Akindi: Update

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.

Keeping Up with New Information: The Magic of RSS

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.


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.


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.

Scantron Alternative: Akindi

[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.


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.


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

YouCanBook.Me: “Units per slot”

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.

TheOldReader & Feedly: Google Reader Replacements

“What’s an RSS feed reader?”

If you’ve been bopping around the tech blogs, you’ve been hearing a lot about RSS feed readers lately. If you haven’t been using an RSS reader, you may be wondering what the hubbub is all about. This is such an essential piece of technology that Google Reader was the subject of one of my very first blog post back in April 2009. If you’re not familiar with the concept, please check out that post. It will bring you up to speed on how an RSS reader can help you manage how you learn about what’s new in the world. Many of you have asked me where I learn about the technologies and tips I share in this blog. I use an RSS feed reader to deliver information to me from tech blogs, the popular press, and other sources. I can sift through it quickly, filtering out stuff to try. What I like, I write about here.

Google Reader has been my RSS feed reader of choice from the beginning. And the amount of response Google’s announcement regarding the shutting down of Google Reader (7/1/2013) has generated, it’s nice to see that I’m not alone in my grieving. I know that sounds dramatic, but Reader is always open in my browser. I dip into it several times during the day. I use it as much as I use email. [For those who aren’t quite ready to let Google Reader go, there are several petitions at Change.org. This one has the most votes. You’re invited to add your voice to the thousands.

Replacing Google Reader

I’ve been reading reviews of the top contenders for replacing Google Reader (one review from LifeHacker). Feedly has been getting a lot of good press. I really like its mobile app, but I’m still not sure how I feel about the web interface. TheOldReader feels comfortable since it looks and acts much like Google Reader, but some functioning isn’t quite there yet, like social media integration. I know TheOldReader developers are working their butts off right now; it’s a side project for them that is suddenly taking up much more of their time. The other readers that are getting buzz, like NewsBlur, NetVibes, and Pulse, are too magazine-y for me. I want to read information, not look at pretty pictures – not that I have anything against pretty pictures.


When you look at TheOldReader, you’ll see that it looks a lot like Google Reader. In fact, it looks pretty much how Google Reader used to look. They say that this project started just as something for their friends who liked the original Google Reader.

On the left you can click the top button to add a subscription. The bottom of the left navigation bar shows the feeds. Click the “import” button in the top right corner to import your news feeds from another service, like Google Reader. Instructions on getting your Google Reader news feeds into a format TheOldReader can use, see this blog post. As of this writing (3/17/2013), TheOldReader has a pretty big backlog of import requests. As for the reading experience, if you’re coming in from Google Reader, the keyboard shortcuts are the same.

The toolbar to the right of the screen lets you use buttons to navigate up and down through the articles. The third button lets you switch between the article preview mode depicted in the screenshot above and title mode where you only get the list of titles.


Feedly has a different feel. If you try Feedly before July 1, 2013 when Google Reader is scheduled to take its last breath, your Google Reader feeds will be automatically imported. Feedly was originally built to connect to Google Reader, and you can still do that now. The Feedly developers are currently working on the backend to ensure a seamless transition from feeds coming from Google Reader to the feeds residing inside of Feedly itself.

In the screenshot below, you can see my feed folders on the left. Clicking the cog icon in the top right corner (is it a cog??) calls up the settings. Choose the format you want. What’s displaying now is full articles, but if you like pretty pictures, switch to magazine, timeline, mosaic, or cards. At the very bottom of that menu is a filters area. Feedly will only show you your unread items by default. Uncheck the box to see both read and unread items.  One quick warning. On the left, next to each feed or folder, there is a number.  That’s how many unread items you have.  If you click on it, Feedly will mark all of those feeds as being read.  Be careful!

I’m still a big fan of keyboard shortcuts. In Feedly, hit the question mark on your keyboard to get the shortcut list. Press ESC when you’re done.

Mobile apps

As of this writing TheOldReader doesn’t have a mobile app, but I suspect one is in development. Or will be soon. Feedly already has an app that I like. My only complaint is that Feedly picks an article out of the feeds to make a “cover” article. Since we’ve already established that I don’t care for a magazine-y interface, I find the cover article irksome.

Try them both

I encourage you to try them both. If you frequently read your feeds on a mobile device you may want to try Feedly‘s web and mobile app interfaces first. Whatever is marked as read in one location will be marked as read in the other location. But it’s not like you can’t read TheOldReader feeds on your mobile device. Just use your mobile browser. And if you like magazine-y layouts, by all means take a look at NewsBlur, NetVibes, and Pulse.

If you have found an RSS feed reader that you like, please let us know in the comments.

Google Reader Is Retiring July 1, 2013: What to Do Next

[Update 3/17/2013: My recommended RSS feed readers are in this post.]

Google Reader has been my go-to RSS feed reader since it launched in 2005. I’m pained to see it go. If you’re a Google Reader user, the first thing you need to do – after an appropriate period of mourning – is get your feed subscriptions dumped into an OPML (XML) file so that you can import them into another reader.

Exporting subscriptions

In Google Reader, go to settings (cog icon on the far right of the screen), and select the “Import/Export” tab. At the bottom of the screen, click “Download your data through Takeout.”

Click “Create Archive.”

Give Google a minute to get your data together.

When it’s ready, click “Download.”

Your data will come to you neatly compressed in a zip file. Save it someplace where you can find it. Open the folder and click “Extract all files.”

Click through the subfolders until you see the files themselves. It’s the very last one that you want, the “subscriptions.xml” file.


Whatever RSS feed reader you move to – I’m trying out FeedBooster right now – the service should have an import function for your subscriptions. Since I’m not quite ready to recommend FeedBooster just yet, keep your eye on this space. I’ll let you know when I find a service that I like.

What do you use?

Do you have an RSS feed reader that you really like? Please share in the comments!

Screenhero: Screen Sharing with Dual Control

Join.me is my go-to screen-sharing application with Google Hangouts running a close second. However, both only allow one person to “be” on the screen at any given time. ScreenHero (Windows and Mac) allows two people on the screen simultaneously.

Getting started

After installing Screenhero, you will need to “Add People” you can share your screen with. You’ll be asked to enter the email address and name of someone with whom you’d like to, at some future point or now, share your screen. If they already have a Screenhero account, enter the email address they used to create their account.

I invited myself under a different email address and received this email as the recipient of the invitation. The invitation comes with a default username (email address) and password.

I installed Screenhero on a different computer, and now I can see in the Screenhero window that my alter ego is online. When the person is offline, the chat icon and “Share” button disappear.

Screen sharing

When you click the “Share” button, you get two options. “Share Window”will let you choose which window you’d like to share. The screen-sharing buddy will only be able to control what’s in the window you share. “Share Screen” let’s you share everything on your screen.

Once you select which you’d like to share, the other person will get this pop-up notification along with a pleasant-sounding chime.

After clicking “Accept Share,” you will see the other person’s pointer on your screen, labeled with their name, plus your own pointer.

The other person will see both your pointer and their own.

But you cannot type simultaneously. You can switch back and forth without issue, but both people cannot control the screen at the same time.


Screenhero comes with built-in chat. Use it to communicate or go old-school and just talk on the phone.


As of this writing, Screenhero is still in beta, so watch for the addition of new features.

Everything: Windows Search

A student emails me asking for a letter of recommendation. Before I respond, I want to refresh my memory of the student, beginning with the work the student produced in my course. I go to “Everything” and type in the student’s last name, and as I type, filenames that match the characters begin to appear. By the time I type in the last letter of the student’s name, I have all of the files at my disposal. How cool is that?

Everything is not the only Windows indexing and search tool out there, but it is free. Its search is limited to just the filenames. If you’re willing to pay the price, X1 will search filenames and file content.

Once you have Everything installed, create a keyboard shortcut for it for quick access. (See this blog post for instructions on creating hot keys.)

[One person asked how is this different from the built-in Windows search.  It is much, much faster.]

Create Hot Keys to Open Windows Programs

Did you know that you can create a keyboard shortcut to open any Windows program?

Find the program you want to open (Start menu for pre-Windows 8 users; here are instructions for Windows 8 users). Right-click on the program and select “Properties.”

Select the “Shortcut” tab, then click in the “Shortcut key” box.

Type what you want your keyboard shortcut to be. Pick something you won’t hit accidentally or that you don’t already use as a keyboard shortcut. If you do try to use something that’s already a Windows shortcut, Windows will provide you with an alternative. In this case, I pressed CTRL, SHIFT and ‘w’ simultaneously on my keyboard. Click “Ok”.

Now any time I want to open Word, I just hit CTRL + SHIFT + w, and Word will launch.

Bonus tip: ALT-F4 will close the program you currently have open. I know, there’s nothing intuitive about that. Write the keyboard shortcuts you want to learn on little sticky notes and put them on your monitor. Practice them. Before too long you’ll have them down and be ready to learn more.


Google Alerts: Keeping Tabs on What’s New

You know how to search Google. Did you know that you can have Google automatically search, and then let you know what it found out?

Go to Google Alerts. Enter your search query.

Let’s say that you’re interested in hearing anything about schizophrenia that appears in the news. Type schizophrenia in the query box, change the “Result type” from “everything” to “News.” Google will give you a preview of the search results.

Next, choose how often you want to have the results of this query delivered to you: As it happens, once a day, or once a week. Do you want just the best results or all results.

Where would you like it delivered? Google will show the email addresses they have on file for you. You can also choose to have it sent as a news feed. When you’re happy, click “Create Alert.”

This bumps me to my alerts page, where I can see this has been added at the bottom. Since I chose “news feed” instead of email I can click on “Google Reader” to add it to my news feed in Google Reader.

If you’re not using Google Reader or some other news feed reader, check out this post on what Google Reader is and how you can use it.