Apr 042012

[Update 6/6/2012 : See this newer blog post on KeyRocket.]

I’m a fan of keyboard shortcuts. A few months ago I wrote a blog post on Shortmarks, a service that lets you create shortcuts to websites. This time I’m writing about KeyRocket, a tool that helps you learn keyboard shortcuts in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. (In the free version, choose one; in the $5/month version, choose all three.)

After installing KeyRocket, I chose to use it with Word. When I highlighted text and clicked the “U” button on the Home tab, this popped up in the lower right corner of my screen.

And then after I used the shortcut, I got this very supportive popup.

With each subsequent use, my progress bar showed me moving further from the trashcan and closer to the star.

And when I reached the star, I got a nice celebratory message.

After that, I got no further encouragement. However, when I returned to using the “U” button on the Home tab, I got the reminder again. And, sadly, I lost my ‘star’ status.

KeyRocket resides in your taskbar. Right- or left-click on the icon to call up this menu. Here you can see your most recently learned keyboard shortcuts, and you can access the “Shortcut Browser” – or bypass this step altogether. Win+k opens the browser from wherever you in the Office program.

In the Shortcut Browser, enter a search term for the kind of shortcut you’re looking for. Here I entered ‘bullet,’ and KeyRocket gave me a couple of possibilities.

Interestingly, it doesn’t pick up everything every time. For example, I inserted the links above using the “hyperlink” button on the Insert tab in Word. I usually use CTRL-k, but KeyRocket didn’t flag it. After I searched for “link” in KeyRocket’s shortcut browser, it began notifying me of the shortcut. I had the same experience with bulleted lists.

Having said that, at this writing the product is still in beta, and it’s free to use with Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.

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Mar 042012

A group of psychological scientists have identified 25 principles of learning. Of those 25, this group identified 9 to explore in greater depth as they relate to instruction. In this series of posts, I’ll look at each in turn, discussing some of the relevant technologies that can be used to take advantage of those principles.

The first in the list: “The single most important variable in promoting long-term retention and transfer is ‘practice at retrieval’—learners generate responses, with minimal retrieval cues, repeatedly, over time.” In short, if students are going to be able to retrieve what they learned later they have to practice retrieving now (the testing effect), and they have to space out that retrieval (the spacing effect). Practicing retrieval for 4 hours straight is not as effective as spacing those 4 hours out over the course of a couple weeks or more.

The authors make 4 recommendations.

  1. “During lectures, ask students questions to elicit responses that reflect understanding of previously introduced course material. This serves the dual purpose of probing students’ knowledge, so that misconceptions can be directly and immediately addressed in the lecture.”

    Ways to do this.

    1. 4-question technique. Dietz-Uhler and Lanter (2009) found improvement in quiz scores by asking students four questions following an in-class activity.
      1. “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea in psychology that you learned while completing this activity.”
      2. “Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea in psychology is important?”
      3. “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”
      4. “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?”
    2. Fill-in-the-blank, content-based questions. Gier and Kreiner (2009) found improvement on exam scores when students were periodically asked to respond to fill-in-the-blank questions over course material during class.
    3. End-of-class questions. Lyle and Crawford (2011) found improvement on exam scores in a stats class when their students were asked to respond, unassisted, to a few questions over the day’s material at the end of class.

    Useful tech tools.

    1. Pen and paper. There is nothing wrong with this old school technology. Depending on the size of your class and how often your class meets, you could be wrangling a lot of paper.
    2. Student response systems. If you don’t currently use a system. Try Socrative (max 50 students, free). This tool is easy to use and allows both multiple choice and short answer questions. The data is downloadable via an Excel spreadsheet.
    3. Forms in Google Docs (read more about how to use this feature). Give students the URL to the form via a link on a website or in your course management system, a shortened URL (I recommend goo.gl), or a QR code for your mobile users (read more about QR codes). Students enter their names, their email addresses, their class time, and then whatever questions you’d like them to answer about the course material. The data is dumped into a spreadsheet that you can download from Google Docs. When I do this, I add a column for my comments and a column for my grade. Then I create a form letter in Word, link it to my spreadsheet, and do a mail merge to send my feedback to students (read more about mail merge here).


  2. “On homework assignments, have students retrieve key information from lectures and readings. Chapter summaries, for instance, may include study questions that ask students to recall major points or conclusions to be drawn from the reading.”

    Useful tech tools.

    1. Forms in Google Docs (read more about how to use this feature). For each reading assignment, I ask students to answer four questions. The first two questions cover the content. Question 3 asks what was the most difficult part of the reading and what questions they may have. Question 4 asks what was the most interesting thing they read. I use the mail merge procedure discussed above to send my feedback to students. This is my first quarter using this approach. On the first exam, I saw no difference in exam scores compared to last quarter. I saw a statistically significant jump in exam scores on the second exam – a full letter grade. In my perception, students wrote more and wrote better responses during the second section of the course leading up to the second exam. That may be due to my feedback, to my asking better content questions that require more synthesis of information, or to something else entirely.
    2. Word documents. If your students submit assignments by attaching them to email messages that you get in Outlook, I highly recommend SimplyFile, an Outlook add-in (read more here), to quickly file the messages in a folder so they’re out of your inbox. And then use EZDetach, another Outlook add-in (read more here), to save all of the attachments with student email address and student name appended to the filename to your “grade these” folder.


  3. “Encourage group studying in which students actively discuss course topics. In these groups, students have an opportunity to explain difficult course concepts to one and another, engaging in ‘practice at retrieval.'”

    Useful tech tools.

    1. Doodle (read more here). A lot of students say they’d like to form study groups, but they don’t quite know how to do it. Create a Doodle poll that asks students to mark the times they’re available for a study group. Students can see who is available when they’re available. Let the students take the initiative to contact those other students.
    2. TitanPad (read more here). For students whose schedule or location makes it difficult to get together, they could use this tool to explain concepts in their own words or provide their own examples. Groups of students can work together on the same ‘pad’. With the time slider feature, you can easily see who contributed what and when if you’d like to assign a participation grade.
    3. Google+ hangouts with video or Skype. These are good tools for students who’d like to get together to study at a particular time, but are unable to be in the same place.

  4. “As with probing questions during lectures, test questions offer another opportunity for ‘practice at retrieval,’ thus, potentially enhancing knowledge of the material being tested. Ideally tests should be cumulative and test items should probe for understanding of the material.”


    In terms of test performance, it doesn’t matter if you give a paper-and-pencil test or a computer-based test (Frein, 2011). Whichever you use, I encourage you to look at how your students perform on each question. If a lot of students missed the question, what incorrect answer did they choose? This will give you valuable information about common misconceptions.

Whatever changes you decide to make in your course, I strongly encourage you to track the impact your changes have made on student learning, however it is you choose to measure it. Your institution may be interested for their assessment reports to their accreditors, and I encourage you submit your results for publication in a peer-reviewed journal or a conference that’s interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). This site provides some resources for locating those journals and conferences.



Dietz-Uhler, B. & Lanter, J. R. (2009). Using the four-questions technique to enhance learning. Teaching of Psychology, 36(1), 38-41. doi:10.1080/00986280802529327

Frein, S.T. (2011). Comparing in-class and out-of-class computer-based tests to traditional paper-and-pencil tests in Introductory Psychology courses. Teaching of Psychology, 38(4), 282-287). doi: 10.1177/0098628311421331

Giers, V. S. & Kreiner, D. S. (2009). Incorporating active learning with powerpoint-based lectures using content-based questions. Teaching of Psychology, 36(2), 134-139. doi:10.1080/00986280902739792

Lyle, K.B. & Crawford, N.A. (2011). Retrieving essential material at the end of lectures improves performance on statistics exams. Teaching of Psychology, 38(2), 94-97. doi:

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Dec 032011

Quick tech tip: Change the default color of comment boxes in MS Word 2010.

In any MS Word document, select the “Review” tab, click on “Track Changes” then select “Change Tracking Options.

Next to “Comments” click the dropdown menu and select the color you’d like.

Any document you open now will use that comment color.

Bonus tip: Use the keyboard shortcut to insert comments more quickly. Highlight the text you want to comment on, then press CTRL-ALT-M. After a little practice, the key combination will feel natural to you.

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Nov 022011

I have an open Word document. When I hit CTRL+ALT+O on my keyboard, the folder that contains that document opens. This is very handy if I want to attach the open file to an email message by dragging and dropping the filename onto the message. It’s also very handy if there are other files in that folder that I want to open.

Tip: Always save your file before attaching it to an email message. If you attach without saving, only whatever portion that was already saved will be sent.

In my last post, I discussed four options for opening the containing folder of an open Word document. The first two required navigating the folder system. The third option required a little programming, and the fourth option (Office Tab) required $25.

For those who are interested in free option #3, here are the programming instructions courtesy of Tina Ostrander in my college’s Computer Science department. (Thanks, Tina!) The original code comes from the Code for Excel and Outlook blog. While it may look scary, it took less than 5 minutes to set it up.


Tina Ostrander writes:

In Word, select the View tab. Then Click Macros, View Macro…  Type a Macro name, then click Create:

Copy this code:

Declare Function ShellExecute Lib “shell32.dll” Alias _

  “ShellExecuteA” (ByVal hwnd As Long, ByVal lpOperation _

  As String, ByVal lpFile As String, ByVal lpParameters _

  As String, ByVal lpDirectory As String, ByVal nShowCmd _

  As Long) As Long

Sub OpenContainingFolder()

  On Error GoTo ErrorHandler

  Dim currentDocPath As String

  currentDocPath = ActiveDocument.Path

 ShellExecute 0, “open”, currentDocPath, 0, 0, 1



  Exit Sub


  MsgBox Err.Number & ” – ” & Err.Description

  Resume ProgramExit

End Sub


Into the macro window, like this [Note from Sue, highlight any existing code in the box, delete it, then paste in this code.]:

Click Save and close the window.

To run the macro, select Macro View Macros, and click Run. OR, you can assign a keyboard shortcut to the macro under File Options Customize Ribbon Keyboard Shortcuts: Customize. Scroll down to Macros on the left, select the OpenContainingFolder macro on the right, then select your keyboard shortcut. [Note from Sue: To choose your keyboard shortcut, click in the box labeled “Press new shortcut key,” then just press the keys you want to use. Tina pressed ALT+O, and you can see that in the screenshot below. I chose CTRL+ALT+O. If you choose a key combination that’s already in use, such as ALT+1, nothing will appear in the box. (ALT+1 activates whatever is in the first slot of your Quick Access Toolbar at the very top left corner of your Word window.)]

Click Assign, then Close, then OK.


That’s it! Open a Word document. Use your keyboard shortcut. The folder that contains that document will open.

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Nov 012011

I ran into a colleague today who posed an interesting question. (Shout out to Tina O. and Eric B.!)

Paraphrasing, “I’m replying to an email message in Outlook, and I open a file in Word, and edit that file. Now I want to attach that file to my Outlook email message. Is there a way to do it?”

There’s the save-and-send option in Word, but that will attach the file to a new email message, not attach it to a reply, so that’s not going to work here.

Option 1 (least desirable). In the Outlook message, click the Insert tab, then click “Attach File,” and navigate to the file.

Option 2 (less desirable). Open the Documents folder, navigate to the file, drag and drop the file onto the message to attach it.

Both options 1 and 2 require you to remember where you saved the file. My colleague explicitly said that she doesn’t want to have to remember where the file has been saved and then have to navigate the folder system to find it. Fair enough. I don’t want to do that either.

Option 3 (not that great unless you’re a programmer). You can write a little code that will allow you to open the containing folder of any Office file. See this blog for instructions. Fortunately for my colleague she is a programmer. I suspect she’s going to take this route. I’m normally the adventurous sort, and I briefly dabbled down this path.

And then I remembered something.

Option 4 (for those who have $25; try it with limited functionality for free). A couple months ago I read about an Office add-in that opens files as tabs, and I’ve been trying it out. Appropriately, it’s called Office Tab (works with Office 2003, 2007, and 2010). In the screenshot below you can see I have two files open in Word 2010. Just like most web browsers, I click on the tab to switch documents. But here’s the cool part. Right clicking on a tab generates a menu.

From here I can create a new document, open an existing document, close this file, close all of the other files open in this program, save this file, save it as a new file, or save all of the tabs I have open.

Now I get to the answer to my colleague’s question. I can “open folder”. Yes, this opens the folder where this particular document is saved. Now just select the file and drag it onto the email message to send it as an attachment.

To finish out the nifty stuff in this menu, I can also choose to open the file in a new window, rename the file, or lock the file.

Office Tab works with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. If you go with Office Tab Enterprise, it will work with those programs plus Publisher, Visio, Access, and Project.

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Oct 162011

The theme for the last week on this blog has been email management. This morning I ran across a LifeHacker blog post that was talking about the same thing. See “Top 10 Tricks for Dealing with Email Overload.”

That post reminded me that I’ve been wanting to show you how to turn off Outlook 2010 email notifications – that little popup box that appears in the lower right corner of your screen when a new email comes in.

If you’re like my colleague Deb M., you are able to completely tune it out and ignore it. If you’re like me, you see it, and if it’s more interesting that the task you’re currently working on, you click the popup and read the message. And then spend the next half hour crafting the perfect response to it, gleefully ignoring the less interesting task while still feeling like you’re working.

I finally just turned it off the notification.

In Outlook 2010, click “File”, then “Options”. Click “Mail” to bring up this screen:

In the message arrival section, uncheck the “Display a Desktop Alert” box. Done. If you want to get rid of the little envelope icon that appears in your taskbar (the row of icons in the lower right part of your screen), then uncheck the box right above that one, “Show and envelope icon in the taskbar.”

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Oct 062011

Feeling harried?  The latest edition of Faculty Focus encourages you to take back your time.

We know that humans don’t multitask.  Instead, we switch from one task to another, and in the process we lose time during that switch as we try to refocus.  The author suggests scheduling “like with like”.  Do similar tasks together to minimize losing time to refocus.

The author also suggests scheduling your tasks.  Block time off in your calendar to get stuff done.  During that time, focus on that task.  Sometimes we get so caught up in being available for our students we forget to take care of ourselves. It’s your time.  You can use it however you’d like.

I was just talking with a colleague, Kaddee L., who has decided that she doesn’t need work email sent to her phone between 6pm and 8am on weekdays or at all on weekends.  Walking around with our work email being delivered to us 24/7 wherever we might be makes it hard to let our brains take a break from work.  Taking a page from Kaddee’s book, I just turned off push notification to my phone during those times.  (Android users: Check out the email program Touchdown; $20, but worth it.  Thanks to Rich B. that tip!) 

Having a hard time turning away from your email?  You know what?  It’s not life or death.  It’s just education.  Email can wait.

Are you frequently distracted by email?  It’s okay to close your email program while you work on that concentration-heavy task.  Really, it’s okay.

The author also suggests zipping through email quickly.  Read a message and decide what to do with it.  Delete it if it’s not relevant to you.  If you think it might be at some future point, file it away.  Reply if a reply is warranted.  (Another colleague, Ruth F., finds the conversation view in Outlook very helpful. On Outlook’s ‘View’ tab, check ‘Show as Conversations.’ Click on ‘Conversation Settings’ to tweak how it looks. Try different combinations until you find the one that works for you.)

If a particular email is not something you want to deal with right now, there are a number of options for getting it out of your inbox so you can focus only on what needs to be dealt with now.

Outlook: Use the follow-up feature in Outlook to be pinged with a reminder.  There are standard times, but you can also customize for any date or time.

Followup.cc: Forward the message to, say, tomorrow@followup.cc, and tomorrow morning at 7am, followup.cc will send you that message back. (No attachments, though.)  Nothing special about ‘tomorrow.’ Choose any future date or time.  Still not ready for it?  Click the embedded snooze link for the time you want to see it again. (See this blog post for more info: http://suefrantz.com/2010/12/10/followup-cc-remind-yourself/)

Simplyfile: This is a little program that integrates with Outlook.  It lets you quickly file email messages into folders.  By quickly, I mean one mouse click or one keyboard shortcut.  It also has a “snooze it” function.  Any message you ‘snooze’ gets dropped into a ‘snooze’ folder.  You assign a date and time for that message to be returned to your inbox.  It will reappear at the date and time if was originally from, so only use this if you can keep your inbox uncluttered.  (See this blog post for more info: http://suefrantz.com/2009/08/11/simplyfile-an-outlook-addin/)

One last bit of psychological research for productivity.  Minimize barriers.  Whatever you want to get done, remove as many barriers as you can between you and the task.  If I need to grade electronic assignments, I open them on my computer.  Even if I don’t grade them then, they will be ready to go when the mood strikes.  Want to go to the gym tomorrow?  Pack up your stuff and set it by the front door the night before.  It works the other way, too.  Want to reduce the amount that you snack?  Put the snacks in the back of a cupboard – in the garage – of your friend – who lives on the other side of town. 

Now, take a deep breath.  Close your email.  And get to work on that project that’s been nagging you.

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Nov 222010

One of the cool features of MS Office 2007/2010 is the quick access toolbar. I have a sneaking suspicion it is underutilized. It allows you to quickly access any function, thus the name: Quick access toolbar.

This toolbar is at the very top of the screen in all of the MS Office programs. For example, this is what mine looks like in MS Word.

A click on the appropriate icon lets me quickly do that icon’s function. Or pressing ALT on my keyboard will assign numbers to each of the icons.

Then I just press a number that corresponds to the icon I want. For example, if I wanted print preview, I would press ALT followed by 2. That’s it.

Word comes with some default icons in the quick access toolbar, such as save (the little blue floppy disk). Its real power is that it lets you add and remove whatever functions you’d like. Since I grade papers electronically, I’m frequently accessing ‘track changes’ and ‘save as PDF.’ So, I added those functions to my quick access toolbar. ALT then 4 turns on track changes. ALT then 5 saves the file as a PDF.

I’ll walk you through how to add ‘track changes’ to your quick access toolbar.

Click the down arrow on the far right side of the quick access toolbar. It will give you this menu.

If the option you’d like is there, great! (The checkmarks show the commands that are already on my quick access toolbar.) Since we’re looking for ‘track changes,’ select ‘More Commands.’ That will generate this pop-up window.

On the left side of the screen, Word gives you popular commands. Scroll to the bottom, and track changes is there. Alternatively, use the dropdown menu (where it reads ‘Popular Commands’ highlighted in blue) to select from the various tabs. Track changes is on the Review tab.


Once you find the command you’re looking for, click the ‘Add’ button in the middle of the screen. The command is now available in your quick access toolbar. Use the arrow buttons on the right to change the order of the commands.

That’s it! If you want to remove a command, select it so it’s highlighted, then click the ‘Remove’ button.

Note the commands you frequently use. Consider adding them to your quick access toolbar for easy access.

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Oct 052010

It’s been a few months since I posted, and I’m emerging from my technology sabbatical. Fall quarter is in full-swing; it’s time to share what’s new.

It’s often the day-to-day kinds of activities where a little change can make a big difference. My focus in this post will be changing a default setting in Outlook that affects the order in which Outlook shows you messages.

Outlook assumes that you want to start reading the most recent message first. After deleting or filing the first message, Outlook takes you to an earlier message.

But that’s not how I read my messages. I start with the earliest one I haven’t read and then move forward in time toward the most recent message.

If I had no other mail in my inbox, it wouldn’t be a problem. However, mail I haven’t decided what to do with yet stays in my inbox until I have time to get to it. For instance, in the example I’m using, I may begin reading with the email marked with the arrow below.

After I delete or file that message, Outlook automatically takes me to the message below it. But I’ve already read that message. I want to move to the one above it. To do that, I have to use the arrow keys or the mouse to navigate. Or I can change Outlook’s default setting so that it moves up instead of down.

In Outlook, go to the File tab and select Options. Click Mail. Scroll down to the very bottom of the screen. In the dropdown menu, select “open the previous item.”

Click OK.

Now when you delete or file email messages, Outlook will automatically advance to the next most recent item.









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Jun 252010

A few years ago I started letting students send me their assignments electronically if they wished. I found that I was writing more on the papers I was grading electronically, and my typing was much more legible than my handwriting! A year or so ago, I made this a course requirement. All assignments now need to be sent electronically. I’ve written before in this blog about how I manage this; for those posts, type ‘grading’ in the search box.

As much as I’ve enjoyed going paperless, I’ve discovered an unintended consequence. I’m having a harder time learning students’ names. When I had paper to pass back, I got practice in learning names. Without that, I have to make a greater effort to use student names in class. For students who are vocal in class, I get much practice calling on them. For the quiet students, it’s much harder.

It’s technology that’s caused this problem, so I turn to technology to get me out. For a pittance of extra credit, students email me photos of themselves. I keep my grades in an Excel spreadsheet, and using the ‘comments’ feature, I mouse over a student’s name to get a pop-up of that student’s photo. Because you can’t just add a photo to a comment, you have to do a little work-around. Essentially, you fill the background of the comment with the photo. See this article for an excellent step-by-step explanation of how to do it.

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