Jul 012013
 

Automatically have your Gmail attachments saved to Dropbox. Tweet Feedly articles you’ve tagged. Text new appointments to Google calendar. Making these kinds of automated connections is the power of today’s internet. And you know what? It’s ridiculously easy to do.

IFTTT stands for “If This Then That.” You can connect any one of 65 “channels” to any other one of their “channels.” A channel is web service, such as Dropbox, Gmail, Google Calendar, LinkedIn, Facebook, SkyDrive, Instapaper, Feedly, and Pocket. It includes being able to use text messaging or even phone calls. For the channels you want to use, “recipes” are the connections you make between those services. There are plenty of recipes that you can browse through, or you can create your own.

One recipe I found will let you automatically save all of your Gmail attachments to Dropbox.

Overview of how IFTTT works

Services that operate via the web can choose to have an API (Application Programming Interface). Any service that has this code can be connected to any other service that uses that code. If you have services connected to Facebook or your Google account, those services are using an API. With IFTTT, you give them permission to access certain aspects of whichever services you’d like.

A specific example

After setting up an account at IFTTT, click on “Browse” then in the search box, enter Gmail as a search term. The recipe we’re interested in is fourth on the list.

Clicking on “Save all your Gmail Attachments to Dropbox” generates this page.

Since I haven’t given IFTTT permission to use my Gmail and Dropbox accounts, I need to do that first. When I click the “Activate” button under “Gmail Channel,” I’m directed to Google where I’m asked if I want to grant access to IFTTT. Since I do, I click the “Grant Access” button. And then I repeat the process for Dropbox.

Now I need to decide where in Dropbox I want to save the attachments coming in from Gmail. With the default, IFTTT will create a folder called IFTTT, and within that it will create another folder called Gmail Attachments. I’m good with that, so I just click the big blue “Use Recipe” button.

At the very top of the page click “My Recipes.” You’ll see that it’s been added.

I told you it was ridiculously easy.

Use the icons to the right of the recipe the turn it off, delete it altogether, share it, or edit it.

[Updated 7/2/2013: Recipes run every 15 minutes, unless they have a lightning bolt. Lightning bolt recipes don’t have this wait time.  If you want to check a recipe without waiting, click the edit icon next to the recipe.  On the resulting screen, click “Check.”  The recipe will run immediately.  How do you get a lightning bolt?  Only some channels have lightning bolt capability, like email and Google.  IFTTT reports that they’re working on rolling this out to other channels.]

Creating a new recipe

Let’s create a new recipe where we have any Gmail messages labeled Dropbox saved in a Dropbox folder called “Important Messages.”

Click “Create” in the top menu bar. On the new screen, click the “this” link to tell IFTTT what you want the trigger to be.

For step 1, you are asked what you want the trigger channel to be. Click on Gmail.

In step 2, choose a trigger. Choose “New email labeled.”

Step 3, enter dropbox as the label, and click “Create Trigger.”


With the “this” portion done, we’re ready for the “that.”

In step 4, you’re given that same list of channels. This time, choose Dropbox.

Step 5, tell IFTTT what you want it to do with Dropbox. Let’s go with “Create a text file.”

In step 6, IFTTT said that it would create a folder called IFTTT (if one doesn’t already exist by that name), and then it would put my Gmail messages in a subfolder called “Gmail.” I’m okay with the IFTTT folder, but I want the subfolder called “Important Messages,” so I typed that it.

Next, we need to decide what we want the filename called. IFTTT defaults to what you see here, but we can change this to whatever we’d like using the “ingredients” list given.

I decided that I want the filename to be the sender’s email address – subject line from the message – date the email was received.

When it looks good, click the big blue “Create Action” button.

Last step, add a short description.

Click “Create Recipe.”

Now, let’s test it!

In Gmail, choose a message; right above the message is an icon menu. Click on the label icon, and type in dropbox. Gmail will ask if you want to create that as a new label. Assure it that that is indeed what you want to do.

Give it a few minutes, then check your Dropbox folder. There will be a new folder called “IFTTT”, and within that folder is one called “Important Messages.”

Now do a celebratory dance!

What to do next

Browse the recipes others have created. Take a look at the list of channels to see what services you’re currently using and how you might want to connect them. For the services you’re unfamiliar with, check them out.

Happy cooking!

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Jun 202013
 

Earlier this year Google announced it was pulling the plug on Google Reader July 1, 2013. I recommended trying Old Reader or Feedly. Personally, I’ve settled on Feedly; their responsiveness to the demand following Google’s announcement and to the feature requests coming from their new clients has been admirable.

Feedly was originally built to use Google Reader in the backend, repackaging the content into a different format. Short version: Feedly said we’ll make some changes so we don’t need to rely on Google Reader. The day is here. They’re calling it the Feedly Cloud.

If you are using Feedly, follow the easy-to-follow directions on their blog to make sure that all of your feeds really are coming through Feedly, not Google Reader.

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May 202013
 

A year ago, I wrote about how the ability to tell time on an analog clock was going the way of the slide rule. Watches, digital and analog, have largely disappeared. Why wear one when you have a cell phone to tell you the time? While watches do seem to be making a comeback as a fashion accessory, that particular trend hasn’t hit my campus yet judging by my students’ bare wrists.

For a student who doesn’t have a watch and can’t tell time using the analog clock in the back of my classroom, pacing oneself during a test in my classroom is a tricky business.

I project the time using my classroom’s computer.

After much looking around, I’ve settled on time.is as my time website of choice. This is what it looks like to my students.

The screenshot below is what Time.is looks like when I first visit the site. It correctly identifies my location as the Seattle area. The information provides is a little much for displaying during a test. Most of my students don’t use a 24-hour clock. Displaying the seconds might actually increase anxiety (“Oh no! Time is going really fast!”). My students don’t need to know that my computer’s time is exact (but good for my computer!). They also, while taking a test, don’t need to know the time in Beijing.

Let’s customize.

First, clicking on the time strips away everything except for the “Time.is” logo in the top left corner and the big bold time in the center; you get a screen that looks like the screenshot that led off this blog post. Click on the time again to go back to the default view that shows all the extras.

Let’s change the display to a 12-hour clock and ditch the seconds.

At the very top of the Time.is screen, click “more.” Then select “customize.”

That generates this customization screen. Uncheck “24 hours” and “show seconds.” Then click “Back to the front page.”

Ta da! You now have a 12-hour clock and the seconds are gone.

Click on the time to show just the time. Done!

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May 162013
 

In March 2012 I wrote about SendHub, a platform for texting a group of people all at once. Cel.ly is a similar service with a free space for educators. Unlike SendHub, with Cel.ly, students do not see my phone number and I do not see their phone numbers.

When I started texting students en masse – first with SendHub, now with Cel.ly – I wasn’t sure what to think of it. Should I insist that the only acceptable means for electronic communication between students and me be email? Well, why? There are certain communications where email is appropriate, but sometimes a quick question/answer is better handled via text. Last week after class, I emailed my students a questionnaire that I wanted them to fill out and bring with them to class. I texted my students to tell them to check their email. At the same time I scheduled another text to go out a few days later asking if they had completed the questionnaire yet, and I scheduled another one to go out the morning of class reminding them to bring the completed questionnaire with them to class. This is more hands-on than I generally am with my students, but it was really important to me that they bring the completed questionnaire to class because of what I wanted to do during class time – and I didn’t want to spend class time waiting for students to complete the questionnaire.

I have to tell you, it’s a pretty powerful feeling to know that when I hit send on a text message to my class all of my students will likely be reading that message within seconds. Granted, may be doing it during class with one of my colleagues. In that case, Me: 1, Colleague: 0.

You could make use of the testing effect by periodically texting students questions relevant to your course material. Attach points to it or not. All correct responses received within 60 minutes earn one point with five points going to the best answer. Schedule the questions to go out at different times of the day so that students aren’t disadvantaged because you’re sending out questions when they’re always in Chemistry or, worse yet, driving home.

Let’s take a look at Cel.ly

While I wish that the Cel.ly interface looked a little more like it was for grown-ups, it is possible to do everything you need to do via text message (or the smartphone app) and never visit the website. If you use the website or the app, it’s intuitive. If you want to manage it all from your phone, you’ll need this list of commands. Of course you can mix and match. Use Cel.ly when you’re at your computer, but use the Cel.ly app or your text messaging app when you’re on the go.

In Cel.ly, you create different “cells.” You may have a cell, for example, for each of your classes, a cell for the club you advise, and a cell for your department.

Creating a cell

After creating a Cel.ly account, click on “cells” at the top of the screen. Click “start cell.”


In step one, choose a cell name.


In step 2 decide who can join. If you choose “restricted,” you can decide what sort of information you want the person to provide, such as a username or short bio. Or you can enter a password, so that only those with the password can join. My class cells are open. Who wants to get announcements for my class if they’re not actually in the class? Of course as the cell administrator, I can kick out whomever I’d like.


In step three decide how you want to manage texts that are coming and going. If you are using this for your class, curated chat is the safest bet. This is the setting I use for my classes. When students reply, the messages come to me privately. I can choose to respond to just that student or to the entire class.


In step four provide some information about your newly created cell.


How others can join your cell

Now when you click the “cells” link at the top of the page, you will see a link to your cell. This is the page for my new cell. In the share box on the right, you can see there are a couple ways people can join this cell. You can just give people the public link, in this case http://cy.tl/13wbDkr. Or you can give them the texting instructions below that. For my class cells, I put the texting directions on my syllabus. (You are welcome to join this cell to see how it works from a student perspective. It is easy to leave the cell when you are ready. Just reply to a text from the cell with the word stop in the body of the message.)


Receiving messages

In the top right corner, you see two orange buttons: “email on” and “sms on.” Every time a text is sent to this cell, you will get both an email message and text message (sms) by default. If you don’t want text messages sent to your email, click the “email on” button, and it will turn to “email off.” If you choose to not get messages to either email or text message, you’ll need to use the smartphone app or the web interface.


Sending messages

Messages can be sent from the Cel.ly web interface just by entering your message in the message box. Or you can send them from either the Cel.ly app or from your text messaging app. In the latter case, I would send a text message to 23559 with @SueFrantz in the message, and that message will be sent out to everyone in the cell. If I just wanted to send to one person, I would enter there Cel.ly @username.

Sending a poll

Clicking “send poll” in the web interface gives you this screen. Here I have the question set to close in 30 minutes or “when all members vote”.

This is a question I sent out to my students.

This is what it looked like in the Cel.ly app on my phone after two answers arrived.

This is what the final poll results looked like on the web interface.

When the poll closed, the results were automatically texted to everyone in the cell. This is what they looked like in text form.

Hashlinks

If you have separate cells for each of your courses, you might want to create a hashlink so you can communicate with both classes with one message. For example, if you have two sections of a course, and you have information you want to share with both sections, you can create a hashlink so any time you include that hashlink in the message, it will shared with students in both sections.

This “hashtag & links” box is on the right side of your cell’s page.

Click the “add hashlink” button to get this screen. Choose what other cell you want to link to your current cell. And then choose a hashtag. Let’s say that I had two cells, one for each section of a course. Let’s say that they are named @psycha and @psychb. I can create a hashtag, say #psy that will allow me to post to both cells with just one text message.


Receptors

You can add an RSS or Twitter feed, so that new content from that feed is texted to everyone in your cell. Here I’ve add my twitter feed so that any tweet I send out will automatically sent as a text message to everyone in the cell. Instead of sending out all tweets, I can add a “search filter,” like a twitter hashtag, so that only tweets from me that contain that hashtag will be sent out to everyone in the cell. (If you decide to join this cell just to see what it’s like, know that I’ve deleted this “receptor” – you won’t get a text message every time I tweet!)

Conclusion

Try it out. Encourage your students to join your class cell. You may discover all kinds of uses for it. Just don’t get too carried away with your new-found power!

 

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May 122013
 

CleanPrint gives you the power to print or save only the content you want from a webpage. Add a note if you’d like. Add CleanPrint as an extension to your browser.  What’s especially cool is that multi-page articles are automatically combined into one.

With this NYTimes article, you can see the CleanPrint toolbar on the left. The top half gives you several places where you can print or save the webpage.

You can choose which of these print/save options you’d like to display by making changes to the browser extension. In your browser, go to where you can see your extensions. Look for the extension under “Print or PDF with CleanPrint”. Once you find it, select “options” to see this screen.

But before printing or saving, I want to edit the page. There is a lot of content on this page I don’t want. CleanPrint is also telling me that the page will print 5.45 pieces of paper. Let’s see about reducing the amount of paper I’ll need.

The top of the page is all other headlines. I don’t want that. Mousing over it selects that area turning it green.

Clicking on the green area makes it disappear. With that section gone, the new estimate is 5.25 pages.

Let’s take a look at the bottom half of the CleanPrint toolbar.

Clicking “remove images” removes images. And clicking the small A button reduces the font size. After clicking that button a few times, I’m down to 2.68 pages.

Before saving or printing the page, I can add a note by clicking the “add a note” button. A note, at this writing, can only be added in this location in the page but it seems like a feature that could be expanded by allowing additional notes and an option to change the note’s color.

Check out the final PDF.

The “less ink” button grays the font so that, well, you use less ink when printing this document.

If you’re interested in this kind of service, also check out my blog post about PrintFriendly.

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May 082013
 

Not long ago I wrote about Akindi (see this post). Print out your own bubble sheets or send to students to print their own. After the test, scan the completed bubble sheets into a PDF to grade them.

The good folks at Akindi have just added some much-needed functionality. You can now download the corrected tests as a single PDF or download them as a zip file. If you’re going to print them to give back to students, then go the PDF route. Zipping them will give you each corrected test as its own PDF. Do this if you’ll be returning them to students electronically, such as via email or your LMS’ dropbox.

This is what a corrected test looks like.

Keep an eye on this company. They’re building a very powerful tool.

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Mar 292013
 

You don’t have time to read the New York Times cover to cover or time to spend all day watching CNN. You don’t have time to visit your favorite journals in the library to see if there’s anything relevant to your teaching or research. What if you had your own news butler who would sift through the news, giving you only what you’re interested in? RSS feeds are like news tickers. RSS feed readers – aka news butlers – pick up the feeds you want and deliver them to you in an easy-to-read format for your computer or mobile device. Think of it as a newspaper customized just for you.


RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” Some websites use this format to make their content easily read by programs called RSS feed readers. Anywhere you see this orange icon, the content is in an RSS format.


Feedly

There are many different kinds of RSS feed readers out there. I’m partial to Feedly for its customization and clean layout. On the left side of the screen is my list of categories. Inside of each category are the titles of my feeds. In the “Psych News” category, I have 316 unread items. There are 12 unread items from Annie Murphy Paul’s blog, 123 unread items from the Association for Psychological Science.


In the main window you can see the articles themselves.


I prefer the “title only” view for the articles, but you can change this to a different kind of view using the buttons in the top right corner of the screen.


Magazine view


Card view


Full article view


Sharing/saving articles

Connected to each article is a toolbar. Clicking the icons makes it easy to share the content using social media. The bookmark icon – “saved for later” – copies the article into the “Saved for Later” section of the left navigation pane for quick and easy access. You can also add a “tag” to any article. Any tags you create are listed at the very bottom of the left navigation pane.


Adding news feeds

At the very top of the left navigation pane, click the “add content” link.


That will open a new window on the right. You can enter a “url, title, or #topic” in the search box or you can browse for content in the “Explore” section.


Here I’ve entered suefrantz.com, and in the “sites” section, you can see my website listed.


Clicking on that link, will show what the RSS feed will look like in Feedly. If you want to keep the feed, click the “add” button.


Feedly will ask you where you’d like the feed to be listed. You can add it to an existing category or create a new category.


Any time I publish new content to my blog, it will appear in your Feedly feeds. You don’t have to keep visiting my website to find it. It just appears. That’s the magic of RSS.

Finding feeds

The major (and many minor) news outlets have RSS feeds. The New York Times has several. You can find your way to the New York Times RSS page from any of their pages. Scroll to the very bottom, and there’s an “RSS” link.


Here they are from NPR.


When you click on one of those feed links, you will get a very scary look page of code. Fortunately, you can ignore it all – except for the URL, in this case http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/feed/. That’s what you’ll copy into the “find sites” box you get when you click “Add Content” in the left navigation pane.


If you’re not sure if the website is using RSS, try the website URL in Feedly. If it doesn’t work, Feedly will let you know.

Creating a feed from a library database

Here I’ve gone into PsycARTICLES and am looking at the list of journals. See the RSS icon?


When I click on that icon, I get this screen. This gives me the RSS feed URL that I can copy and paste into Feedly. Whenever a new issue of the journal appears in the database, the table of contents – and sometimes abstracts – will appear in Feedly.


You can also do a search in the database and then get an RSS feed for that search. Any time something new appears in the database that matches those search criteria, you’ll see it in Feedly. Contact your librarian to help you get feeds from your library’s databases.

Create a feed from a Google search
[Update 7/26/2013 : Since Google Reader was killed off, Google Alerts no longer produce an RSS feed. There aren’t a lot of good alternatives out there, but it looks like TalkWalker might be the closest.]

Go to Google Alerts, and enter a search query. In the panel on the right, you’ll see Google’s results. Choose the result type, here I’ve selected “News.” I’ve chosen to have the results delivered as a news feed. Then “Create Alert.”

On the page that’s created, you’ll see your query. Click on the orange RSS icon to get the news feed page. Copy that URL into Feedly. Any time a news item that meets those search criteria appears in Google, you’ll get notified in Feedly.


Keyboard shortcuts

Feedly has several useful keyboard shortcuts. In Feedly, click anywhere on the page, then type a question mark to get the list of shortcuts.

Mobile

Feedly has a mobile app (Android/iOS). Since Feedly is in the “cloud,” you can seamlessly move from your smartphone, to your laptop, to your tablet, to your desktop.

Important usage note

Don’t feel compelled to read everything in your news feed. I hope you don’t feel compelled to read every article in your local newspaper. Feedly is the same thing. It’s just your personal newspaper.

Special note for Chrome users

Install the RSS Subscription Extension. It will make adding RSS feeds to Feedly very easy. Once it’s installed, when you click on that orange RSS icon, it will load a page that looks like this. Just select “Feedly” and click “Subscribe Now.” No need to copy the URL into Feedly manually.

But Feedly is probably not listed in that drop down list, so let’s add it. In the drop down list, select “Manage.” Click the “Add” button. In the description box, type Feedly. For the URL, enter this: http://www.feedly.com/home#subscription/feed/%s and click “Save.”

Now you’re good to go. Click on an RSS icon, the feed page will load, and click “Subscribe Now.” Feedly will launch. Confirm that you want to add that subscription, and Feedly will ask which category you’d like to put it in. Done.

Try it

If you’ve never used an RSS feed reader before, you’ll be surprised at how much more in-the-know you will be.

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Mar 282013
 

[Update 4/3/2013: At the time of this writing, the answer form has 75 questions; they’re working on a 100-question form.  In this post, I suggested using a mobile app like CamScanner for turning the completed forms into a PDF. Akindi does not guarantee the results from scans using a mobile app. It worked fine for me, but if you have to use a mobile app, double-check the results.  And, one last thing.  They’re close to giving you And now you have the power to generate a PDF for each student that has their incorrect answers marked. Read this more recent post.]

Instead of having your students purchase preprinted testing forms (e.g., Scantron), why not print answer forms on regular paper? Or have your students print them? After scanning the completed answer forms into a PDF (a smartphone works!), Akindi, a free service, will dump all of the data into a spreadsheet to use as you’d like.

After creating an account, create a course, and then create a new test.

Test sheet

Download a blank test sheet by clicking the “Download Blank Test Sheets” button (or get it here; you can also find a link to it on the login page). It is just a pdf. Download, print, and copy for your students or make the link available for your students to print. Individual students are identified by a unique ID number, not name. I’d recommend having students write their names on the back of the sheet, and then bubble in, say, the last 4 digits of their student ID number in the “Identification #” area, or, better yet, assign students a number to be used just for this purpose.

Answer key

The answer key is identified by bubbling in 0000 in the “Identification #” area on the answer sheet.

Scoring

Scan the answer key and the student answer forms into one big PDF. If you’re lucky, you have someone who can do that for you or you have a scanner, ideally with an automatic document feeder (ADF). If you don’t have access to a scanner or a kind soul with a scanner, but you have a smartphone, you can use your phone’s camera to create PDFs. I use CamScanner (Android/iOS).

Once you have the PDF done, upload it to Akindi by using the “upload” button or email it to the unique email address Akindi provides you. The email is a great option if you’re that lucky person who has an elf scanning the forms into a PDF. That person can just email the PDF to that email address; they don’t need you.

Results summary

For each course, you will see a list of your tests. Here you can see two: Practice test and Test 2. Click on the “Download CSV” to get a spreadsheet depicting the overview of the test results.


Test results

Click on an individual test, to get that test data. At the bottom you can see the results for each student; 0001 is the ID number from the “identification #” area on the answer sheet.

Click “Download CSV” to get the data in a spreadsheet. This is what it is looks like. At the very bottom is student 0001 (or “1”). Wrong answers are designated in parentheses. Now you can do easy analytics. For example use the Excel “countif” command to count how many students responded with each answer for each question. Knowing what students choose as the wrong answer is often more illuminating than the number of students who got an answer correct. You can also do a discrimination analysis where you compare the top third of scorers on your test to the bottom third of scores for each test question. Here’s a wonderful explanation of how do this kind of test analysis using Excel.


Getting feedback to students: Mail merge

Since the test forms themselves are not marked with right and wrong answers, it doesn’t make much sense to return the answer forms to the students. Instead, create a form letter in Word. Include whatever content you’d like and then do a “mail merge” with the Excel spreadsheet. Just delete rows 2 through 5. If you’d like students to have the questions from the test, you can do a mail merge with the test itself. (See this blog post for instructions on how to do a Word/Excel mail merge.)

Let’s say that your test results spreadsheet looks like this, with the “key,” “weight,” “common answer,” and “correct students” rows deleted.

This is what the Word form letter might look like. The stuff in brackets are merge fields. Those are the column headings in the Excel document.

When you tell Word to run the merge, Word will create a new page for each row. Here’s how the first row of data gets rendered.

You can print out the merged document if you want to hand each student a physical copy of their test results. If you include email addresses in your Excel file, you can have Outlook email each of your students with their information in the body of the email message.

Conclusion

Akindi is a new product. Look for updates and improvements as they get feedback from instructors who are using their product.

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Mar 272013
 

For the YouCanBook.Me users (see this blog post for more info about this service), did you know that you can let more than one person sign up for a given time slot? Let’s say that you wanted to do group advising, or perhaps you’re signing up, say, 10 participants at a time for a study you’re doing. On the “advanced” tab, change “units per slot” to the number of people you want to be able to sign up at one time. If you change this to 10, then YouCanBook.Me will show each time slot as being available until 10 people have signed up for it.

But there’s an interesting quirk. If you change “units per slot” to some other number, say 3, any time you have blocked off in the Google Calendar that YouCanBook.Me is using will show as available since only one person (you) has signed up for that time slot. YouCanBook.Me will let 2 others sign up for that time. If that time is blocked off in your Google Calendar, I’m willing to bet however you don’t want anyone signing up in that time slot.

Here’s the work-around. For each of your Google Calendar entries, add YCBM-OVERRIDE-BPS in the calendar entry’s description. YouCanBook.Me will show that calendar entry blocked off. Remember, this code is only necessary if the “units per slot” is set to more than one.

Bonus tip: If you use a text expander, like Phrase Express (see this blog post; or TypeIt4Me for Macs), create a keyboard shortcut for entering the YCBM-OVERRIDE-BPS code in your Google Calendar description boxes. Something like #yo for “YouCanBook.Me override” or #pita if you’d like to be a bit more expressive.

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