Category: Communication Is Shuttering Its Windows

[Update 2/29/2012: The folks at announced that someone else will be taking over maintenance of the service.]

In this earlier blog post, I recommended using as a tool for collaboration. It was a quick and easy way to create email distribution lists. Unfortunately just announced that they’re closing down effective March 1st, 2012. They are open to a buyer, so if someone is looking for a business opportunity…

Looking for an alternative? Try Google Groups. You can create a private group just for your class. I’ll write more about how Google Groups work in a future blog post.

Socrative: New Features

In July 2011 I wrote about Socrative, a web-based student response system. (See the blog post here.) The brief version: The instructor logs into the Socrative website and gets a room number (change to whatever you’d like). Students visit the website on whatever web-enabled device they have (smartphone, iPod, tablet, laptop), and enter the room number. The instructor can ask multiple choice, true/false, or short answer questions. Ask them on the fly or create quizzes in advance. These quizzes can be teacher-paced or student-paced. Responses are collated into a spreadsheet and emailed to the instructor.

Socrative has added several very useful features to begin 2012.

On the premade quizzes, you can now randomize the answers. This is very handy if you want to make cheating a little more difficult.

The feature I really like is that you can choose whether you want students to get immediate feedback or not. After each exam, I identify the 4 most-missed questions. I push those questions back out to my students at the beginning of the next class session. Students can use their books, notes, and the other students near them to answer the questions for half credit. With immediate feedback turned off, students can’t share the correct answers with those around them.

Reports from quizzes used to be automatically emailed to instructors. Now you can choose to have it emailed, download it right now, or even choose not to have a report at all.

When building the premade quizzes, it is now possible to reorder the questions. That will be a huge help!

Another Socrative feature that I haven’t seen in other systems is the ability to push short answer responses back out to students for voting. The new addition is the ability to keep specific short answer responses from being sent back out for voting.

Read more about Socrative’s new features.

EDUCAUSE Live! ECAR National Study of Undergrads and Information Technology 2011: Liveblog



The presentation has moved into the Q&A session, so I’m going to wrap up here. Be sure to check out the report and the 2011 study infographic. As we slide into the winter break, I hope to have time to read the report myself and write about some of their findings in this blog.


11:41am PT

Where do students say they learn the most?

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:34am PT

Basically, students don’t think instructors are using technology effectively. How can we make better use of the technology we have?

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:29am PT

What do students want instructors to use more often? The top three.

Email: 39%

Course management system: 32%

Ebooks/etextbooks: 31%

Interestingly, Facebook: 15%.


11:26am PT

How are students using their smartphones?

How about registering for courses? 22% have. Does your institution have a mobile-friendly registration process?

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:24am PT

The most valuable technologies for the students in the survey sample?

Word processors: 76%

Presentation software: 66%

College library website: 45%

Skipping down the list…

Ebooks or etextbooks: 25%

Online forums: 16%


11:20 am PT

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:18am PT

How many of these devices do you have?

(“Susan Grajek, EDUCAUSE: It is uneven. As you’ll see later, more students at masters and doctorals use mobile devices; more at community colleges use desktops”)

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:14am PT

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:11 am PT

Check out the 2011 study infographic.


11:08am PT

Two studies conducted in 2011: Traditional study with 145 institutions participating and a “national sample of undergraduates drawn from a consumer panel.”


11:03am PT

Read the report here.


11am PT

“In this free hour-long session, “ECAR National Study of Undergraduates and Information Technology, 2011,” Susan Grajek and Eden Dahlstrom will discuss the groundbreaking year for the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research’s annual National Study of Undergraduates and Information Technology and plans for 2012.”

End of 2011: Stuff to Try

As the term comes to a close and you slide into the break for a bit of a breather, consider checking out these tech tools. I know you probably don’t have time now to look at these, although if you’re looking for a good excuse to do something besides grade papers… If you don’t want to take the time now, bookmark this webpage, and take a look at these when you need a break from your visiting in-laws. (Yes, I know you love them, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend the entire week with them.)

Here they are (the tools, not your in-laws), in no real order. Not using yet? Still carrying around a flashdrive or emailing files to yourself? If it were foolproof, I’d say keep doing it. But flashdrives fail or get lost. People forget to email that changed file back to themselves, having to call home when they get to work, hoping someone you live with is still there. And for those who live alone, hoping that someone has broken into your house and willing to answer your phone.

Instead, install Dropbox on your work computer and your home computer. Dropbox will add a folder called “My Dropbox” to both computers. Anything you put in that folder on one computer will synchronize with the other folder. Automatically. Edit a file at home. Save it. And it will be there waiting for you when you get to work. [Internet connection required.] (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

Shortmarks. My partner tells me that this is the best technology I’ve brought into our house since the PDA I got her as a replacement for her five-pound DayTimer several years ago. And you know that a lot of technology has flowed through our home in that time.

With Shortmarks, you enter a bit of text in your browser’s address bar, and Shortmarks directs you to that website. They start you off with a bunch but make it easy to add your own. For example, qty in my browser’s address bar takes me to the quarterly. Entry takes me to the entry code page. But it gets even better than that. For sites that allow you to do searches, you can search that site before even going to the site. For example, when I type z unbroken into my browser’s address bar and hit enter, I’m immediately directed to Amazon’s page that displays all results for the term “unbroken”. (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

Speaking of Unbroken I highly recommend it. By the author of Seabiscuit, Unbroken is a page-turner, or a screen-tapper for those of with e-readers. I believe it has a chance to with a Pulitzer for general nonfiction.

Sandglaz. Ready to get organized? I’ve finally found a task management system that replaces all of my little paper notes. Click to add a new task. Add a note or a due date to it if you’d like. Have one list for work stuff with a few different areas cordoned off for different kinds of tasks. Add a new list and share it with others to help keep track of what’s been done and what’s left to do. Bookmark the site on your Android or IOS phone and add stuff on the go. But not while driving. (Click here for an earlier blog post.) It’s an easy way to share your desktop with others. I use it during conference calls that I’m coordinating. I run, and it generates a link. I send that link out to the people who are part of the meeting. They click on the link, and they can see my desktop in their browser. To talk to each other, we can either join the conference call using’s built-in conference call number (free, but long distance for everyone), or by some other means.

It’s also handy when consulting with students and you want to show them something – a document, spreadsheet, webpage, really anything on your computer. Send them the link, and have them call your office phone. (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

YouCanBook.Me. Using Google Calendar, this service shows students when you’re free and lets them book themselves into your calendar. It will even send them a reminder. They also get a cancellation link. If they click that, it will remove them from your calendar. Use gsyncit ($20) to synchronize Google Calendar with Outlook. (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

If you’d rather give students access to only certain times in your available calendar, check out appointment slots in Google Calendar.[Update 12/15/2012: Effective January 2013, appointment slots will be discontinued. Existing appointments will be fine, however.]  (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

If you want even more stuff to try, flip back through these blog posts for the last year or two. I’m certain you’ll come across something interesting to try!

TodaysMeet: A Walled-Off Space for You and Your Class

I just finished reading a Scientific American blog on how people watch television. The author reports that “TV networks have taken to dividing their audience into two new segments.” There are those who watch TV like people have always watched TV. And then there are those who watch with a web-enabled device in their hands. I’m not sure there’s much difference between those two groups in that both groups want to share the experience. If we have people in the home to watch with, we’ll do that. If our family and friends are scattered to the four winds, we’ll turn to the internet to connect with them – or to connect with strangers who love the show as much as we do. At root, we’re social creatures. Why wait until tomorrow morning at the water cooler to share our thoughts about the show when we can do it right now, in real time?

People are no different when you take them from in front of the TV and drop them into a classroom. If the class is even remotely engaging, students are going to want to say something to somebody. Some instructors encourage dialogue, others don’t, and don’t for a variety of reasons. Large class sizes certainly make dialogue more difficult, for example.

Some instructors encourage their students to use Twitter with a course-specific hashtag to ‘talk’ with each other during class. Earlier this year I wrote about as a way to create a walled-off space for you and your students. Here’s an even easier-to-use alternative. (Shout out to Steve J. of the Teaching High School Psychology blog!)

TodaysMeet is an impromptu meeting space. No logins required. Enter a name for your room. The URL will be[whatever you name your room]. Decide how long you’d like the room to be available. Click “Create your Room.” Give your students the URL.

When a student enters, she or he enters a name, and clicks the “Join” button.

The student types comments in the “Message” box, and clicks “Say”. Comments from all students appear in the “Listen” area. Anyone who is in the room can see what everyone else has written.

At the end of class, you can save all of the comments as a PDF. Use it, if appropriate, as assessment data or to assign class participation credit. Respond to student comments or questions during the next class session or take them to your class discussion board or email list if you use one.

Want students to work in groups? Great! Have them huddle up to respond to some question, and then have someone enter something on the group’s behalf.

I’m often asked, “If students are looking at their devices, how do you know they’re doing something class-related?” I don’t, any more than I know that if they’re writing on paper, they’re taking notes and not working on their math homework. Or if they’re looking at me, they’re thinking about the course material, and not the great weekend they had or are planning.

Google Docs: Use Forms for Short Assignments

I tried out a new assignment in my Psych 100 course this quarter. After students have done the assigned reading, but before we cover it in class, students are asked to reflect on what they found particularly interesting in the reading and why the average person on the street should know that information. They’ve been emailing me their responses, which has greatly increased the volume of email in my mailbox. I thought there must be a better way.

And then I remembered that you can create forms in Google Docs.

I’m not a heavy user of Google Docs, I prefer Dropbox as my cloud storage solution, but for gathering this kind of data, Google Docs is the way to go. I create a form and link to it from my website or LMS (e.g., Angel), students fill out the form, and the data is recorded in a Google spreadsheet. When I’m ready to grade, I just open the spreadsheet, and record the scores in a new column. To get the score to the students, I have several options. I can record the score in my LMS. I can open my email and email students one by one. Or I can download the spreadsheet to Excel, create a form letter in Word, and use mail merge to email my students. (See this blog post for instructions on how to use mail merge.)

Creating form.

In Google Docs, click “CREATE” and select “Form” from the dropdown menu.

That will call up this screen. Click on “Untitled form” to add a title. Google gives you two sample questions to start with. For question 1, I’ll change the question title and the question type, and then I’ll check the box to make it a required question.

Here I’ve named the form “Reading Assignment” and added some text that explains when the assignment is due. I want the first question to be about which class section the student is in. When Google Docs produces the spreadsheet, the first column will contain a timestamp. I want the second column (first question in the form), to be the class section so I can sort on class section, then time. That way I’ll be able to grade each class as a group, and I’ll be able to see which students at the bottom of the group turned their assignments in late just by looking at the column to the immediate left.

For the question title, I opted for “Which class are you in?” Next, under “Question Type” I clicked the down arrow to change the question type to checkboxes. I created a checkbox for each of the classes I’ll have next quarter. Then I checked the box to make it a required question.

Click the “Done” button to exit editing question one.

I’m now ready to move onto question two. On the far right side of each question are three icons. Click the pencil to edit the question. Click the squares icon to duplicate the question. Click the trashcan to delete the question.

I’ll click the pencil to edit it.

With the first column being the timestamp and the second column the class time, I’d like the third column to be last name and the fourth first name.

I’ll change the question title to “Your last name” and check the box that makes it a required question. Clicking “done” gives me this. But I obviously want more questions than this. In the top left corner, click “Add item”.

That gives me this drop down menu. I want this question to be the first name, so a text question is fine.

The “who are you” questions are done. Since this is a repeating assignment, I’m going to use the “Choose from a list” question type to enter all of the chapters covered in my course. Students can just click the dropdown menu and select the chapter they’re addressing in their assignment.

Now I’m ready for the assignment questions. For these I’m going to choose “Paragraph text” for the question type because I want to give students more space in which to write. The more space that’s available, the more people tend to write. In the “Help text” section of each of these questions, I’ve added “Click and hold on the bottom right corner of the box to expand it.”

This is what my final form looks like.

If you would like to reorder your questions, just click and hold on a question, and move it wherever you’d like.

Get the link.

At the very bottom of the screen, I see this.

Click the link to go to the form page. I’ll copy the URL and paste it on my course webpage.

When my students follow the URL, this will be what they see.

Alternatively, embed the form on a webpage. To get the code, click on “More actions” and select “Embed”.

Copy the html code and paste it wherever you’d like the form to appear. Within your LMS or webpage editor, you’ll need to switch to “html view” to do that.

The data.

However I get the form to my students, they’ll fill it out, and I’ll need to see what they entered.

When I go into Google Docs, my new form appears at the top of my list of documents.

When I click on it, it takes me to the spreadsheet. If I would like to edit the form page, I can just click “Form” at the top of the page. Notice that the chapter column is in the last column rather than right after the first name column as it appears on my form. That’s because I added the chapter question after someone (me) entered data on the form. If I had moved the question before data had been entered on the form, the column would have appeared in the correct place.

I clicked on the column and dragged it to the right location. I got a warning that the form may not work correctly if I do that, but for me the form continued to work just fine.

Rather than leave this data in Google Docs, I’ll download it to my computer as an Excel file. Once downloaded, I’ll delete the data from the Google spreadsheet. That will keep the data in that file manageable. With 80 students submitting something for each chapter, if I left all the data in the Google spreadsheet, I would have over 800 lines in the file by the end of the term.

To download, go to file, “Download as”, then “Excel”.


I’m going to ask Google to email me once a day with a summary if anyone fills out the form. Go to “Tools” then “Notification rules” to get this window. When someone fills out the form, I want Google to email me. But only once a day. I just want a reminder that there are assignments ready to be graded.

That’s it! It takes a little time to set up the form, but once it’s set up, you can use it term after term. If you have several sections you want to use this with, consider creating a separate form for each class. Or a separate form for each assignment. If you try it out, please let me know how it worked for you.

Various Things Google

I’ve left Firefox. It was using up a massive amount of RAM (Firefox 6) and had slowed to a crawl. I started looking at my add-ons to see what might be slowing it down as I did with previous iterations of Firefox. And then I stopped. I thought, “Using a web browser shouldn’t be this hard.” I had tried Chrome before, but I had Firefox set up exactly as I wanted with the add-ons that I wanted. Then the scales tipped. I didn’t have many add-ons left that worked, and Chrome had many more add-ons available. I’ve been happily, and speedily, cruising the web with Chrome. Now, in all fairness, Firefox 7 is supposed to be faster than 6, so I just did the download, and its speed certainly appears to be on par with Chrome’s. But I’m a little gun-shy. Chrome, for now, is my primary browser.

And I’m not the only one. New data shows that Chrome’s global market share has grown 9 percentage points since January. It’s expected to slip into the second spot behind Internet Explorer by the end of the year. “As of Wednesday [9/28/2011], Chrome’s global average user share for September [2011] was 23.6%, while Firefox’s stood at 26.8%. IE, meanwhile, was at 41.7%” (Computer World, 9/29/11).

Speaking of market share, according to ComShare Android continues to eat it up jumping 5.6 percentage points between May and August. My original Motorola Droid is starting to feel like a Commodore 64 in comparison to the newest products on the market. I was considering moving to the Droid Bionic on Verizon’s 4G network, but with the Droid Prime rumored to be available in November, I think I’ll wait.

And the last Google product on my mind is Gmail. In an earlier blog post I suggested that you unplug yourself from your email. That advice still holds, but with one more addition. IBM Research found that filing email in folders may be a waste of time. If you use your email’s search function, it takes an average of 17 seconds to find an email. If you dig through your folders to find it, it takes an average of 58 seconds to find it. (See this LifeHacker blog post for the summary and a link to a pdf of the original study.)

When Gmail was first introduced a number of people panicked. “No folders?! How can I find what I need if there are no folders?!” You search your email for it.

I don’t know that I’ll be able to let my Outlook folders go. When I’m looking for a particular email message, I usually just use Xobni to search for it. But I am inspired. Perhaps I will get rid of my folders as they currently exist, but create new ones that are specific to tasks. For example, I already have a “grade these” folder for the assignments my students submit electronically. There’s no reason I can’t create new folders that serve a similar purpose.

How do you manage your email? Does it work for you?

Socrative: Turn Student SmartPhones into Clickers

[Update: See a more recent post on new features.]

This is the tool I’ve been waiting for. Socrative turns your students’ smartphones into a powerful student response system. It’s like PollEverywhere (see this earlier post), but with greater flexibility and ease-of-use, the ability to attach student names to electronic quizzes, and free – even when you have more than 30 students. This promises to be a real challenge to the makers of student response systems.

You and your students have options for accessing Socrative. Access it via the website using a computer or any web-enabled mobile device. For the mobile devices, you can either just access the website, or you can download the free app (Android or iPhone). I tested it out by visiting the Socrative teacher site on my computer and using the student app on my Xoom.

Socrative includes a simulation on their website, so I took the liberty of taking screenshots. You can try it out yourself by going to the Socrative website, and clicking on “Hands-On Demo” in the lower right corner.

To experience it yourself, on your ‘teacher’ device, go to On your ‘student’ device, go to Yes, it’s just that easy. In class, you go to the ‘t’ website and send your students to the ‘m’ website. If you or your students have the app, just run the app.

Connecting student devices to the teacher’s device

On the lecturer’s device, you see “my room number”. When students run the app or visit, they’ll be asked to enter a room number. They just enter the number you have on your device. You can change that number if you’d like. Just select “Change room number” (it’s on the bottom half of the menu, not visible in the screenshot). The number doesn’t have to be a number. It can be text, say, your name or the name of your course. Whatever you choose will be remembered both on your device and your students’ devices. The student’s device will show “Waiting for teacher to start an activity” until you, well, start an activity.

Multiple Choice Questions

Pose a multiple choice question orally, or by writing it on the board, or in your presentation slides. Tap “Multiple Choice”, and the students will be given A through E options.

Once the student chooses, the instructor gets a bar graph, and the student’s device goes back into waiting mode. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no way to display this bar graph to students other than displaying your device using an opaque projector, or if you’re using your computer’s web browser, displaying the web page.

Short Answer Questions

Pose a short answer question to your students. On your device, tap “Short Answer”. That generates a response box on the student’s device.

Here the student entered “I have no idea what the answer is.” That appears on your device, and the student’s device goes back into waiting mode.

Now, if you’d like, you can have students’ vote on the best responses by tapping “Vote on responses.” Each student device now shows all of the short answer responses that were submitted. In this case, just one.

Quick Quiz (Self-Paced)

In a quick quiz, you give students a set of pre-planned questions. After a student submits one question, they move onto the next one, and the next until they’re finished. The first question should be their name.

Here you can see that there is one active user in the room. We know that because that’s how many devices have entered the Socrative room number. At this point, no one has completed the quiz.

The student has answered all 4 questions in the quiz. On the lecturer’s device, click “Live Results” to see who has responded and how they did. Once everyone has completed the quiz, click “End Activity & Send Report.” An Excel spreadsheet will be soon emailed to you with all of the data from the quiz.

This is what the spreadsheet looks like. The green-filled boxes are correct answers; the red-filled are incorrect.

Tip: On the quizzes, change the first question about name into two questions. Question 1: Enter your last name. Question 2: Enter your first name. When you get the spreadsheet, you can sort by last name for easy entry into your gradesheet.

Exit Ticket

The Exit Ticket works in much the same way as quizzes. With 5 to 10 minutes left in class, click “Exit Ticket” and students respond with their name and quick responses to a question, such as “define independent variable.” Research has shown that responding to open-ended questions related to the course content at the end of class improves performance on exams. [See for example: Lyle, K.B. & Crawford, N.A. (2011). Retrieving essential material at the end of lectures improves performance on statistics exams. Teaching of Psychology, 38, pp. 94-97.]

The Exit Ticket should be editable, but as of this writing it doesn’t appear to be. Instead, you can accomplish the same thing by giving a Quick Quiz since the Quick Quizzes are editable.

Space Race

Students compete in small groups (maximum: 10) to answer your pre-loaded questions as quickly as they can. The team that gets the most right in the shortest amount of time wins. Again, when you’re done, click the “end activity & send report” button at the bottom of your screen (not shown). You’ll be emailed an Excel spreadsheet with the results.


Not all students have smartphones, laptops, netbooks, or other portable web-enabled technology. On the quizzes and the exit ticket, once a student is done responding, they’re given the option to finish or let another student take the quiz. For activities that could potentially have points attached, there’s at least this option. If many of your students don’t have internet access in your classroom, consider pairing students so that the two of them provide one response.

I anticipate trying this out in the fall. If anyone tries it before I do, I’d love to hear what you and your students think of it!

Thanks to Free Technology for Teachers for posting on this technology!

Create an Email List:

There’s a lot to be said for a good old-fashioned email list. One address emails a bunch of people. makes it easy to create an email list and makes it easy to manage it.

I use an email list for each of my classes. I live inside of my email, so it’s easy for me to send an email to all the students in a class, and easy for them to respond. While most course management systems have the same functionality, you have to log into it to send an email.

The email list software I have been using is hosted by my college, and it comes with the ability to customize every which way you could possible want. Most of it I don’t need.

Enter I’ll be using this with my classes come fall quarter.

I just spent 2 minutes creating an email list.

To create a list, you can visit Or you can just send an email to everyone you’d like to include in your list, and cc where listname is what you want to call your list. Done. Seriously, that’s it. Here’s what creating an email list called might look like.

Don’t worry about whether or not someone else is using the listname you’ve chosen. It’s fine if they do. That’s one of the nifty things about this (free) service. Each list is private and tied to your email address. For example, I created a list called When I email that list using the email address I used when I created it, knows it’s me, and so knows who else the email needs to be sent to. If your email is associated with this list, when you email the list using that address, knows who to send your email to.

Each person you add gets this email message. (For the purpose of this blog, I just added another of my email addresses to this list. That’s why there’s only one person, me, listed as being a member.)

By logging in at, participants can change the name of the list, but it will only change for that person. For example, let’s say that I added you to my list, but you wanted to call it something else, like Great! Log in to your account at and change the name. I email and you email; our emails will go to the same people.

With, there is no list owner. Everyone who’s a member of the list can add more participants or remove participants. If they do, everyone else receives an email to that effect. email lists come with plus tag functionality. This allows you all kinds of control just using your email. For example, if I wanted to add someone new to my list, instead of logging in at, I can send an email to and add the person’s email address in the cc box. Alternatively, I can send an email to, put the person’s email address in the cc box, and put +add at the end of the subject line. Either way. Whichever you prefer works.

One quick tip. If I’m on the NY Times website, and I want to share an article with my list, it won’t work to type into the box on the website. wouldn’t know which list to send it to. To email a list, the message has to come from an email address associated with the list. Instead, I need to compose a new email message where I paste the NY Times URL into the body of my message.

Visit to read more about’s functionality, including additional tips for use, and more plus tags.