Outlook: Moving up or down?

It’s been a few months since I posted, and I’m emerging from my technology sabbatical. Fall quarter is in full-swing; it’s time to share what’s new.

It’s often the day-to-day kinds of activities where a little change can make a big difference. My focus in this post will be changing a default setting in Outlook that affects the order in which Outlook shows you messages.

Outlook assumes that you want to start reading the most recent message first. After deleting or filing the first message, Outlook takes you to an earlier message.

But that’s not how I read my messages. I start with the earliest one I haven’t read and then move forward in time toward the most recent message.

If I had no other mail in my inbox, it wouldn’t be a problem. However, mail I haven’t decided what to do with yet stays in my inbox until I have time to get to it. For instance, in the example I’m using, I may begin reading with the email marked with the arrow below.

After I delete or file that message, Outlook automatically takes me to the message below it. But I’ve already read that message. I want to move to the one above it. To do that, I have to use the arrow keys or the mouse to navigate. Or I can change Outlook’s default setting so that it moves up instead of down.

In Outlook, go to the File tab and select Options. Click Mail. Scroll down to the very bottom of the screen. In the dropdown menu, select “open the previous item.”

Click OK.

Now when you delete or file email messages, Outlook will automatically advance to the next most recent item.









Learning Student Names: An Excel Solution

A few years ago I started letting students send me their assignments electronically if they wished. I found that I was writing more on the papers I was grading electronically, and my typing was much more legible than my handwriting! A year or so ago, I made this a course requirement. All assignments now need to be sent electronically. I’ve written before in this blog about how I manage this; for those posts, type ‘grading’ in the search box.

As much as I’ve enjoyed going paperless, I’ve discovered an unintended consequence. I’m having a harder time learning students’ names. When I had paper to pass back, I got practice in learning names. Without that, I have to make a greater effort to use student names in class. For students who are vocal in class, I get much practice calling on them. For the quiet students, it’s much harder.

It’s technology that’s caused this problem, so I turn to technology to get me out. For a pittance of extra credit, students email me photos of themselves. I keep my grades in an Excel spreadsheet, and using the ‘comments’ feature, I mouse over a student’s name to get a pop-up of that student’s photo. Because you can’t just add a photo to a comment, you have to do a little work-around. Essentially, you fill the background of the comment with the photo. See this article for an excellent step-by-step explanation of how to do it.

Whiteboard Markers: AusPen

On one of the teaching listservs I’m subscribed to, participants were having their periodic row over using PowerPoint versus not using PowerPoint. But this time, rather than simply defending themselves, the PowerPoint users went on the attack noting that using the whiteboard was not exactly the idyllic world the non-PowerPoint users were making it out to be. Whiteboard markers, they argued, were often dried up, and colors other than black weren’t bright enough to see. Throwing away all that plastic is bad for the environment. And they stink! Literally.

While I enjoy my pixels, I’m not opposed to writing on a whiteboard. In fact, sometimes it’s exactly what the situation calls for.

I knew that there were low-odor whiteboard markers, but I wondered if anyone had gotten around to making refillable ones. A quick internet search turned up AusPen, an Australian company that makes no-odor, refillable whiteboard markers.

I promptly ordered a set. AusPen will ship anywhere except Canada or the U.S. For those of us who occupy all but the most southern section of North America, we can order from EcosmartWorld.

I chose the “Starter Kit.” Six markers, six refill bottles, and a little orange wrench come in this handy carrying case. If you’d like to forego the kit, you can order markers in packs of 6 or 12. Ink, or course, can also be ordered separately.

(Images courtesy of EcosmartWorld)

The markers are aluminum, so you feel like you’re holding something that’s going to last. The refill process is easy. Unscrew the marker and unscrew the ink bottle cap; if either is a little too tight for you, use the enclosed wrench. Squeeze 10 to 12 drops of ink into the marker. Screw the marker back together and replace the cap on the ink bottle. You’re back in business.

We have a locked cabinet in our classroom, so we just keep the set in there. With the carrying case, there are no worries about individual markers going missing. When you put them back in the case, you can see that a marker has been left out. That means you probably won’t have any uncapped markers lying around. If you do manage to leave a marker uncapped, AusPen assures us that it won’t dry out for another 72 hours.

The markers truly have no odor; they’re xylene-free. EcosmartWorld says the markers are “low, low odor” but my nose can’t pick up anything at all.

You have a nib choice: Bullet or chisel. The nibs are also replaceable so don’t feel like you’re making a permanent decision.

How do the markers work in the classroom?

I was really pleased with the brightness of the colors. With other markers, I found non-black colors tough to see. That’s not the case with these markers. Here’s a photo I took in my classroom. I don’t think the photo quite does these markers justice, but you get the idea. (The AusPen kit is bottom center; it gives you a sense of the size of the box.)

Cost-benefit analysis.

Office Depot sells a box of 12 low-odor Expo markers for $14.99. That’s $1.23/marker.

AusPen says each refill bottle holds ink equivalent to 40 regular whiteboard markers. With the starter kit, you get 6 filled markers plus 240 refills (6 bottles, 40 refills each), for a total of 246 markers. The kit is $69.95, so that’s $.29/marker – including the carrying case. Ink refills, when purchased separately, are $7.95, making each marker refill $.20.

Any way you do the math, refillable markers are less expensive.

Try them out.

I haven’t found an administrator yet who wasn’t interested in saving money. If you try them out, I’d love to hear what you thought of them!

Subtextual (Formerly Bccthis): Send Two Emails in One

Update (5/8/2012 ): Subtextual appears to be out of business.  A number of users are reporting that it no longer works with their system.  The website is still up, but no one is home.

Update (11/3/2010 ): bccthis is now Subtextual. Their web address is still bccthis.com, however.

As you know, bcc (blind carbon copy) allows you to add recipients to an email message without the other recipients being aware of it.

Let’s say you reply to an email message, and you want your department chair to be aware of the exchange but you don’t necessarily want your recipient to know you’re making your department chair aware, so you bcc your chair. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to give your chair some background information in that same message?

For Outlook, Gmail, or Blackberry, the bccthis add-in (updated 11/5/2010: a free version and a pro version, currently $6.99) allows you to send an email to one person or group while at the same time bcc’ing comments to another person or group. In February, bccthis opened for beta testing. Since then the improvements have come fast and furious. If you install now, look for updates that improve this already powerful and user-friendly product.

This is what it looks like in Outlook. Open a new email message or reply to an existing message like you normally would. Type addresses into your To, Cc, and Bcc fields as you normally would.

Bccthis adds a box at the bottom of your message and automatically populates the address box on the right with the email addresses you added above. If you change those addresses, click the ‘reload’ arrow directly above those addresses to refresh the list. Check the boxes of the recipients to whom you want to send a bcc message. If you add someone to the bcc line, but don’t check their address in the bccthis box, they’ll get a copy of the original message, but they won’t get your additional comments.

Type your message to the “to” recipients where you normally would, and then type your message to your bcc recipients in the bccthis box. That’s it. Hit send. Your “to” recipients get a normal looking message. And this is what your bcc recipients receive. Your recipients do not need the bccthis add-in to read your message.

Replies to a bccthis message go only to the sender. The other bcc recipients are unaware that there are other bcc recipients unless you tell them.

Bccthis includes emoticons. Click the smiley face and select your emoticon. It’s just an image, so feel free to copy and paste or drag that emoticon into your “to” email message.

To save a ‘note to self,’ add yourself to the bcc line or use the “Bccthis Batch Quick Links.” This is just a quick way to bcc yourself. If you’d like, create a note-to-self folder in Outlook to store all of your notes-to-self. Use Simply File to quickly file these messages or always add special text, like #note, and use Outlook filters to automatically file the message for you.

If you use it, use the comments box below to let me know what you think!

Prezi: An Alternative to Presentation Slides

Prezi is (free for educational use) web-based presentation software that allows you to create a map of your presentation instead of using slides.

You can make your presentations public or private; you can download them for offline use if you’d like.  Prezis can be embedded in a webpage.  Give the link to your laptop wielding students, and they can step through your presentation with you during class.  I haven’t tried it, but you should be able to embed Prezis on a page inside your course management system (e.g., Angel, Blackboard).   If you don’t want your students to have everything you’re showing in class, create a Prezi for class, copy it, then delete content for a student version.  This is more flexible than uploading a file, say PowerPoint.  When you change the file at Prezi.com, anywhere you have it linked, your viewers will get the new file.

If you’d like to see it in action, here’s a bare-bones presentation I created for a technology workshop I did recently: http://prezi.com/abyc0ezmdrfd/. (Link will open in new window.)

Navigating the sample presentation

Moving your mouse to the right will call up the zooming tools. The arrows at the bottom will step you through the presentation as I created it. But you can click on any of the gray areas to zoom to them; click on any of the words under those main headings to zoom to them. Some of those have active hyperlinks. If you skip to an area, the arrow keys will pick up the ‘path’ from there. Click the circle at the bottom to zoom all the way out. Click it again to zoom to where you came from. Click and hold anywhere on the screen to drag the image. In Prezi, you can make the font very tiny. If you look hard, you can find a very tiny gray box in the top right corner of the presentation. Clicking on it will zoom you to it.

This may make it an interesting supplement to lectures. I can see dropping my lecture outlines into this for posting on my website or, better yet, having my students map a chapter, and then post the best maps. Prezi makes it easy for groups to work on a single presentation.

You can now print Prezis, a feature that was added in early 2010. It prints one pdf page per ‘step’ on the path. I think this solution works fine as long as you have a pdf editor for deleting the pages you don’t need. (For the sample presentation, it gave me 17 pages. Really, just page 1 was all I needed.)

Editing overview

This is the editing ‘toolbar’. What is in the center is what the program is ready to do now. Clicking the “path” circle will take you into the path commands.

With “Write” selected, double-clicking anywhere on the screen will give you a textbox:

When you’re done typing, click anywhere on the screen, and your words will appear. Double-clicking on the words will give you the text editing box. A single click on the words, gives you this:

To move your text, click and drag the center of the circle. To make the font bigger or smaller, click and drag the concentric circles. For more options, click the plus sign:

If this looks like something you’d like to try, visit the “Prezi Academy” and work through their tutorials.

If you’re using or have used Prezi, what do you think of it?  Share your comments below!

QR Codes: Access a Website with Your Smartphone’s Camera

[UPDATED 12/8/2010: For further tips, tricks, and ideas for using QR codes, see this more recent post.]

With the number of smartphones on the rise, such as AT&T’s iPhone or Verizon’s Droid, more and more of our students have this technology in our classrooms. Can you harness this power for your own use?

In this post I’m going to introduce you to QR codes and barcode scanner software for cell phones, and how they might be useful to you and your students.

If you have an iPhone/Droid, search the App Store/Market for barcode scanners. If you have a different web-enabled phone, here’s a handy list of barcode scanners. For Droid, I use the free “Barcode Scanner” from ZXing Team. You can use it to scan any barcode, like those found on a box of Cheerios or the cover of a book. It will also scan QR codes.

QR codes are graphics that can represent a webpage, simple text, or a phone number. This is the QR code for the home page to this blog. When scanned by your barcode scanner app, the app will ask if you’d like to open the webpage using your phone’s browser, email it to someone, or text it to someone (or other options, depending on the capabilities of your chosen reader).

It doesn’t matter if the QR code is on a webpage or printed on paper. It can even be printed on a t-shirt (see qrstuff.com). If your phone can take a picture of it, your phone’s barcode scanner can read it.

Here’s a website that will generate QR codes for you.

Education applications.

Generate QR codes for the websites your students may want to access while away from their computers. Copy and paste them into a Word file, and attach it to the end of your syllabus. Or perhaps just have a few on hand for your smartphone-carrying students.

If you’re a Poll Everywhere user, students with web-accessible phones can visit a website to vote instead of sending a text message. Create a QR code for the vote page and print it into your syllabus for easy student access.

If you can think of other educational uses for QR codes, please add a comment below.

Outlook: Tips and Tricks

If you’re like me, email is a huge part of your work life. Are you using these Outlook time-savers?


Managing attachments

To add an attachment to an Outlook message, locate your document, left click and hold on the icon. Now drag it into the body of your email message. It’s attached!

In this image, I’m dragging a Word document from my Desktop into the body of my email.

This works the other way, too. If you receive a message that has an attachment, left click and hold on the attachment and drag the file icon onto your Desktop or into a folder.


Outlook-specific keyboard shortcuts you should be using

Open a new message: CTRL-N

Reply to a message: CTRL-R

Send a message: CTRL-ENTER


How to find other keyboard shortcuts

In any MS Office 2007 product, pressing ALT will show you the keyboard shortcuts. Here’s an example from an Outlook email message I’m composing.

ALT-H takes you to the message Home tab. ALT-N takes you to the iNsert tab. ALT-P takes you to the oPtions tab. And so on.


If I type ALT-H, I get these options. Now typing AC, for example, will center my text. Typing 1 will switch to bold print. Typing OC allow me to add my signature.


Try out keyboard shortcuts for Outlook. You’ll get through your email a lot faster!



Mail Merge: Creating Individualized Assignments

After a longer-than-planned hiatus, I’m back. And hopefully I have some new stuff that will make your teaching life easier!

Last May I explained in a post how to use MS Word and Excel to create grade reports. As I was walking across campus this week, I ran into my colleague in Engineering, Rich Bankhead. He had a great idea.

He gives his Engineering students a take-home final that includes solving mathematical problems. This quarter, he gave each student their own data. Students aren’t supposed to work with each other on this assignment, but if they do, they at least have to work the problems separately for each person.

I’m guessing that Rich’s problems are more difficult than this, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll keep it simple.

In Word, create the assignment.

In Excel, you need one column of names, one column of email addresses (if you plan on emailing the assignments to students), and finally a column for each variable. Save the file and close it.


Let’s merge!

In your Word file, on the Mailings tab, click the down arrow next to ‘Select Recipients.’ Select ‘Use Existing List.’ Locate and open your Excel spreadsheet, and select the worksheet within that spreadsheet that you want. It will look like nothing’s happened, but these two Word and Excel files are now linked.

Now let’s tell Word which Excel fields we want and where we want to put them. Let’s start with names. In your Word document, put your cursor where you want to put the student’s name. On the Mailings tab, click the down arrow under ‘Insert Merge Field.’ Notice that all of the column names from your Excel file are here.

Select ‘First.’ This is added where your cursor was: <<First>>. You can treat this like any other text. I’m going to type a space, then add ‘Last’ using the same process, then I’m going to make the type a little bigger and bold, and add a space under the name.

Let’s add the data. I’ll select my first data field (MMM1), add a comma and a space after it, then my second data field (MMM2), then another comma and a space and so on.


Merge and print (or email).

Click ‘Preview Results’ to see how the assignment will look to students. If you click the arrows to the right of ‘Preview Results’ you can flip through the rest of the students in your class. If don’t like how something looks, you can edit your document here or you can click ‘Preview Results’ to go back to field view you were working with before.

When your document is how you want it to look, click ‘Finish & Merge.’ If you select ‘Print Documents,’ you’ll print a separate page for each student in your spreadsheet. If you choose ‘Send E-mail Messages’, you’ll get this pop-up window:

If you have a column labeled ’email’ Excel is smart enough to default to that. If what it chooses is incorrect, click the arrow to the right to select a different column from your spreadsheet. Type in something appropriate for the subject line. When you hit OK, Word will use email program to send an email to each of your students.


Tips for creating individualized data in Excel.

Let Excel do the work. Use the RANDBETWEEN command to generate your data. For example, if you wanted to generate a number between 1 and 30, in an Excel field, type =randbetween(1,30). Notice the solid border around cell D2? If you mouse over the little box in the bottom right corner of that cell, your pointer will turn into a plus sign.

Left click and drag it to the right. This will copy your formula in every cell you highlight.

Now highlight all of the cells in that row you’d like to copy, mouse over the box in the bottom right corner of your selected cells, left click, and drag down.

IMPORTANT: Notice that each time you do something with a cell, such as copy a formula from one cell to the next, the number in all of the RANDBETWEEN cells changed. Each time you enter something into a cell in this spreadsheet, all of your randomly generated numbers will change.


Convert formulas to values. If you’d like your randomly generated numbers to stick so they’re not changing every time you do something in this spreadsheet, highlight the cells that contain the formula, click ‘copy’ (or CTRL-C), then click the down arrow under ‘paste,’ and select ‘Paste Values’ (or ALT-H,V,V).


What else do you need?

Are you looking for easier ways to do things in Word, Excel, or Outlook? Leave your questions in the comments below, and I’ll see if I can find some shortcuts for you.

PowerPoint 2007: Presenter View

One of the most common complaints I hear about PowerPoint is that it is linear; when you run your PowerPoint, you’re locked into running it in the order in which you created it. This is simply not true. “Presenter view” must be the most underused of the most useful PowerPoint features. All you need is a computer that can give you an ‘extended desktop,’ which is almost all laptops and most desktop computers made in the last few years.

This is what is displayed through the projector.

But this is what I see on my computer monitor:

PowerPoint treats the projector as an ‘extended desktop.’ In essence, the presentation is presented on the projector’s ‘monitor’ while the presenter view is presented on your computer’s monitor.

Getting an ‘extended desktop.’

Check your computer’s documentation. For most Window’s computers, in Control Panel, open Display, and go to the Settings tab. Look for something that reads “extend the desktop.” (Mac and Linux can also extended desktop, but you’re really on your own in learning how to do it. Sorry!)

I have the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator Driver, so this is how I got the extended desktop.

I right clicked on my laptop’s desktop.  I selected “Graphics Properties” and checked “Extended Desktop”.  I made the primary device my notebook and the secondary device the monitor.

(Notice the blue boxes labeled 1 and 2? This puts the notebook screen on the left and the projector screen on the right. You can grab and move those boxes if you want the notebook screen on the other side. I explain why shortly.)

I clicked “Scheme Options” and then gave it a name, like Presentation Mode, and saved it.  When I plug into my classroom’s laptop cable, I right click on the desktop, “Select Scheme,” and choose Presentation Mode. In the classroom, I know it’s working when the classroom monitor displays my desktop’s background image with nothing else on it.

In PowerPoint.

In PowerPoint, when you save your PowerPoint file, on the Slide Show tab, check “Use Presenter View” and make sure “Show Presentation On:” is set to Monitor 2.

That’s it.

The show will run as it normally does through the projector, but now you have some very nifty functionality on your computer screen. If you added notes to your slides when you built your slide presentation, you can see your notes on the right side of the screen. With the filmstrip of all your slides at the bottom of the screen, if you want to jump ahead or go back, just click on the slide you want.

If you want to write on the slides with the ‘pen’, when you build your slide presentation, make sure you turn off “advance slide on mouse click” (under the Animations tab).  If you are changing an existing presentation, click on one slide, then CTRL-A to select them all, and then turn off “advance slide on mouse click.”  If you don’t turn it off, every click on the slide with the pen will advance it.  “Advance slide on mouse click” isn’t really necessary anyway with this setup since you have the arrow controls in front of you. I use a presentation remote, and that advances the slides just fine, as well.

If you want to show something else on the classroom screen, like a webpage or video, just drag the window off your computer ‘over’ to the classroom screen.  After all, it’s just an extended desktop.  If your computer monitor is on the left (see the note above about the numbered blue boxes), then drag the program window off the screen to the right to see it appear on the projector’s ‘desktop.’ The first few times you use this setup, you may lose your mouse pointer. If you can’t see the pointer on your computer monitor, it’s probably over on the projector’s ‘desktop.’ If you’ve said that your computer monitor is on the left, then move your mouse to the left to get it back on your computer screen.

This will change your relationship with Powerpoint – for the better.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Dropbox: Sync & Share Your Files Automatically

A few days ago I was visiting with a colleague in his office.  He was trying to find the most recent version of a particular file.  He had one copy on his computer and one copy on his flashdrive, but he wasn’t sure which was the most recent.  And he didn’t seem convinced that those were the only two copies.  Did he have another copy on a different flashdrive?  Did he have yet another copy on his laptop?

Dropbox lets you get rid of your flashdrive and keep all of your files synched.  Make a change to a Word document, and it’s changed everywhere else you have installed Dropbox.

Dropbox adds a folder to your ‘My Documents’ folder called ‘My Dropbox’.  Install it on your work computer, your home computer, your laptop.  Anything you put in that folder (documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, video, images, etc.) will be copied to the Dropbox server, and then copied and downloaded to your other Dropbox-installed computers.

As well as being stored locally, your files are stored (think ‘backed-up’) on the Dropbox servers.  Visit the Dropbox website from any computer and log in to access your files.  This means you can access your slide presentation from your classroom’s internet-connected computer.  No more worrying about whether you’ve moved your most recent slide presentation to your flashdrive.  No more worrying about losing your flashdrive.

Want to go back to an earlier version of a document?  Visit your files on the Dropbox website.  Previous versions are kept for 28 days.

If you’re not sold yet, this next feature should do it.  You can share your folders with other people.  Add or change a file in that folder, and it changes for everyone else.  It acts like a shared drive, except the files are stored locally as well.

To share a folder, navigate to your ‘My Dropbox’ folder. Right click on the folder you want to share, mouse over ‘Dropbox’, then select ‘Share This Folder’.

Your browser will open a page on the Dropbox website. Just type in the email addresses of the people with whom you would like to share the folder (comma separated), and click ‘Share folder’. Your recipients will receive an invitation to install Dropbox, which they’ll need to do to share your folder. Once done, any files they add to the folder or any changes they make to an existing file will be uploaded to the Dropbox server and pushed out to everyone who’s sharing the folder, updating on all of their Dropbox-installed computers as well.

Want to know what’s been happening inside of your ‘My Dropbox’ folder? Visit the Dropbox website. Click on ‘Recent Events.’ You get to see what files you edited or added or deleted. You get to see what files others you share folders with have edited or added or deleted. Don’t want to keep visiting this ‘Recent Events’ page to see what’s new? At the bottom of the page, click ‘Subscribe to this feed’ to get new events sent to your RSS feed reader. (Don’t have an RSS feed reader? See this earlier blog post.)

Cost? You can store up to 2GB in your ‘My Dropbox’ folder for free. You can store up to 50GB for $9.99/month and up to 100GB for $19.99/month.

Installation? You can install it in less than 2 minutes.

What are you waiting for? Dropbox.