Google Docs for Collaborative Projects

The greatest thing about moving away from paper, I think, is the ability to have the same information be in two places at the same time. And the different people in those different places can still be, literally, on the same page.

Google Docs takes familiar document formats (word, spreadsheets, presentations, etc) and puts them “in the cloud,” i.e., online, where they can be accessed from any computer, and by any number of people (of your choosing, that is). Here’s a little video by Google that explains the concept:

Also see Google’s “What exactly can I do with Google Docs?” list.

As you can see, if you have your students participate in group projects or collaborative assignments, Google Docs can be a perfect way for them to share and workshop ideas with each other (and with you).

In a Google word document, for example, multiple students can write in the same document at the same time, or separately over time. They can leave comments for each other within the text of the document itself, or in a “discussion” sidebar. Everyone always sees the most recent version all the time- vs passing paper or emailing files back and forth. And since the documents are shared with you, too, you can monitor their progress and comment as necessary.

Here’s my suggested process for using Google Docs for class:

  1. Your students will have to get google accounts if they don’t have them already (80% of our students do), and will need to tell you their Gmail address.
  2. You create and share a “collection” (a folder, basically) in Google Docs, and share it to your students’ Gmail addresses (not Hampshire email addresses).
  3. Any document you create, or the students create, in this folder is immediately accessible to the class. You can create sub-folders as needed for smaller sub-groups.

Want to give it a shot? I am happy to coordinate steps 1 and 2 for you, let me know. I can also visit your class and make sure all the students are clear on how it works, but most of them are familiar with Google Docs already.

Get in touch if you have any questions or would like an in-person demo of how Google Docs works.


Moodle: Time Saving Tips for Sharing Files

Are you using your Moodle course to share readings and other files (pdfs, images, Word, MP3, whatever) with your students? Did you know there’s more to Moodle than uploading and sharing files one at a time? Here are some options that may really help you out:

Upload a .zip File
Have a folder of 100 articles on your computer? Upload them all in one step. Not one at a time. Yes, we can! The process involves creating a “.zip” file on your computer and uploading it into Moodle, then placing those files into the section of your choice (or using one of the methods below instead).

Create a Directory
Have 20 articles of supplemental reading, a group of images, or an album’s worth of MP3 files? Link to them as a group in one step. Moodle calls this a “directory” but it’s basically linking to a folder from your Moodle course instead of just one file.

Lightbox Gallery
Have a group of images you want students to view and comment on? Moodle calls this a “Lightbox Gallery”. The set-up process is similar to the “Directory” above.

Instructions and examples for all of the above techniques are in the “Files” section of our how-to site here.

Hope they save you a little time! As always, get in touch if you need a hand.



Updating your Thunderbird Address Book

Thunderbird remembers email addresses of people you write to, adding them to the Address Book. But sometimes the information needs to be manually updated to stay current.

About the Thunderbird Address Book
The Address Book holds information about your email contacts. When you write to someone, their email address and name are automatically added to the Address Book. You can also manually add people, and create mailing lists from stored addresses.

The Address Book stores more than just email addresses. If you reply to an email message you receive, Thunderbird will automatically store the person’s “Display Name,” which is something that they have specified when setting up their email account. This is what allows Thunderbird to list proper names in the “From” and “To” fields.

Outdated Display Names
Once Thunderbird has stored an email address, it doesn’t bother to store it again in the future–why would it? Unfortunately, it also doesn’t check to see if the Display Name has changed.

Why would a Display Name change? The most obvious reason is that a person’s name changes because of some life event, for instance a change in marital status. Another, less obvious, reason is that an email address may be departmental–such as or–but the Display Name may be personal, giving the actual name of the person in the position; when a new person takes over that position, they would change the Display Name to their own.

The catch is, if you’ve already got the Display Name stored in your Address Book, it will not be updated.

Why Display Names Matter
Display names don’t matter to the computer or email program. Incorrect Display Names aren’t going to affect whether someone gets an email or not. But they do show up on messages you send, both on your end and the recipient’s.

If you have an incorrect Display Name, you’ll notice it in the “To” field when you send an email. Your recipient will also see it in the “To:” field. This can be confusing and possibly annoying, depending on the circumstance.

How to Update a Display Name
If you notice a Display Name you’d like to change, it’s pretty easy, especially if you have an email from the person:
Open an email from the person whose Display Name you’d like to change.

Click on the star to the right of the “From” field and edit the name.

If you don’t have a message from the person handy, you have to find their listing in your Address Book. Unfortunately, you may have duplicate listings due to multiple Address Books, so check them all:
In Thunderbird, select WindowàAddress Book from the menu.

Find the name you want to update in the list. If you have multiple lists, check them all.

With the name selected, click on “Properties”, and then edit the name.


Embedding: Why, What, Where, and How

If you have multi-media material or presentations to share with your class, a neat way to share them is to embed them into your Moodle page (or any other webpage, for that matter).  Embedding means the material appears right there on the page (like the video below), but is technically just a link so you’re not storing the actual material.

Why would I want to embed something?

  • It’s right there on your course page, immediately visible, and the students don’t have to click out of Moodle to see it/watch it.
  • You’re technically just linking to it, so there are no permission/copyright issues to worry about.
  • People can’t download it (or can’t download it easily) so it offers a certain level of protection.
  • No need to worry about file size- again, it’s just a link and lives somewhere else.
  • It’s “live”- if you embed, for example, a google presentation, you can make changes on the fly and they will immediately appear on the Moodle page. No need to delete and re-upload.

What would I embed?

Where would I embed something?
  • In your Moodle course
  • In RedDot
  • On any other webpage you are using!
How do I embed something?
  1. Copy the embed code from the website where the material lives- YouTube, Flikr, etc. Any site that gives you the embed code- go for it!
  2. Paste that embed code into the HTML of the webage where you want the embedded material to go. If you can access the HTML of the page- go for it!
  3. Watch the embedded video below to see how it works.

Need help? Get in touch.


Moodle Jujitsu: Fight the Scroll of Death

As the semester rolls along you may a) need to move stuff around in your course, and/or b) get really sick of always scrolling down and down and down. The scroll of death is a silent killer- fight back!

Move it!

The semester rarely goes as planned, and you’re probably going to need to move items around. You can do this a) one at a time, by using the “move” icon next to each link:   or b) whole sections at a time using the arrow keys to the right of each section: This simply bumps the section that was “in the way” up or down. It can become a little like one of those puzzles with all the sliding pieces, so use caution and let us know if you run into trouble.

Cut that course info block down to size!

You can minimize the course information block to save screen space. 
Actually, you might consider editing the text in this block way down, now that the semester is underway and the students should have a good idea of what the course is about! If you want to keep it as reference material, you can put it in as a separate page.

Narrow your view!

You can also limit your view to the section of your choice by clicking the “show only topix x” icon in each section. Just click it again to get it back. This is a big help if the section you’re working on is all the way at the bottom! This only affects the way YOU see the page, not the students.

Section Links Block

Lastly, if you’re using a weekly or topic- format (NOT the date-for-each-class format), you can turn on the Section Links block, which gives you a little block with links to each section! Handy for you AND the students. Just turn editing on and find the “blocks” block, probably down on the bottom right side, and choose “Section Links” from the drop-down menu. You can move it to the spot of your choice using the arrows.

Make sure your students know about the minimizing and view-narrowing- it may help them as well! And get in touch if you need a a hand.


Putting it Out There, Part 2

Here are some ways to have your STUDENTS share information with YOU, or with each other.

Moodle Forums
Set up a forum in Moodle. It gives students a place to post comments and responses, see and comment on what other people are writing, and attach files or even links to work stored elsewhere.  Here are instructions for setting up a forum. We can help you break large classes into forum groups if you want to keep discussions to a more manageable size.

Several classes this semester have weekly forum posts as a class requirement. It keeps the conversation going outside of class time, and gives “equal opportunity” to the quieter students. Someone who never speaks in class may have an easier time with written responses, so you may be surprised by what your hear from whom. Forums also encourage deeper thought and more reflection than an in-class discussion so they are a nice complement to in-person time.

Blog It
The saying goes “never have so many written so much that was read by so few.” Still, I guarantee your students are familiar with blogs and some of them even have their own. It’s a nice way to take class work outside the classroom walls and get a sense of sharing with the greater world. Faculty and students can choose from services like Blogger or Tumblr. Moodle also has a blog feature if you care to explore it. More info and links here.

Google Docs
Google docs in general is a cool way to share documents. You and your students can “publish” documents, presentations, spreadsheets, as well as share them, but more on that in a future post (or get in touch if you’d like to try it out). More info and links here.

Twitter or Yammer
Get a backchannel going for your class using Twitter, or Yammer (which can be made private). Establish a hashtag for your class (ie #HACU133), and then the students can use it for class-related posts. More info and links here.

Get in touch if any of these sound interesting to you!


“Hello, I’m your iPad.” Well of course you are.

My four-year-old son likes to play a game in which he is a poor orphan and we are prospective parents. After a brief interview, we decide that yes, he is exactly the son for us. Familial bonding ensues.

Much like adopting a child that was yours to begin with, the iPad makes a seamless entrance into one’s life. Its size, its usability,and its speed make it an easy companion, much like that little orphan boy who keeps hanging around. Unlike the little boy, the iPad provides prompt service when asked, and seldom talks back.

Here’s what you can do on the iPad:

  • Read
  • Annotate
  • Write
  • Go Online
  • Draw or Paint
  • Play Games
  • Take pictures and video
  • Organize and share pictures and video
  • Watch shows and movies
  • Listen to music
  • Connect
  • Download apps- which basically means the answer to the question above is “anything you could possibly want to do”.

Here’s what it’s not good at:

  • Printing (unless you have a special set-up)
  • Organizing files and documents (but there are apps and work-arounds to address that)

The top reason the iPad is so popular is its usability. This device is profoundly intuitive. The touch-screen interface itself is a big leap forward for mankind- it takes the middle men of mice and keyboards out of the picture, and lets you act directly upon the machine. We humans really are still a primitive, tactile bunch so I think feeling like you are doing something with your hands holds a very deep appeal.

There is a complete overload of studies and articles about uses of iPads in education- elementary and up. My technical analysis for you is this: everyone is totally into them. Reed College did a study of Kindles in the classroom and found them lacking. They did a similar study of iPads and ended by saying EVERY single student who participated bought one at the end of the year. Enough said?

At first I was sure I could never read on it, but I got over that very quickly- I use Kindle apps, so can read my books pretty much everywhere, and the iPad was always just THERE- so of course that’s where I do a lot of my reading now. Still not crazy about reading on an LCD, but if the choice is reading on the iPad, or walking upstairs to get the Kindle… well.. you know how it is.

The only real downside I’m seeing to the iPad is that it is truly a personal device. It needs to be “yours” to get full use out of it. It doesn’t allow set-up for multiple users, and trying to share one is a very quick way to sow family (or departmental) discord. But at $500 a pop this is not an easy “chicken in every pot” scenario.

So that’s my two cents, see our page for recommended set-up and apps here.

If you have questions about using an iPad for teaching or learning, contact me. For administrative uses please contact the help desk. We have loaners available if you’d like to take a look at one.

– Asha Kinney