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.









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.

Mar 132010

After a longer-than-planned hiatus, I’m back. And hopefully I have some new stuff that will make your teaching life easier!

Last May I explained in a post how to use MS Word and Excel to create grade reports. As I was walking across campus this week, I ran into my colleague in Engineering, Rich Bankhead. He had a great idea.

He gives his Engineering students a take-home final that includes solving mathematical problems. This quarter, he gave each student their own data. Students aren’t supposed to work with each other on this assignment, but if they do, they at least have to work the problems separately for each person.

I’m guessing that Rich’s problems are more difficult than this, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll keep it simple.

In Word, create the assignment.

In Excel, you need one column of names, one column of email addresses (if you plan on emailing the assignments to students), and finally a column for each variable. Save the file and close it.


Let’s merge!

In your Word file, on the Mailings tab, click the down arrow next to ‘Select Recipients.’ Select ‘Use Existing List.’ Locate and open your Excel spreadsheet, and select the worksheet within that spreadsheet that you want. It will look like nothing’s happened, but these two Word and Excel files are now linked.

Now let’s tell Word which Excel fields we want and where we want to put them. Let’s start with names. In your Word document, put your cursor where you want to put the student’s name. On the Mailings tab, click the down arrow under ‘Insert Merge Field.’ Notice that all of the column names from your Excel file are here.

Select ‘First.’ This is added where your cursor was: <<First>>. You can treat this like any other text. I’m going to type a space, then add ‘Last’ using the same process, then I’m going to make the type a little bigger and bold, and add a space under the name.

Let’s add the data. I’ll select my first data field (MMM1), add a comma and a space after it, then my second data field (MMM2), then another comma and a space and so on.


Merge and print (or email).

Click ‘Preview Results’ to see how the assignment will look to students. If you click the arrows to the right of ‘Preview Results’ you can flip through the rest of the students in your class. If don’t like how something looks, you can edit your document here or you can click ‘Preview Results’ to go back to field view you were working with before.

When your document is how you want it to look, click ‘Finish & Merge.’ If you select ‘Print Documents,’ you’ll print a separate page for each student in your spreadsheet. If you choose ‘Send E-mail Messages’, you’ll get this pop-up window:

If you have a column labeled ’email’ Excel is smart enough to default to that. If what it chooses is incorrect, click the arrow to the right to select a different column from your spreadsheet. Type in something appropriate for the subject line. When you hit OK, Word will use email program to send an email to each of your students.


Tips for creating individualized data in Excel.

Let Excel do the work. Use the RANDBETWEEN command to generate your data. For example, if you wanted to generate a number between 1 and 30, in an Excel field, type =randbetween(1,30). Notice the solid border around cell D2? If you mouse over the little box in the bottom right corner of that cell, your pointer will turn into a plus sign.

Left click and drag it to the right. This will copy your formula in every cell you highlight.

Now highlight all of the cells in that row you’d like to copy, mouse over the box in the bottom right corner of your selected cells, left click, and drag down.

IMPORTANT: Notice that each time you do something with a cell, such as copy a formula from one cell to the next, the number in all of the RANDBETWEEN cells changed. Each time you enter something into a cell in this spreadsheet, all of your randomly generated numbers will change.


Convert formulas to values. If you’d like your randomly generated numbers to stick so they’re not changing every time you do something in this spreadsheet, highlight the cells that contain the formula, click ‘copy’ (or CTRL-C), then click the down arrow under ‘paste,’ and select ‘Paste Values’ (or ALT-H,V,V).


What else do you need?

Are you looking for easier ways to do things in Word, Excel, or Outlook? Leave your questions in the comments below, and I’ll see if I can find some shortcuts for you.

Sep 052009

If you’re concerned about the flu virus and you haven’t moved to electronic grading, now might be a good opportunity to start.

Managing email. As soon as I get an assignment, I hit reply, type “Got it,” then hit send. This eliminates follow-up emails from students asking, “Did you get my assignment?” In my email program, I keep a folder called “Grade these.” All student assignment emails are moved there so they don’t get lost in my inbox. (SimplyFile makes this easy to do with the click of one button. See this post for more information about SimplyFile.) After I’ve emailed students their graded assignments, I move their emails into the “Graded” folder.

Outlook folders:

Managing the documents. The papers themselves are saved to a “Student papers” folder in “My Documents.” Each file I save is renamed with standard nomenclature: Student last name, assignment, and whether the assignment was turned in late. For instance, if Alan Ladd turned in his second reaction paper on time, I would name the file LaddRP1. If he turned in his experimental design assignment late, I would name it LaddXD-Late. After grading the assignments, I move them into the “Graded” folder located in the “Student papers” folder. (UPDATE 10/10/09: See a more recent blog post on EZDetach for an easier way to save files from email messages.)

My Documents:

Once I’ve sent a graded assignment back to a student, I move the file into a “Sent” folder.

Attaching files to Outlook email: A tip. You can drag and drop files into open emails to attach them. (You can also drag attachments out of emails that have been sent to you into folders or onto your desktop.) See this video:

Using MS Word 2007 to grade assignments. Select the “Review” tab. Click “Track Changes.” Any change you make shows up in red. Deletions are struck-through; additions are underlined.

Track Changes

To add a comment, with your mouse highlight the text on which you’d like to comment. Click “New Comment,” then type your comment.

Add Comment

When you’re done, save your file, record the grade, and send the file back to the student. That’s it!

TabletPC users. On the Review tab, select “Start Inking.”

Start Inking

That produces the “Pens” toolbar. Just write like you normally do.

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