Feb 212012

[Update 2/27/2012 :  Grab is a similar utility for Mac users.  Go to Applications and look in the Utilities folder. — Thanks, Steve!]

Well, you already have this screen capture tool if you’re a Windows 7 user. Click the start button, select “all programs”, and in your accessories folder you’ll find “Snipping Tool”.

Now that you’ve found it, right-click on it, and select “pin to start menu” so it will be easily accessible.

When you run Snipping Tool, this little window pops up.

Click the little down arrow next to “New” to decide how you’d like to take a snapshot of your computer’s desktop. Whatever you choose will be the default the next time the program runs, but you can change it any time. I prefer the “rectangular snip”. The next time I run the program, I will just click the word “New”, bypassing this little menu.

Your screen will become faded, except for the Snipping Tool window. A cross (+) will appear. Click the mouse and drag the cross to encompass the area you want a picture of. Unclick. A preview will show in the window, like this screenshot I took of the word unclick.

Now you can save it, copy it to your clipboard (then paste it, for example, in a document like I’ve done here), email it to someone, write on it, or highlight some part of it. If you write on it, and want to erase, click the little eraser icon.

To take another shot, click the “new” button.

Almost all of the screenshots you see in this blog were done using Snipping Tool. Others, like most of the ones for this particular blog post, I used “Print Screen”. On your keyboard there’s a key labeled something like “PRTSC” or it may even say “Print Screen”. Hit that button, and while it looks like nothing has happened, an image of your computer’s desktop has just been saved to your clipboard. Go to, say, a Word document, and paste. An image of your computer’s desktop will be embedded in the document.


Feb 142012

I’m a fan of keyboard shortcuts, so here’s another one. (Okay. I confess. My wife asked me to find this one for her.)

Let’s say you’re reading a webpage, and in the process, your cursor gets moved out of the address bar. You now want to type in another web address, so you reach for your mouse to move the cursor into the address bar ready to highlight the URL so you can replace it with a new one.

But wait! You don’t need your mouse.

In Firefox and Chrome, CTRL-L not only places the cursor in the address bar, but it also highlights the entire URL. Just start typing your new URL.

Use this keyboard shortcut in combination with Shortmarks (see this previous blog post) for blazing fast web-browsing.

Feb 102012

[Update 2/29/2012: The folks at Fiesta.cc announced that someone else will be taking over maintenance of the service.]

In this earlier blog post, I recommended using Fiesta.cc as a tool for collaboration. It was a quick and easy way to create email distribution lists. Unfortunately Fiesta.cc just announced that they’re closing down effective March 1st, 2012. They are open to a buyer, so if someone is looking for a business opportunity…

Looking for an alternative? Try Google Groups. You can create a private group just for your class. I’ll write more about how Google Groups work in a future blog post.

Jan 312012

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.

Jan 112012

My students submit their assignments to me primarily as an email attachment. I have ways of quickly filing the email messages in Outlook (see the SimplyFile blog post), and then quickly saving the attachments all at once to my “student papers” folder while appending the students’ names and email addresses to the filename (see the EZDetach blog post). Once the papers are graded, I move them to my “graded” folder. Once I send them back to students, I move them to my “sent” folder where they sit until the end of the term when I move them into a folder named for that quarter. And there they sit until a student asks for a letter of recommendation. I go back to the quarter in question and sift through all of the assignments submitted that term. What if I filed all of the “sent” assignments into folders for each individual student? It’d be easy enough to do, but the thought of creating folders for each student one by one made me a little nauseous. I figured someone must have already figured this one out. And indeed they had.

I found the solution in this Lifehacker post. There’s a little program for Windows called Text 2 Folders (download it here). Click on the “portable zip” link to download the file. Open the folder, and “extract” the files. I saved them in a new “Text 2 Folders” folder in Dropbox, but put it wherever you’d like; it just needs to be someplace you will remember.

Text 2 Folders uses a txt file to create the folders. I’ll use Notepad, located in my Start menu’s Accessories folder, to create the txt file.

Creating the txt file.

I could just type in the names, like I did here.

But typing each name is a little tedious. I could copy and paste names out of my Excel spreadsheet. However, since I have first and last names in different columns, when I copy and paste, I get this funky spacing.

While I could go through and remove the additional spacing for each line, that’s, again, tedious. Instead I’m going to use one of Excel’s features to do this for me.

I want each folder name to look like this: Lastname Firstname

In Excel, I’ll add a column between the last and first names. In the top cell of that column (column B), I’ll add a space, then copy that cell all the way down.

Now I’m going to ask Excel to combine columns A, B, and C into column D. In the top cell of column D, enter =A1&B1&C1, and that cell will be replaced with Brown Charlie. Copy the cell down through the rest of that column. My spreadsheet now looks like this.

I’ll just highlight and copy column D and paste it into my open Notepad txt file. It looks just like if I had typed each name individually.

I’ll save the txt file to my desktop for easy access. I named mine folders.txt.

Creating folders.

Locate your Text 2 Folders folder. Double-click on the file “Text2Folders”. You will see this popup window.

Identify where you would like all of your shiny, new folders to go. Click the button to the right of the “root folder” box and navigate to the folder you’d like. Next, click the button to the right of the “text file” box and navigate to the text folder you created above.

I recommend checking the “Show folder after run” box, otherwise it will be easy to miss the fact that your folders have been created.

OK, ready for the magic? Click the “Create folders” button.

Done. My new folders are now ready in my Peanuts folder.

How slick was that?

Jan 102012

During winter break I spent most of my computer time on my personal laptop. When I got back on my (older) work laptop this week, I found that it was moving at a crawl. The sensation was undoubtedly amplified by the, by comparison, rocket ship I had been using. After some trial and error, I identified the culprit: Chrome. Or more specifically, one webpage I had open in Chrome.

Chrome is designed in such a way that each tab is essentially another instance of the program running. The advantage is that if a web page causes a crash, only that tab crashes; the rest of the tabs continue to run just fine.

As it turns out, some webpages suck up more RAM than other webpages do. Chrome comes with its own task manager so you can see what’s hogging all of your RAM, leaving less RAM to run other programs, like Word or Excel. To access the task manager, in Chrome click on the little wrench to access the settings, then under “Tools” select “Task manager.” Alternatively, while in Chrome, hit Shift+Esc on your keyboard.

This is what my Chrome task manager is showing me right now. I clicked on the top of the memory column to sort by memory usage. All of the icons that look like jigsaw puzzle pieces are Chrome add-ons that I have installed. I have six tabs open, with Google Calendar using up 208,752K of RAM. That’s quite a bit, but my computer is running just fine.

Earlier today when my computer was crawling, I looked at the Chrome task manager, and Google Reader was using a whopping 500,000K of RAM. I closed that tab and my computer sped right up. I just opened Google Reader again, and it was using a measly 55,000K.

The moral of the story: If you use Chrome, and your computer is struggling, open Chrome’s task manager to identify the offending webpage or extension, then close the page or disable the extension to free up RAM for the rest of your programs.

Jan 092012

In July 2011 I wrote about Socrative, a web-based student response system. (See the blog post here.) The brief version: The instructor logs into the Socrative website and gets a room number (change to whatever you’d like). Students visit the website on whatever web-enabled device they have (smartphone, iPod, tablet, laptop), and enter the room number. The instructor can ask multiple choice, true/false, or short answer questions. Ask them on the fly or create quizzes in advance. These quizzes can be teacher-paced or student-paced. Responses are collated into a spreadsheet and emailed to the instructor.

Socrative has added several very useful features to begin 2012.

On the premade quizzes, you can now randomize the answers. This is very handy if you want to make cheating a little more difficult.

The feature I really like is that you can choose whether you want students to get immediate feedback or not. After each exam, I identify the 4 most-missed questions. I push those questions back out to my students at the beginning of the next class session. Students can use their books, notes, and the other students near them to answer the questions for half credit. With immediate feedback turned off, students can’t share the correct answers with those around them.

Reports from quizzes used to be automatically emailed to instructors. Now you can choose to have it emailed, download it right now, or even choose not to have a report at all.

When building the premade quizzes, it is now possible to reorder the questions. That will be a huge help!

Another Socrative feature that I haven’t seen in other systems is the ability to push short answer responses back out to students for voting. The new addition is the ability to keep specific short answer responses from being sent back out for voting.

Read more about Socrative’s new features.

Dec 222011

Scientific American asked their “board of advisers to choose the technologies that they could not live without.” Read their answers here.

Having recently read Unbroken, Louis Zamperini’s surviving 47 days on a raft in the Pacific followed by a couple years in a Japanese POW camp, and currently reading The Unconquered, an expedition to find the last uncontacted Indians of the Amazon, I’ve concluded that there is a lot of stuff one can live without. People around the world, not just deep in the Amazon, live without a lot of what we have here in the States. And you know, our ancestors did just fine before the Industrial Revolution. Well, maybe not fine. Plague comes to mind. But most of them did survive. Or enough did to put us here today.

So I’m going to change the question. What technologies would I not want to live without?

There are the obvious. Indoor plumbing, as mentioned by one the SciAm people. Electricity. Plastic.

In the ‘gadget’ category, probably first and only on my list would be my laptop. It’s still my primary communications and work center. Tablet and smartphone manufacturers seem to be trying to figure out how to replicate the functionality of the laptop in a smaller, more portable device. While I like my tablet (Xoom), ereader (Nook Color), and smartphone (Samsung Galaxy Nexus), I don’t use them to do serious work. They’re more for quick checks – looking up something on the internet, checking email with maybe a short reply here and there, reading my news feed, generating the occasional tweet, and in the case of my phone, making phone calls. I don’t use them to write blog posts or grade student papers.

2001: A Space Odyssey was the first truly scary movie I remember watching. HAL simply took over. Once the astronauts realized it, it was too late.

Is our mobile technology doing the same thing to us? I’m not talking about the Jared Diamonds commercial where the husband’s car navigation system takes him to buy his wife jewelry.

Remember when you had a desktop and a landline? At home and at work? And that was all you had? What happened when someone called and you weren’t there? They left a message. Try leaving home without your cell phone. Feel naked? We’re no longer tethered to our desks, but are we working more because of it? I’ve been known to reply to student email while standing in line at the grocery store. Making good use of my ‘dead’ time or just working too much? I recently saw a group of four people sitting together at a restaurant. Before the food came, they were all looking at their individual screens. How many of them were giving that time to their employer instead of enjoying being out with friends?

In a recent post I mentioned that I changed settings so that my work email only comes to my phone when I request it. No more little, tiny envelope icons to draw me in. This past fall I was largely successful in turning off work in the evenings. While I love my job, it is not my entire life. Our work can use mobile technology to wind tendrils around us any time of the day or night. Have you fully succumbed to being on-call 24/7? Or have you cordoned off time and space just for you?

Dec 152011



The presentation has moved into the Q&A session, so I’m going to wrap up here. Be sure to check out the report and the 2011 study infographic. As we slide into the winter break, I hope to have time to read the report myself and write about some of their findings in this blog.


11:41am PT

Where do students say they learn the most?

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:34am PT

Basically, students don’t think instructors are using technology effectively. How can we make better use of the technology we have?

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:29am PT

What do students want instructors to use more often? The top three.

Email: 39%

Course management system: 32%

Ebooks/etextbooks: 31%

Interestingly, Facebook: 15%.


11:26am PT

How are students using their smartphones?

How about registering for courses? 22% have. Does your institution have a mobile-friendly registration process?

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:24am PT

The most valuable technologies for the students in the survey sample?

Word processors: 76%

Presentation software: 66%

College library website: 45%

Skipping down the list…

Ebooks or etextbooks: 25%

Online forums: 16%


11:20 am PT

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:18am PT

How many of these devices do you have?

(“Susan Grajek, EDUCAUSE: It is uneven. As you’ll see later, more students at masters and doctorals use mobile devices; more at community colleges use desktops”)

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:14am PT

Source: EDUCAUSE Live Presentation, 12/15/2011


11:11 am PT

Check out the 2011 study infographic.


11:08am PT

Two studies conducted in 2011: Traditional study with 145 institutions participating and a “national sample of undergraduates drawn from a consumer panel.”


11:03am PT

Read the report here.


11am PT

“In this free hour-long session, “ECAR National Study of Undergraduates and Information Technology, 2011,” Susan Grajek and Eden Dahlstrom will discuss the groundbreaking year for the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research’s annual National Study of Undergraduates and Information Technology and plans for 2012.”

Dec 082011

As the term comes to a close and you slide into the break for a bit of a breather, consider checking out these tech tools. I know you probably don’t have time now to look at these, although if you’re looking for a good excuse to do something besides grade papers… If you don’t want to take the time now, bookmark this webpage, and take a look at these when you need a break from your visiting in-laws. (Yes, I know you love them, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend the entire week with them.)

Here they are (the tools, not your in-laws), in no real order.

Dropbox.com. Not using Dropbox.com yet? Still carrying around a flashdrive or emailing files to yourself? If it were foolproof, I’d say keep doing it. But flashdrives fail or get lost. People forget to email that changed file back to themselves, having to call home when they get to work, hoping someone you live with is still there. And for those who live alone, hoping that someone has broken into your house and willing to answer your phone.

Instead, install Dropbox on your work computer and your home computer. Dropbox will add a folder called “My Dropbox” to both computers. Anything you put in that folder on one computer will synchronize with the other folder. Automatically. Edit a file at home. Save it. And it will be there waiting for you when you get to work. [Internet connection required.] (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

Shortmarks. My partner tells me that this is the best technology I’ve brought into our house since the PDA I got her as a replacement for her five-pound DayTimer several years ago. And you know that a lot of technology has flowed through our home in that time.

With Shortmarks, you enter a bit of text in your browser’s address bar, and Shortmarks directs you to that website. They start you off with a bunch but make it easy to add your own. For example, qty in my browser’s address bar takes me to the quarterly. Entry takes me to the entry code page. But it gets even better than that. For sites that allow you to do searches, you can search that site before even going to the site. For example, when I type z unbroken into my browser’s address bar and hit enter, I’m immediately directed to Amazon’s page that displays all results for the term “unbroken”. (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

Speaking of Unbroken I highly recommend it. By the author of Seabiscuit, Unbroken is a page-turner, or a screen-tapper for those of with e-readers. I believe it has a chance to with a Pulitzer for general nonfiction.

Sandglaz. Ready to get organized? I’ve finally found a task management system that replaces all of my little paper notes. Click to add a new task. Add a note or a due date to it if you’d like. Have one list for work stuff with a few different areas cordoned off for different kinds of tasks. Add a new list and share it with others to help keep track of what’s been done and what’s left to do. Bookmark the site on your Android or IOS phone and add stuff on the go. But not while driving. (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

Join.me. It’s an easy way to share your desktop with others. I use it during conference calls that I’m coordinating. I run Join.me, and it generates a link. I send that link out to the people who are part of the meeting. They click on the link, and they can see my desktop in their browser. To talk to each other, we can either join the conference call using Join.me’s built-in conference call number (free, but long distance for everyone), or by some other means.

It’s also handy when consulting with students and you want to show them something – a document, spreadsheet, webpage, really anything on your computer. Send them the link, and have them call your office phone. (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

YouCanBook.Me. Using Google Calendar, this service shows students when you’re free and lets them book themselves into your calendar. It will even send them a reminder. They also get a cancellation link. If they click that, it will remove them from your calendar. Use gsyncit ($20) to synchronize Google Calendar with Outlook. (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

If you’d rather give students access to only certain times in your available calendar, check out appointment slots in Google Calendar.[Update 12/15/2012: Effective January 2013, appointment slots will be discontinued. Existing appointments will be fine, however.]  (Click here for an earlier blog post.)

If you want even more stuff to try, flip back through these blog posts for the last year or two. I’m certain you’ll come across something interesting to try!

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