Category Archives: Tips Tricks and Productivity

Are Your Classroom Handouts Stuck In the Last Century?

A little while ago I posted about just how useful screencasting is for teaching students how to use tools and software on the computer/web. I also recently posted on a favorite image screen capture Chrome add-on that makes it super easy to grab screenshots from the web.

Here is another great tool I love for teaching providing students instructions on tasks they need to complete for assignments while incorporating visuals: the Lab Guide.

I opt for these over screencasts when the steps are clearly defined and need to be followed in a specific order.

I use Google Docs and Awesome Screenshot Google Chrome add-on to create these.  Here’s why I like Lab Guides:

I used to give a lot of handouts with instructions. They were a waste of trees. And black-and-white text… boring!

I realized something: We want to create content that grabs attention, that is easy to digest, easy to follow, yet we don’t seem to do a great job of doing that with our students!

More and more, i find images and multimedia are great additions to or supplements for words. But color-printing is expensive. I also felt limited by MS Word and wanted to be able to provide a URL, not a file for students to access so students could click links on the handout to access videos, additional articles, etc., without being bogged down by the cumbersome process of loading a link via a Word document.

And so, I began creating Lab Guides which are Instructional Handout with Multimedia (IHMs)

IHMs are easy to access via a short URL (e.g., Bitly) from anywhere on the web.

They contain instructional material, embedded images, icons, links.

And, they are super easy to create!

Here is a lab guide that utilizes a variety of multimedia examples to help students. This lab guide shows students in the intro class, Comm and New Media, how to create and edit their podcast assignment.

bit.ly/203_Lab2Podcasting

Here is a long and involved Lab Guide I created that walks students through the complex process of coding XML files for data collection using the Open Data Kit (ODK). Students in the (Applied) Research Methods class will be collecting survey data using iPads and Android Tablets.  Students will be creating their own surveys and programming them into XML to be hosted on FromHub.com. With the tablets, students can go out into the field and have people complete the survey on the tablet and the data is uploaded in real time to FormHub. Students can then download the data for analysis when complete with data collection.

http://bit.ly/435_lab_digitalsurvey

I like handouts where all the info is organized and students can follow along. It takes time to create. But I feel it saves me a lot of time on the back end with emails, time wasted in class, etc. Most importantly, the students find it helpful and it helps us move more quickly through the “must do’s” so we can get to the real learning!

Follow these tips for making your Google Doc Lab Guide to share your students once you’ve created it

Log into Google Drive or create an account.

1) Create the docs and make sure they are set up so EVERYONE can edit them. Here’s how:

After creating the document, click “share” (upper right – it is a blue icon). Next, click “Change” next to the field asking who can do what with the document….: Choose “Anyone with the link” and in the Access section, keep it as View”

2) Sharing the Document with Students – The URL for Google Docs is annoyingly long, not good for sharing. So use your favorite URL shortener to create uniform links for the assignment. I like Bitly but any works.

For example, if there are 4 teams and I set up the documents, each will have a URL something like:

bit.ly/SMClass_Activity1_Team1

That way, each team just types in the short link into their browser. Just note that Bitly links are case-sensitive. Be sure to test your link!

What tips do you have for creating effective handouts for students?

Take Screen Shots Efficiently with Awesome Screenshot

In addition to discussing social media education and trends on this blog, I like to share tech tools and tricks that can help an educator out!

I’m a big proponent of using screenshots to quickly show students (or anyone!) how to do something on the web or a computer.

That’s why I want to share my newest favorite Google Chrome extension, Awesome Screenshot. (Also available for Safari and Firefox). This tool is great for capturing images from the web more quickly than any other tool, including the software on your operating system.

I use this tool to create Instructional Handouts with Multimedia (IMHs) on Google Drive to teach students processes for class assignments and projects. I’ll explain those on the next post!

Here’s the official video on this great tool!

One trick I picked up not shown in their video is that you can copy and paste an image without having to save it as a file or to Diigo, etc. I do this all the time by copying the image and pasting it directly into a Google Document, saving me a few steps and time!

It is really easy. After capturing an image and finishing editing it, advance to the final page where you are asked what you want to do with the file – such as save it to your computer, to Diigo, etc. Simply right-click on the image and select “copy image” (or the appropriate option for your browser).

Hope you enjoy!

Want more of these types of posts? See the “tips tricks and productivity” category (you can see a list of categories on the left). If you like these types of posts, please let me know!

#TryThis! Teach Technology and Save Class Time with Screencasting

The start of the semester is right around the corner. So I thought it’d be fun to do series of posts titled #trythis! on teaching tools and techniques I hope you will try this fall. The first is an invaluable tool I’ve been using for years that makes teaching technology more efficient!

Want to teach students how to use software or a web tool for an activity or assignment but don’t want to waste class time?

Try screencasting! It is a wonderful way to augment your teaching materials and ensure student learning. Plus, it is easier, and quicker than you might think!

Screencasting is a video of a computer screen and is used to demonstrate tasks on a computer. For example, I have used screencasting to show students how to set up social media accounts, edit wikis, complete complex processes such as on SPSS, and much more.

Benefits:

  1. Saves time in class – I already said this but it is worth repeating. Rather than stand before the class using valuable time to show 1 or 2 students how to do a task at the risk of losing the attention of the rest of the class, you can 1) point students to screencasts you’ve already made, or 2) tell them you’ll make a screencast after class and post a link to it on the class website.
  2. Visual component makes it easy to follow.
  3. Particularly useful for complex subjects – If a student is confused, he can pause, rewind, etc. I’ve had students comment that they were so thankful for a screencast I’d posted on using Spundge.com because the task I was requesting was rather complicated and they were having a hard time following paper instructions.
  4. Students can watch screencasts at any time
  5. Less time repeating the same instructions over and over in your office hours, via email, etc.
  6. Less excuses from students that they couldn’t complete the assignment because they couldn’t follow your instructions.

Here’s a video I made teaching students how to use Piktochart for an Infographics assignment:

See more Screencasts I’ve made on my Vimeo library. In fact, my old screencasts from when I first started teaching new and social media in graduate school are still on TeacherTube, a video-sharing site for educators!

Tips:

  1. Find a quiet place to record (of course!)
  2. Don’t be nervous – though you might be saying to yourself, ‘why would I be nervous!?” you may find yourself a little timid when you go to record. A lot of us don’t like the sound of their own voice or you may worry you are going to sound unorganized or say “um” too much. Just relax. Be yourself.
  3. Plan but don’t over plan – if you over plan every little thing you are going to say, you will come across rigid. In fact, I find it impossible to plan everything I want to say or do. Sometimes I am recording and in the moment I’ll think of something to add, or to show. Embrace that. Those little insights add value just like they do in the classroom. What I do to plan, is make a list of the things I want to cover in a video and have it in front of me.
  4. Don’t be afraid of doing a ‘redo’ – sometimes I get 5 minutes into a recording and make a mistake or forget what I was going to say and have to stop, delete, and start over. Because I don’t bother to edit the videos in order to save time, I end up having to do a redo now and again.
  5. Consider the video length – It is easy to get going and going when doing a screencast and quickly find 5-6 minutes have flown by. I try not to record videos that are longer than 7 minutes. I find students won’t watch a video if it is too long. So if I can keep it shorter by all means, I try!
  6. Shorter and more is best – Ideally, I’ve found a few short videos beats 1 long video. Students are going to fast forward in searching of the content they want anyhow.

How to Make a ScreenCast

To make a screencast, all you need is: a microphone, screencast software, and an account for a free online host like YouTube or Vimeo.

There is paid software with more advanced features. But the options I will show are free and will suffice for all your needs:

First, check your built-in or plug-in mic to make sure it is working.

If you have a Mac computer, you can use the free software QuickTime. Open QuickTime, Click File -> New Screen Recording. Click the red icon to start the recording. When you’re done, click the stop icon. The video will be created. Watch it to make sure you are happy with it. Export it for uploading by clicking “Share” from the menu. Select the account Vimeo or YouTube you are using and follow the prompts, including entering your username and password.

If you have a PC, there are a few options. One option is the online screencasting software screencastomatic. I used the free, open source software Cam Studio (http://camstudio.org/) to create the TeacherTube screencasts.  The software is easy to use. But getting it installed and working is easier explained through screencast. So, in the spirit of this post here are two great videos on getting going with Cam Studio:

Installing and getting started with CamStudio version 2.7

A detailed look at Cam Studio 2.7 Settings (for those wanting more guidance)

In sum, screencasting is a great supplement to any class where you need to teach students how to do things on a computer. Any educator who wants to improve the way they teach software and web tools to students can benefit from using this easy and effective tool.

I hope you will try screencasting this semester! If you do, stop back by and share your screencast and let us know how it went! If you currently use screencasting, what do you find it most effective for? What tips do you have for someone new to screencasting?

(photo CC: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephen_d_luke/)

Scholars: Save Time With Mendeley’s New Literature Search Feature

searching-academic-references

Let’s face it, the time it takes to find the citations you need is slowing down the research process.

Tools like Google Scholar have made it much easier for academic researchers to search for and find academic research. But there’s another player out there you should be using when searching for literature: Mendeley reference search (If you’re not familiar with Mendeley, check out my last post on why researchers should use Mendeley to organize their research library and more efficiently compete their research).

The other day I was updated to the latest version of Mendeley Desktop for Mac. This new update features an exciting new feature embedded into the desktop application, but which you may not know already existed on Mendeley.com!

You can now conduct a literature search of the Mendeley community crowd-sourced research database – that is, all the articles that are in the Mendeley libraries of all other Mendeley users – via a search bar in the program (click the “Literature Search” from the library box on the left hand side of the app). An important feature here, is that you can download the PDFs of articles people have shared (I’ll explain how below).

mendeley-literature-search-overview

A quick test of this feature made me a believer!

How does it work?
Think of Mendeley.com as a social network for researchers (see the features at the bottom of this post). When you join Mendeley, you create an account and can fill out a profile (here’s my Mendeley profile  – it needs some updating). The articles in your library are connected to your profile, and are also added to Mendeley’s ever-growing database.

The Literature Review feature in Mendeley Desktop mimics the Papers search on Mendeley.com. The integrated search carries some of the same great benefits of search on Mendeley.com. For example, In both cases, when you find a reference or reference with PDF you want to add to your library, you can seamlessly add it to your Mendeley reference library via a button either online or in your Mendeley Desktop. What could be better?!

mendeley_seemless-search

Maximize Mendeley Desktop search with Advanced Search:

A quick search for Twitter revealed 4,223 results. Great, right? Yes and no. While a number of the articles were journal pieces and conference proceedings, many were web pages or newspaper articles. These are useful, but what if you want only journal articles?

To have success with Mendeley Literature Search, you will want to learn how to do advanced searches. Advanced search works like many queries using operators such as author: “Kushin” or title: “How to Use Mendeley”. In Mendeley Desktop you can easily search the following by clicking the down arrow on the magnifying glass: authors, titles, publication name, year, and whether the article is from an open access journal. So no memorization needed.

mendeley-search-advanced

But let me add to that a few operators you’ll want to write down to enhance your searching:
(Note: When entering a query, leave no space after the colon.)

Article Type –  This allows you to search only the type of article you want to find, such as for my Twitter search example above. To find only journal articles, use the operator type:journal.
A few more common article types you may want are:
type:conference_proceedings – Conference Proceeding
type:book – for a book
type:book_section – book chapter
type:thesis – for a thesis or dissertation.

Discipline – Because Mendeley covers a wide array of academic disciplines, you may want to search just within your own. Use the operator discipline:
A few popular disciples are:
discipline:social-sciences
discipline:humanities
discipline:business-administration
discipline:arts-and-literature
discipline:psychology
discipline:computer-and-information-science

Use of quotations, AND and OR – Just like Google a word in quotes means the search query must match the exact words. Without quotes, the search query will return any word in the query. OR and AND can also be used, such as author:”Bill Smith” AND year:2003, which will return articles by author Bill Smith that were published in 2003. OR enables you to find one or another. For example, you may search for year:2008 OR year:2009.

So, if I’m looking broadly for journal articles in the social sciences that contain Twitter, I might search:

Twitter type:journal discipline:social-sciences

If you don’t want to learn these operators, you can conduct a Papers advanced search via Mendeley.com and complete the form.

mendelywww-search

Looking Forward:

According to a news release, Mendeley plans to add to Mendeley Desktop the ability to search journals your institution subscribes to (a la Google Scholar). I can’t wait for this one! They also plan to add search for people and groups within Mendeley Desktop.

While I’m a Google Scholar fan myself, more and more I find myself supplementing my searches with Mendeley reference search. The ability to find the profiles of scholars, and thus their other works, is something that excites me!

Check out this new feature and let me know what you think! Do you use Mendeley search? How have you found it? If you enjoyed this article, please share it.

FYI:

Mendeley.com account Features:

  • Dashboard – with news feed of people you follow or research groups you are in
  • Library – Access to your entire library and PDFs (those you’ve added to Mendeley Desktop) meaning you can access your library from anywhere on the web.
  • Groups – You can find groups by discipline or research interest, share papers, have discussions, see what others are reading, and more. Not seeing a group to fit your niche? Start one! This is a lot of potential for new collaborations here! Groups can be public or private and you can access them directly through Mendeley Desktop.
  • People – Find colleagues or your favorite scholars!
  • Papers – The ability to search the Mendeley reference library (again, cultivated from Mendeley users).

Related Posts:

photo credits: top: public domain – wiki commons, rest: screen grabs

Stop Being a Disorganized Researcher With Mendeley Reference Manager

(note: See the follow up article on the new mendeley features)

The other night my wife, who works in continuing education for optometrists, asked me, “Do you use Zotero?”
“No,” I said. And then, proudly “I use Mendeley!”
“What’s that?”
I went on a 10 minute pro-Mendeley rant that I’m quite sure she wasn’t prepared for!
Though I’m sure it was much more than she ever wanted to know about reference managers, it made me realize just how much Mendeley has changed how I do research.

Are you a disorganized mess when it comes to doing research? I know I was. And it was frustrating! Mendeley has helped me become much more organized and expedited the research process for me.

What’s Mendeley?

Mendeley software is a “free reference manager and PDF organizer,” meaning it organizes your research articles which are directly connected to the research article PDF files on your computer. The program is a standalone application for Windows or Mac. Below, I’ll talk about the benefits.

Research Library: A Life of Chaos

When I was first learning to do research in grad school, our professors would assign us articles and we’d go photocopy the class set (or if we were lucky, the professor would print them out). Journal articles were available online, but professors all seemed to be old school and prefer print copies. So this is how I learned. I soon found myself trying to organize folders upon folders of articles, many of which I thought I’d never need again but was afraid to get rid of. I soon ran out of room. I’d keep piles at home where I’d do most of my work, and others in my office. I’d lug stacks of them back and forth across the hills of Pullman (yes, often in the snow… and yes, both ways since I had to go down a hill then up 1 to get from my house to school), often to find out the one I wanted wasn’t with me causing delays and frustration. My apartment floor was littered with folders and articles. I’d go digging through them, never seeming to find the one I wanted. Can you relate?

Then I began downloading them to my computer. But organization was difficult. I’d try to title the articles so I’d remember them, and place them into folders as best I could. These folders weren’t printable so it seemed impossible to find the article I wanted. I’d open tons of PDFs before getting the right one, wasting valuable time. I couldn’t mark up the articles online, so then I’d end up printing them.

Yes, I’d tried Endnote but the version I had didn’t connect to the articles (or I didn’t understand how to use it), so it was like a Dewey Decimal system and I’d have to go find the article in my “stacks” – a disorganized mess on my computer or a hard copy. I played with Zotero, which was then a Firefox extension and wasn’t happy. I’d all but given up when I discovered Mendeley.

Here is why I love Mendeley. 

Making Research Easier with Mendeley

  1. Auto-exported bibliographies with meta-data: When you add an article to Mendeley, it pulls the article meta data such as article title, authors, journal, etc. This data is now all searchable, sortable, and the citation can be exported in the reference format you desire, such as APA. If it can’t find the data, click ‘search’ and it will try and get the correct data via a Google Scholar search. Saves me tons of time!
  2. Tags and Keywords: I can also add my own meta data. While there are many fields like abstract and notes, my favorite are tags and keywords. When I read an article, I will pull out constructs from the article and enter them as tags. Say, ‘political involvement’ or ‘efficacy’. Now, when I’m working on research and I realize I need something on political efficacy, I do a quick search of Mendeley and find all the articles I have that cover political efficacy. Talk about a time saver! While there are folders, this offers an easier way to find articles as often an article covers multiple subjects.
    mendeley_tags
  3. Drag and Drop Articles / Auto Organization of Articles: Mendeley not only organizes your articles in the application, it also organizes the folders on your hard drive. To see the options, click “preferences” from the menu bar, then the “file organizer” tab (in Mac). It works two ways. 1) You can select folders for Mendeley to scan. Anytime an article is dropped into that folder, it will import it into Mendeley and also name the article as you’ve decided, such as by year – author – journal title. 2) You can take an article from a folder or your desktop and drag it into the Mendeley app. Mendeley automatically imports it, including references, and saves a copy to your designated folder on your hard drive.
    mendeley auto organize folders
  4. PDFs are connected to your references: When you pull a reference up on Mendeley, you’re not just getting the reference and your tags, notes, etc. You are getting the PDF that’s on your hard drive. So it is super easy to access the article.
  5. Markup documents: Once you open the PDF, you can highlight it, add comments, and more. Mendeley saves these markups. No more need to print out the article for markup.
    mendeley highlight article text
  6. synching across computers: No more lugging of articles back and forth or making sure you have the PDF on the right computer. Install Mendeley on multiple computers and your library can be synched between computers (there are data limitations of 2 Gig, but I am not close to reaching them).iPhone / iPad integration – I haven’t used this, but if you need access to your library on the go this is for you!
  7. Private Groups: You can create private groups or join public groups on Mendeley. I have used private groups to have discussions and share articles with colleagues. The online storage feature allows you to upload articles to your group where your colleagues can access them making it very easy to share research articles.

See a full list of Mendeley features.

I haven’t even gotten into the web features of Mendeley. While I don’t use these features as much, they are worth noting. So as not to overwhelm you with my excitement for Mendely, I’ll hold off mention of these for another post.

Ray Aldred sums up how I felt when I discovered Mendeley with this Tweet:

My gosh! Mendeley collaboration, citation and bibliography tool, where have you been all my life?!

— Ray Aldred (@Ray_Aldred) July 9, 2013

I cannot advocate Mendeley enough. I am truly an ambassador for this free service and cannot count the number of times I’ve gotten people to try it. I hope you’ll try it and let me know what you think. What reference management software do you use? Do you recommend it? If you use Mendeley, why do you love it? Other tips and advice do you have for researchers? Have you found it useful

(note: See the follow up article on the new mendeley features)?

images: top: Mendely.com, others: screengrabs

2 weeks without the Internet: 5 Lessons Learned

Could you go two weeks without the Internet?

I did (well, almost – see below). And I am so happy I did.

At first, it was more from necessity than choice. You see, Kelin and I recently took a two week belated honeymoon to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and the Coromandel in New Zealand. We hit Rarotonga first. Before we went,I realized that we weren’t going to have much access to Internet on a small tropical island. I was concerned. But I figured I’d spend a good amount of time in Internet cafes replying to emails, checking in on social media, reading news, weather, and blogs, and so forth.

rarotanga_1

Then a few things happened. First, I saw just how expensive the Internet cafes were – some charging $5 for 10 minutes! On terribly slow computers, not much can be accomplished in 10 minutes except loading Gmail. I’d soon blow my vacation budget on Internet when that money was for snorkeling, sightseeing, cycling, and hiking. Then, I stepped back and realized… Matt, you’re on vacation. You’ve been planning and saving up for this trip for over a year. Enjoy it.

I took a breath and let it go.

Kelin and I decided not to seek out the Internet. We knew it would still be there when we returned.

The only time we used the Internet was for 10 minutes to fulfill our promise to email back home via a personal email account to let everyone know we were safe. And once when we needed to check with our bank on a question, about 20 minutes (international calls are far more costly than 10 minutes of Internet). A total of about 30 minutes.

For me this was a big deal. I had NEVER taken a vacation that didn’t involve computers, smartphones, Internet cafes, or the other things that tether me to the world like television. I’ve spent countless hours (and money) in web cafes in Europe or sitting in hotel rooms browsing the web or watching ESPN. That’s not a vacation. That’s simply being in another physical location. It is not another mental location – away from your normal world.

I had to take a vacation away from the web to figure that out.

palmtreeoverlagoon_cookislands

Here are five things I learned about myself and my relationship with technology:

  1. How much of my time is spent using technology. I am constantly on a computer or staring at a smartphone. I reply to emails like a person swatting flies, desperately trying to keep unread emails at bay.
  2. Technology should add to my life – not control my time. I love technology – always have.But I should not feel beholden to it. Even as I write this blog post on a Sunday evening, I feel a bit of guilt. I should be out enjoying this amazing weather. I should be getting exercise. But I’m quickly falling into old habits again. It is hard not to.
  3. I can navigate the world without my smartphone – although the smart phone is much more convenient. 🙂 There are so many helpful people out there. You don’t get a chance to meet them if you rely too much on technology to help you.
  4. There is so much out there to see and do beyond the glow of the screen.
  5. And the most important thing I learned – It is healthy to take a break. Just like you, it is vital in my career that I keep up technology and trends. I debated whether I should even admit that I took a break from technology on something as public as a blog. People may think, “A social media blog talking about the benefits of unplugging? Has Kushin gone wonky?” Today, with everything moving so fast, we’re so worried that we might miss some advancement, some critical news, an inspiring blog post. But the truth is that we all need a break, even from the things we love and the things we depend on.

I came back from this trip feeling relaxed and refreshed for the first time.

cathedral_cove_coramandel

Of course, I’ve jumped right back in. And I’m glad to back online. But it was good to be away, if just for a little bit. Honestly, I haven’t changed my habits as much as perhaps I would have like to having learned everything I did. But I did have 2 amazing weeks with my wife, saw so much more than I would have behind a screen, and came to develop a better perspective of my relationship with technology and an appreciation for the role it plays in our world today that I would not have without this experience.

If you’ve been considering going without Internet on an upcoming vacation, or even for a weekend, I strongly encourage you to take the plunge. If you have a spouse or are traveling with others, I believe it is important that everyone is on board. I know it was important for Kelin and I. Had one of us been seeking out the web, it just wouldn’t have worked.

Turn off the iPad, put down the smartphone, and unplug. You’ll be glad you did. I firmly believe it is the healthy and responsible thing to do. As Stephen R. Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , you’ve got to “sharpen the saw.”

And trust me, the rest of us here on the social web – we’ll be here when you get back. 🙂

If you’d like to see some photos, I’ve posted a few to a public album on Google Plus. They include photos from around the Coromandel peninsula in New Zealand including the hauraki bike trailKarangahake gorge walks, Tairua, Cathedral Cove, and much more. In Rarotonga, most of the photos are from Muri Beach or the Cross Island Treck. I highly recommend all of these places and activities!

We took over 1,000 photos! If you’ve got any questions or comments, please feel free to drop a comment. I’m more than happy to talk about how to ditch technology for a vacation or just about these amazing places in the world we were blessed to be able to see!

Have a great week!

Cheers! – Matt