Category: Uncategorized

Windows 10: Connecting to VPN should be easier than this. And now it is.

I made the jump from Windows 7 to Windows 10. I generally like this upgrade, although connecting to my college’s VPN has gotten much harder. Well, not harder, just more tedious. In Windows 7, I could click on my internet connection icon in the system tray, and then click on “HighlineVPN,” and I was connected. I didn’t think it such a miraculous thing until that functionality disappeared in Windows 10. I can still do those same steps, it’s just that now when I click on “HighlineVPN” a new window opens where I can click on “HighlineVPN” again (?) which then gives me the option to connect by clicking the connect button(?!). I guess the programmers wanted to make sure that I really, really, REALLY wanted to connect to this VPN.

With a little effort, I now have a keyboard shortcut that will connect/disconnect me from my college’s VPN. Sweet!

[Why do I want to connect to my college’s VPN? The VPN provides extra security when I’m connected to, say, my local coffee shop’s wifi – hackers monitoring that wifi wouldn’t be able to gain access to my computer without weaseling their way through my college’s IT security measures as well. And when I’m connected, I can do things just as if I were sitting in my campus office, like print to my building’s copier.)

Ready? First, make sure you have already set up a connection to a VPN. If you’re not sure how to do that, contact your institution’s helpdesk.

Creating the code to connect/disconnect your VPN

Open up Notepad on your computer, then copy and paste this code, replacing myvpn with the name of your VPN. (Shout out to the good folks at StackOverflow for this solution!)

@ echo off
Ipconfig|find/I “myvpn” && rasdial myvpn /disconnect || rasdial myvpn

Do File -> Save as. Type a descriptive filename, and end it with .bat. Put the file somewhere on your hard drive where you can find it. Not on your desktop. You have too much stuff on your desktop already. Choose someplace like your C: drive. Mine is here — C:\Users\sfrantz

This is what my HighlineVPN.bat file looks like in Notepad.

You have just created a little computer program. Good job! When you open this file, those lines of code will run. The first line just tells the computer not to show you the second line of code. The second line of code handles the VPN connection. If you’re not connected to your VPN, it will connect you. If you are connected, it will disconnect you.

A black window will briefly appear showing you what the computer is doing. It will show this when connecting.

Note: If you want to edit your .bat file, right-click on it in the folder, and select edit. Double-clicking on it will run the program, and your VPN will connect/disconnect.

Creating the shortcut

Desktop shortcut. Navigate your folders until you find your .bat file. Right-click on it, and select “Create Shortcut”. Then drag that shortcut to your desktop. If you want to connect/disconnect from your VPN, double-click on your shortcut. Frankly, if you’re going to do this, you might as well just put the file itself on your desktop rather than bother with the shortcut. But as I wrote earlier, you already have enough stuff on your desktop.

You can create keyboard shortcuts to these kind of Windows shortcuts, although it didn’t work for me with this shortcut. Maybe because of the nature of this kind of file, I don’t know.

Instead, I used Phrase Express. Phrase Express lets Windows users create a keyboard shortcut for just about anything. I mostly use it to expand something short into something much longer. For example, when I type !STP it expands to Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In this case, I’m going to use Phrase Express to create a keyboard shortcut that will open my HighlineVPN.bat file – and opening it is what causes my computer to run the code that connects/disconnects my VPN.

Within Phrase Express, I created a “new phrase” by clicking the button at the bottom of the Phrase Express screen. I typed a useful description so I could find this later if I needed to – like when writing a blog post about how to do this. I selected Macro -> Automation -> Open a file. Phrase Express asked me to navigate my folder structure until I located my HighlineVPN.bat file. After selecting it, Phrase Express entered #open in the “Phrase content” box. Below that box, I clicked the Ctrl and Win buttons, and selected V from the dropdown menu, and clicked ok. That was it!

All I do now is press CTRL + Windows + V, and I connect to/disconnect from my college’s VPN.

ZipWhip: Get Your Text Messages on All of Your Devices

Want to receive text messages on all of your web-enabled devices? If you have an Android phone, install ZipWhip (free) on your smartphone, laptop, desktop, and Android tablet. Any time you get a text message, the message will appear on all of your devices. When I’m working at my computer, like now, my phone is who-knows-where. But when a text message comes in, I will get a pop-up on my computer screen showing me the text. It doesn’t matter on which device I read the text, ZipWhip will mark it read on all of my other devices. I can even reply from my computer. It is much easier to type a message on a full keyboard than it is on my phone’s keyboard. For new text messages, I can send them now or schedule them to go out at some future time. ZipWhip will tell me when I have a call coming in on my phone and the number that’s calling. If it’s from a number that’s in my contacts, ZipWhip will tell me who it is.

If you connect to the internet when you fly, you can receive and send text messages via ZipWhip. Gogo is launching a “Talk & Text” app for both iPhone and Android devices that will allow you to send and receive texts and phone calls although it’s unlikely that the talking half of the service will exist on U.S. domestic flights. I certainly don’t want that – not because I don’t want to talk to my wife, but because I don’t want to listen to you talk to yours – the support that I can give to your relationship has limits. The pricing on this app is still a mystery as of this writing, but it probably won’t be free. If you’re buying internet access for your laptop or tablet anyway, might as well text using ZipWhip.

How it works

After installing ZipWhip and launching the application, the ZipWhip webapp will open in your web browser. The interface is ridiculously easy to navigate. On the left are the numbers from which I have received texts or phone calls. On the right are the text messages/phone calls I’ve received or dialed. If I want to reply to a text, I mouse over the text, which I have done with the second text, and click “Reply.” Clicking the arrow will let me forward it. The trash can will delete it. Since ZipWhip synchronizes with my phone, anything I delete here will also be deleted on my phone.

Click “New Text” to send a new text. Click the down area to the right of “New Text” to access the scheduling option.

Arriving text

Text messages appear in a bright orange box in the top right corner of my computer screen, and then slowly fade.

Privacy mode

If you don’t want messages appearing on your screen because you’re presenting in class from your personal laptop – or perhaps you are giving a talk on technology to a large group of workshop participants, right-click on the orange ZipWhip “Z” icon in your system tray (bottom right corner of your computer screen). Click on “Privacy Mode.” The orange “Z” icon in your system tray will turn half gray and half orange, making it easy for you to confirm that no embarrassing text messages will appear unbidden.


Back on the ZipWhip webpage, click “ZipWhip” in the top left corner of the screen and select “Settings.” In the popup window, click the messaging tab.

My new-message volume is set to zero. The bright orange box is enough notification for me; I don’t need sound, too. I don’t include a signature with my text messages; I type everything I want to say.


Not bad for free, right? Now, if you’re willing to pony up $19.95 per month, you can receive text messages sent to your landline. Students could text you at your office phone number; their texts would appear on your computer screen and all of the rest of your connected devices. If you like that idea and are willing to put a little effort into setting it up, check out, a free text messaging service (see this blog post).

Displaying the time during tests

A year ago, I wrote about how the ability to tell time on an analog clock was going the way of the slide rule. Watches, digital and analog, have largely disappeared. Why wear one when you have a cell phone to tell you the time? While watches do seem to be making a comeback as a fashion accessory, that particular trend hasn’t hit my campus yet judging by my students’ bare wrists.

For a student who doesn’t have a watch and can’t tell time using the analog clock in the back of my classroom, pacing oneself during a test in my classroom is a tricky business.

I project the time using my classroom’s computer.

After much looking around, I’ve settled on as my time website of choice. This is what it looks like to my students.

The screenshot below is what looks like when I first visit the site. It correctly identifies my location as the Seattle area. The information provides is a little much for displaying during a test. Most of my students don’t use a 24-hour clock. Displaying the seconds might actually increase anxiety (“Oh no! Time is going really fast!”). My students don’t need to know that my computer’s time is exact (but good for my computer!). They also, while taking a test, don’t need to know the time in Beijing.

Let’s customize.

First, clicking on the time strips away everything except for the “” logo in the top left corner and the big bold time in the center; you get a screen that looks like the screenshot that led off this blog post. Click on the time again to go back to the default view that shows all the extras.

Let’s change the display to a 12-hour clock and ditch the seconds.

At the very top of the screen, click “more.” Then select “customize.”

That generates this customization screen. Uncheck “24 hours” and “show seconds.” Then click “Back to the front page.”

Ta da! You now have a 12-hour clock and the seconds are gone.

Click on the time to show just the time. Done!

Analog Clocks: My Generation’s Slide Rule

A couple weeks ago I was sitting in our psychology lab when a student wandered in.

Me: Can I help you?

Student: <locating the clock on the wall> I was wondering what time it is.

The student is visually impaired, judging by how close he was standing to the clock and how he was squinting.

Me: It’s 20 ’til 11.

Student: What?

Thinking the student is also partially deaf, I speak up.

Me: IT’S 20 ‘TIL 11.

Student looks at the clock, clearly baffled. Another student in the lab chimes in.

Student #2: It’s 10:40.

Student: Oh! I’m late!

Finally it dawns on me. The student didn’t know how to read an analog clock. He wasn’t a young student, either; probably in his thirties. I mentioned this to a colleague who has a teenage daughter. He said that she also can’t read an analog clock. Although he wasn’t entirely convinced she could tell time at all judging by her inability to be on time. There are some confounding variables there, granted.

One week later I’m back in the lab when another student wanders in; this one is younger. I’m thinking, “Here we go again.”

Me: Can I help you?

Student: <locating the clock on the wall> I just wanted to know what time it is.

Student stares at the clock.

Student: <wanting to give it a try> It’s 9… no, it’s 10… 10…

Me: 10:40.

Student continues to stare at the clock not quite believing me.

Me: It’s actually 10:37.

Satisfied, the student walks out.

[Side note: Weirdly, both of these events did take place at 10:40-ish.]

Now I’m not curmudgeonly enough to say that everyone should know how to read an analog clock. In our digital world, it doesn’t matter. Slide rules were very useful right up until calculators became small enough and cheap enough for most everyone to have. It’s been years since I had an analog watch, or a watch of any kind for that matter; the digital display on my cell phone works just fine when I’m on the go. When I’m in my office, my computer provides a nice digital readout in the bottom right corner.

A few colleagues and I were discussing this phenomenon recently. One person wondered what that was going to do to the concepts of clockwise and counterclockwise. Will the terms disappear or will they continue to be used but with their origin largely forgotten, like “the whole nine yards”? Apparently it’s becoming something of an issue because I noticed the recent addition of helpful arrow icons to Adobe Reader. Maybe in the end it will just be “rotate right” and “rotate left”.

Another colleague wondered what will happen to “the top of the hour.” That one may hang on with its origins eventually lost, but I’d say that the days are numbered for “quarter past” and “quarter ’til”. “Half past” may also be doomed.

If you’re feeling adventurous, show your students a few images of an analog clock and ask them to write down what time the clock is showing. I’d be curious to hear how many can do it. Post your results in the comments below.

Password Security: Can I Guess Your Password?

Qwerty? 123456? Ashley? Bailey? SplashData has released the list of the top 25 passwords culled from lists produced by hackers. Is yours on the list? Password security is the best thing you can do to protect yourself.

I use LastPass to store all my passwords – one password to rule them all. It runs in my browser and on my Xoom and Android phone. If I remember that password, I have access to them all. It will also generate passwords for me if I’d like.

Don’t want to use a password manager? Be sure to create strong passwords that you will remember for the different websites you visit. Some people suggest using your favorite lyrics and mixing things up a bit. But don’t choose something popular. Hackers know enough to try those. Glen Campbell was recently honored at the CMA Awards, so let’s take a look at how some of his lyrics might look as passwords

“Like a rhinestone cowboy”





(*** = rhinestones, -^- = cowboy hat)

“I am a lineman for the county”


!mal!neman4the123y (123=count)


(_ = line, z = the)

“Oh Galveston”


(ton – 2000 lbs)

Develop a system that is unique to you, and use it.


QTT: USB Cable – Which Way Is Up?

Quick Tech Tip. Tired of guessing which way your USB cable needs to be inserted? Look for the logo. That way is up.

For those of us who have to squint to see the logo, add a little white out or nail polish to the top side. Never guess again.

(Thanks to Lifehacker for the suggestions from Royce Eddington and one of the LifeHacker readers.)

*The frowny-face in the USB cable image wasn’t intentional.

Pacific Northwest Assessment, Teaching, and Learning Conference 2011

I had the pleasure of spending last Thursday and Friday in Spokane, WA at the Pacific Northwest Assessment, Teaching, and Learning Conference. This annual conference is presented by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (WA SBCTC) and draws mostly from this group but there was a smattering of faculty from the 4-year colleges and universities in Washington, Oregon, and California.

The plenary was given by Bill Moore, head of the Assessment, Teaching, and Learning wing of the Washington SBCTC. His presentation was largely a reminder that educators do not have to work in isolation. He concluded with an activity. We were seated at tables of 8-10 people. In this activity we each took a few minutes to identify a teaching-related problem we had. Then one person volunteered to take 5 minutes to describe their problem to the group. The group then had 5 minutes to ask clarifying questions. For the next 15 minutes, the person with the issue kept silent as the group members discussed the problem, proposing possible solutions. Finally, in the last 5 minutes, the person with the issue reacted to the discussion. While our table was initially skeptical of this process, some of us found it so useful that we may make it part of our on-campus professional development training.

My tech tools presentation was in the first concurrent session of the conference. When I walked in the room and saw that there was no projector, I remembered that presenters at this conference are asked to bring their own projectors. I have one. Unfortunately it was sitting under the desk in my office 300 miles away.

After doing much asking around, Jerry Lewis at Columbia Basin College offered the use of his. It was in his hotel room a bit of a hike away. He arrived 3 minutes before the 10:30am start time. He ran part of the way. (Thank you, Jerry!!) With 75-80 people in attendance, it would have been difficult to have them huddled around my computer screen. I suppose the alternative would have been an interpretive dance of the various tech tools. That would have whittled down the audience enough that we could have huddled around my computer screen. There were several people in the room with computers. If the free wifi at the Spokane Convention Center would have been faster than dial-up, I could have used JoinMe to beam my desktop to the participants. JoinMe does work on web-enabled phones.

To avoid that snafu in the future, I created a for the day before I am to leave for next year’s conference reminding myself to take a projector if I’m presenting.

For this presentation, I started with directing participants to my workshop To get there one could either enter the URL directly into one’s web browser or smartphone users (approximately 75% of attendees) could scan the QR code I gave them. Participants used to offer their suggestions regarding the tools I discussed or additional tools that the participants might find useful.

Next up was Educators frequently have to access their files from their offices, their homes, their classrooms, and on the go, like when they’re at conferences. I would be remiss if I gave a tech presentation and omitted Dropbox. About a quarter of the attendees currently used this tool. After covering some of the major features, I suspect at least another 25% were onboard. In fact, some had it installed on their smartphones before the session was over.

The other tools I wanted to make sure I covered were YouCanBook.Me and Doodle’s MeetMe. In this presentation the only people who had heard of the former were from my college. Given the number of students and advisees we have, one of these tools, or something like them, is a necessity.

The other tool I wanted to demonstrate was Conduit’s web browser toolbar. Research shows that the fewer barriers there are between you and a behavior, the more likely you are to engage in that behavior. As one conference participant put it, “So the toolbar will be there when the student is on Facebook?” Yes, it will.

Of the remaining tools, participants were interested in Audacity for providing feedback to students. Other participants suggested alternatives such as Tegrity, a tool freely available to members of the Washington State Community and Technical College system. Another person was interested in PhraseExpress, another tool useful for grading papers.

What I especially like about this presentation approach is that I get to cover what I think are the most important tools while giving participants an opportunity to hear about the tools they’re most interested in.

It was now time for lunch. I had the pleasure of sitting with a couple psychology faculty from South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, WA. Our conversation covered a lot of ground, including both psychology and technology.

Oh. And I got an award. My sincerest thanks to my Vice President of Academic Affairs, Jeff Wagnitz, for suggesting the nomination and to my colleague, Social Science Division Chair, and friend, Ruth Frickle, for writing the nomination letter. Over the last 10 years I’ve done much work at my college around assessment of student learning outcomes. I’m now leaving that role to focus on the technology of teaching and learning. It means a lot to me to have my assessment work acknowledged and appreciated.

I spent the afternoon in the ‘eLearning Center’. That was a new addition at this year’s conference. Participants could drop in for help with any technology related to teaching and learning. While it was primarily used as a place for the tech folks to hang out and chat, those conversations were quite fruitful.

The second and final day of the conference started with a series of concurrent sessions. The first one I attended was by Stephanie Delaney at Cascadia Community College. She piloted a peer mentor program that was based on two premises: 1) The first two weeks are crucial to student success in an online or hybrid course; 2) Students who need the most help do not seek it out. With a small grant, she hired two student workers to contact approximately 200 students identified as high risk, including students in their first or second quarter in an online course. Two weeks before the quarter started, the target students were contacted by phone and/or email to see if they needed help with the course management system and to identify any roadblocks, such as no computer/internet at home. A week before the quarter started, students were contacted again with a reminder to log into the online/hybrid course next week and do something. At the end of the first week, they were contacted a third time to see how things went during the first week. At the end of the second week, they were contacted one last time. For students who were struggling, they were given information about where to get help as well as how to go about dropping the course if they had decided that online courses weren’t for them. Despite the program’s success, it was not funded for next year. Participants suggested other ways to run it, such as through the tutoring center or as a student government initiative.

The second session of the day was on Tegrity, lecture capture software, presented by Jerry Lewis from Columbia Basin College, my hero with the projector. I started using Tegrity earlier this year so there wasn’t much new in his presentation for me. I did learn how to solve one of my Tegrity problems. When I have my headset on and I’m playing a video, the audio only plays in my ear. It doesn’t play over the speakers. David Spiel, also of Columbia Basin College, told me the solution. I haven’t tried it yet. As soon as I get it working, I’ll post the solution here.

The third and last session of the day came from Tom Caswell and Scott Dennis, both from the WA SBCTC. Their presentation was on how to use third party tools, such as what I cover in this blog, in combination with a course management system. You can download their handout here, which includes some examples from the Google suite of products. Be sure to check out Scott Dennis’ tech tools bookmarks.

If you’re located in the Pacific Northwest or are looking for an excuse to visit, I hope to see you at the 2012 conference May 2-4 in Vancouver, WA. Be sure to say hi!


ChoreWars: Turning Chores into Adventures

Having played my share of games like World of Warcraft and Diablo, I’ve been fascinated by the built-in reinforcement of achieving experience points, gaining status by leveling up, acquiring better weapons and armor, and finding treasure. I’ve toyed with the idea of structuring my class in a similar way. My class is point-based, so it’s easy enough to see how that could work. After earning so many points, a student levels up. After completing certain tasks, the student can roll a die for treasure.

But that has always felt like one of those 3am ideas. You know, the ones that you have in the middle of the night that just feels like absolute brilliance, but by the light of day you think, “That’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever had.”

And then I read an article in the NY Times, “On a Hunt for What Makes Gamers Keep Gaming.” The article asks, “Why are these virtual worlds so much more absorbing than school and work? How could these gamers’ labors be used to solve real-world puzzles? Why can’t life be more like a video game?” The answer is as simple as operant conditioning, “Players get steady rewards for little achievements as they amass points and progress to higher levels, with the challenges becoming harder as their skill increases.” Tom Chatfield, author of Fun Inc.: Why Gaming Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century, is quoted as saying, “One of the most profound transformations we can learn from games is how to turn the sense that someone has ‘failed’ into the sense that they ‘haven’t succeeded yet.”

Is a test the only opportunity a student has to show that they know the material? Is it a one-time thing, or does the student get multiple opportunities to try? I think about any video game I’ve played, going all the way back to Donkey Kong. I didn’t get just one chance to master a level. I had 3 lives. And if that didn’t do it, there were always more quarters. In my course, there are 2 chances with tests. If you don’t do well on the first test, but do better on the comprehensive final, the final can replace it. It’s a mastery approach, but not by much. I’m convinced there’s a better way, but I haven’t found it yet.

But this blog is about technology. The NY Times article mentions a (free) game called ChoreWars. You set up your party, say your family, and you identify a number of chores, say vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes. To each chore, you assign experience points, the amount of virtual gold that could be earned, the chance of getting treasure and what that treasure might be, and the chance of running into monsters you then have to battle. As you accumulate more points, your character levels up. The virtual gold can be exchanged for real-life rewards. For instance, 100 gold pieces could be exchanged for the right to go to a movie.

But this blog is also about education. I used ChoreWars to create a game for my students. Instead of chores, students earn points, virtual gold, and the chance to win virtual treasure by completing school-related tasks, e.g., attending class, doing the reading assignment, completing the written assignments, meeting with a study group, studying on their own. I told them that playing was completely voluntary, but if it sounded fun to them and they decided to play, I’d play, too. So far I have a couple students who opted to join; we’ll see if they decide to stay with it.

Here are the members of my party.

Clicking the “Adventures” tab takes me to this page. Here are 3 of the tasks. Every time students complete the reading assignment, they click the ‘claim this’ button. They earn 40 experience points, are randomly given between 10 and 40 pieces of gold. They have a 1/3 chance of earning treasure and a 1/5 chance of encountering a monster. As dungeon master, I created the treasures and monsters.

The interface is intuitive. To add a new adventure, click the ‘new adventure’ button at the top of the adventures page. That generates this form.

Name your adventure, put in how many experience points the adventure is worth. Add a description and a location if you’d like. If you add a location, all of the adventures with that same location will be clustered together on the adventures page. Change the relevant stats. When a member of your party claims the adventure, their character’s attributes will increase. Changing the stats for a particular adventure will determine how many points their character’s attributes will increase. For example, for “studying with other people,” I set constitution at medium (takes energy to meet with a group), charisma at high (requires a lot of interaction), intelligence at medium (you have to know stuff), and wisdom at medium (you have to be able to find ways to explain stuff to others).

Enter the amount of gold that can be earned, the percent chance of earning treasure, what those treasures are, the chance of encountering a wandering monster, and who those monsters are. The “adventure status” defaults to active, but you can also ‘retire’ it (say, if an assignment due date has passed), or set it as a quest. A quest is something that only one person can do. Once someone claims a quest, it becomes inactive for everyone else.

I’m going to play with it this quarter to see what it’s like. But I can envision tying real-life rewards to something like virtual gold, something low-stakes, but motivating. For example, I offer a number of extra credit opportunities in my course, but students can only earn a maximum of 7 extra credit points. Perhaps students could trade in 200 gold pieces for the opportunity to earn an additional extra credit point with a maximum of an additional 5 that could be earned, or some such thing. Since ChoreWars operates on the honor system, I don’t want to give students too much incentive to say they’re doing something when they’re actually not.

If you try it out with your students, let me know how it works for you!