Jan 092011
 

You’ve probably heard of microloans. Let’s say a gentleman in Peru needs $1000 to expand his internet café. Through Kiva.org, you can loan him $100. All he needs is another nine like-minded people to do the same to get enough for the expansion. Over time, he pays the money back, money that’s deposited back into your account which you can loan out again if you’d like.

Microvolunteering applies this same concept to volunteering. Sparked connects nonprofits with online volunteers. The volunteer projects vary widely. Some are looking for suggestions, such as how to get more people engaged in their blog, what a mobile app for their nonprofit might do, tips for using social media, how to improve their website. Depending on what you teach, Sparked may provide some interesting group projects for your students.

For example, if you teach web design, small groups could offer suggestions to a nonprofit on how to redesign their website, perhaps even offering the nonprofit some templates to choose from.

If you teach writing, one nonprofit would like to send a thank-you note to their donors and they’re looking for suggestions on what it should say. Sounds like a great project for a writing class!

If you teach psychology, student groups could, based on their knowledge of persuasion, provide suggestions on how an organization could get more people to donate to their cause.

If you teach marketing, there are several nonprofits looking for help in that arena.

With the different kinds of nonprofits and the different kinds of help they need, you’ll likely find one that fits your discipline. What a great way to show students the real-world applications of what they’re learning!

Dec 312010
 

When I look at new technology for use with my students, I apply a 2-step litmus test. Is it easy for me to learn? Is it even easier for my students to learn? I learned a long time ago that if it took me hours to learn how to use something, it was going to take me even longer to help my students learn to use it. Second Life is a good example of that. While a virtual world is very cool without a lot of applications for education, it comes with a steep learning curve. I crossed that one off my list.

Corkboard is the polar opposite. Go to Corkboard.me. The website will automatically generate a unique URL, in this case: http://corkboard.me/jrQMN2ykM3. There’s no login. There’s nothing to learn, really. Click on the post-it note to edit it. Click anywhere on the ‘cork’ to generate a new sticky note. No need to save; it does it automatically


IMPORTANT: If you want to access this board again, bookmark the page. It’s the only way you can get to it. If you go to Corkboard.me again, it will just generate a new board.

If you want to give students online space to collaborate, I can see this being an easy alternative. Services like Google Docs and Dropbox are fine, but each student needs to sign up with an account and then learn how to use it. Here, you just give them a link.

Obviously there’s no way to know which student left which note unless they sign them. Even then each note can be edited by whoever visits the page.

If you want to use it for student group collaboration, consider bundling the corkboard links together so you can flip through them quickly. (See this earlier blog post on bundling.) Here I’ve created 3 corkboards and bundled them together using BridgeURL. If you want students to see what the other groups are doing, give them the bundled URL. If you want them to work on their own, just give them their Corkboard URL and keep the bundled URL for your own use.

Other ways to use Corkboard:

  • Keep your to-do lists here or use it as an idea storage place. Others can only access it if you give them the URL. If you use it for these purposes, I would suggest adding your Corkboard page to your home tabs so the page opens whenever you start your web browser. If you want to access your Corkboard on your smartphone, you can either tap in your Corkboard URL or get your page’s QR code and scan it into your phone. (See this post if you’re unfamiliar with QR codes.)
  • A space for anonymous questions. In high school I had a health class where the teacher kept a box where students could drop questions anonymously. I thought it a very kind thing to do for 14 year olds. Corkboard could be a virtual anonymous question box.

Some additional functionality would be nice, like the ability to change the font or the color of the sticky notes. I’d also like to see an RSS feed so I can be apprised of changes to my Corkboard via my RSS feed reader. Obviously not necessary if I’m just using it for my own purposes, but it would sure be nice if I’ve given access to others.

If you try it out, I’d love to hear how you’re using it and how it’s working for you.

Thanks to LifeHacker and iLearn Technology for the heads up on this webapp.

Nov 242010
 

UPDATED 9/5/2011: Be sure to read a more recent post on this tool.

Last month I wrote about a new service (YouCanBook.Me) that lets students schedule appointments with you themselves. (See the original blog post.) Now that I’ve been using it for a couple months, I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned.

The booking form

The default booking form asks those making an appointment with you to give you their email address (required) and leave a note (not required). I, however, want more information than that, and YouCanBook.Me gives me the power to ask for whatever I’d like. Specifically, I want the appointee’s name, email address, and the reason for the meeting. And I want the appointee’s name to show up in the subject line of my calendar.

In the YouCanBook.Me dashboard, clicking the ‘booking form’ tab allows me to make those changes. Each line produces a separate input box. The asterisk means the appointee must enter something in that field. Whatever is entered in the first line will be entered as the subject line for the appointment.

Default Booking Form

My Customized Booking Form

What the appointee sees:

How to get it to look that way:

[Thanks to my colleague Rich Bankhead for his suggestion to add a ‘bigbox’ for the ‘reason for meeting’ area instead of the default small box.]

A different calendar for each quarter

With the fall quarter coming to a close, it occurred to me that I didn’t want students to be able to schedule an appointment with me after the last day of the quarter, but I didn’t want to block off all of the days from mid-December to early January in my Google calendar since I use my calendar for things other than scheduling time with students.

YouCanBook.Me lets you select start and end dates for booking, so I changed the dates to match the dates of fall quarter.

But then I thought that some students may want to schedule an appointment with me next quarter right now. If the calendar ends on December 9, they won’t be able to do that until I change the calendar dates on December 10. Keith Harris at YouCanBook.Me suggested that I solve this by creating separate calendars for each quarter. What a great idea!

On the main dashboard, you’ll find a list of all of your calendars. If you have just one calendar, you’ll see just that one. Once it’s set up as you’d like, click ‘copy.’

I created three, one for each quarter. I changed the dates of each to match the dates for the quarter. Then I changed the title and the subdomain (on the ‘basic’ tab) to match the quarter.

For example, for the winter quarter calendar, I changed the title to Winter 2011, and I changed the subdomain from sfrantz to sfrantz-winter. Here are my three calendars.

Rather than link to each of these separately, I embedded the calendars on a newly-created ‘appointment’ page on my website. On the top of the webpage I put the instructions for scheduling an appointment which I deleted from each calendar. And then I copied the embed html code from each of the calendars and pasted it on the webpage. You can use the embed code wherever you can use HTML code, including on pages inside your course management system (e.g., Angel, Blackboard).

The embed code can be found right above the preview pane in your YouCanBook.Me dashboard for each of your calendars.

[UPDATE 12/3/2010 : To embed calendars on a page, YouCanBook.Me uses iframes.  Unfortunately the security settings on some browsers keep some users from viewing that content.  After having a couple students say that they couldn’t see the calendars, I deleted the web page I created and am again linking directly to my YouCanBook.Me calendar.  In the calendar instructions I’m including a link to the next quarter’s calendar for students who want to schedule an appointment further out.  When this quarter ends, the hyperlink on my website will go directly to next quarter’s calendar whose instructions include a link to my spring calendar.  To see what it looks like, go to my main web page and click on “Schedule an Appointment with Me.” ]

Schedule 15 minute appointments for the first two weeks of the term

Keep the ability to create different calendars in mind if, say, you want students to set up 15-minute appointments with you at the beginning of the term, perhaps as a ‘come introduce yourself’ sort of meeting.

Copy an existing calendar, change the subdomain to something like YourName-15, set the start and end dates to whatever you’d like, then set the appointment length to 15 minutes. Give the link to students.

If you want to do the same thing at the end of the term, edit this calendar so that the start and end dates are for the end of the term.

Syncing with Outlook

I sync my Google calendar with Outlook 2010, and I’ve discovered that Google has a weird bug. When events with guests are scheduled in Google calendar, they get stuck in a weird loop with Outlook.  A ‘ghost’ version of the event (only those with guests) gets created and set to 1979.  Whenever Outlook syncs with Google calendar, that 1979 event gets dumped into Outlook’s deleted folder.  Since it happens every time they sync, that deleted event shows up over and over again.  The only solution I’ve found is to go into Google calendar, search for the appointment (which is not 1979) and remove the guest from the appointment (or delete the appointment altogether).

The default for YouCanBook.Me is to add the appointee as a guest to the appointment. This is handy because if you delete the appointment, you’ll be asked whether you’d like to notify the appointee that you’re canceling the appointment. If you don’t sync with Outlook, or if you do but don’t have the 1979 experience, there’s no need to change anything.

If you’re in my position with those ghost appointments showing up in your Outlook’s deleted folder, you can change YouCanBook.Me so that appointees aren’t brought in as guests. On the ‘afterwards’ tab, uncheck the ‘add participants’ box. That’s it.

If you’re using YouCanBook.Me, I’d love to hear how it’s working for you!

Nov 212010
 

Yesterday I wrote about a way others can upload a file to your Dropbox. (If you’re not familiar with Dropbox, see this post.) Today I want to tell you how others can download files from your Dropbox without them having to have a Dropbox account.

When Dropbox is loaded on your computer, it automatically gives you a folder named ‘Public.’ Any file you put in this folder can be shared with others simply by getting the file’s hyperlink.

To get the hyperlink, open the Public folder in Dropbox. Right click on the file you’d like others to download. Mouse over ‘Dropbox,’ then select ‘Copy Public Link.’

It will seem like nothing has happened, but your link has actually been copied to your computer’s clipboard. Let’s say you wanted to send the link in an email message. Open your email message and paste it into the body of the message. The hyperlink will appear.

I did a few tech presentations in November 2010, and here is the 4-page handout I gave the participants. You’re welcome to download it from my Dropbox: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/261051/Tech%20Presentations%20-%20Nov%202010.docx. Just follow the link, and your browser will ask you what you’d like to do with the downloaded file.

If you download the file, you’ll recognize several tech tools from this blog. You’ll also see some you may not have heard of. All of them are slated to appear in this blog at some future point. Enjoy!

Oct 302010
 

I have an assignment where I ask students to read a NY Times article on what constitutes good study habits. I ask students to identify the recommendations in the article and then evaluate their own study habits, noting any changes they intend to make. Since this is for an intro psych course, I also ask students to identify the independent variable and dependent variable in one of the studies described in the article. Right now I just let students pick from the few studies that are reported. If I wanted students to identify the variables in a particular study, I would have to describe the study in the instructions for the assignment.

Enter Markup.io. Here I drew a box around the description of the study, then I added some text and an arrow.

There’s no service to sign up for. There’s nothing to download. You just mark up a webpage, click the publish button, and Markup generates a new web address. You can visit the webpage I marked up here: http://markup.io/v/fc6jmvrcft14.

Here’s how it works. Visit Markup.io. In the bottom right corner of that page, there’s a black box with white lettering that reads “drag to bookmarks bar.” Do that. Click there and drag it to your bookmarks toolbar in your web browser. This is what it looks like in my browser:

[At this point, I strongly encourage you to visit Markup.io, add the bookmark to your toolbar and follow along as I describe how Markup works. It’s much easier than I am able to convey in this post.]

Visit any webpage that you like. I’ll visit the study habits article. Click on Markup in your bookmarks toolbar. In the top right corner of your webpage, Markup will load this toolbar:

The first icon is a pencil. See the little tiny triangle at the bottom right of that icon? That tells you that that icon has other tools available. Clicking the pencil icon generates this dropdown menu.

The pencil lets you draw freeform. The arrow, square, circle, and line tools provide a more constrained image. They’re just like working with shapes in MS Word.

The Tt icon is for text. Click that icon, then click anywhere on the webpage where you would like to add text. While you can’t see a text box, it is like working with text boxes in MS Word.

Click the red box icon to see the color palette. Click a different color to change colors.

The next icon is a line-thickness control. Want a thicker line? Grab the gray arrow and slide it to the right.

 

Tips.

When you’re working with a particular image on the screen, say a box that you’ve just created, the box will sort of glow. It’s a subtle difference.

Box deselected.

 

Box selected

 

 

Click on a box to select it. It will glow to confirm that you did indeed select it. Now you can grab and move it. You can delete it, by just hitting the delete key on your keyboard. You can change the width of the lines with the slider tool, and you can change the color by using the color palette. You cannot resize it, though. If you need it to be a different size, just delete it and draw a new one.

After you’ve added some text with the Tt icon, click on the drawing (pencil) icon. Now when you mouse over the text, you can see the box around the text, and you can grab and move it wherever you’d like. As long as the text box is highlighted, you can change the font size by using the slider (move the slide to the right to increase the size of the font) and the font color by using the color palette.

 

Ready to publish.

You’ve finished marking up the page and are ready to make it publicly available to your students. Click the i icon.

That will generate this pop-up window.

Grab the green arrow and drag it to the right. If you’re not ready to publish, click the x in the top left corner to cancel.

 

Sliding to publish will generate this pop-up.

Highlight the URL, and copy it. (To copy, CTRL-C, or right click on it and select copy.) Click the x in the top left corner to close the pop-up.

 

 

 

Sharing the URL.

Give your students the Markup URL that was generated for your marked up page. When they visit the page, Markup loads a toolbar in the top right corner of the page.

Clicking “respond” will let visitors to the page add their own comments and drawings. It generates this pop-up window.

“Keep Marks” lets visitors add to your mark up. “Start Fresh,” unsurprisingly, erases your marks. In either case, visitors to your page then get the original Markup toolbar that you used to create your marks. When they publish, they’ll get a new URL. Your original URL will still take people to your marked up page.

Important note. Markup works by taking a screenshot of the webpage. That means that the hyperlinks no longer work. Clicking I in either the original or the respond toolbars will give the option to return to the original webpage.

As always, if you try it out, let me know how it works for you!

Oct 202010
 

UPDATE 9/5/2011 : Be sure to read an even more recent post on this tool.

UPDATE  12/2/2010: Be sure to read my more recent post on this tool.

It’s surprising how much of my email has to do with scheduling. Students or off-campus colleagues ask when they can meet with me in person or via a phone call. I ask when they’re available; they ask when I’m available. Five or six emails later we have a time. For my colleagues at my institution, they can just look at my Outlook calendar and suggest a time. Anyone else is stuck in the email spiral.

If you use Google Calendar, YouCanBook.Me solves this back and forth email exchange. (Since my work life exists inside of Outlook, I sync my Outlook calendar with my Google calendar so any changes made to one are reflected in the other. Click here to learn how to sync Outlook with Google Calendar.)

I have granted YouCanBook.Me access to my Google Calendar. They generated a fully-customizable webpage (http://sfrantz.youcanbook.me/) for me that looks like this.

Everything in green is an available time slot. Everything greyed out is already a booked time in Google Calendar (and, by extension, Outlook). When I add an appointment to my Outlook calendar, Outlook syncs with Google Calendar, and Google Calendar syncs with YouCanBook.Me. YouCanBook.Me then greys out the time covered by that new appointment.

Clicking on Monday, October 25th, 9:00am brings up this page. The person requesting an appointment just fills in their email address, name, the reason for the meeting, and the code that appears.

Clicking ‘confirm appointment’ seals the deal. YouCanBook.Me makes the change on my Google Calendar which syncs with my Outlook calendar, and I’m sent an email informing me of the appointment. The person requesting the appointment also gets a confirmation email with a link to use in case of the need to cancel. Clicking the link causes the appointment to disappear from my calendar. The requester also gets an appointment reminder 4 hours before the appointment complete with that same cancellation link.

The Dashboard

Let’s take a look at the dashboard for YouCanBook.Me. This is where you can customize YouCanBook.Me to look and act like you want it to look and act. Directly below the dashboard is a preview of what the page will look like. Any saved change to the settings generates a new preview. To save space in this blog, I’m not including the preview image in my screen captures.

On the ‘basic’ tab, I can change which of my Google Calendars are accessed, the title that appears at the top of the page, what URL I want to use (‘sfrantz.youcanbook.me’), a URL for a logo (notice my college’s logo in the top right corner of the schedule page), instructions for visitors, and how many people I want to be able to sign up for a given time slot (one is fine for me). On the right I can set the first time available, the last time available, the time slot length, days per page, and which days I’m available. Of course if I’m traveling or doing something else that makes me unavailable for an entire day, I would block out that day using Google Calendar or Outlook, and that day would show as unavailable in YouCanBook.Me.

See the little blue question marks in each of the dashboard screen shots? At YouCanBook.Me, click those to learn more about each area of the dashboard.


On the ‘advanced’ tab, I’ve set the minimum notice to 12 hours. That means that the earliest available appointment is 12 hours from now. (A visitor at 8am cannot schedule an appointment at 9am.) I set the time zone to Pacific Time since I’m on the west coast, but visitors can change the time zone to their location. For instance, if an east coast colleague would like to schedule a time to call me, s/he could change the time zone to Eastern Time and avoid doing the math.


The ‘booking form’ tab contains one of the most powerful features of YouCanBook.Me. Each line is a separate field on the booking form. Want more fields? Just add a line. Want the field to be required? Put an asterisk in front of it. You can even add checkboxes if you’d like. (In the dashboard, click the little blue question mark at the bottom right of the field to learn how.)


The ‘afterwards’ tab lets you determine what is displayed on the screen after someone has made their appointment, the email address where you want to be notified of new appointments, whether you want to send a confirmation email, and what it should say.

The ‘reminders’ tab lets me set an appointment reminder for me (none), and lets me send an appointment reminder for those who set appointments and determine when I’d like it sent (4 hours before the appointment time).

Finally, on the ‘appearance’ tab, customize the colors of your calendar. If you want to use your own cascading style sheets, you’re welcome to do so using the ‘css’ field.

Try it out, then leave a comment on how it works for you!

[UPDATE 11/24/2010 : Check out a newer post that offers some ways to customize YouCanBook.Me.]

Nov 192009
 

A few days ago I was visiting with a colleague in his office.  He was trying to find the most recent version of a particular file.  He had one copy on his computer and one copy on his flashdrive, but he wasn’t sure which was the most recent.  And he didn’t seem convinced that those were the only two copies.  Did he have another copy on a different flashdrive?  Did he have yet another copy on his laptop?

Dropbox lets you get rid of your flashdrive and keep all of your files synched.  Make a change to a Word document, and it’s changed everywhere else you have installed Dropbox.

Dropbox adds a folder to your ‘My Documents’ folder called ‘My Dropbox’.  Install it on your work computer, your home computer, your laptop.  Anything you put in that folder (documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, video, images, etc.) will be copied to the Dropbox server, and then copied and downloaded to your other Dropbox-installed computers.

As well as being stored locally, your files are stored (think ‘backed-up’) on the Dropbox servers.  Visit the Dropbox website from any computer and log in to access your files.  This means you can access your slide presentation from your classroom’s internet-connected computer.  No more worrying about whether you’ve moved your most recent slide presentation to your flashdrive.  No more worrying about losing your flashdrive.

Want to go back to an earlier version of a document?  Visit your files on the Dropbox website.  Previous versions are kept for 28 days.

If you’re not sold yet, this next feature should do it.  You can share your folders with other people.  Add or change a file in that folder, and it changes for everyone else.  It acts like a shared drive, except the files are stored locally as well.

To share a folder, navigate to your ‘My Dropbox’ folder. Right click on the folder you want to share, mouse over ‘Dropbox’, then select ‘Share This Folder’.

Your browser will open a page on the Dropbox website. Just type in the email addresses of the people with whom you would like to share the folder (comma separated), and click ‘Share folder’. Your recipients will receive an invitation to install Dropbox, which they’ll need to do to share your folder. Once done, any files they add to the folder or any changes they make to an existing file will be uploaded to the Dropbox server and pushed out to everyone who’s sharing the folder, updating on all of their Dropbox-installed computers as well.

Want to know what’s been happening inside of your ‘My Dropbox’ folder? Visit the Dropbox website. Click on ‘Recent Events.’ You get to see what files you edited or added or deleted. You get to see what files others you share folders with have edited or added or deleted. Don’t want to keep visiting this ‘Recent Events’ page to see what’s new? At the bottom of the page, click ‘Subscribe to this feed’ to get new events sent to your RSS feed reader. (Don’t have an RSS feed reader? See this earlier blog post.)

Cost? You can store up to 2GB in your ‘My Dropbox’ folder for free. You can store up to 50GB for $9.99/month and up to 100GB for $19.99/month.

Installation? You can install it in less than 2 minutes.

What are you waiting for? Dropbox.

Jun 192009
 

One of the things I like about Outlook is the ability to flip through everyone’s schedule to find a likely meeting time. But when everyone isn’t in the same Outlook system, we end up having to find a time via email. You write, “When can you meet?” And the 7 people you’re trying to get together send you an email back some with when they’re available and some when they’re not available. You then have the fun and excitement of creating a matrix that will show the best time for everybody.

Or perhaps you have students schedule time to meet with you one on one? Want to find an easier option than a sheet of paper circulated around the room or taped to your office door? Or maybe you want to schedule time with your online students and that sheet of paper just doesn’t work at all?

Or maybe you have students writing research papers and you want to limit what the paper topics are and how many students can write about each topic?

Enter Doodle.com.

The instructions are simple. “Create a poll.” “Forward the link to the poll to the participants.” “Follow online what the participants vote for.” “Free. No registration required.” Even though you don’t have to register I recommend that you do. Registering allows you easy access to all of your polls in one place, both the ones you’ve created and the ones you’ve participated in, through the ‘MyDoodle’ link.

First let’s walk through the process of setting up a poll to schedule a conference call. At the end of this blog I’ll discuss using Doodle to set up student conference schedules and how to use Doodle to manage students and their research paper topics.

At Doodle.com clicking ‘schedule an event’ produces this screen. Type in a title, an optional description, your name, and your email address. If you registered and are logged in, your name and email address are automatically entered.

Clicking the ‘next’ button at the bottom of the page (not pictured) produces this date selection page. Since this is a conference call for July 13th, I only selected July 13th. You may choose as many dates as you’d like. Just click on each date to select it. To deselect a date, you may either click the date in the calendar again or click the red X next to the date in the ‘selected dates’ area. The arrows next to ‘July 2009’ allow you to change months.

Click ‘next’ at the bottom of the page (again, not shown). Now we can choose our times. Doodle is quite flexible in terms of how you can enter times.

Here I’ve clicked the links to ‘enable time-zone support’ and ‘add further time slots.’ I’ve chosen my time zone, and I’ve entered some times. Notice that if I had more than one day available for the conference call, there would be an additional row for that day. Once I had selected the times for the first day I could copy and paste those times into each subsequent row using the ‘copy and paste first row’ option.

When I click ‘Finish,’ Doodle will send me two emails. The first contains a participant link that I will send out to my conference call participants. The second contains an administrative link that will allow me to edit or delete the poll. If I’m registered, I can also access the administrative features by logging into Doodle.com and clicking on ‘MyDoodle.’

This is what the poll looks like after I’ve entered the times that I’m available. If you’re not in the Pacific time zone, you can choose your time zone, and click ‘update.’ Doodle will change the time to match your time zone. Just type your name in the empty box, check the times that you’re available, and click ‘save.’ That’s it!

You can go back into your poll and edit it whenever you’d like by using the administrator link. If you change the time options after someone has already participated, little question marks will appear in those time slots for each participant. This means that you don’t know whether the participants who have already participated would have chosen those new options over the ones they did choose. Email your participants to let them know that you changed the options and that they can re-vote.

You may have noticed that on the last screen, before we hit ‘finished’ there was an ‘options’ button.

‘Yes-No-Ifneedbe Poll’ allows your participants to choose ‘if need be’ instead of just yes or no. Very handy!

‘Hidden poll’ is self-explanatory.

‘Only you can modify/delete votes and comments’ disallows your participants from modifying or deleting their own votes and comments. Note that the only participants who can modify or delete their own votes and comments are those who have registered with Doodle.com.

‘Limit number of OKs per participants (row) to 1.’ We wouldn’t want to do this for our scheduling poll since the goal is to find times that work for everyone. But there may be a poll where you’d want everyone to choose only one option.

‘Limit number of OKs per option (column).’ If you were organizing an event where you needed two volunteers for each time slot, this feature would be handy. Click that option then in the ‘limit’ box, type 2.

Student conferences

Do you hold individual conferences with students? Create a scheduling poll with your available time divided into 15-minute time slots. Under ‘options,’ select ‘limit number of OKs per option (column)’ and ‘limit number of OKs per participant (row) to 1’ so that students can only sign up for one time slot.

Here is what such a poll might look like.

Notice that once a participant has selected a time slot, that time slot is not available for anyone else. The scroll bar on the bottom allows participants to scroll to the right to see more days.

Student research papers

Not only can Doodle manage scheduling, but it can manage any kind of straight-forward poll.

To create this poll on the Doodle.com main page, I selected “make a choice.” I put in the topics choices and using ‘options’ I limited students to only one topic, but up to 4 students can choose each topic.

In conclusion

If you’ve used Doodle or if you decide to try it, let me know how you’re using it and how it works for you!

Apr 112009
 

For online collaboration, there are Google Docs and Zoho.  Both are tools that allow collaboration on word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentation slides, among others.  This is ‘cloud’ computing — moving files off desktops and into the internet cloud.  Both seem to try to mimic as much of the desktop experience as possible.

But if you want quick and easy (no logins, no ‘sharing’ of files and folders) click-a-link-and-go online collaboration, ScribLink and EtherPad TitanPad may be exactly what you’re looking for. Both of these are great for working with students during virtual office hours as well as collaborating with colleagues.

If you’ve tried either of these, please let me know how they worked for you!

EtherPad TitanPad [Updated 2/14/2011 : Etherpad as a website has gone away, but the software lives on in a number of places, such as TitanPad.]

If all you want to do is collaborate on writing text in real time, EtherPad TitanPad is an excellent choice.

EtherPad

EtherPad

This is real time editing.  As you type, all others in the room can see what you’re typing, and more than one person may type at once.

There is a chat box for communication, although one user testimonial on the EtherPad TitanPad site says that when their team meets, they open EtherPad and login to a conference call.

You may save as you go, and those revisions are saved in perpetuity.

This is a very simple little program that does exactly what it needs to do and nothing more.

Do you have a student who is having trouble with a paper?  Meet with them in real time to discuss the problem areas (they can copy and paste their paper into EtherPad TitanPad) and watch as they make the edits or offer your own suggestions.    Do colleagues come to meetings with laptops in hand?  Have everyone join you on your EtherPad TitanPad to keep meeting minutes or if you’re working on rewriting policy, use EtherPad TitanPad to wordsmith.

Update (9/7/09): Etherpad added a new feature called a “time slider.” Etherpad now ‘records’ your edits as you go. Use the time slider to play back all the changes made.

Scriblink

When you visit the Scriblink website, this is the screen you see.  With a quick glance you can see that Scriblink is more involved than EtherPad.

Scriblink: Blank screen

Scriblink: Blank screen

Scriblink boasts an intuitive interface, which is great because there doesn’t appear to be a user’s manual.

Everyone who is in the room can use all of the features… at the same time.

The tools include:

  • Drawing tools (marker, straight line, square, circle), text, eraser, and grid (which turns the entire white board into graph paper).  Change the color of the drawing tools, the color of the background, and the size of the drawing tool.
  • Math symbols (click the pi button) using Latex; click on the image to embed the equation you created. [Note: This feature didn’t work in Firefox for me.  When I told Firefox to simulate IE, it worked perfectly.]
  • Upload images. Be aware that to upload images you need to have popups enabled.  If you enable popups after you already have content on the whiteboard, your screen may refresh and your whiteboard may go back to its original, unwritten upon state.

On the far right of the screen are the communication tools.  Users are automatically numbered as they arrive, but you can certainly change your name.  An interesting feature is that your name changes color as you change the color of your drawing tool.  To invite people, you can either “Get URL” and send that out via email, IM, or whatever way you’d like, or you email directly from the scriblink page.

When you are done, you can save the file. In which case, the file is saved on the Scriblink servers, and they’ll email you a link to access it.  To print, Scriblink loads a new webpage where it rotates the (png) image 90 degrees in a nice printable format.   Finally, by clicking “send” you can email the weblink to whomever you’d like and include a little message with it.

“Send file” allows you to send a file from your computer, say a spreadsheet, to everyone in the room.

The chat window is straight-forward.  Type to chat. If you’d rather talk, there is a VOIP and free phone conference (long distance rates apply) option, although I confess to having not used either of these features.

Here I have used some of the Scriblink features:

Scriblink

Scriblink

The only thing I find cumbersome about this program is that once something is on the board, there isn’t a way to select it as an ‘object,’ grab it, and move it.  With the equation editor and image uploads, when they are first brought onto the whiteboard, you can move them, but once they’ve been placed, they are not going anywhere.  You’re only options are the eraser (use the size control to change the size of the eraser), the undo button, or to clear the entire whiteboard.

In March 2009, the Scriblink folks wrote that they “have some huge announcements on the horizon,” but the nature of those announcements were unspecified.

As a side note, I first used Scriblink in the fall of 2008 while on sabbatical in Georgia.  A friend of mine joined me for a rousing game of vice presidential bingo.  I found bingo cards online, took screen shots of two of them, saved them to my computer, then uploaded them into scriblink.  We each chose a different color marker and marked our bingo cards as we watched the debate from our respective coasts.  I confess that I did make an attempt to erase her marks without her knowing it, but she caught me.

Update on 5/11/2010. Etherpad has officially closed its virtual doors.  But there are others you can try.  MeetingWords looks pretty much like Etherpad.  Check out this CNET blog post for additional suggestions.

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