Category: Mobile

Dropbox: The Founder

A colleague (thanks Craig C.!) recently sent me a link to a Forbes article (10/18/2011) about Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox. (Disclaimer: Craig swears he doesn’t usually read Forbes; he was in the waiting room of his dentist’s office.)

At a recent presentation before 100-or-so psychologists (educators, researchers, and practitioners), I asked how many used Dropbox. About 90% of the hands went up. I confess I was surprised at the number. But in case anyone had any doubts about the widespread use of Dropbox, read this excerpt from the Forbes article:

The opportunity in front of Drew Houston revealed itself again a few months ago during a booze-fueled lunch at VC Ron Conway’s Belvedere, Calif. bayside villa. As Houston carefully explained what Dropbox did, he was cut off in the exact way that Steve Jobs had so many years ago: “I know, I use it all the time.” Rather than a tech CEO, his drinking buddy was rapper of the Black Eyed Peas, who told Houston he used Dropbox to collaborate with producer David Guetta on the hit “I Got A Feeling.”

Such tipping point anecdotes now pour in. After his laptop crashed during final exams one law student wrote in: ”Without Dropbox I would have failed out of law school and be living under a bridge.” A watch design firm just outside of Venice, Italian Soul, uses Dropbox to create new pieces with a designer in Mendoza, Argentina, the hulking 3-D files living painlessly in the cloud. Haitian relief workers kept up-to-date records of the deceased and shared those names with Miami and other cities. Professional sports teams inventory videos of opponents’ plays, accessible wherever the team is playing. 

While others are nipping at Dropbox’s heels, e.g.,, iCloud, and Drive (a promised product from Google), Dropbox has quite a head start. As of this writing it has 50 million users. And new users are joining at the rate of about 1 per second.

What is Dropbox doing to keep the hounds at bay? “Houston must combat a MySpace-like implosion by spending a lot of his war chest on ubiquity. He’s protecting his flank against Google via a new deal with phonemaker HTC, which will make Dropbox the default cloud storage option on every one of its Android phones. Deals with six other phone firms are almost inked; PC and television makers are next. Houston has hired a team to tailor Dropbox to businesses. A couple hundred outside developers are making apps for Dropbox.”

Keep an eye on Dropbox. If you’re one of those 50 million users, how has it changed how you work? Not a member of Dropbox yet? Now’s a good time to join.


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!

Another Use for QR Codes

I’ve been discussing QR codes in this blog for some time. In the blog for Discover magazine, they report on another use of QR codes. While this isn’t related to teaching, it does illustrate how pervasive those pesky QR codes are becoming.

“In a bid to boost online sales, grocery retailer Tesco covered the walls of a Korean subway station with photos of its merchandise arranged on store shelves. Each item was endowed with a QR code, those black-and-white squares recognized by smartphones, and commuters on their way in to work could snap pictures of the codes with phones to fill a virtual shopping cart. They paid for their items via an app, and the food was delivered to their homes after they got home from work.”

My Favorite Droid Apps: Spring 2011 Edition

I’m frequently asked, “Android or iPhone?” The good folks at Lifehacker provide the “Top 10 Awesome Android Features that the iPhone Doesn’t Have” and the “Top 10 Ways iOS Outdoes Android“. Truthfully, if Apple had originally opted to open the iPhone to all carriers and not just AT&T, I’d probably be an iPhone user today. But I was very happy with Verizon, and I have a long-standing grudge against AT&T. So Android it was. And now that I’m here, I have no desire to change camps. Nor am I alone in that regard.

In December 2010, I shared my favorite Droid apps. It’s time for an update.

What’s new:

CamCard (free for the lite version). CamCard uses your phone’s camera to take a photo of a business card, then it pulls the relevant information into a usable contacts entry; tap to call, email, visit the website, or see the location on a map. Additionally, organize the business card photos into categories for easy access. Create a QR code for the business card so others can bring the information into their phones.

Swiftkey X (free, currently in Beta). Like the original Swiftkey keyboard, it offers terrific text prediction. It learns from what you’ve typed before and offers suggestions based on what it thinks you’ll type next. Give it a couple letters, and its guesses are very good.

SpringPad (free). SpringPad is an EverNote alternative. With the new ability to drop notes into notebooks, and the old ability to access SpringPad via a computer’s web browser, SpringPad is a solid place to store your ideas.


A quick recap of the December 2010 list:

Andricious (free). Still a good way to access Delicious bookmarks. Now that AVOS, founded by the creators of YouTube, have purchased Delicious from Yahoo, look for increased functionality from Delicious. One of the first things they did was make Delicious work with Firefox 4.0, of which I am very grateful.

Ask-WA (free). Ask-a-librarian for those of us in the great state of Washington.

Barcode scanner (free). Essential for scanning QR codes.

Business calendar ($5.68, try the free version first). I love this calendar. I can see all of my Google calendars. Swipe to the left to move the calendar into the future. Swipe the bottom bar to increase or decrease the number of days shown. Pinch to zoom.

Documents to Go (free, $14.99 for premium features). I admit that I haven’t had much need to edit documents on my phone, but it sure has been handy when I’ve needed to.

Dropbox (free). Essential for Dropbox users. The files aren’t stored on your phone, but you can quickly download whatever you need.

Epistle (free). Great for quick notetaking. It syncs via Dropbox.

Google Voice (free). While I have a Google phone number, I don’t generally use it. I do use Google voice for voicemail however. I like the transcription feature, although sometimes the transcriptions leave something to be desired. Recently a friend called to see if I was planning on attending their crab boil, which Google Voice rendered as crap boy. In addition to the transcription, you also get the audio file. For obvious reasons.

ICE: In Case of Emergency (free). Haven’t had to use this, but I like knowing it’s there.

Movies (free). Excellent for finding out what’s playing when and where – and whether it’s worth the money.

OurGroceries (free). I’d use this if I lived alone, but it’s essential if you live with one or more people.

PdaNet (free to try, $15.95). This turns your phone into a modem by tethering it to your laptop via USB cable. I use it when I stay in hotels that charge an arm and a leg for internet access. Some carriers aren’t thrilled about you doing this, so they’re blocking it. Android market, acknowledging the carriers’ wishes, has removed PdaNet. You can still download it from the PdaNet website… and the newest version hides the tethering from your carrier. Newer Android phones, such as the Samsung Droid Charge, include the ability to turn into a Wi-Fi hotspot, so PdaNet may only be a temporary fix.

Power Control Plus ($1.99). Very handy widget. It’s customizable to include just about anything you need. I have mine set to allow me to silence/unsilence my phone, change the brightness, use the camera’s flash as a flashlight, turn on/off Wi-Fi, turn on/off the GPS.

Reader (free). Easy access to my Google Reader feeds. I’m not entirely crazy about the interface, but it’s fine for now.

Swiftkey (free to try, $2.02). One of the advantages of Android over iPhone is the ability to install different keyboards. I’m partial to this one.

Tick! (free). Easy to use timer.

Where’s My Droid (free). I haven’t had much need for this one, but, like ICE, I feel better knowing I have it.

My Favorite Droid Apps

A number of my colleagues have recently acquired smartphones that run on Android. I promised them that I’d share my favorite apps. Some of them are even relevant to education.

Andricious (free). As you may know, I’m a fan of Delicious, the social bookmarking service. Andricious gives me easy access to all of my Delicious bookmarks. When I use my phone’s web browser, I can also use Andricious to save pages to Delicious. (You may have heard a rumor that Delicious is shutting down. That’s not the case. A few years ago Yahoo bought Delicious and then did nothing with it. It looks like Yahoo is now looking to sell it. I’ve looked around at other social bookmarking services, and none seem to work as well as Delicious does for how I use it.)

Ask-WA (free). For the denizens of Washington State, this is our ask-a-librarian service. No matter the time of day or night, you can pose a question to an on-duty librarian. This service has been around for a while, but now we have it in an easy-to-use Android app.

Barcode scanner (free). While you can use it to scan any barcode, such as an item you see at Target to discover if you can find it at a cheaper price elsewhere, I use this mostly for QR codes.

Business calendar (free for now). I recently switched to this calendar from the stock Android calendar. It has some functionality that I really like, such as a widget that just shows me what I have for today, the ability to easily turn on/turn off my various Google calendars, and a month view that allows me to swipe across a few days to just see those few days. This app is in beta testing at least through January 12, 2011.

Documents to Go (free, but $14.99 for “premium features”). Use this for editing your MS Office documents, including PowerPoint and Excel. You can also edit your Google Docs with this app. Very handy to use in conjunction with Dropbox.

Dropbox (free). Access your Dropbox files.

Epistle (free). Speaking of Dropbox, this quick-edit app adds a folder to your Dropbox. Open Epistle on your Android phone, and you can quickly edit a document. Alternatively, on your computer, edit a document in Epistle and see it on your phone. I’ve been using it for making my list of errands. It’s easy to add to when I’m at home thinking of what I need to do, and easy to add to when I’m out and about.

Google Voice (free). I also have a Google phone number, but you don’t have to have that to use Google Voice. The biggest advantage of Google Voice is that it transcribes your voicemails. Granted, the transcription is sometimes cryptic. If Google isn’t sure of a word, it takes a guess, and sometimes the guess isn’t all that great. Fortunately you can play the voicemail and watch each word become highlighted as the audio plays. What I really like about it is the transcribed phone numbers. I haven’t seen Google transcribe a phone number incorrectly. To call the number, I just tap on the transcribed number. Very cool. Oh, and with the transcriptions, my voicemails are searchable. One more thing. Remember with the old answering machines you could listen in as someone was leaving a message and then pick up the call if you wanted? Google Voice lets you do that. (Updated 12/29/2010: To clarify, the answering machine pickup feature is only available with the Google phone number.)

ICE: In Case of Emergency (free). Not education-related at all. This adds a widget to your opening screen that emergency personnel can use to access your important medical information and emergency contacts.

Movies (free). Also not education-related, but essential. See what’s playing and when at your local movie theaters. See reviews of those movies courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes. Add to your Netflix queue if you’d like.

OurGroceries (free). Okay. Not education-related either, but if you live with anybody else, this is an essential app. On the OurGroceries website create an account. Share your account with your partner. Your grocery list will be synced to the website and to both of your devices (Android, iPhone, Blackberry). Create multiple lists. For example, I have a list for, among others, Safeway, Walgreens, and Costco. Whenever I add something to a list, either via the website or via my phone, the list is updated on my partner’s phone. OurGroceries remembers the items. That means that I don’t have to type ‘spaghetti’ every time. When I type ‘spa’ I get all the items that contain the ‘spa’ string. At the store, as you pick up items, cross them off by tapping on them. Within seconds, the crossed off items appear crossed off on all other synced devices.

PdaNet ($15.95 for a limited time). This app tethers your computer to your Android phone allowing you to use your phone as a modem. I use this mostly when I travel. If I’m staying in a hotel that charges $12.95 a day for internet access, I just attach my computer to my phone instead. Some people have been able to connect via VPN to their office network through PdaNet. I haven’t been able to get that to work, though.

Power Control Plus ($1.99). Add a widget to your screen that lets you quickly do things like turn off sound (very handy for class), turn off wifi and GPS (handy for conserving battery power), use your phone’s flash as a flashlight, and a whole host of other customizable options.

Reader (free). Access your Google Reader feeds.

Swiftkey (1-month free trial; $3.99). This is an alternative to the stock Android keyboard. Its text prediction feature is really good. After some time it learns from what you type and does a pretty good job at guessing what you’re going to say next.

Tick! (free). A very easy to use timer. If all you want is to countdown for some number of minutes, this is the timer to use. I use it in class when I want to give my students a certain amount of time to do some task.

Where’s My Droid? (free). Have a tendency to misplace your phone? Send a text (say, from Gmail) to your phone to turn on the ringer and call it or send a text to get your phone to send you a text with its coordinates, if you left your GPS on. Again, Gmail works well for this. Click on the coordinates to call up a Google map with a marker pointing to the location of your phone – or within 30 or so feet of your phone.

If you can’t find an app to do what you want, create your own with App Inventor.



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.