Dropbox Cheat Sheet

Do you use Dropbox to back-up your files? (Because you are backing them up somewhere other than on your local machine, right?)

TCU folks can use their M: drive for free storage. However, some users may have had a set-up with Dropbox prior to their arrival at TCU, or may prefer the user interface of Dropbox or the ability to store larger files (Dropbox has tiered pricing, but offers some storage for free).

If you are using Dropbox, this is a pretty convenient Dropbox tips and tricks reference sheet.

Also, the same site also has tip sheets for Google Docs, Skype, Gmail, Twitter, Google Reader, the Windows CMD prompt, etc. If you find yourself frequently searching for shortcuts in your favorite programs, it might be worth a look to see if there’s sheet that meets your needs.

Apps by Students

Check out this list of the 25 best smartphone apps developed by students. I think it’s great that these apps were developed by students, but it’s even better than so many of them are geared at problems that students (and the rest of us!) seem to have: finding your car in parking lot, keeping track of your schedule, managing your to-do list, etc.

(On the topic of apps, the Koehler Center’s general list of useful mobile and tablet apps may also be helpful.)

Smartphones, Students, and Teaching

Many students have smartphones – and they bring them to class. The challenge, then, is to think about how you, as an instructor, might leverage these phones to improve learning and communication in your course. (Alternately, you can ask / require that all cellphones be kept inside a bag or backpack for the duration of the class, if that is more fitting with the objectives of the course or a specific lesson.)

This is a useful piece with some general background and tips about cellphones in the college classroom.

If you’re interested in thinking specifically about how to use smartphones in your course, I’ve listed a few common options below. As always, bear in mind that some students may not have smartphones or may not have plans that allow for additional data usage.

1.  Mobile-friendly content so your students can review course concepts no matter where they are. According to an industry study, students with smartphones may study slightly more than those without said phones (although the benefit of said extra study time in unclear). At any rate, making your materials available in a format that is mobile-friendly will certainly help those students who do wish to study on breaks at work, in the gym, or while waiting in line for coffee. On the topic of mobile access, did you know that TCU has a Pearson LearningStudio mobile site? This is basically a mobile-friendly version of LearningStudio content (not an app – no special downloads are required). Now your students can review your LearningStudio site no matter where they are!

2.Texting students reminders or updates. Is the class meeting in the library today? Do students need to wear closed-toe shoes? Is a bluebook required for the exam? These sorts of quick reminders can save you and your students a lot of trouble. Text messages tend to be received and read fairly quickly, thereby having the the potential to avert crises-in-the-making.

The actual mechanics of an instructor-student text tree can be a little daunting, however. For those wanting to keep telephone numbers private (both on the instructor side and on the student side), ClassParrot is a program that allows instructors and students to send text message without having to share the actual telephone numbers. In addition to a polling feature, ClassParrot also logs all communications, providing a handy back-up in case there are any issues that would require one to revisit the text conversations. ClassParrot has a limited free option; it costs $9 per month for the ability to send/receive an unlimited number of messages. Here is a pretty balanced review of ClassParrot.

3. Helping students become better writers. This is an intriguing piece about one professor’s evolving thoughts about the place of cell phones in his class. As a professor in a writing-intensive class, he has moved from an outright ban of all cellphones to embracing the voice recording feature (present on most smartphones) to help students improve their written work. While this hasn’t worked for all students, many students have responded positively and benefited from this strategy.

4.  Improving communication with Google Voice. This is more something you, as the instructor, would do – and if you have a smartphone, this gets even easier and more convenient! The Pearson LearningStudio blog has a very informative post about using Google Voice to improve your presence and immediacy as an instructor. From the same people who bring you all the other Google tools, Google Voice offers free calls and text messages to the U.S. and Canada, a single number that rings you anywhere (you can set / schedule the number to which the calls will forward), an online voicemail inbox, and transcribed messages. The message transcription is a wonderful (albeit sometimes imperfect) feature, as it creates a written record of any messages, should you need to review any communications at a later date. Pairing the transcribed messages with the ability to view them on your smartphone (either via an app or by electing to have text messages sent to your phone) means that you can be made aware of student communications even if you are far from your office phone or in a setting where a phone call is simply not appropriate.

Note that you need not have a smartphone to use Google Voice  – you can capture many of the benefits of Google Voice just using your computer. However, having a smartphone means that your ability to receive messages on the go is greatly increased.

Midsummer Break

There’s still a bit of time left before the ramp-up to Fall classes. And, for those that have been teaching during the Summer term, hopefully, there is some time in your schedule for a well-deserved break.

We have a few posts coming about your course shell, tips for your students, and other eLearning-related topics. But, ideally, summer also means a little space to kickback, recharge, and explore some new things.

So here’s a mid-summer gift to you of some lighter things I’ve found recently related to learning, online learning, and, well, relaxing. Enjoy!

1. From Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium (New York City), a list of the eight books every single intelligent person on the planet should read. Better yet, the linked article will even direct you to free online versions of these books, when available.

2. A free online course from Stanford University on the art of living. Over 17 videos, the course uses “great works of literature and philosophy to explore what it means to live a well-lived life.”

3. Not to be outdone, here is video footage eight all-star professors from Harvard University each discussing their favorite ideas.

4. Continuing the Harvard theme, check out this course where Harvard science professors and professional chefs team up to use cooking to explain principles of physics and engineering.

5. Still hungry? Here’s a fascinating post on the cultural history of lunch.

6. Whether you like to ride your bike for exercise or transportation – or just like to watch others ride their bikes – here is a collection of videos about the history, physics, physiology, and technology of cycling.

7. Build with LEGOs in 3-D using the Chrome browser.

8. If none of these float your relaxation boat, here’s a list of five ways to recharge during the summer, courtesy of GradHacker.

Happy summer!

Screencasting

Do you ever take still screenshots or record videos of your computer screen? This can be helpful for providing visuals to accompany directions related to any number of activities: a new computer program students have to use, resources they need to access online, or a complicated file upload procedure they need to follow.

For basic screencasting, we like Jing. Jing is also free, so that’s a huge plus. Additionally, there are some very informative tutorials on the Jing website. Jing makes sharing pretty easy, so embedding or linking the files within your course shell is possible.

Before you start recording with Jing, you’ll select the area of your screen you’d like to record (you can either record your entire screen or a just a portion thereof). Depending on what you do with this recording afterwards, you may end up changing the final display size of your recording. This is a handy tip about creating and maintaining optimum recording sizes – this seems especially helpful if you’re switching between several programs or windows during your recording.

For most purposes, Jing will be fine. However, if you’re looking to record a screencast longer than five minutes or do some advanced editing, you may be interested in (or already using) Snagit. Snagit, alas, is not free. However, I recently ran across information about Greenshot, a free alternative to Snagit. Jing and Snagit are nicely integrated with screencast.com, which makes sharing easy; I’m not exactly sure how easy it is to share your Greenshot recording or how many sharing options are available. If you’re needing to record an occasional longer screencast and thus can’t justify buying software to do it, Greenshot might be a good alternative for you.