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.


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!

Putting it Out There, Part I

Paper Airplane with the Amsterdam HandoverTechnology gives us ways to share like never before. Here are some ways for you to share information with your students. Our next post will focus on way to have them share with you.

For PDFs of articles, word documents, and other basic files your best bet is to put it in Moodle. This lets students access them 24/7, from wherever they are. Visit our Using Moodle: For Faculty  page for help and how-to’s.

Be sure to check out how to upload batches of files into Moodle in one step, or to share whole folders of files at once. Definitely time-savers.

Online Presentations
Students often appreciate having access to any presentation you give in class so they can review it as needed. You can upload the file to your Moodle course (above), or go a step further put the presentation into a format viewable online like a Google Presentation or Slideshare. You can send students the link or add the link to your Moodle course. Also be sure to check out Prezi which is an online presentation tool that is very outside-the-box. It’s not based on slides but uses a huge pasteboard that you can zoom around on as needed. Non-linear and neat, free education accounts

Online Documents
You can also put documents online using a service like Scribd or Google Docs. You can share the link to the document in Moodle or by email, and the advantage here is that it gives you a “living” document which you can change on the fly, and the students will always see the most recent version. You won’t have to remove/re-upload to make changes.

My Diagram of how to use SimpleDiagrams

Diagramming and Explaining
A fun little program for creating basic diagrams of workflows and processes is SimpleDiagrams. They’re cute looking which always helps, check out the free version. If you need to show students something on your screen, or want to give them a how-to video you can make a screencast or take screenshots using Jing.

Stay Tuned
And for a taste of things to come, we’re working on developing a process by which faculty and students can easily create and share audio or video podcasts.

Interested in any of the above? Get in touch and I can help you put them into practice. .

Using any of the above and care to share your experience? Let me know so we can all learn from each other.

Moodle News: “Well Begun is Half Done”

Greetings faculty! Some important Moodle news and updates for you as the semester approaches.

One thing EVERY instructor will need to do is make their course available to students. Students will NOT be able to access your course until you do this- here’s how.

  1. Log into Moodle and go to the course in question.
  2. Go to the Administration block over on the left.
  3. Click Settings.
  4. Under Availability, choose Course is available to students.
  5. Go all the way to the bottom and click Save.

Another thing you might need to do is add students or TA’s to your course. If a student is properly registered for your course they will show up automatically, but there are a couple instances in which you may have to add them.

These instances are:

UMass students: Due to a system switch made over the summer, any UMass student who registered for your course before August 1 WILL NEED to be added, by you, to your course. We apologize for the hassle- this was a one-time glitch and won’t happen again.

TA’s: If you have TA’s for your course you will also need to add them.

Late registrations: If a student’s paperwork has not gone through but you want to give them access to the course.

If you do need to add a student or TA, here’s how:

  1. Go to your course website.
  2. In the Administration block, click on “Assign roles”.
  3. Based on the role you’re assigning, click on the “Student”, “Waitlist Student” or “Teacher Assistant” link on the left side the page.
  4. Enter part of the person’s name into the search box (beneath the “potential users” box on the right) then click the “Search” button. (Entering the last name or just a portion of it is a good way to narrow the search.)

If the person isn’t there:

  1. Double check that spelling is correct, and search ONLY by last name.
  2. Have them log into Moodle once, then have them logout.
  3. This will add them to this list. Repeat steps 2-4 and add them in.
  4. Once the name of the person appears in the “potential users” box, click on the name to highlight it, then click the “Add” button in the center to move the name to the “existing users” box on the left.
  5. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the “Assign roles in Course” button.

A couple *New* things this semester:

Attendance-taking: You can now use Moodle to track class attendance with our new Attendance activity. Instructions on set-up and use here!

Avoid the Scroll-of-death: We also added back in the button that lets you limit your view to only the section you’re working on- it keeps you from having to keep scrolling and scrolling when you’re working in a section toward the bottom of the page. It’s to the left of each section and looks like this:   If you click it by accident and wonder where your course went, just click it again. It will look like this when activated:  

Download all assignments: Another new feature we’re excited about is that if you have students submitted assignments to you online, there is now a “Download all assignments” button on the screen where you view submitted assignments. It saves a .zip file to your computer, which you then unzip and you’ll have all the assignments in one place, in one step!

For self-service help check out our Using Moodle: For Faculty online resource, or for in-person help or advice just email