Category: Communication

Discussion Board

I had a student come by my office yesterday. She has a website where she’d like to have a discussion board for her visitors to use. I knew that there must be some discussion board services out there that will give you html code so that you can embed the board on your website. Of course I couldn’t recommend something without trying it out myself.

I decided to go with In the navigation bar at the top of this blog click on the new discussion board link to see it in action. The discussion board is for you to post questions and suggestions. I hope you find it useful!

Browser Toolbar: Create One for Your Class

The American Psychological Association recently created a browser toolbar for one of their constituencies: Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges. You can read a little about the toolbar and download it here. They used a free service called Conduit. You know me well enough by now that you can guess what I did. If you don’t know me well enough, I gave it away in the title of this post. I created a toolbar for my class.

Why create a browser toolbar? Experts in behavioral change will tell you that the fewer barriers there are between yourself and a behavior, the more likely you are to engage in that behavior. Want to get those papers graded? Set them on your desk, or, if grading electronically, open them on your computer. Even if you don’t grade them now, it will be easier to get started when you are ready. Want to snack less? Put more barriers between you and the snacks. For example, put the potato chips on the top shelf of your cupboard. And then padlock it. Then put the key in your office desk. You can eat the chips any time you want, but you’re going to have to really want them to get through all of those barriers.

Want students to spend more time with your course? Give them a toolbar that stares them in the face whenever they open their browsers. (This works with all of the major browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.)

You can download my Psych 100 toolbar here.

What the toolbar does

Global toolbar controls. Users can do things like visit my class website (home page), remove the text from the toolbar and just use the icons (shrink toolbar), or clear search history.

Search box. Users can use Bing to do an internet search, or they can search for more specific content.

Contact information. The “Email me” link will open the user’s default email program. “Schedule an appointment” sends the user to a page where clicking the “schedule an appointment” link will direct the user to my YouCanBook.Me calendar. (Blog post on using YouCanBook.Me.)

Psych 100. Here users can find the course calendar, upload their assignments, download syllabi, among other things. (Blog posts on creating a course calendar using Google calendar and using DropItTo.Me for uploading assignments directly to Dropbox.)

Lecture outlines. These links direct the user to the outlines I use in class.


Recommended reading. These links send the user to my ‘bookshelves’ in my Google library.


Highline resources. Users have easy access to these Highline websites.




RSS feeds. Mousing over each of these links shows the most recent news content from each of these websites.


How to create a toolbar

Visit, click “join the network” to set up an account. Once you’re logged in, click “Community Toolbar.”

You’ll see a large number of items you can add to your toolbar. My toolbar was created using two tools.

Click the “menu button” to create a dropdown menu. Almost everything in my toolbar was created this way, so I’m going to take the “Contact S. Frantz” dropdown menu as an example. Clicking “menu button” generates a webpage that gives you this.

Click “Your Menu” then click “Edit.”

That will give you this pop up window. Type in the name of the menu, in this case “Contact S. Frantz.” Anything typed in the “hint” box will appear when your user mouses over that section of the toolbar. I’m going to leave it empty. If you want your users to click on the toolbar button itself to go to a particular webpage, put the URL in here. Since there isn’t any particular place I want to send a user, I’m also going to leave this blank.

Next, click “Icon” to select an icon that will accompany the menu button. While there are 6 categories of icons to choose from I had a hard time finding icons that worked for me. Fortunately, Conduit makes it easy to upload your own icons. Click “Your icons” to upload new ones. The program seems willing to use any image you have in whatever format you have. I uploaded jpegs, and it took them just fine. Of course you can also leave the icon empty.

Clicking “save” will take you back to the original screen. Now click on “Edit link 1” to create the links in the dropdown menu. The process is the same. Enter the name of the link, the URL, add a mouse-over hint if you’d like, and finally add an icon if you’d like. Repeat for additional links. Rearrange links by clicking the “move up” or “move down” button.

Tip: To create a link that will open the user’s email program with an email already addressed to you, in the URL box, enter

If you’d like to add more links, or a submenu, or separators, mouse over the name of your menu, then mouse over “add.”

For example, the “Psych 100” button on my toolbar has two submenus. When you mouse-over the links with the arrows on the right, you get a fly-out menu. It also has 3 separators, the thin, recessed lines that separate the content into sections.

Repeat this process for each of the menu buttons you want to create.

Once your content is created, Conduit makes it easy to move or edit buttons. On the main page, you’ll see your toolbar take shape. Mouse over a button, click and drag if you’d like to move it to a different space on the toolbar. Click “Edit” to edit that particular menu.


Want to know how many people are using your toolbar or how they’re using it? Click “Analytics.”

After 2 days of being available, here’s how my students have used my toolbar.

Creating additional toolbars

If you want to create toolbars for your other courses or for your department, log out of Conduit, and create a new account. You can use the same email address, but the login name needs to be different.

Uninstall the toolbar

“Internet Explorer users can uninstall Conduit Engine using the Add or Remove Programs function, and Firefox users can uninstall using the Tools > Add-ons menu in the browser” (Conduit FAQ).

What does your toolbar look like?

If you make a toolbar for your course or department, please add the download link to the comments for this post. I’d love to see what you’ve created! Another Way to Communicate Live

You’re probably familiar with student response systems (aka clickers). Perhaps you even use PollEverywhere (see this blog post). Both allow you to get feedback from your students in real time. Back channel communication also lets your students communicate with you, but without you asking a question. And everyone else can see what others are saying. In real time.

There are a few different systems out there, but (open source from MIT; free) is, of the ones I’ve seen, the one I like the most.

What it looks like

Give students the URL. It works fine with both computers and mobile devices. Here’s one I’ve created: That takes you to this screen.


Here’s the QR code for that link if you’d like to see what it looks like on your mobile device.

That link loads the screen below. Students and instructor see almost the same thing. The only difference is that if I log in I get a green checkmark and red x next to each submission. The red x deletes it. The green checkmark marks the submission as addressed, removing it from the main comment area, and moving it to the bottom of the list at the bottom of the screen.

Anyone who is participating can see the comments made by everyone else and can vote the comments up or down. Comments with the most up votes get moved to the top of the screen; those with the most down votes get moved to the bottom. That’s all there is to it. It’s pretty straight forward.

How to create a

When you visit, there is a “Make a” button. Clicking it loads this page.

Name: This is the title on the webpage. Username: The URL I’d give students would be Password: I’d use this to log in (to get the green checkmark and red x). [Important: Keep track of your password. There is no way to recover it if you forget it. ] Email: I don’t know why they ask for this. The participants aren’t given it anywhere, and it’s not used to log in to your

Once created, you’ll be prompted to “add a meeting.” I would then go in and add meetings for each class session.

Now when students follow this URL, this is what they’ll see. They just click on the appropriate link, and they’re in.


Moderators. If I didn’t want to monitor the comments while lecturing, I could also give the password to my teaching assistants (if I had any) or a ‘student moderator for the day’ who would alert me to any popular questions or comments.

Use while watching a video. Students could offer their comments or questions during video as a sort of live journal. All of the comments could be addressed afterward or I could pause the video to address the comments or questions.

Quiet students. I wonder if shy students or students who are non-native English speakers would be more inclined to use this forum than to raise their hands in class.

Address comments after class. I could look at all the questions and comments after class and address them in the next class or on my class listserv or discussion board.

Inappropriate comments. In one workshop one participant said that he tried a live twitter feed during class. He said he got a lot of comments like, “Can we leave early today?” Those students were anonymous. To ensure that students log in with their real names, you could offer participation credit for posting comments or questions. Or if you have a moderator, they could just delete those kinds of comments as they appear.

Mobile technology. How many students have the ability to participate in using this technology? I recently (January 2011) asked my students how many of them could access the internet right now in class: 92%.

Useful educational tool or another distraction? Will it work to engage students more with the material or will it be just one more thing that keeps them from paying attention? I don’t know, but it’s an empirical question.



In my future presentations and workshops, I’m going to include this as a communication tool. I know that I’ve been in many presentations where I had a comment or question but didn’t want to interrupt the speaker, and then there wasn’t time at the end for questions.


[Thanks to Richard Byrne at his Free Tech for Teachers blog for the heads up on this technology.]

My Psych 100 Course Site: A Tour

Yesterday I gave you a tour of the main page of my website. Today I want to give you a tour of my Psych 100 course site.

  1. The link to my syllabus will download a pdf of it. The first page of the syllabus contains two QR codes for students who want to use their smartphones to quickly bookmark my website or have a copy of the syllabus on their phones. (See this post on QR codes.)

  2. I created a Google calendar for my course. This is brand new for Winter 2011. Following the link opens the Psych 100 calendar, which I created as a public calendar. Students who use Google Calendar can click the “+Google Calendar” button to add it to their list of calendars. (See this post on using Google Calendar for your courses.)
  3. Also new this term, I’m having my students upload their assignments directly to my Dropbox using a service called DropItTo.Me. Previously I had students email me their assignments and used the EZDetach Outlook add-in to save the files to my computer. I’m thinking that uploading directly to my Dropbox may be easier for both me and my students, but there’s one thing that’s making me nervous. I’m asking students to include their name when they name the file. Based on the comments I’ve heard from faculty when I’ve told them about EZDetach, which automatically appends the student’s name and email address to the file name, I’m not confident that DropItTo.Me is going to work quite like I’d like. But the only way to know is to try it. (See these posts for more information about Dropbox, DropItTo.Me, and EZDetach.)
  4. Elluminate is a web-based web-conferencing service. The Washington State Board for Community Technical Colleges has a contract with Elluminate that allows faculty and staff at member colleges to use it as often as we’d like. It was meant, I believe, to be used as an addition to distance learning courses, but I use it for my face-to-face classes. Most of the time I use it to hold test reviews or an hour the Sunday night before an exam. The sessions are recorded for the students who can’t make it. The interface is pretty intuitive, so students learn how to use it very quickly with minimal instruction from me. (“Click the button at the bottom of the screen to turn your mic on and off.”) I’ve also used it when work travel was going to cause me to miss too many classes. Just before Thanksgiving, the Pacific Northwest got nailed with a snowstorm that turned everything to ice. Campus was closed for 2 and a half days. I used Elluminate to make up missed class time.

    If your institution doesn’t have a contract with Elluminate or another web-conferencing provider, and you’re looking for a free meeting space, check out ScribLink. (See this post.)

  5. These are the 20 most recent Delicious bookmarks that I’ve tagged with psychology-related tags. Whenever I add a new bookmark with such a tag, it’s automatically added to the top of the list and the bottom one rotates off. Scroll down and you’ll see the tag cloud. Clicking on, say, “learning” will call up all of the bookmarks I’ve tagged with learning. The size of the font gives you a sense of how many bookmarks there are in each category; the bigger the font, the more bookmarks are there. (See this post on Delicious.)

    This New York Times article comes with some good study advice based on psychological research. Follow the link, and a video of me speaking will start playing. Eyejot allows you to record a video and attach it to a webpage. (See this post on Eyejot). Scrolling down farther, I’ve boxed some text and added a note using (See this post on Actually, the sequence was reversed. I used first because it gives me a new URL, one that goes to their website where the annotations are stored. Then I attached my Eyejot video to that new URL.

    I make my lecture outlines available to my students. I have a tendency to speak quickly (I blame it on my east coast upbringing, but I promise I’m working on it – the quick speaking, not the east coast upbringing), and I have a large number of students for whom English is not their first language. Not a good combination. Many students will print out the lecture outlines and bring them to class to make class easier to follow. Add the bottom of each outline is a Delicious bookmarks tag cloud that’s specifically relevant to that topic area.

    For example, on the Sensation and Perception lecture outline page, at the bottom you will see this. Only bookmarks tagged with “sensation” or “perception” will appear here.

    Finally, I recommend some books in the “Further Reading” section. Each hyperlink takes you to a different Google Bookshelf. Google Books allows you to save book titles to your own library. Each book can then be saved to one or more virtual bookshelves. On the left, you can see the bookshelves I’ve created and the number of titles on each shelf. On the right, you see each title and book information.

    Clicking on a title provides a more detailed description, more review information, and on the right, ways to get the book, including using WorldCat finding it in your public or college library.


    The thing to remember about websites is that they are never really done. Mine has been evolving since the mid-90s. If you want to add some of these elements to your own website (or course management system), don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. If you have students who often ask for book recommendations, start by slowing building a Google library. When you have some titles, direct students to them.

    As you website builds, check in with your students. Do they find the content useful? Can they find what they’re looking for? Is there something they’d like to see added?

    If you have a feature on your website that you really works for you, I’d love to hear what you’re doing!

The Opening Page of My Website: A Tour

I’ve been writing about technology and education for almost two years now, and I thought I’d take some time to show you how I’m using these various tools on my website. Of course you’re welcome to visit the live site and try them out.

  1. At the top of my main page, there’s a quote. Every time you reload the page, another quote is chosen at random from the 25 I’ve selected. It’s produced with a little javascript I got at JavaScript Source. I can’t find the original there anymore, but you can find the same script I used and installation instructions here.
  2. To schedule an appointment with me, follow the link which takes you to my YouCanBook.Me calendar. (See this post on using YouCanBook.Me.) My students make heavy use of this tool. It’s been a real time saver for me. No more bandying emails back and forth trying to find a time when both myself and the student are available.
  3. My college uses free instant messaging software called Spark. When I’m logged in, the “Live Help” button appears. Clicking it will call up a pop-up window that asks for your name, email address, and a place to enter your question. When you click the “start chat” button, Spark sends me your information, and asks me to accept or reject the request. If I accept, you get a chat window in your browser. If I reject, you’re given the option to leave me a message. If I’m offline, this button appears.

    If you see that I’m online, feel free to join me for a chat.

  4. Scrolling down a little further on my main page calls up two RSSInclude boxes. (See this post on RSSInclude.) These widgets bring in RSS feeds. Any time something new is added to our department website or when APA updates PsycPort, the newest item is added to the top of the list and the bottom one drops off. Clicking on any of the titles takes you to the full news item.

Everything I have for my students is on my website. I’m not a fan of learning management systems (LMS). When I’ve used them, I felt really constrained by them, having to operate within their parameters. With my own website, I have free reign. Besides, I have a lot of resources on my website that I want students to be able to access even after they’ve left the course.

Next time I’ll give you a tour of my Psych 100 course site. Share Your Phone Number without Sharing Your Phone Number

Want to give out your cell phone or home phone number to students but you don’t want them to have your phone number in perpetuity? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could, in effect, change your phone number every term?

Check out

How it works

You give students a randomly-generated URL or QR code to that URL. (If you’re unfamiliar with QR codes, start with this post.) That takes them to the website below. The student enters their phone number and name (optional). The student clicks ‘Call.’ will call the student’s phone. When the student answers, will call your phone. The student doesn’t ever see your number; you don’t ever see the student’s number. (Ok, I know. As faculty, we have access to student phone numbers. Perhaps the student only has a home phone number on record with your institution and would rather you not have their cell number.)

Setting it up

After creating an account, you’ll be asked to add a phone number to your account. Once added, click the “Verify Now!” link. will generate a 4-digit code. Click ‘Call me now,’ and an automated voice will ask for the 4-digit code. You’ll be told your phone number has been verified, and then the system voice says, “Thank you,” and unceremoniously hangs up on you. I found that quite refreshing, actually.

Once verified, you have a link that’s tied to your phone. Give that link to your students. Or follow the link to get the QR code and give that to your students.

When the term is over

Go into your account, and delete your number. At the beginning of the next term, go back into ‘manage’ your account and enter your number again, and will generate a new URL for you. Verify it, and give the URL and/QR code to your students.


This is a brand new service, so they’re in beta. It’s currently free, but they’re planning additional features that will be available in a pay-for version. Currently, calls are limited to 10 minutes.

[Thanks to Arvin Dang at Lifehacker for the heads up on this service!]

QR Codes: Ideas for Use

Back in March, I wrote about QR codes. I just came across this document which offers some interesting ideas on how to use QR codes. It was written for a K-12 audience, but there are a bunch of ideas that are relevant to higher education.

I learned a couple things I didn’t know.

First, the size of the QR code is correlated with the size of the URL. Makes sense. I just didn’t know that. If you have a long URL but want a small QR code, use a URL shortener like or then create your QR code. Actually, and make it easy to create QR codes. Use or to shorten the URL. Paste the URL into your browser’s address box. Then add ‘.qr’ at the end. Hit enter. Bam. QR code. Just copy and paste the code wherever you’d like. For example, this link will take you to the main page of my blog: When I add .qr at the end,, I get this QR code. I right-clicked on the image, selected copy, came here and clicked paste.

For generating QR codes from websites, I use a Firefox Addon called QRLinkMaker. I right-click anywhere on a webpage and select “QR code.” A pop-up box gives me the QR code. I right-click on the image, click copy, then paste wherever I want it. If you right-click on an image, the generated QR code will send users just to the image.

The second thing I learned is that one of the QR code generators, QR Stuff, let’s you change the color of the code. That could be useful. [If you use QR Stuff, you can just right click on the preview image to copy it.]

Campus tour

One suggestion offered in the document is to create a tour of campus for new students. I can envision something like this. The students get a map with certain areas marked, such as the bookstore. Outside the bookstore are 2 QR codes. One is labeled “Website” and printed in black. The students scan the QR code into their phones to visit the bookstore’s website. The other is labeled “Video” and printed in blue. The students scan the QR code to watch a short video. The video could be something like the bookstore manager welcoming students to the store and explaining some of the key things students need to know about the bookstore. Clearly there’s nothing special about the color of the codes other than, with experience, the students will see the color and know what kind of information the code with give them.

If you do this as a scavenger hunt for something like a freshmen orientation course, you can have students respond to questions. While the number of students with smartphones is on the increase, not all students have them. I suggest having students work in pairs or small groups where at least one person has such a phone.


My syllabus is available on my website as a pdf. After I post it, I generate a QR code for it, add it to my syllabus, and then resave my syllabus to my website. This is from the top left corner of my syllabus. Although next quarter, I’m going to generate a QR code from URL shortener so I can shrink the size of the QR code.


When you distribute handouts, include QR codes to online content, such as videos. It’s a whole lot easier to scan a barcode and watch a video on my smartphone than it is to type a URL into my browser.

Poster presentations

I’m also picturing my next poster presentation at a conference. I can add QR codes that direct visitors to websites or videos. Actually QR codes can be used for anything, really. Let’s say at my poster presentation, I run out of handouts. Scan this code to generate an email to me with the email address, subject line, and message already filled in. Or better yet, if you use Dropbox, put your handout in your public Dropbox folder and create a QR code for the URL of that file. Visitors can scan the code to download the file to their smartphone.

Scavenger hunt

Earlier I mentioned a scavenger hunt for a freshmen orientation course. QR codes can be generated for plain text (see QR Stuff again). You start students off with some clue, like, find the Campus Security office. When students arrive there, there’s a QR code posted next to the door. Scanning this code generates a message that directs students to a specific book in the library.

Perhaps in the front of the book is another QR code that generates a phone number. Students call the number, and it’s the office number of their instructor. That’s how the instructor knows the students have completed the hunt. Granted a 2-stage scavenger hunt isn’t very useful, or fun for that matter. But you get the idea.


QR codes make it easy to move between the real world and the virtual world. We no longer need to be in front of a desktop or laptop to access the internet. For many students, the internet is at their fingertips. Let’s use it.

QR Codes: Access a Website with Your Smartphone’s Camera

[UPDATED 12/8/2010: For further tips, tricks, and ideas for using QR codes, see this more recent post.]

With the number of smartphones on the rise, such as AT&T’s iPhone or Verizon’s Droid, more and more of our students have this technology in our classrooms. Can you harness this power for your own use?

In this post I’m going to introduce you to QR codes and barcode scanner software for cell phones, and how they might be useful to you and your students.

If you have an iPhone/Droid, search the App Store/Market for barcode scanners. If you have a different web-enabled phone, here’s a handy list of barcode scanners. For Droid, I use the free “Barcode Scanner” from ZXing Team. You can use it to scan any barcode, like those found on a box of Cheerios or the cover of a book. It will also scan QR codes.

QR codes are graphics that can represent a webpage, simple text, or a phone number. This is the QR code for the home page to this blog. When scanned by your barcode scanner app, the app will ask if you’d like to open the webpage using your phone’s browser, email it to someone, or text it to someone (or other options, depending on the capabilities of your chosen reader).

It doesn’t matter if the QR code is on a webpage or printed on paper. It can even be printed on a t-shirt (see If your phone can take a picture of it, your phone’s barcode scanner can read it.

Here’s a website that will generate QR codes for you.

Education applications.

Generate QR codes for the websites your students may want to access while away from their computers. Copy and paste them into a Word file, and attach it to the end of your syllabus. Or perhaps just have a few on hand for your smartphone-carrying students.

If you’re a Poll Everywhere user, students with web-accessible phones can visit a website to vote instead of sending a text message. Create a QR code for the vote page and print it into your syllabus for easy student access.

If you can think of other educational uses for QR codes, please add a comment below.