it is severe enough. If police could shoot you on the spot for speeding, it’s unlikely that you’d ever speed. But who wants to live in that society?

Yes, students have been chastised in the past for using smartphones in class or using laptops to do “unauthorized” things, like viewing Facebook. Have students stopped? Of course not. They have, however, gotten much better at not getting caught. Ask your students to anonymously report whether they have, in the last week, used their web-enabled devices to access content that is unrelated to your course during your course. The (high) numbers might surprise you.

At the same time, the research on multitasking is clear. Our attention can really only be in one place at a time. While we can switch back and forth quickly, we lose information during the switch. If you want to get some serious work done, close your email program. When you switch from that work to your email and then back to your work, it takes some time to regain your train of thought. An hour spent on task and an hour spent on email is much better than switching back and forth every few minutes. If you do the latter, it’s going to take you much longer than two hours to do the same work.

Students need to understand this, because our mobile technology is not going away. Even if an instructor implements harsh penalties for unauthorized tech use during class with classroom sentinels to monitor behavior, that will not impact what the students do in other courses or, after graduation, on the job.

Some of you remember when the internet was born. During its early childhood, we tried to help students manage the information they were accessing. Students were advised that .com websites should be viewed much more cautiously than .org websites. That advice seems quaint now. Over time we have morphed into teaching a more complex “information literacy.”

“Technological literacy” is in its infancy. The question should not be whether to allow students to use technology during class. Rather we should be asking, “What should we be doing to help students understand not only how to use technology, but also how to use it appropriately?”

I talk with my students about the multitasking literature. Most students know that when they are paying attention to something other than me, they’re not paying attention to me. I give the example of trying to talk on the phone while watching TV. You either lose track of what’s happening on the TV, or you lose track of what the person on the phone is saying. The classroom is no different.

To really drive the point home, I show this one-minute video (watch the video below). (If you want to read more about this concept, it’s called “inattentional blindness”; also see “change blindness”.)

We also need to help students learn how to stay focused, to resist being distracted. For example, explain the value of “deep processing”. When students take notes on a laptop, they are more likely to try to transcribe what the instructor is saying rather than “process” it into their own words. That’s akin to reading without thinking about what is being read. Suggest that students work to connect what they are learning to what they already know or what they are learning in their other courses.

It’s easy to blame technology for a student’s lack of attention. It’s hard for an instructor to compete with everything that’s on the internet, an internet that a student holds in the palm of their hand. And we can see that student holding that phone so it feels actionable. If I tell the student to put away the phone the student will then pay attention to me. Keep in mind that those of us who were students before the internet found plenty of ways to be distracted during class. While instructors want students to pay attention during class, we’ll settle for having students who look like they’re paying attention?

Or we could help students understand the impact of distraction on their learning, and help them learn what they need to do to maintain focus.

Oct 242012

I visit a lot of faculty offices and view a lot of computer desktops. If you pretty much only see your computer screen(s), check out this NPR story on a photographer whose chosen subject is the computer desktop. Do you use your desktop as a dumping ground for anything and everything new? Or do you only use if for what you are currently working on? Do you store files and folders there, or just program icons? Do you wish you had multiple screens, like your smartphone does?

I recently started using Fences (30-day free trial; $9.99) [for Windows; Mac users try Desktop Groups] . I should have moved to it when it first came out a couple years ago. Fences creates folders for your desktop.

When it first runs, Fences defaults to corralling your icons into 3 fences: Folders, programs, and files & documents. In the screenshot above, you can see I have the original 3 fence types and 2 new ones I created.

Create a new fence by clicking on an empty space and dragging the cursor. You’re given the option to “Create Fence here” or “Create Folder Portal here.” In this case I created new fences. One holds the program icons for 3 clicker programs; I don’t use them all, but I will be demonstrating them soon for a conference presentation, so I wanted the icons where I could easily get at them. The other one I created for my Psych 100 course. I put in shortcuts to the PowerPoint files I’ll be using in my upcoming class sessions.

If you want to move icons to a different fence or out of a fence, just click and drag.

A folder portal is a quick method for displaying an existing folder on your desktop. It is just a series of shortcuts to the documents in that folder. This is a very handy feature if you’re working on a project that has you frequently dipping into one particular folder.

Multiple screens.

All of your fences don’t fit on one screen, or perhaps you just don’t want to see certain fences all the time. Click the very right edge of your desktop and drag left (or click left and drag right) to get a clean screen. Just like your smartphone. To move an existing fence to the new screen, click the top of the fence and drag it to the edge, and just like your phone, the fence moves to the new screen.

Now that you’re organized.

Don’t let your desktop fall back into chaos. Create a new fence, and click the settings menu in the top left corner. Mouse over “Organize.” Decide if you want to send all new desktop stuff into this fence, or only certain content.

For the completely clutter-free desktop.

If you want an ultraclean workspace, double-click any empty space on the screen, and the fences and their icons will disappear. Double-click again to make them reappear. You can exclude any fence from “quick-hide” by going to that fence’s settings menu, and under “View,” selecting “Exclude this Fence from quick-hide.”

While we’re here on the view tab, notice that you can change how visible the fences are. Anything less than 100% makes them appear ghosty on the screen. Mousing over them makes them completely visible. In the screenshot below, the top fence is 100% visible. The bottom fence is set to 40%.

Further customization.

Fences adds itself to your control panel. Access it there or from your Start menu to make Fences work exactly as you would like. For example, change the color of the fences and fence titles. Change their degree of transparency. You can even see snapshots of your screen (taken daily) and restore to that earlier layout.

Ready to organize your desktop?

We really should also have a conversation about your email…

Oct 012012 is a new, free, web-based clicker system. After uploading a pdf, students can see the pdf on their web-enabled devices. Students tap (mobile) or click (computers) on the screen to vote.

This is what it looks like for a typical multiple choice question.

On this question, I asked, “Which scatterplot represents a positive correlation?”

Setting it up.

After creating an account on the website, I need to upload some pdfs. The developers suggest saving PowerPoints as pdfs and just using to do the presentation. I have two problems with that. 1.) I use animations. Rather than have 7 slides, I gradually click through to reveal content on one slide. When converted to pdf, all of the content appears on one slide. There’s no way to reveal as I go. That turned out to be a pretty solvable problem. PPTSpliT is a PowerPoint add-in that will, well, split all the slides that have animations into their own individual slides. After the split, save the PowerPoint to a new file, and then save the file as a pdf. 2.) The second problem was more of an issue. My PowerPoints contain hyperlinks. Plus I like PowerPoint’s presenter view which allows me to see my notes and easily jump to other slides. (See this blog post for more about presenter view.) That all is lost in a pdf.

For now, I have pulled the slides I’d like my students to click on into their own PowerPoint files and saved them as pdfs. I’ll use PowerPoint as I normally do, and then switch to my web browser for the interactive content. makes it easy to upload files. After logging into my account, I just drag my pdf into the “drop zone.”

Running it in class.

All of my uploaded files appear like this. I just hit the play button (bottom, right) when I’m ready to run it in class. I run my PowerPoint slides, then hit ALT-TAB (on my PC keyboard) to switch to my browser. I press ALT-TAB again to return to my PowerPoint presentation.

This is what appears in my browser window. Students go to If they are on a mobile device, they’ll be immediately prompted to enter the access code, the six letters prominently displayed at the top of the page; JNZNAF, in this case. On a computer, students need to click on a tab labeled “Slideshow” in order to enter the code.

This is what it looks like on mobile devices. The blue dot is where a student has tapped. Notice the different access code. Every time runs, a different access code is generated.

To show student responses, I tap on the eye icon at the top of the browser window. This also locks student responses.

When I’m ready to move on to the next slide, I can click on the arrow keys at the top of the browser window, press enter on the keyboard, or use the keyboard arrow keys.

After class.

If I’d like to revisit student responses after class, say, for assessment purposes, I can go back to the main screen, and for the pdf I’m interested in, click on the people icon. automatically created these files; I didn’t need to save anything when I was done with my presentation.

This will show me the dates and times I’ve run the pdf. Clicking on the double-square icon allows me to look at the student responses for each slide.

Comparison to Socrative.

I like that allows for images. When showing a neuron for example, I can ask students to tap on the dendrites or tap on the section that releases neurotransmitters. You’ll notice that on the mobile view there are icons for a pencil, letter, and an arrow; all are greyed out. I suspect these are placeholders that portend future functionality.

Socrative allows me to collect student names on premade quizzes. (currently?) is completely anonymous.

If idle too long on student devices, students have to re-enter the code to see the screen. is built using HTML5, so it’s limited to browsers that can handle it. Opera on mobile devices will not work. Firefox, Chrome, and Safari all seem to work just fine.

Have a favorite?

Do you have a favorite free, web-based clicker system?

Aug 052012

As more and more people are moving to Gmail, some are missing the spellcheck feature of their former email program. Gmail does have spellcheck, but it’s not check-as-you-type.

When you are done composing a message, click the “Check Spelling” link on the new message’s toolbar.

For the curious, “Suggest Times to Meet” is a feature of the Boomerang add-on for Gmail. See this blog post for more information on Boomerang.

Spellchecking in browsers.

In most browsers, however, you already have a spellchecker built in.

Spellchecking in Firefox is on by default. It will only work in text boxes that allow you to enter 2 or more lines of text, however.

For Chrome, spellcheck may also already be on. If it is not, go to settings (wrench icon in the top right corner of your browser screen).

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and select “Show advanced settings…”.

Scroll down to “Languages” and click the “Languages and spell-checker settings…”.

And then check the box next to “Enable spell checking.”

Now when you type in any browser screen, including Gmail, the words not in the browser’s dictionary will be underlined in red.

Spellcheck for Internet Explorer (IE).

Unlike Firefox and Chrome, IE does not have a built-in spellchecker. There are free add-ins made by others though that you can try, such as ieSpell and Speckie.

Jul 312012

In June I wrote about a new tool, KeyRocket, designed to help you learn keyboard shortcuts for MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. KeyRocket now has a version available for those who use Chrome to access Gmail. Did you know that Gmail has keyboard shortcuts? KeyRocket tells you what they are as you use Gmail. Keep reading, you’ll see what I mean.

Installing KeyRocket.

Get KeyRocket for Gmail from the Chrome Web Store; it’s called “Shortcuts for Gmail.”

After it is installed, you will be directed to the settings screen in Gmail. In the “keyboard shortcuts” section of the page, make sure keyboard shortcuts are turned on.

If you manage to exit this screen before making the change, you can get back to it by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner of your gmail screen.

What KeyRocket does.

Clicking on the “inbox” link in Gmail now produces this popup message in the bottom right corner of the browser window.

The next time you want to go to your inbox, press ‘g’ followed by ‘i’. The ‘>>’ means sequentially, not simultaneously.

Deleting a message produces this popup.

Next time you want to delete a message after reading it, just press the ‘#’ key. The email message will disappear, having been moved to the trash bin, and you will be taken back to where you were before you opened the message.

Clicking the “compose” button to write a new message produces this popup.

Next time you want to write a new message you now know to just press ‘c’.

Send an email message in gmail without using the mouse.

Press ‘c’ to compose a new message. Or press ‘r’ to reply to a message.

Press ‘Tab’ to move from ‘to:’ to ‘subject:’ to body of message.

When you’re ready to send, press ‘Tab’ again. That moves the cursor up to the ‘send’ button. Now press ‘enter,’ and your email is sent. Important: If you press ‘tab’ and ‘enter’ simultaneously, your email will be discarded.


With Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts turned on, you can use all of these shortcuts without KeyRocket. KeyRocket just tells you what they are when you engage in actions that have keyboard shortcuts. KeyRocket is your Gmail shortcut tutor.

May 232012

Quick Tech Tip. For shortened URLS, did you know that you can get analytics by adding .info at the end of the URL? It doesn’t even need to be the URL you shortened.

Try it. Go to (page will open in new window). You will see how many people have visited that link, when they visited, how they got there, which browser they used, which country they’re in, and which platform they used.

It’s handy if, for example, you want to see how many of your students might be reading, or at least viewing/downloading what you’ve assigned. Remember, you can get URLs for any file or folder in Dropbox (see this blog post). Shorten the URL at, then watch what’s happening by adding .info to the end of the shortened URL.

May 212012

If you have Tegrity, Camtasia, or Camtasia’s lightweight little brother Jing, and you’re comfortable with those, no need to venture into new territory. Unless of course you are looking for a quick screen recorder without the bells and whistles with a 15 min. recording limit. (The Pro version gives you much more power at $15 per year.)

Make sure your microphone is ready to go, then visit Screencast-o-Matic, and click “start recording.” No login needed. Say yes to any dialog boxes that might pop up. And then you will get this dotted box.

Anything that is inside the box screencast-o-matic will record. To resize the box, click and drag any of the little squares.

Check the volume on your microphone by looking at the meter on the toolbar. Click the down arrow next to the meter to choose a different microphone.

Click the WebCam icon to choose your WebCam and turn it on.

Your WebCam video will appear in the bottom right corner of the screen. Even though it is outside of the recording area as designated by the dotted box, the WebCam will still be recorded.

Click the record button (red circle). When you’re done recording, you can grab the red triangle at the bottom of the WebCam window to resize it. Click and grab the WebCam video to move it where you want it to appear in your screencast.

Now choose where you want to publish it.


If you publish to Screencast-O-Matic, you will need to register. You only need an e-mail address and a password. Add a title and description, add any notes you would like, add captions, and choose your options. If you publish to YouTube, add a title, description, tags, choose whether your video will be public or private, add captions, and choose your options. If you publish to “video file” the video will be downloaded to your computer in one of four file types: MP4, AVI, FLV, or GIF. Add notes, captions, and choose from the remaining options.




I opted to publish my video (titled Screencast of Screencast-o-Matic) to the Screencast-o-Matic website.

Once available on the Screencast-o-Matic website, visitors can add additional notes, make comments, download the video, or get an embed code.

Here’s a video I just recorded, placed here using the embed code.

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