Dec 092010

Want to give out your cell phone or home phone number to students but you don’t want them to have your phone number in perpetuity? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could, in effect, change your phone number every term?

Check out

How it works

You give students a randomly-generated URL or QR code to that URL. (If you’re unfamiliar with QR codes, start with this post.) That takes them to the website below. The student enters their phone number and name (optional). The student clicks ‘Call.’ will call the student’s phone. When the student answers, will call your phone. The student doesn’t ever see your number; you don’t ever see the student’s number. (Ok, I know. As faculty, we have access to student phone numbers. Perhaps the student only has a home phone number on record with your institution and would rather you not have their cell number.)

Setting it up

After creating an account, you’ll be asked to add a phone number to your account. Once added, click the “Verify Now!” link. will generate a 4-digit code. Click ‘Call me now,’ and an automated voice will ask for the 4-digit code. You’ll be told your phone number has been verified, and then the system voice says, “Thank you,” and unceremoniously hangs up on you. I found that quite refreshing, actually.

Once verified, you have a link that’s tied to your phone. Give that link to your students. Or follow the link to get the QR code and give that to your students.

When the term is over

Go into your account, and delete your number. At the beginning of the next term, go back into ‘manage’ your account and enter your number again, and will generate a new URL for you. Verify it, and give the URL and/QR code to your students.


This is a brand new service, so they’re in beta. It’s currently free, but they’re planning additional features that will be available in a pay-for version. Currently, calls are limited to 10 minutes.

[Thanks to Arvin Dang at Lifehacker for the heads up on this service!]

Dec 082010

Back in March, I wrote about QR codes. I just came across this document which offers some interesting ideas on how to use QR codes. It was written for a K-12 audience, but there are a bunch of ideas that are relevant to higher education.

I learned a couple things I didn’t know.

First, the size of the QR code is correlated with the size of the URL. Makes sense. I just didn’t know that. If you have a long URL but want a small QR code, use a URL shortener like or then create your QR code. Actually, and make it easy to create QR codes. Use or to shorten the URL. Paste the URL into your browser’s address box. Then add ‘.qr’ at the end. Hit enter. Bam. QR code. Just copy and paste the code wherever you’d like. For example, this link will take you to the main page of my blog: When I add .qr at the end,, I get this QR code. I right-clicked on the image, selected copy, came here and clicked paste.

For generating QR codes from websites, I use a Firefox Addon called QRLinkMaker. I right-click anywhere on a webpage and select “QR code.” A pop-up box gives me the QR code. I right-click on the image, click copy, then paste wherever I want it. If you right-click on an image, the generated QR code will send users just to the image.

The second thing I learned is that one of the QR code generators, QR Stuff, let’s you change the color of the code. That could be useful. [If you use QR Stuff, you can just right click on the preview image to copy it.]

Campus tour

One suggestion offered in the document is to create a tour of campus for new students. I can envision something like this. The students get a map with certain areas marked, such as the bookstore. Outside the bookstore are 2 QR codes. One is labeled “Website” and printed in black. The students scan the QR code into their phones to visit the bookstore’s website. The other is labeled “Video” and printed in blue. The students scan the QR code to watch a short video. The video could be something like the bookstore manager welcoming students to the store and explaining some of the key things students need to know about the bookstore. Clearly there’s nothing special about the color of the codes other than, with experience, the students will see the color and know what kind of information the code with give them.

If you do this as a scavenger hunt for something like a freshmen orientation course, you can have students respond to questions. While the number of students with smartphones is on the increase, not all students have them. I suggest having students work in pairs or small groups where at least one person has such a phone.


My syllabus is available on my website as a pdf. After I post it, I generate a QR code for it, add it to my syllabus, and then resave my syllabus to my website. This is from the top left corner of my syllabus. Although next quarter, I’m going to generate a QR code from URL shortener so I can shrink the size of the QR code.


When you distribute handouts, include QR codes to online content, such as videos. It’s a whole lot easier to scan a barcode and watch a video on my smartphone than it is to type a URL into my browser.

Poster presentations

I’m also picturing my next poster presentation at a conference. I can add QR codes that direct visitors to websites or videos. Actually QR codes can be used for anything, really. Let’s say at my poster presentation, I run out of handouts. Scan this code to generate an email to me with the email address, subject line, and message already filled in. Or better yet, if you use Dropbox, put your handout in your public Dropbox folder and create a QR code for the URL of that file. Visitors can scan the code to download the file to their smartphone.

Scavenger hunt

Earlier I mentioned a scavenger hunt for a freshmen orientation course. QR codes can be generated for plain text (see QR Stuff again). You start students off with some clue, like, find the Campus Security office. When students arrive there, there’s a QR code posted next to the door. Scanning this code generates a message that directs students to a specific book in the library.

Perhaps in the front of the book is another QR code that generates a phone number. Students call the number, and it’s the office number of their instructor. That’s how the instructor knows the students have completed the hunt. Granted a 2-stage scavenger hunt isn’t very useful, or fun for that matter. But you get the idea.


QR codes make it easy to move between the real world and the virtual world. We no longer need to be in front of a desktop or laptop to access the internet. For many students, the internet is at their fingertips. Let’s use it.

Dec 062010

With the end of the term upon us, are you looking for a better way to detect plagiarism?

We’ve probably all put a suspect passage into Google. If the quote is exact, the source is easy to find. But what if the student has changed a few words? Those are a little tougher. But here’s a little known tool that can help a lot. In Google, you can use the operator AROUND (must be in all capital letters) to find terms or phrases that are ‘around’ each other.

Here’s an example.

Original passage: “When you have PTSD, it can seem like you’ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But help is available – and you are not alone.”

Plagiarized passage: When someone has PTSD, it can seem like they’ll never get over the trauma.

If I drop the suspect passage into Google, this is what I get. The original source is not here. In fact I went 5 screens deep without encountering the original source.

But now let’s do a search using AROUND. To use it, I take a guess at what I think the original words likely were. I chose ‘PTSD,’ ‘it may seem like,’ and ‘never get over.’ Those are pretty sketchy terms to use in a normal Google search. But here, they become much more powerful.

PTSD AROUND(5) it may seem like AROUND(5) never get over. This tells Google to search for web pages that contain the word PTSD, then look within 5 words of it for the word seem. Also look for the word like and look within 3 words of it for never. Oh, and look for the word get, too. The first and third results give us the source. (Who knows which is the original? Plagiarism on the internet is rampant. That probably doesn’t help our students understand it’s wrong.) The second result does meet the criteria we gave Google; it just doesn’t contain the passage we’re looking for.

I hope all of your students properly cite their sources, but if they don’t, this search tool should provide some help.

Wondering what else Google can do? Check out the Google Guide.

[The tip on how to use AROUND comes from Amit Agarwal, Digital Inspiration blog. Thanks!!]

Dec 032010

Here’s a quick tip for YouTube users.

Let’s say that you’d like to show a YouTube video in class, live from the web. (See this post to learn how to download YouTube videos to your computer for viewing offline.) You link to it from your PowerPoint slide. Once your browser loads and the video begins to play, you remember that the first 5 minutes aren’t relevant to your lecture. You use the controls at the bottom of the video to advance to the spot.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just create a link to the YouTube video so that it would take you to the right spot in the video?

Pause the video where you want it to start, right click anywhere on the video screen, and select “Copy video URL at current time.” It will seem like nothing has happened, but the URL has been copied to your computer’s clipboard. Go to your PowerPoint slide (or anywhere else you want to paste it), and paste.

Here’s the link for this video at 5 seconds in, (For the curious, at the end of the link t=5s is what causes the video to start 5 seconds in.)

[Thanks to Amit Agarwal and his Digital Inspiration blog for this tip!]

Nov 282010

One of the nice things about living in a digital world is the amount of contact we can have with other people via email. Of course that’s one of the bad things about living in a digital world as well. How much of your work day is spent writing, reading, filing, deleting, or searching for email? In previous posts, I’ve suggested some tools that can help with this (see Subtextual, SimplyFile, Phrase Express, Xobni). In this post I want to talk about some of the built-in power that comes with Outlook. Specifically, I’m going to talk about how to set up rules so that at least some of your email is filed automatically.

Setting up rules

I’m on a few listservs, a couple of which are high-volume. I don’t want to have to deal with messages from those listservs as soon as they come in. Instead, I have Outlook file them into a folder in my inbox when they arrive, and then I read them later at my leisure.

If you don’t already have a folder set up for filing such messages, create one. Right click on ‘Inbox’ folder, and select ‘New Folder.’ Name your new folder whatever you’d like. For this post, I’m going to be filing messages from the PsychTeacher listserv, so I created a folder called ‘PsychTeach.’ Clever, I know. (You can also create folders inside of other folders if you are so inclined.)

When email arrives from this listserv, I want Outlook to immediately file it in this new PsychTeach folder. I chose one of the messages that came from that listserv, and I right-clicked on it. I selected ‘Rules,’ then ‘Create Rule.’

That generates this pop-up window. I checked ‘Sent to,’ and ‘Move the item to folder,’ and clicked ‘Select Folder’ to locate the PsychTeach folder I created.

That’s it. Now any time a message arrives from that email address, it will be filed in the folder I designated. If you want to get really elaborate, click the ‘Advanced Options’ button. But in this post, I’m keeping it simple.

If there are unread messages in the folder, the name of the folder will be bolded and the number of unread messages will appear in parentheses next to the folder name.

When you visit the folder and click on the unread messages, the number disappears and the bold print returns to normal.

Set up a few rules, and you’ll spend less time sorting email and more time doing what needs to be done.

Nov 242010

UPDATED 9/5/2011: Be sure to read a more recent post on this tool.

Last month I wrote about a new service (YouCanBook.Me) that lets students schedule appointments with you themselves. (See the original blog post.) Now that I’ve been using it for a couple months, I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned.

The booking form

The default booking form asks those making an appointment with you to give you their email address (required) and leave a note (not required). I, however, want more information than that, and YouCanBook.Me gives me the power to ask for whatever I’d like. Specifically, I want the appointee’s name, email address, and the reason for the meeting. And I want the appointee’s name to show up in the subject line of my calendar.

In the YouCanBook.Me dashboard, clicking the ‘booking form’ tab allows me to make those changes. Each line produces a separate input box. The asterisk means the appointee must enter something in that field. Whatever is entered in the first line will be entered as the subject line for the appointment.

Default Booking Form

My Customized Booking Form

What the appointee sees:

How to get it to look that way:

[Thanks to my colleague Rich Bankhead for his suggestion to add a ‘bigbox’ for the ‘reason for meeting’ area instead of the default small box.]

A different calendar for each quarter

With the fall quarter coming to a close, it occurred to me that I didn’t want students to be able to schedule an appointment with me after the last day of the quarter, but I didn’t want to block off all of the days from mid-December to early January in my Google calendar since I use my calendar for things other than scheduling time with students.

YouCanBook.Me lets you select start and end dates for booking, so I changed the dates to match the dates of fall quarter.

But then I thought that some students may want to schedule an appointment with me next quarter right now. If the calendar ends on December 9, they won’t be able to do that until I change the calendar dates on December 10. Keith Harris at YouCanBook.Me suggested that I solve this by creating separate calendars for each quarter. What a great idea!

On the main dashboard, you’ll find a list of all of your calendars. If you have just one calendar, you’ll see just that one. Once it’s set up as you’d like, click ‘copy.’

I created three, one for each quarter. I changed the dates of each to match the dates for the quarter. Then I changed the title and the subdomain (on the ‘basic’ tab) to match the quarter.

For example, for the winter quarter calendar, I changed the title to Winter 2011, and I changed the subdomain from sfrantz to sfrantz-winter. Here are my three calendars.

Rather than link to each of these separately, I embedded the calendars on a newly-created ‘appointment’ page on my website. On the top of the webpage I put the instructions for scheduling an appointment which I deleted from each calendar. And then I copied the embed html code from each of the calendars and pasted it on the webpage. You can use the embed code wherever you can use HTML code, including on pages inside your course management system (e.g., Angel, Blackboard).

The embed code can be found right above the preview pane in your YouCanBook.Me dashboard for each of your calendars.

[UPDATE 12/3/2010 : To embed calendars on a page, YouCanBook.Me uses iframes.  Unfortunately the security settings on some browsers keep some users from viewing that content.  After having a couple students say that they couldn’t see the calendars, I deleted the web page I created and am again linking directly to my YouCanBook.Me calendar.  In the calendar instructions I’m including a link to the next quarter’s calendar for students who want to schedule an appointment further out.  When this quarter ends, the hyperlink on my website will go directly to next quarter’s calendar whose instructions include a link to my spring calendar.  To see what it looks like, go to my main web page and click on “Schedule an Appointment with Me.” ]

Schedule 15 minute appointments for the first two weeks of the term

Keep the ability to create different calendars in mind if, say, you want students to set up 15-minute appointments with you at the beginning of the term, perhaps as a ‘come introduce yourself’ sort of meeting.

Copy an existing calendar, change the subdomain to something like YourName-15, set the start and end dates to whatever you’d like, then set the appointment length to 15 minutes. Give the link to students.

If you want to do the same thing at the end of the term, edit this calendar so that the start and end dates are for the end of the term.

Syncing with Outlook

I sync my Google calendar with Outlook 2010, and I’ve discovered that Google has a weird bug. When events with guests are scheduled in Google calendar, they get stuck in a weird loop with Outlook.  A ‘ghost’ version of the event (only those with guests) gets created and set to 1979.  Whenever Outlook syncs with Google calendar, that 1979 event gets dumped into Outlook’s deleted folder.  Since it happens every time they sync, that deleted event shows up over and over again.  The only solution I’ve found is to go into Google calendar, search for the appointment (which is not 1979) and remove the guest from the appointment (or delete the appointment altogether).

The default for YouCanBook.Me is to add the appointee as a guest to the appointment. This is handy because if you delete the appointment, you’ll be asked whether you’d like to notify the appointee that you’re canceling the appointment. If you don’t sync with Outlook, or if you do but don’t have the 1979 experience, there’s no need to change anything.

If you’re in my position with those ghost appointments showing up in your Outlook’s deleted folder, you can change YouCanBook.Me so that appointees aren’t brought in as guests. On the ‘afterwards’ tab, uncheck the ‘add participants’ box. That’s it.

If you’re using YouCanBook.Me, I’d love to hear how it’s working for you!

Nov 222010

One of the cool features of MS Office 2007/2010 is the quick access toolbar. I have a sneaking suspicion it is underutilized. It allows you to quickly access any function, thus the name: Quick access toolbar.

This toolbar is at the very top of the screen in all of the MS Office programs. For example, this is what mine looks like in MS Word.

A click on the appropriate icon lets me quickly do that icon’s function. Or pressing ALT on my keyboard will assign numbers to each of the icons.

Then I just press a number that corresponds to the icon I want. For example, if I wanted print preview, I would press ALT followed by 2. That’s it.

Word comes with some default icons in the quick access toolbar, such as save (the little blue floppy disk). Its real power is that it lets you add and remove whatever functions you’d like. Since I grade papers electronically, I’m frequently accessing ‘track changes’ and ‘save as PDF.’ So, I added those functions to my quick access toolbar. ALT then 4 turns on track changes. ALT then 5 saves the file as a PDF.

I’ll walk you through how to add ‘track changes’ to your quick access toolbar.

Click the down arrow on the far right side of the quick access toolbar. It will give you this menu.

If the option you’d like is there, great! (The checkmarks show the commands that are already on my quick access toolbar.) Since we’re looking for ‘track changes,’ select ‘More Commands.’ That will generate this pop-up window.

On the left side of the screen, Word gives you popular commands. Scroll to the bottom, and track changes is there. Alternatively, use the dropdown menu (where it reads ‘Popular Commands’ highlighted in blue) to select from the various tabs. Track changes is on the Review tab.


Once you find the command you’re looking for, click the ‘Add’ button in the middle of the screen. The command is now available in your quick access toolbar. Use the arrow buttons on the right to change the order of the commands.

That’s it! If you want to remove a command, select it so it’s highlighted, then click the ‘Remove’ button.

Note the commands you frequently use. Consider adding them to your quick access toolbar for easy access.

Nov 212010

Yesterday I wrote about a way others can upload a file to your Dropbox. (If you’re not familiar with Dropbox, see this post.) Today I want to tell you how others can download files from your Dropbox without them having to have a Dropbox account.

When Dropbox is loaded on your computer, it automatically gives you a folder named ‘Public.’ Any file you put in this folder can be shared with others simply by getting the file’s hyperlink.

To get the hyperlink, open the Public folder in Dropbox. Right click on the file you’d like others to download. Mouse over ‘Dropbox,’ then select ‘Copy Public Link.’

It will seem like nothing has happened, but your link has actually been copied to your computer’s clipboard. Let’s say you wanted to send the link in an email message. Open your email message and paste it into the body of the message. The hyperlink will appear.

I did a few tech presentations in November 2010, and here is the 4-page handout I gave the participants. You’re welcome to download it from my Dropbox: Just follow the link, and your browser will ask you what you’d like to do with the downloaded file.

If you download the file, you’ll recognize several tech tools from this blog. You’ll also see some you may not have heard of. All of them are slated to appear in this blog at some future point. Enjoy!

Nov 202010

As you know from previous posts, I’m a fan of Dropbox. If you’ve never heard of Dropbox, check out my blog post from a year ago.

DROPitTOme is a web-based service that allows others, to whom you’ve given a password, to upload files to a DROPitTOme folder located inside your Dropbox folder. If you don’t want the hassle of students emailing you their assignments, you can have them upload their assignments directly to Dropbox where they will automatically be downloaded to your computer. Actually, they will be downloaded to all of your computers where you have Dropbox installed and to your smartphone if you’d like, since the folder works just like any other Dropbox folder in that regard.

To set up DROPitTOme you first need to have a Dropbox account. If you don’t have Dropbox yet, go to my earlier blog post, read about Dropbox, then get it set up. Once you have Dropbox up and running, come back here. If you already have Dropbox, keep reading.

Go to DROPitTOme. Click ‘register.’ You will be asked to give Dropbox permission to allow DROPitTOme to access your Dropbox account.

After clicking ‘Allow,’ you’ll be redirected to this page where you’ll create a DROPitTOme account. The username will be your DROPitTOme URL. For example, my username is sfrantz. To upload files to my Dropbox, you would go to The email address is where DROPitTOme will send notification that files have been added to your DROPitTOme folder. The password here is NOT your Dropbox password. The password you create here allows you to access your DROPitTOme account and change things later, such as your email address. The upload password is the password you will give to people, say, students, who will be uploading files to your DROPitTOme folder.

After this quick registration process, you’re ready to go. Give your upload address and upload password to whoever has files that need to be uploaded to your Dropbox folder.

My students would navigate to my upload page:

After entering my upload password, they can now browse their computer to find the file they want to send me (file maximum is currently 75MB):

After clicking ‘UPLOAD,’ they’re assured the file is loading.

Once uploaded, DROPitTOme says that the file has been successfully uploaded.

After the first file has been added using DROPitTOme, a folder by that name will be added to your Dropbox folder. Every time a file has been uploaded, DROPitTOme will send you an email message that looks like this:

The time on the email tells you whether or not the student submitted their assignment before the deadline.

Managing student assignment files

If you’re going to go this route for having students submit assignments, give students very clear instructions on naming their files. For example for each assignment, tell students how to name the file. “For this assignment name your file: YourLastName YourFirstName Psych100 ApplicationPaper1.”

After papers have been submitted, use the emails DROPitTOme sent you to identify the ones that were sent late, and rename the file with “—LATE” at the end. Save all of the DROPitTOme emails in case a student disputes the lateness of their assignment.

Consider setting up ‘rules’ in your email so that all emails from DROPitTOme go directly into a subfolder in your inbox. If you have 100 students submitting assignments at once, you don’t need 100 emails from DROPitTOme cluttering your inbox. (Creating rules in Outlook is worthy of a blog post of its own. Look for that one coming soon!)

Nov 182010

Earlier this week I posted information on how to use to download YouTube videos. I’ve since had some inquiries from readers regarding downloading TED videos.

To download any video using, you need to locate the video file itself. With the TED videos, this takes a little extra effort.

Go to the webpage that displays the TED video you want to download. Click the red share button below the video. Then click the copy button next to “embed this video.”

Open Word, or your email program, or anything that will let you paste and view a healthy chunk of text. After copying the ’embed this video’ code, this is what I get when I paste it. Do not be frightened. If you wanted to put this video on your own webpage, say, inside your course management system, this code would do it. But since we want to download it, we only need to find one thing: The URL to the video file. You’re looking for something with a video file extension, like avi, flv, mp4, or wmv. TED uses Flash video, so the extension will be flv.

<object width=”446″ height=”326″><param name=”movie” value=””></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” /><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always”/><param name=”wmode” value=”transparent”></param><param name=”bgColor” value=”#ffffff”></param> <param name=”flashvars” value=”vu=;[Remaining code deleted.]

To download this video, go to, select the ‘Download Videos’ tab, and paste the highlighted URL above into step 1. Follow the rest of the steps, and the video will be downloaded to your computer to use when you’re offline.

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