Jan 072011
 

In the last few days, well over half the hits on my website are on my Google: AROUND post. From what I can gather, it looks like teachers are emailing this post to each other. That tells me that there’s a serious interest in detecting plagiarism. As a teacher myself, I’m not surprised. Given that interest, I thought I’d point instructors to another piece of technology that can help with plagiarism detection.

The Cloze test was designed as a test of reading comprehension. For an example, check out this website. In short, some words are deleted from the text, say, every 5th word or every 7th word. The task is to fill in the missing words. The stronger one’s reading comprehension, the better one can guess at the missing words.

The test, though, has also been used as a test of plagiarism. If you’ve written the words yourself, you’re more likely to fill in the blanks with what you wrote the first time around. However, if you merely copied and pasted text, you’re going to have a harder time. Standing and Gorassini (1986) conducted two studies. In both, when doing a 5-word Cloze test, where every fifth word was deleted, students were able to fill in the blanks with the original word or its synonym about 85% of the time. When doing the same task with an essay written by someone else, students were correct only 66% of the time in one study and 59% in a second study.

If you suspect plagiarism and opt to give your student a Cloze test, replacing every fifth word with a blank is a pain, especially because you want the blanks to be uniform in size so as not to provide the amount of space available as a clue to the word. Here’s a simple online form that will do it for you: http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/gn/5thwordp.html.

When I paste the top of this blog post into the form, and click ‘submit,’ this is what I get. The top half can be copied, pasted, and printed out for your student to complete. The bottom half shows the missing words in bold print for easy scoring.

A quick word of caution: If students know they will be given this test in advance, they will have an opportunity to review the paper they submitted. The more they read over it, the more words they are likely to guess correctly.

Standing, L. & Gorassini, D. (1986). An evaluation of the Cloze procedure as a test for plagiarism, Teaching of Psychology, 37, 130-132.

Jan 062011
 

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!

 

Jan 012011
 

Yesterday I gave you a tour of the main page of my website. Today I want to give you a tour of my Psych 100 course site.

  1. The link to my syllabus will download a pdf of it. The first page of the syllabus contains two QR codes for students who want to use their smartphones to quickly bookmark my website or have a copy of the syllabus on their phones. (See this post on QR codes.)

  2. I created a Google calendar for my course. This is brand new for Winter 2011. Following the link opens the Psych 100 calendar, which I created as a public calendar. Students who use Google Calendar can click the “+Google Calendar” button to add it to their list of calendars. (See this post on using Google Calendar for your courses.)
  3. Also new this term, I’m having my students upload their assignments directly to my Dropbox using a service called DropItTo.Me. Previously I had students email me their assignments and used the EZDetach Outlook add-in to save the files to my computer. I’m thinking that uploading directly to my Dropbox may be easier for both me and my students, but there’s one thing that’s making me nervous. I’m asking students to include their name when they name the file. Based on the comments I’ve heard from faculty when I’ve told them about EZDetach, which automatically appends the student’s name and email address to the file name, I’m not confident that DropItTo.Me is going to work quite like I’d like. But the only way to know is to try it. (See these posts for more information about Dropbox, DropItTo.Me, and EZDetach.)
  4. Elluminate is a web-based web-conferencing service. The Washington State Board for Community Technical Colleges has a contract with Elluminate that allows faculty and staff at member colleges to use it as often as we’d like. It was meant, I believe, to be used as an addition to distance learning courses, but I use it for my face-to-face classes. Most of the time I use it to hold test reviews or an hour the Sunday night before an exam. The sessions are recorded for the students who can’t make it. The interface is pretty intuitive, so students learn how to use it very quickly with minimal instruction from me. (“Click the button at the bottom of the screen to turn your mic on and off.”) I’ve also used it when work travel was going to cause me to miss too many classes. Just before Thanksgiving, the Pacific Northwest got nailed with a snowstorm that turned everything to ice. Campus was closed for 2 and a half days. I used Elluminate to make up missed class time.

    If your institution doesn’t have a contract with Elluminate or another web-conferencing provider, and you’re looking for a free meeting space, check out ScribLink. (See this post.)

  5. These are the 20 most recent Delicious bookmarks that I’ve tagged with psychology-related tags. Whenever I add a new bookmark with such a tag, it’s automatically added to the top of the list and the bottom one rotates off. Scroll down and you’ll see the tag cloud. Clicking on, say, “learning” will call up all of the bookmarks I’ve tagged with learning. The size of the font gives you a sense of how many bookmarks there are in each category; the bigger the font, the more bookmarks are there. (See this post on Delicious.)

    This New York Times article comes with some good study advice based on psychological research. Follow the link, and a video of me speaking will start playing. Eyejot allows you to record a video and attach it to a webpage. (See this post on Eyejot). Scrolling down farther, I’ve boxed some text and added a note using MarkUp.io. (See this post on MarkUp.io.) Actually, the sequence was reversed. I used MarkUp.io first because it gives me a new URL, one that goes to their website where the annotations are stored. Then I attached my Eyejot video to that new URL.

    I make my lecture outlines available to my students. I have a tendency to speak quickly (I blame it on my east coast upbringing, but I promise I’m working on it – the quick speaking, not the east coast upbringing), and I have a large number of students for whom English is not their first language. Not a good combination. Many students will print out the lecture outlines and bring them to class to make class easier to follow. Add the bottom of each outline is a Delicious bookmarks tag cloud that’s specifically relevant to that topic area.

    For example, on the Sensation and Perception lecture outline page, at the bottom you will see this. Only bookmarks tagged with “sensation” or “perception” will appear here.

    Finally, I recommend some books in the “Further Reading” section. Each hyperlink takes you to a different Google Bookshelf. Google Books allows you to save book titles to your own library. Each book can then be saved to one or more virtual bookshelves. On the left, you can see the bookshelves I’ve created and the number of titles on each shelf. On the right, you see each title and book information.

    Clicking on a title provides a more detailed description, more review information, and on the right, ways to get the book, including using WorldCat finding it in your public or college library.

    Conclusion

    The thing to remember about websites is that they are never really done. Mine has been evolving since the mid-90s. If you want to add some of these elements to your own website (or course management system), don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. If you have students who often ask for book recommendations, start by slowing building a Google library. When you have some titles, direct students to them.

    As you website builds, check in with your students. Do they find the content useful? Can they find what they’re looking for? Is there something they’d like to see added?

    If you have a feature on your website that you really works for you, I’d love to hear what you’re doing!

Dec 312010
 

I’ve been writing about technology and education for almost two years now, and I thought I’d take some time to show you how I’m using these various tools on my website. Of course you’re welcome to visit the live site and try them out.

  1. At the top of my main page, there’s a quote. Every time you reload the page, another quote is chosen at random from the 25 I’ve selected. It’s produced with a little javascript I got at JavaScript Source. I can’t find the original there anymore, but you can find the same script I used and installation instructions here.
  2. To schedule an appointment with me, follow the link which takes you to my YouCanBook.Me calendar. (See this post on using YouCanBook.Me.) My students make heavy use of this tool. It’s been a real time saver for me. No more bandying emails back and forth trying to find a time when both myself and the student are available.
  3. My college uses free instant messaging software called Spark. When I’m logged in, the “Live Help” button appears. Clicking it will call up a pop-up window that asks for your name, email address, and a place to enter your question. When you click the “start chat” button, Spark sends me your information, and asks me to accept or reject the request. If I accept, you get a chat window in your browser. If I reject, you’re given the option to leave me a message. If I’m offline, this button appears.

    If you see that I’m online, feel free to join me for a chat.

  4. Scrolling down a little further on my main page calls up two RSSInclude boxes. (See this post on RSSInclude.) These widgets bring in RSS feeds. Any time something new is added to our department website or when APA updates PsycPort, the newest item is added to the top of the list and the bottom one drops off. Clicking on any of the titles takes you to the full news item.

Everything I have for my students is on my website. I’m not a fan of learning management systems (LMS). When I’ve used them, I felt really constrained by them, having to operate within their parameters. With my own website, I have free reign. Besides, I have a lot of resources on my website that I want students to be able to access even after they’ve left the course.

Next time I’ll give you a tour of my Psych 100 course site.

Dec 312010
 

When I look at new technology for use with my students, I apply a 2-step litmus test. Is it easy for me to learn? Is it even easier for my students to learn? I learned a long time ago that if it took me hours to learn how to use something, it was going to take me even longer to help my students learn to use it. Second Life is a good example of that. While a virtual world is very cool without a lot of applications for education, it comes with a steep learning curve. I crossed that one off my list.

Corkboard is the polar opposite. Go to Corkboard.me. The website will automatically generate a unique URL, in this case: http://corkboard.me/jrQMN2ykM3. There’s no login. There’s nothing to learn, really. Click on the post-it note to edit it. Click anywhere on the ‘cork’ to generate a new sticky note. No need to save; it does it automatically


IMPORTANT: If you want to access this board again, bookmark the page. It’s the only way you can get to it. If you go to Corkboard.me again, it will just generate a new board.

If you want to give students online space to collaborate, I can see this being an easy alternative. Services like Google Docs and Dropbox are fine, but each student needs to sign up with an account and then learn how to use it. Here, you just give them a link.

Obviously there’s no way to know which student left which note unless they sign them. Even then each note can be edited by whoever visits the page.

If you want to use it for student group collaboration, consider bundling the corkboard links together so you can flip through them quickly. (See this earlier blog post on bundling.) Here I’ve created 3 corkboards and bundled them together using BridgeURL. If you want students to see what the other groups are doing, give them the bundled URL. If you want them to work on their own, just give them their Corkboard URL and keep the bundled URL for your own use.

Other ways to use Corkboard:

  • Keep your to-do lists here or use it as an idea storage place. Others can only access it if you give them the URL. If you use it for these purposes, I would suggest adding your Corkboard page to your home tabs so the page opens whenever you start your web browser. If you want to access your Corkboard on your smartphone, you can either tap in your Corkboard URL or get your page’s QR code and scan it into your phone. (See this post if you’re unfamiliar with QR codes.)
  • A space for anonymous questions. In high school I had a health class where the teacher kept a box where students could drop questions anonymously. I thought it a very kind thing to do for 14 year olds. Corkboard could be a virtual anonymous question box.

Some additional functionality would be nice, like the ability to change the font or the color of the sticky notes. I’d also like to see an RSS feed so I can be apprised of changes to my Corkboard via my RSS feed reader. Obviously not necessary if I’m just using it for my own purposes, but it would sure be nice if I’ve given access to others.

If you try it out, I’d love to hear how you’re using it and how it’s working for you.

Thanks to LifeHacker and iLearn Technology for the heads up on this webapp.

Dec 292010
 

There are two things on my computer I have open at all times: My email and my calendar. While I use the Outlook calendar, I sync it with Google Calendar so that any changes I make in one appear in the other. (How to sync Outlook and Google Calendar.)

There are a few advantages to using Google Calendar, such as.

  • It syncs easily with my Android phone.
  • I can use YouCanBook.Me so my students can create appointments with me on their own. (See this blog post.)
  • I can see all of my scheduled FollowUp.cc reminders. (See this blog post.)
  • I can share a calendar with my partner. All of our social engagements and travel go there.

Here’s another advantage. I can create a calendar for my class schedule that way I don’t have to dig out my syllabus to see what’s coming up. I can just look at my calendar. By creating it as a separate calendar, I can turn it off when I’m not using it so it doesn’t clutter up my day-to-day calendar. I can also create is as a publicly-accessible calendar so my students can also access it in their own calendars without having to dig out their syllabus.

And that’s what I did for my class. After creating the calendar, I put all of my course dates into a CSV file which I created in Excel, and uploaded to the calendar.

On the left you can see my calendars.

“Sue Frantz” is my personal calendar that I sync with Outlook. To the right you can see my “Sue Frantz” calendar items are displayed in blue.

“Psych 100” is the public calendar I created for my course. The “Psych 100” calendar items are in blue-green. (The colors are customizable.)

The “Tasks” calendar is shut off.

“Verla & Sue” is the calendar I share with my partner.

Other calendars:

“FollowUp.cc” displays my FollowUp.cc reminders.

“Weather” gives me the weather forecast for the next few days.

Create a Google Calendar

Click the “Add” link to generate this page. Put in your calendar name (I called mine Psych 100). Include a description and location if you’d like.

Crucially important: Select your time zone. When we import all of your calendar data from the CSV file, if you haven’t selected a time zone, all of your times will be off by 5 hours or so.

Check the box next to “Make this calendar public.” Or, if you’d rather just share it with the students in your class, set the permissions to “See all event details” then copy and paste all of your students’ email addresses at once. (It doesn’t much matter to me if the greater internet public knows on what date I’m covering chapter 7. Besides, my syllabus is on my website.)

When you click “Create Calendar” at the top of the page, the page will disappear, and you’ll be returned to your main calendar page. If your new calendar isn’t there, count to five, and reload the page.

Now, just because you have a calendar doesn’t mean that anyone knows about it. Even the people you’ve given permission. Let’s do some tweaking and then get the URL to give to our students.

Click the down arrow next to your calendar. Select the color you’d like. Appearance is important.


Now select “Calendar settings.” On that page, scroll to the bottom to see this.

If you want to embed your calendar on a webpage, copy the html code, edit your webpage in html view, and paste the code where you want it the calendar to appear. A word of warning: Some browsers don’t allow iframes, so any visitor with such a restriction won’t see your calendar.

Alternatively, provide a link to your calendar. In the “Calendar Address” section, click “HTML” to get the URL.

This is what the public calendar looks like.

Clicking any of the events calls up more information about the event.

At the very bottom right of the calendar is this icon. For your students who have Google Calendar, clicking will add your class calendar to their calendars.

Create the CSV file

While you could click on each date and time to enter your calendar events, it would be tedious. Instead, we’re going to create a CSV file to upload to the calendar. It’s still a little work, but less tedious.

Open Excel (or any other spreadsheet program). Save the file as CSV file so the file has a .csv extension. For example, I opened Excel, went to “Save As,” typed in Psych100 and selected CSV from the dropdown menu.

Google Calendar allows no room for error. The calendar headings have to be written like this. The only two that you absolutely need though are Subject and Start Date. (To use as a template, download this CSV file here.)

Uploading the CSV file

When your file is ready, go to Google Calendar, and click the “Add” link under “Other Calendars.” Select “Import Calendar.”

Before you do anything else, change the calendar to the one you want to import to, in this case I was importing to the Psych 100 calendar. You do not want to accidentally upload to the wrong calendar. If you do, there is no way to reverse the import. You will have to delete each entry manually.

Browse to the location of the CSV file you’d like to import. Then click “Import.”


Tips

Make sure the time and date cells in the CSV file are formatted as time and date. (Right click on the cell, select “Format Cells,” then click on time or date and choose the appropriate formatting. In the template, the time is set to a ‘custom’ setting. That’s okay.)

If you upload the file and the events don’t display as you’d like, you have to remove them from Google calendar manually, one at a time. You may want to only put a couple events in your CSV file to start. If they show up okay, go ahead and enter the rest.

I chose to keep my Subject entries short. Those are what will appear on the calendar when you’re looking at the week or day view. If they’re long, they’ll be truncated.

If you delete events and then try to upload them again without making any changes to the entry, you’ll get an error saying that Google Calendar wasn’t able to upload a certain number of events. The easiest solution is to make a small change to each event in the Subject column. On the subsequent upload, Google Reader will interpret it as a brand new event and upload it.

If your course pretty much stays the same from term to term, for the next term all you need to do is change the dates.

Google Calendar bonus tip

You can add icons to your events. Here are how the icons appear with my calendar. Yellow icons for dates when assignments are due; red icons for exams.

And here’s how they appear when you follow the public link to the calendar.

To get the icons, from your Google Calendar page, look in the top right corner. Click on the green beaker to go to Google Labs.

Enable the one called “event flair.” Go back to your calendar. When you click on an event, the icon palette appears on the right. Select the appropriate icon. Remember, in public calendars, everyone who accesses the calendar can see the icon.

While you’re poking around in Google Labs for calendar gadgets, check out “year view,” “dim future repeating events,” “jump to date,” and “world clock.”

Conclusion

If you’ve read this entire post and don’t use Google Calendar yet. Consider it. It provides some nice flexibility. It certainly makes it easy to change the schedule at the term progresses. Of course you still need to let students know what the changes are, but you’ll know that everyone has the same information on their calendars.

Dec 282010
 

A number of my colleagues have recently acquired smartphones that run on Android. I promised them that I’d share my favorite apps. Some of them are even relevant to education.

Andricious (free). As you may know, I’m a fan of Delicious, the social bookmarking service. Andricious gives me easy access to all of my Delicious bookmarks. When I use my phone’s web browser, I can also use Andricious to save pages to Delicious. (You may have heard a rumor that Delicious is shutting down. That’s not the case. A few years ago Yahoo bought Delicious and then did nothing with it. It looks like Yahoo is now looking to sell it. I’ve looked around at other social bookmarking services, and none seem to work as well as Delicious does for how I use it.)

Ask-WA (free). For the denizens of Washington State, this is our ask-a-librarian service. No matter the time of day or night, you can pose a question to an on-duty librarian. This service has been around for a while, but now we have it in an easy-to-use Android app.

Barcode scanner (free). While you can use it to scan any barcode, such as an item you see at Target to discover if you can find it at a cheaper price elsewhere, I use this mostly for QR codes.

Business calendar (free for now). I recently switched to this calendar from the stock Android calendar. It has some functionality that I really like, such as a widget that just shows me what I have for today, the ability to easily turn on/turn off my various Google calendars, and a month view that allows me to swipe across a few days to just see those few days. This app is in beta testing at least through January 12, 2011.

Documents to Go (free, but $14.99 for “premium features”). Use this for editing your MS Office documents, including PowerPoint and Excel. You can also edit your Google Docs with this app. Very handy to use in conjunction with Dropbox.

Dropbox (free). Access your Dropbox files.

Epistle (free). Speaking of Dropbox, this quick-edit app adds a folder to your Dropbox. Open Epistle on your Android phone, and you can quickly edit a document. Alternatively, on your computer, edit a document in Epistle and see it on your phone. I’ve been using it for making my list of errands. It’s easy to add to when I’m at home thinking of what I need to do, and easy to add to when I’m out and about.

Google Voice (free). I also have a Google phone number, but you don’t have to have that to use Google Voice. The biggest advantage of Google Voice is that it transcribes your voicemails. Granted, the transcription is sometimes cryptic. If Google isn’t sure of a word, it takes a guess, and sometimes the guess isn’t all that great. Fortunately you can play the voicemail and watch each word become highlighted as the audio plays. What I really like about it is the transcribed phone numbers. I haven’t seen Google transcribe a phone number incorrectly. To call the number, I just tap on the transcribed number. Very cool. Oh, and with the transcriptions, my voicemails are searchable. One more thing. Remember with the old answering machines you could listen in as someone was leaving a message and then pick up the call if you wanted? Google Voice lets you do that. (Updated 12/29/2010: To clarify, the answering machine pickup feature is only available with the Google phone number.)

ICE: In Case of Emergency (free). Not education-related at all. This adds a widget to your opening screen that emergency personnel can use to access your important medical information and emergency contacts.

Movies (free). Also not education-related, but essential. See what’s playing and when at your local movie theaters. See reviews of those movies courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes. Add to your Netflix queue if you’d like.

OurGroceries (free). Okay. Not education-related either, but if you live with anybody else, this is an essential app. On the OurGroceries website create an account. Share your account with your partner. Your grocery list will be synced to the website and to both of your devices (Android, iPhone, Blackberry). Create multiple lists. For example, I have a list for, among others, Safeway, Walgreens, and Costco. Whenever I add something to a list, either via the website or via my phone, the list is updated on my partner’s phone. OurGroceries remembers the items. That means that I don’t have to type ‘spaghetti’ every time. When I type ‘spa’ I get all the items that contain the ‘spa’ string. At the store, as you pick up items, cross them off by tapping on them. Within seconds, the crossed off items appear crossed off on all other synced devices.

PdaNet ($15.95 for a limited time). This app tethers your computer to your Android phone allowing you to use your phone as a modem. I use this mostly when I travel. If I’m staying in a hotel that charges $12.95 a day for internet access, I just attach my computer to my phone instead. Some people have been able to connect via VPN to their office network through PdaNet. I haven’t been able to get that to work, though.

Power Control Plus ($1.99). Add a widget to your screen that lets you quickly do things like turn off sound (very handy for class), turn off wifi and GPS (handy for conserving battery power), use your phone’s flash as a flashlight, and a whole host of other customizable options.

Reader (free). Access your Google Reader feeds.

Swiftkey (1-month free trial; $3.99). This is an alternative to the stock Android keyboard. Its text prediction feature is really good. After some time it learns from what you type and does a pretty good job at guessing what you’re going to say next.

Tick! (free). A very easy to use timer. If all you want is to countdown for some number of minutes, this is the timer to use. I use it in class when I want to give my students a certain amount of time to do some task.

Where’s My Droid? (free). Have a tendency to misplace your phone? Send a text (say, from Gmail) to your phone to turn on the ringer and call it or send a text to get your phone to send you a text with its coordinates, if you left your GPS on. Again, Gmail works well for this. Click on the coordinates to call up a Google map with a marker pointing to the location of your phone – or within 30 or so feet of your phone.

If you can’t find an app to do what you want, create your own with App Inventor.

 

 

Dec 142010
 

Last month I wrote about BridgeURL, a service that lets you bundle links together into one URL. Controls appear on either side of your browser window that allow you to cycle through the links. Here’s an example of a BridgeURL link. For those of you who are fans of bit.ly, the URL shortener service, they’ve recently added the ability to bundle URLs together.

Log in to your bit.ly account. Check the boxes next to the links you’d like to bundle together, and click ‘Bundle.’

Clicking ‘Bundle’ generates this page where you can add links to your newly created bundle. In this screenshot, you only see the first link. The other two are below it. You can revisit this bundle at any time to add links.

I’m going to change the title and give a description of the bundle.

This is what it now looks like.

When I click the ‘Share’ button, I get the screen below. If I click ‘Copy,’ the URL for my bundle is copied to my clipboard, and I can paste it anywhere I’d like. If I click customize, I can name the link anything that isn’t already taken. For instance, I customized this bundle to this: http://bit.ly/Correlations. If you’re giving links to students in paper form, customizing is the way to go. It’s easier for students to type in that URL than to type in random letters.

Once your bundle’s created, you can add links, remove links, and rearrange links. Go back into your bit.ly account, and click on the bundle. Or just follow the link that you created.

To add links, copy and paste your link into the box and click ‘Add to bundle.’ To edit your title or description, click on the title to change the title; click on the description to change the description. To delete or rearrange links, click the box directly above the ‘Add to bundle’ button. That will collapse all of your links so you’ll only see the titles. Click the garbage can to delete a link. To rearrange the links, mouse over a link, grab it with the hand that appears, and drag it to where you want it to go. That’s it. It’s automatically saved, and your previous customized URL will still work.

If you send your students out to the web to visit a number of sites, bundling makes it easier on you and your students. By editing your bundle, you can easily change an assignment without changing the URL you give to your students.

And for those of you have become QR code aficionados, point your smartphone here to go to this bit.ly bundle.

Dec 122010
 

RSS feeds are a great way to keep track of what’s new. I use Google Reader, but there are many other ways to read RSS feeds. You can even bring feeds into Outlook. If you’re unfamiliar with RSS feeds, start with this post about Google Reader.

Here I’m going to talk about how you can push RSS feeds to your students via your website or CMS (e.g., Angel).

This is from my personal web page. Everything in the box comes from the American Psychological Association (APA). Every time APA updates their news feed, the content in this box is updated. If you visit my website and click any of those titles, you’ll be taken to the full article.

How to do it

I use a service called RSSInclude. After you set up a free account, you’ll be given the opportunity to create a new RSSbox. You’ll be given a few templates to choose from. The box you see above is “the simple vertical list.”

Next, you’re asked for the URL of the feed. To find it, look for the little orange icon. On APA’s website, for example, there’s a “News & Events” section. It’s there where you can find the RSS feed URL I used to create the above RSSbox. Following that link, I was given the option to choose from a number of feeds. I chose this one: http://psycport.apa.org/siteware/rssfeed.xml.

Here I’ve entered the feed URL.

After clicking “Add Feed,” this is what you get. Now click “Content and Styling Options.”

Now you can jazz it up a bit. Decide what title you’d like, the number of entries you want to appear in your box, the size of the box, the color of the font and the background, and so on.

Once you have it looking as you’d like, click the “save and preview” button at the bottom of the page. Do you like how it looks? It’s ready to go live!

Click the “Include!” tab to get the code to add to your webpage. For most webpages, including your CMS, javascript works just fine. Copy the code provided. Edit the page where you’d like to include your code. Be sure to select something like ‘html view’ or ‘code view’ so you can see the html code used to display your page in a browser. Locate where you’d like your RSSbox to go. Paste your code. Save your page.

That’s it!

Create as many RSSboxes as you’d like. In addition to the PsycPORT news feed, I also have an RSSbox that imports content from our psych department website. (Our website is built using WordPress, a popular blogging platform, so any new content is automatically dropped into an RSS feed.)

Try it out. If you run into any problems, let me know!

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