Dropbox Selective Sync

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.


Doodle: Make a Choice

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.

Appear.in: Online Office Hours

It’s official. Our faculty contract permits us to hold some of our office hours virtually. This quarter I decided to do one office hour online (Tuesdays, 10am to 11:30am PT through March 22, 2016, if you want to stop by. Click here to go there). But what platform should I use?

Our campus has Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate). It’s a powerful program that’s great for full-on web conferencing. But for online office hours, I wanted something lighter weight. I considered both Skype and Google Hangouts. Both have an-easy-to-use interface and screensharing, but both require the other party to have an account. And in Skype’s case, it just bugs me that you can’t close the program by doing things like clicking the x in the top right corner of the window or even selecting “close.” Close should mean close, not minimize. Join.me was closer to what I wanted. If others have the room address, they can come visit without needing a login themselves. But the free version of Join.me generates a new url each time. If I want a dedicated address, and I do, I’d have to sign up for their pro version at $20/month. There’s no way I can justify that when I have free access to something like Bb Collaborate.

I had been hearing chatter through my technology news feeds about the newest kid on the video conferencing block: appear.in. It was time to take them for a spin.

They advertise themselves as “one-click video conversations,” and that’s absolutely accurate.

Go to appear.in, create a room, and follow the signup instructions. I named mine sfrantz, so my appear.in address is http://appear.in/sfrantz.

When I enter my room, this is what I see.

In “Settings” I changed the background picture to a photo of my campus. Since I don’t like to be surprised, I keep my room “Locked.” Any visitors who arrive have to knock to be granted permission to come in – a feature activated in “Settings”. In the bottom right is a chat icon. Not something I need when meeting with one on one, but if I had a group of people (me and up to 7 others), chat would be handy. Mousing over my video display gives me a mic (mute/unmute), camera (on/off), computer (share screen or specific windows/not share), and “send a sticker” (not for me) icons.

Appear.inwill use your most-recently used mic and camera. If you want to use something different, click the camera icon in your browser’s address bar to select the mic and camera you would prefer to use.

In this screenshot, top right corner, you can see that I installed the appear.in Chrome extension. From what I can tell it’s essentially a bookmark that takes you to the appear.in homepage. They may have bigger plans for it, but for now I’ve uninstalled it.

Visiting my appear.in room

Let’s say you start by visiting my college’s faculty and staff directory. When you search my name and go to my entry, you will see this – or something like this.

If my dogs, Murray and Tanner, clicked on the link provided in my Tuesday office hours, they would see this. They are visiting my room through my smartphone – they have an easier time manipulating a touchscreen than a keyboard, and it’s my smartphone because we’ve decided they’re too young to have their own smartphones. Here they’re using a web browser, but appear.in also has an easy-to-use app.







When they tap “Let me in,” they get a “waiting” message, and I get a popup notification on my computer letting me know that someone is knocking along with a live view from their camera. I can choose to open the virtual door or not. If you wait too long to say “let them in!” it will time out and they’ll automatically be rejected.

I’ve chosen to let them in, although Tanner is the only one who has stuck around – frankly, only because we’re coming up on dinner time.

In both of our windows below, you can see I muted my mic and Tanner muted hers. The white crown on a blue background on my image denotes me as the room owner. The icons at the bottom of Tanner’s camera image are controls that I have as room owner. I can mute/unmute her, share my power with her by giving her permission to lock/unlock the room, kick her out, or just ban her altogether. Her view is pretty much like mine, but without the power. Notice that the room is still locked. The next person to come along would also have to knock to be let in. Unfortunately the only option I have is to reject them. I don’t have a way to communicate to them that I’m currently with someone. I’m hoping that comes with a future update.


Appear.in makes it easy to create a room and makes it even easier for visitors to stop by. Exactly what I needed for hosting online office hours.

Cropping Images in MS Office: Are You Doing It Right?

Did you know that when you crop images in MS Word, PowerPoint, etc., the full image is still there? Anyone who has a copy of your file can restore the image back to the original.

This is especially problematic if you frequently crop after doing a print-screen. Do you remember what was in the background that you just cropped? A sensitive email? Student grades? Your credit card information?

Fortunately, you can ask MS Office to delete the cropped areas of your images, but you do have to ask. For each image. In, for example, a Word file, click on the image, select the Format tab, click the “Compress Pictures” icon. In the pop-up window, make sure the “Delete cropped areas of pictures” box is checked. Click Ok.

Why doesn’t MS Office automatically do this? I guess because they want to make it easy for you to restore the image back to the original in case you didn’t like your cropping job. Fair enough. But a warning somewhere that says that the part of your image that you can’t see is really still there in the background would be nice.

Up-Goer Five Text Editor: Can your students explain difficult concepts in simple language?

We want students to understand our course content, obviously. The better students know something, the better they can explain it using simple language.

Send your students to the Up-Goer Five Text Editor, and ask students to type in their explanation of that particular concept, such as poverty, classical conditioning, or Hamlet’s motivation.

Here I’ve pasted in the classical conditioning definition from Wikipedia. The words with a red underline are not included in the 1,000 most used words. Students need to edit their explanation so that all red-lined words are removed. If you’d like to grade it, have students send you a screenshot of their non-red-lined explanation.

Special thank you to Lynn Davey of DaveyStrategies.com for introducing me to this tool

Dropbox: Save Bookmarks

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.

ParticiPoll: Poll Your Students during Class

I’ve written before about polling options like Socrative and Plickers. ParticiPoll is for those who like to have polls embedded in PowerPoint (works in Office 2010 and higher for Windows; Office 2016 for Mac as of 9/30/2016) but don’t like the cumbersomeness or participant limitations of PollEverywhere.

During your presentation, your participants will use a designated URL to access the polling buttons through any web-enabled device they have, such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

With ParticiPoll, you download and install the PowerPoint add-in to your computer. If you don’t have the ability to add software to the computer you use in your classroom and your IT staff won’t install it, ParticiPoll provides a work-around that you need to do each time you want to use it.

When you sign up for a free ParticiPoll account, you will be asked to create the URL your participants will visit. I chose sfrantz, so the URL my participants use is sfrantz.participoll.com.

Since ParticiPoll is a PowerPoint add-in, everything you need to use it is in PowerPoint. Open your presentation and create your question just like you add any other content. In this case I used text boxes. With a question created, you’re ready to add the magic.

Select the ParticiPoll tab. Click “Insert Poll” to add the polling graph to the slide. You will be asked how many answer choices you want; you can have up to six (A-F). The graph will appear at the bottom right corner of the slide by default. You can change its location by selecting all of the graph elements and moving them wherever you’d like. ParticiPoll does not recommend resizing them though; unpredictable things can happen when the votes come in.

Click “Start Polling” to activate the poll.

Run your slideshow.

What your participants see when they visit your polling URL in their device’s web browser

All six answer options will appear as lettered, colorful buttons. The participant just taps or clicks on their answer choice. As long as the question is still open, participants can answer or change their answers.

In the free version, the participants will see ads at the bottom of their screens, although I only saw ads when voting with my mobile device not with my laptop.

Participants will also see a box that encourages them to “Ask the presenter something.” If you are using the free version, the box is there and participants can indeed submit something. However, free-version-account-holders can’t see what was written. You will get an email from ParticiPoll telling you that something was written, though, for what that is worth.

Showing the results

The graph at the bottom of your slide has a counter on the far right to tell you how many votes have been recorded.


When you are ready to reveal the results, advance your slide. Be patient! It can take a few seconds for the results to appear. The slower your internet connection, the more time it will take for the results to appear. When you advance your slide again, all of the results will disappear. Going back to the slide will reveal a reset poll, and your participants will have to re-vote.

How many poll questions and how many participants?

You can have as many poll questions as you would like. Since it’s essentially the same poll interface over and over again, it doesn’t matter to ParticiPoll how many questions you ask. The only limitation is that each poll question needs to be on its own PowerPoint slide.

The number of participants is also unlimited. This is welcome news for those of you with large classes.

What does the paid service get me?

ParticiPoll does have a referral program. After creating an account and logging in, visit their “refer” page to get your referral link. When 5 or more people register through your link, you get one year of the pro version for free. Each person who registered gets one month of the pro version free. [Full disclosure: All of the ParticiPoll links in this blog post are my referral link.]

Dropbox: File Requests

Dropbox logoOnce upon a time, there was a third party service for Dropbox called DropItToMe. It allowed others to upload files to your Dropbox account. That service went extinct some time ago, but the programmers at Dropbox have been working on creating that functionality inside of Dropbox itself. And it is now available. The feature is called “File requests”. Give people a URL, and when they visit that URL, they will be able to upload a file as big as 2 GB (I think) to your Dropbox account. How cool is that? And, of course, once the file arrives is uploaded to Dropbox.com, Dropbox will sync it with all of your devices where you have Dropbox installed.

Dropbox left navigation menuTo access this feature, log into your Dropbox.com account via your web browser. On the left, click on “File requests”. Click the big blue button “Create file request”.

The pop-up window asks where you want the files to go. Dropbox will create a new folder aptly-named “File requests” in your root Dropbox folder. When yDropbox File Requests Windowou write something in the required “What are you requesting” field, like “Assignment 1”, Dropbox will create a new subfolder called “Assignment 1” that will reside inside of the “File requests” folder. If you already have a Dropbox folder location in mind, say, in an assignment subfolder that resides in your course folder that resides in your academic year folder, you can click “change folder”, and Dropbox will show you all of your folders. Pick the once you want.

Click “Next” to get the link. You can either just copy the link or you can enter email addresses of those you want to receive the link and let Dropbox contact them.

Now when you click on “File requests” you will see your open and closed file requests. Clicking on “Assignment 1” opens my “Assignment 1” folder in Dropbox. Mousing over it gives me two options. I can edit it, which essentially takes me back to the “Create file request” pop-up window where I can change the folder, although there is one additional option on this screen now; I can also close the link. Closing the link means that even when someone visits the URL, they will not be able to upload a file. The second mouse-over option allows me to add more people; this takes me back to the second pop-up where I got the link allowing me to copy the link again or enter more email addresses for Dropbox to send the link to.

Dropbox screen for managing all of your file requests

Click “Request files” if you want to create more. If you have different courses or sections with different assignments, create a file request for each one. If you’re picturing having to move files once they’ve been uploaded, set things up on the front-end so that Dropbox does the sorting for you.

What does the person who visits your file request URL experience?

They will be asked to navigate through their computer’s file structure to identify the file they want to upload. And then they will be asked for their first name, last name, and email address. They can even add more files to upload. Dropbox will append the person’s name to the beginning of the filename. Let’s say that Charlie Brown uploads a file he named “Assignment 1.docx”. The file will be renamed “Charlie Brown – Assignment 1.docx”.

What happens to the email address the person entered when uploading? Dropbox uses it to send the person a message saying that their file has indeed been uploaded.

And you, as the person requesting files, will receive an email informing you that a file has been uploaded along with the name of the file and a link to access the file on the Dropbox website.

Quick recap of Dropbox download/upload features

Two-way street (download and upload). If you share a folder with someone, both you and that someone can manipulate the files in that folder; what’s yours is theirs and what is theirs is yours.

One-way street toward downtown (download only). If you create a link to a folder or file, anyone who has the link URL can download the files in the folder or that individual file; they cannot make changes to your folder or file that resides in Dropbox.

One-way street toward uptown (upload only). If you create a file request, anyone who has the URL can upload files to the Dropbox folder you designate; they cannot see or download any of your Dropbox files.


If the occasional person emails you a file, then there’s no need to use this feature. If you have a bunch of people emailing you files that you’re just going to add to Dropbox anyway, why not skip the email middle-man and just have them add their file directly to your Dropbox account?





Mobile Accessories

I’m on the road, taking a bit of a mini-vacation during spring break. Looking at my electronics and electronic-related gear I packed for this road trip, I am reminded of a question I was recently asked. What mobile accessories do I recommend? (Shout-out to Lisa at Xavier University of Louisiana!)

Bluetooth keyboard, backup batteries, cord wrangler, and laptop lock.


Rechargeable back-up battery

If your mobile devices are aging, as mine are, the battery life just isn’t what it used to be. This isn’t a problem when stationary because you can plug into an outlet. This also isn’t a problem when traveling by car, train, or, increasingly, by plane because you can plug into the vehicle’s power source. But when traveling by foot as I have done for much of this trip, I have been very thankful for my back-up batteries.

IntoCircuit Power Mini (pictured) (currently $12.99 at Amazon) was the first one I bought. It will give me two or so full charges to my phone battery. Connect one end of a USB cable into the battery and the other end to your mobile device. When you want to charge your back-up battery, plug it into an outlet or your computer. Oh. And it also works as a flashlight.

After a recent trip, I couldn’t find my IntoCircuit battery thus thought I had lost it, so when I saw the RandomOrder Power Bank (pictured) on a recent Costco run, I picked it up; they were packaged in pairs. This battery and the IntoCircuit battery use identical cases, although the IntoCircuit battery carries a bit more oomph under the hood. Unfortunately I promptly dropped one of the two RandomOrder batteries rendering it inoperable. But then my IntoCircuit battery magically reappeared in my backpack. I just checked the Costco website, and I’m not seeing it in stock there. You can, however, purchase the 2-pack from Amazon for $19.99.

Cord wranglers

If you’re charging your mobile devices, you have USB cables. I use two different cord wranglers.

For my longer cables, I use the medium Bobino cord wrap (pictured). You can get a 3-pack for $7.95.

For my shorter cables, I use Nite Ize 3-inch gear ties, available in a 4-pack from Amazon for $2.98. (Not pictured because I was out Geocaching, and I lost the only one I had with me. I have more at home, though. Or if I go buy more, it will apparently reappear.) Your hardware store probably also carries them. Look wherever they display the bungee cords.

Laptop lock

When I have to hole up in a coffee shop or some other public space, I don’t want to have pack up all my stuff just to get a coffee refill or run to the restroom. (Which of these I do, of course, depends on where I am in the input/output cycle.) I use a Targus Defcon CL laptop cable, available for various prices at Amazon (pictured). Also check out this review of laptop locks. It’s a couple years old, but the information is still good.

The cables all work pretty much the same way. Put the cable around a table support or some other immovable or not-easily-movable structure. Thread the lock through the loop (and your backpack and anything else you don’t want to walk off) and attach the lock to the back of your laptop. I wouldn’t leave my stuff for hours this way, but it’s unlikely that someone will, while you’re in the restroom, run into the coffee shop with cable cutters.


On a trip a couple years ago, as I was walking to the departure gate of my hometown airport, it occurred to me that my backpack felt suspiciously light. Upon inspection I discovered that I had managed to pack my laptop charging cord but not the laptop itself. I did have my tablet (and phone) so I had ready access to all of my files (let’s pause a moment to appreciate how cloud storage has changed our lives), but I wasn’t looking forward to spending two days in meetings without a keyboard. I don’t mind swiping the on-screen keyboard for a quick email, text, or search. But for extensive document editing? No thank you. Typically I do extensive research on a product before I purchase it. In this case, my research consisted of finding an electronics store in my connection airport that had a Bluetooth keyboard. Fortunately it was Minneapolis, which is one big mall that happens to have airline service. My only option was Belkin; you can get it for under $50. I couldn’t, but you can. I like that the keyboard is free-standing so I can position it wherever I’d like in relation to my tablet. That’s especially nice in cramped spaces.


I had been using a cheap rubber-tipped stylus on my tablet (3 for a dollar, or some such thing) that worked well once it was nice and broken in. When it was just plain broken (the rubber tip developed a tear), I pulled out its sister stylus from the pack. I was surprised by its stiffness and how hard I had to work to get it to work. I was not prepared to put in the hours that were evidently necessary to break it in. Besides, it’s been a couple years, surely there is something better out there.

Musemee Notier stylus

This is the Musemee Notier stylus (pictured), available from Amazon for $16.99. My tablet is very responsive to the clear rubber disk. The stylus produces a harder sound when tapping the tablet surface than did my well-worn rubber-tipped stylus, but I suspect that has more to do with me than the stylus. I was accustomed to a firmer touch, so I’m still getting used to not having to tap so hard.

More suggestions

If you’re looking for more things you didn’t know that you absolutely needed, search LifeHacker for go bag. Start with this article.

What I wish I had but don’t

A Grid It organizer. It’s just a firm backing with interwoven elastic bands. Tuck your gear under the bands and toss it in your bag. It will keep things like back up batteries from getting lost and USB cables from getting tangled.

What’s in your go bag?