Apr 192017

I’ve been doing a lot more small group work in my courses. When I let students choose their own groups, they tend to gravitate to the people they know best. That means that they frequently get the same perspective over and over again. I decided to assign students to groups, but counting off in class is a bit of a pain – students get all settled in their seats, they count off, and then they have to pick up all of their gear and move. And I suspect there’s the occasional (frequent) trading of groups since I don’t remember who said which number.

Sumit Bansal created an Excel spreadsheet that will randomize students into groups. Visit his website and download the Excel template file. You can find the download link at the end of the very first section of text.

The random team generator is in the first and only worksheet of the file.

Since I’m creating small groups twice a week for two different classes, I added two worksheets to this file, one for each of my classes. These worksheets only contain the names of my students. If I know a student will be absent, I move them into an out-of-the way column. For the students I expect to be in class, I copy and paste their names into the “random team generator.” If there are more names than rows in the generator page, the generator page automatically does what it needs to do to include them. If there are fewer names than rows assigned by the generator, just delete the excess rows; if you don’t, you’ll have blank spots in your groups.

Now that you have your student names in the generator, enter the number of teams you want, and click the bright orange button. If you don’t like the grouping, just click the button again.

I copy and paste the names – okay, I use the Snipping Tool in Windows – into a document I can show in class. This document is the first thing I pull up on the classroom computer so students know where they need to be as soon as they walk in the door.

Nov 012016

Let me explain.

Have you ever entered information in a web form, like a long, well-crafted comment you’ve written for a student in your course management system? And then when you clicked “submit” you got a notice that your page had timed out, or that you lost your internet connection? Or maybe you didn’t get around to clicking submit before you accidentally closed or reloaded the webpage? In any case, your comment is gone. Irreparably gone. And you have to type it all over again. Or what you can remember of it. In case, you’re certain the words you are retyping are not nearly as good as what you wrote the first time.

Lazarus, a Chrome extension (and Firefox add-on), has become my new best friend.

To recover lost text from a form field, I click the ankh icon in the top right corner of the field, and Lazarus shows me what I typed in that field in a menu with a light purple background. I can also see a bunch of other content I’ve recently typed in other web form fields. I can select anything from the list. Mousing over an option gives me the entire text in white pop up box. Clicking that option enters it into the form field.

This has become very handy given how much time I spend entering comments and other text in boxes in my course management system. Just recently I entered comments into a rubric for a particular student and then moved on to the next student… without saving the comments for the previous student. Doh! When I went back to the previous student, all of my comments were gone. But then I clicked on the ankh icon, and there were all of my comments, ready to be resurrected.

Almost just as recently, I was completing an online conference registration form. One entry box asked for a 50-word statement about something. I wrote it. And then when I clicked submit, I learned that my internet had hiccupped. I got a page-timeout error. When I got reconnected to the internet, and reloaded the page… Yep. Everything was gone, including my concise, brilliant 50-word statement.

Unfortunately, that was before I had installed Lazarus.

But installing it was the very next thing I did.







Jul 302016

Do you need to keep track of receipts for reimbursement or for your taxes? Danae Hudson and Brooke Whisenhunt of Missouri State University recommend Expensify. Expensify is free. If you need more power, you can pay a small monthly fee.

In the past I’ve used CamScanner to turn my phone’s camera into a scanner, scanning my receipts to pdf and then uploading the pdf to Dropbox for safekeeping. Expensify uses the same technology, but to a very specific end. I should also add that those of you with flip phones are not left out. The web interface for Expensify works just fine. Use whatever scanner you have to scan your receipts, and then upload them to the Expensify website.

For those with phones with cameras, install the mobile app. This is what Expensify looks like on my phone right now. You can see that I have a number of items for a trip I named InstructureCon 2016. To the left of each item is a thumbnail of my receipt. Because I don’t have receipts for per diem because, well, it’s per diem, there is no thumbnail.

To add a new receipt, just tap the green camera icon in the bottom right corner of your phone’s screen. You can also tap “NEW” in the top, right corner and select “receipt”. In either case, your phone’s camera turns on, and you can take a photo of your receipt. You can do that sitting right at your restaurant table. If it’s one of those ridiculously dark restaurants – one where you need your phone’s flashlight app to read the menu – you can turn on the flash. The photo of the receipt will automatically appear at the top of your receipts list. Expensify guesses that your most recent trip is the trip you want the receipt attached to. If that’s not right, it’s easily changeable.

Tap on that newly-added item to add important information, like merchant name and how much you paid. Expensify enters today’s date by default, but you can change it. Include a comment – I note the reason for the expense. Tap on “Category” to assign the receipt to lodging, meals, transportation, etc. You can create your own tags to mean whatever you’d like. Since I use Expensify to keep track of all of my travel expenses, both reimbursable and, for those that aren’t reimbursable, tax deductible, I have tags called “Reimbursable” and “Tax deductible”. I also have a tag named “Non-reimbursable/non-tax deductible” that I use when, for example, my wife is traveling with me on a work trip and my portion of the meal is reimbursable (or tax deductible), but hers is not. (Expensify allows the splitting of receipts that makes this easy to track.) Be sure the receipt goes with the correct report. Tapping on “Report” will show you your active reports and allow you to create a new one. Finally, toggle the switches for “Billable” and “Reimbursable” as needed. [“Hey, Sue, if there’s a ‘Reimbursable’ toggle, why do you need a ‘reimbursable’ tag?” Good question. In the report Expensify generates, tags are prominently displayed, so it’s just easier to see.]

Expensify has an easy-to-navigate web interface. On the “Expenses” tab, you can sort by date, merchant name, amount paid, category (e.g., transportation, lodging), tag (which you’ve created), or comment. On the left side of the screen, you can search and filter as you’d like. Click on an expense to edit it. If you click on the paper (or +) icons between the total column and the category column, you can edit the details for the item, and do things like split the expense and upload pdfs. Uploading pdfs is very helpful for emailed receipts, for example. Save the emailed receipt as a pdf, and then upload to Expensify. [Want to add/remove categories and tags? Click on your icon in the top, right corner of any Expensify webpage, and click the “Personal settings” button.]

When you’re done with your trip, click on “Reports” in the top navigation menu. Click on the report you want.

Use the right navigation menu to edit expenses, share with others, print, download a pdf, add an attachment to the report.

Since my college doesn’t officially use Expensify, I don’t use the “Submit” button. Instead I download the pdf report. The pdf includes a summary of all expenses, thumbnails of each receipt, plus a full image of each receipt. Because my college accepts photocopies of receipts, I just fill out my college’s travel reimbursement form and then attach this report as the record of my receipts. Even if my college didn’t accept copies of receipts, I’d probably still submit the report along with the original receipts. When the report includes tax deductible items, I also print out a copy for my records. (Ok. My wife’s records – she handles our finances.)





Jan 302016

Years ago you created a Dropbox account and installed Dropbox on your home computer, your work computer, your personal laptop, and maybe even a work laptop. It was, and is, a great way to access all of your files wherever you may be. Do you remember when you used to email files to yourself? Or tried to remember whether the newest version of a file was on your home computer, your work computer, or a flashdrive – wherever you might have left that flashdrive, whichever flashdrive it was? Dropbox has even more powerful functionality with Microsoft integration. You can now edit documents with others, live, via Dropbox.com. But that’s not what this post is about.

Not only did you find Dropbox useful for storing your work files, you found it useful for storing your personal files. But do you really want your vacation photos on your work computer? One issue I’ve seen with those non-work photos on a work computer is that many work computers are backed up to an institutional or company server. Even if the photos are Rated G, they are taking up tons of space on servers that don’t have a ton of space. It’s one thing if those photos are work-related. It’s another thing if they are not. Or, less ethically troublesome, maybe you just have some folders that contain files that you don’t really need anymore. You’d like to keep them as an archive, but they don’t need to take up space on your computer’s hard drive.

Let’s separate the Dropbox folders you don’t need on your work computer from the folders you do need using “selective sync”.

Selective sync lets you tell Dropbox which folders you want to sync with a particular computer. To choose which Dropbox folders you want synced on your work computer, from your work computer click on the Dropbox icon in your system tray. Click on the gear icon, & select “Preferences”.

In the Dropbox Preferences window, select “Account”. Click on “Selective Sync…” The popup will show you all of your Dropbox folders. Leave checked the ones you want to sync to this computer; uncheck the ones you want removed. Click “Update” and “OK”.

Dropbox will delete the unchecked folders from your work computer, but they will still exist at Dropbox.com. I promise. Those unchecked folders will also still sync with any other computers you have. If you want to remove, say, 2009 committee minutes from your home computer, repeat this process from your home computer.

You can always resync those folders by going back into preferences, and checking the folders you want to sync to that computer.

You’re not doing anything else this evening. Take the opportunity to free up some space on your computer disk drives.


Jan 282016

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you may be a long-time user of Doodle for helping you and others find a good meeting time. But did you know that you can also use Doodle to help make a choice? Yesterday a friend, who is one of my college’s awesome librarians, wrote to say that she works with an instructor who has her students read books related to the course content and then report on what they learned from the book later in the course. The instructor has worked with our librarians to identify a lengthy list of titles, and she doesn’t want more than one student to read each title, for the purpose of the course, of course – if students want to read all of the books on the list on their own, then great! The current approach, where students write their name and book choice in a notebook, is not working. Students have to scan the sign-up list to make sure their book is still available, and sometimes they miss it, and the instructor ends up with two or more students reading a particular book.

If you don’t have assigned books, you may have assigned paper topics or assigned topics for group projects.

How it works

On Doodle’s main page, where you create a new poll, select “Make a choice”.

On the next page, name your poll and add a short description if you’d like. After clicking through to the next page, you can add your book titles (or paper/project topics). If you need more than 10, click “Add further text slots” at the bottom of the list.

On the “Settings” page, decide how you’d like your poll to work. I have selected “Hidden poll” so that students can’t see who chose which book, “Participant can only choose one option” so that a student can’t click on three books now and decide later which one to read, and “Limit the number of participants per option” (set to 1) so that I’m assured that only one person will indeed be assigned to a book. If this poll was for assigned group project topics, I would change the number to match the largest group size I would allow.

Doodle Settings











After the poll is created, Doodle gives me the link that I can make available to students, say via email or on a page in my course management system. When students click on the link, this is what they see. Students just enter their name and click on the button that corresponds to the book they are interested in.

When I completed the poll myself, I selected, for example, Book 1. Since this is a hidden poll, the next person who went to the Doodle poll would see this; notice that Book 1, the one I chose, is greyed out. If names weren’t hidden this person would actually see my name.

Doodle Participant 1




Let’s say Snoopy chose Book 3. This is what I’d then see as the administrator of the poll.

Doodle Snoopy





What makes this approach especially attractive is that when the quarter is over, the poll can be reset by deleting all participants or the poll can be copied – both features of your poll’s “Administration” tab. If you want a more permanent record of who chose what book (or topic), perhaps just to keep track of which books are chosen first, which books are chosen last, or which books are most often not chosen, you can export the poll results as a spreadsheet or pdf – also features of your poll’s “Administration” tab.

Sep 282015

Over the summer, Dropbox added a nifty new feature.

Save bookmarks from your web browser in any Dropbox folder.

Highlight the URL in your web browser, left click on the highlighted URL, and drag it into your chosen Dropbox folder. Notice that the file “type” is Internet Shortcut.

Like filenames, you can rename your URLs by right-clicking on the filename and selecting rename.

Yes, if you share a Dropbox folder (read/write privileges for your share-ees) or share a link to a Dropbox folder (read-only for your share-ees), the links are also shared.

Jan 032015

I first wrote about Akindi in 2013 (see this post), and boy has it undergone some amazing changes in 2014. With this first post of 2015, I hope to convince you to give it a try this term.

With Akindi, you print out bubble sheets for a test. Students take the test in class. You run the filled-in bubble sheets plus an answer key through a scanner to create a pdf. Upload the pdf to Akindi, and Akindi grades your test. And gives you all the statistics on that test and its questions you could want. Want to give the corrected bubble sheets back to your students? Just download the pdf and print.

This is what the dashboard looks like. I’m inside a course called “Psych 100 Fall 2014.” In the top right corner you can see that I had 62 students in that course. This particular assessment was called “Final.” Using the buttons at the bottom, I can edit the bubble sheet template, download those bubble sheets for printing, upload a pdf of the scanned completed bubble sheets, and, finally, view the results.

Let’s start near the beginning.

Creating a template

As of this writing, you have two template options. “Template A” is 100 questions; “Template B” is 50 questions. Since this was my comprehensive final, I used the 100-question template. I can just print blank sheets and let my students fill in their names and student ID numbers, or I can go prefilled. Personally, I like prefilled; there are fewer mistakes that way. (Although, if I had 100 students…) I entered my students’ names into my “Class Roster” for this Akindi course; okay, I confess, I pasted their names in a csv file and uploaded their names into this Akindi course. Rather than use my students’ actual student ID numbers, I allowed Akindi to assign them random numbers. Since I’m not connecting Akindi to my course management system*, what number is used doesn’t matter. Akindi just needs a number to connect the student’s bubble sheet to their name on the Akindi website. When you choose prefilled, Akindi pulls the names and student IDs from this class roster and enters them on the bubble sheets for each student. In “Header Info” I also ask Akindi to put the student name at the top of the bubble sheet to make it easier for me to distribute them in class.

[*Side note about course management systems. I believe this option is only available when institutions adopt Akindi, not individual instructors.]

Download blank bubble sheets and upload completed bubble sheets

Once you have your bubble sheets created, download them. If you went prefilled, the answer key ID number (0000) is also prefilled. There is nothing for you to bubble in but the answers. Print out the bubble sheets. Akindi will even add a few blank ones in case you need them, say, if a student spills coffee on their bubble sheet – and both of their neighbors’ bubble sheets. [Pro tip: If your printer is set to auto-duplex, turn it off. Otherwise you will have two students bubbling in different sides of the same sheet. Awkward.]

After students have taken the test, collect the bubble sheets and your answer key, and run them through a scanner to create a pdf. Our building’s copier will also scan to pdf, and let me email the file. I have two choices. I can email the pdf to myself, save it to my computer, and then click the “upload responses” button you see in the image above. Or I can just email the file to Akindi directly using the special email address Akindi created. The email address is given in the light blue highlighted text in the screen above, and, very thoughtfully, given on the first page of the bubble sheet pdf. If I choose to have my copier email the pdf to Akindi, the test will be graded before I get to my office. And my office is not that far away.

The results

This is where you see the magic.

Results are divided into three screens. “Overview” which you see here, “Graphs,” and “Responses.” If Akindi isn’t sure of a student’s response, another option will appear here, “Exceptions.”

In “Overview,” we see the class average on the left with the high score and low score noted. And then we see the three easiest questions and three most difficult questions. When I moused over “Question 24” the graph on the right changed to show me the data for question 24.

Scrolling down the “Overview” page, I can see the discrimination scores for the test as a whole (.30 in this case; it’s in the blue, so it’s acceptable) and for six of my questions: “Best constructed questions,” “Questions which could be improved,” and the diplomatically-worded “Questions which require intervention,” i.e. these questions suck. Akindi looks at the top third of performers on this test and sees how they answered this question and then looks at the bottom third of performers on this test and sees how they answered this question. For a strong question, we expect that the top performers would answer it correctly and the bottom performers would answer it incorrectly. A high discrimination score indicates that exactly that has happened. For my best-constructed test items, the discrimination scores are .54, .55, and .58. My could-be-improved questions have discrimination scores of .01, .05, and .06. My require intervention questions have discrimination scores of -.10, -.10. and -.05. A negative score means that the top test performers did the worst on the question and the bottom test performers did the best on the question; not a good thing.

The graphs really help me see what is going on. As above, I can mouse over each question to change the graph to that question.

Let’s take a closer look. This is the graph for question 51, discrimination score of .54. I can see that most of the students who got this question right (blue) were the highest performers on the test (right side of the graph), and that most of the students who got this wrong (orange) were the lowest performers on the test (left side of the graph). Akindi even tells me a bit more about what was going on in the “Insight” text below the graph.

This is the graph for question 54, discrimination score of -.05. The highest performing students got it wrong, and of everybody else, about half got it wrong (dark purple – that’s blue and orange overlapping) and about half got it right. Given that so many (9) of the best-performing students got this question wrong means that I really need to look at this question.

If I switch to the graphs screen, clicking on “Point Biserial” at the bottom shows me the discrimination scores for all of my questions. Here I’ve scrolled over so you can see problematic question 54 in orange, a string of yellows that are worth a closer look, and beautiful question 70. If I mouse over a bar, I see the actual score for that item.

On the “Responses” screen, I see the data for each student: Student ID number, name, grade (percent), mark (number of questions correct out of total possible), scan (clicking on the magnifying glass opens a new page in my browser where I can see that student’s scanned bubble sheet), and responses to each question (questions in orange boxes are incorrect). All of the columns are sortable. I can click on the heading to sort by that column. Clicking on “Grade” will sort by grade high to low, click again to sort low to high.

If Akindi runs into trouble deciphering a student’s response, you will see “Exceptions.” Clicking on that link calls up the exceptions screen. Unlike optical scanners like Scantron, Akindi doesn’t care what writing utensil a student bubbles with. In this case, a student used a pen and, of course, had no way to erase. Akindi just saw that two answers had been bubbled in, and so flagged them as “exceptions.” Akindi just shows me the relevant questions from the student’s scanned sheet and asks me to manually select an answer. Akindi then automatically adjusts all of the data accordingly.

The “Actions” button

In the top right corner of any Akindi screen related to a particular assessment, you will see the “Actions” button. It’s sort of a quick access button.

Of particular note are the four middle download options.

“Download CSV” will download all of the data from the “Responses” screen to a spreadsheet.

“Download corrected PDF (answers)” will give you essentially the same scanned set of bubble sheets that you uploaded, except that a test score will be printed on them, and a green checkmark will appear next to the questions students got right and a red letter representing the correct answer will appear next to the questions students got wrong. Good for printing.

“Download corrected PDF (no answers)” is the same as above, except that the right/wrong answers are not marked. Good for printing.

“Download corrected ZIP” is the same as “Download corrected PDF (answers)” except that the student bubble sheets aren’t in one big pdf; when you unzip the file, each student’s test is a separate pdf. Good for, say, distributing to each student individually through your course management system.

How I use the data

I primarily use the data to improve my test items for the next term. The first thing I do is look at the questions with the lowest point biserial scores. If I decide it’s a bad question, I may just toss it completely. If I think it can be salvaged, I will reword the stem or the possible answers.

For questions that have A, B, C, D options, if no student chose, say, option D, I may just go with options A, B, and C the next time I use the question. There is nothing magical about four or five answer choices. If one is clearly not being chosen, there’s probably no good reason for it to be there other than to give students something more to read. When I’ve shortened questions this way, I have seen no difference in exam scores. Nor should I. The question option is doing nothing.

Having this kind of data available makes it easier to see what concepts students are getting and what concepts students are struggling with. The most difficult question in the test I used for this blog post was question 12. That question, I see, had a point biserial of .22, which isn’t too bad. What was question 12 about? It was addressing the correlation-does-not-equal-causation concept, a difficult one for students to get. The next thing I need to do is look back at the first exam and see if students got that concept there. If not, then I need to spend more time on it up front, perhaps adding in an assignment to give students practice with it. If students got it on the first test, but not on the final, then they lost it along the way. In that case, I need to embed more practice with it throughout the course.

What’s next?

Akindi continues to develop this product. Look for some additional, and very helpful, functionality in 2015. Including the ability to have multiple versions of a test.

May 102014

I am a big fan of Shortmarks. I type a few letters into my web browser’s search bar on my laptop, and the browser takes me where I want to go. When I type in, say, hr, my browser takes me to my college’s Human Resources website. It also makes it ridiculously easy to search a website. When I type in, say, bn brilliant brox, my browser will direct to me to the Barnes and Noble website where it has already done the search for the book Brilliant by Jane Brox. (You can read this post for more information about Shortmarks and how to create your bookmark shortcuts.)

Let’s do a quick overview of how Shortmarks works, why this has been a sticking point on mobile devices, and, finally, the solution.

How Shortmarks works

Shortmarks behaves like a search engine. On my laptop, I tell my web browser to use Shortmarks as its default search engine. When I enter text in the browser’s search bar, my browser uses Shortmarks to do the search. If the text I typed matches something I have entered in my Shortmarks account, like hr, my browser will return that page, like my college’s Human Resources page. If the text doesn’t match, Shortmarks will run the text through the search engine I told Shortmarks to use, in my case, DuckDuckGo.

The problem with Android mobile browsers (and iOS, too?)

In order to use Shortmarks on my Android devices, I need to be able to change the default search engine to Shortmarks. I had been using Chrome for Android, and while Chrome has a handful of search engines I can choose from, I can’t add my own. Firefox for Android does allow the addition of custom search engines, but there doesn’t appear to be any way to set a search engine as a default or even easily switch among them. (I haven’t explored this issue with iOS devices, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same issue exists there.)

The mobile browser that solves the problem (Android, iOS)

On your mobile device, download the mobile web browser Opera if you don’t already have it installed. Using Opera on your mobile device, visit Shortmarks and log into your account. Long-press in the Shortmarks search bar. You will get a little pop-up that reads “Add search engine.” Tap it. Opera will ask you want you to call it. It defaults to “Shortmarks – Fast custom searches and keyword bookmarks.” For the sake of simplicity, delete all of that except for “Shortmarks.” Click “OK.”

Tap in the top search/address bar in your mobile device’s Opera web browser. On the far right you will see the Google ‘g’ logo. Tap it. You will see a row of search engine icons. Shortmarks will be on the far right; the icon is a generic magnifying glass. If you don’t see it, you may need to swipe left. Once you locate the icon, tap it. Shortmarks is now your default search engine.*

Ready for the magic?

Now when I type hr in that search/address bar and tap the enter button my on-screen keyboard, I am immediately taken to my college’s Human Resources page. How cool is that?

*Default doesn’t always mean default

Sometimes Opera reverts back to Google as the default search engine. I don’t know why. If this happens, just tap on the Google ‘g’ icon, select the Shortmarks magnifying glass, and continue on as if nothing was ever amiss.

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