Annotate PDFs Collaboratively Using Google Drive

A few times lately, I’ve had questions from faculty about how to use collaborative annotation tools. “What’s a good way for my students to add and share comments on a reading for class?” is the most common form. Most frequently, the readings in question are PDF documents, which makes this question a little tricky.  Up until now, I had some suggestions to offer (like converting readings to google docs format, or using hypothes.is).  But, sadly, none of these suggestions were very straightforward for students or faculty to use.

But now, (at last!) we’ve reached the end of awkward work-arounds for this question. Since Google Drive’s latest set of updates, it’s easy to highlight and comment on PDFs from within your Google Drive, and you can even see comments left by other users in real time.  Now is a great time to check this new feature out, whether you would like your students to use it in the fall, or if you’re just interested in using it for yourself.

The sequence goes something like this:

  • Upload a PDF to your Google Drive (New>File upload, or click-and-drag the PDF into your Google Drive).
  • Click the PDF to preview it.
  • (Optional) Click the share button in the upper right to add other people, or get a link to share.
  • Click on the annotate icon in the upper right to start adding notes.  Highlight text or illustrations throughout the document to comment on them.

If you’re planning to use this feature with a class or group, there are multiple options for sharing. For just one or two documents, you could add collaborators one-by-one by their Hampshire email addresses. If you’re making the commenting a regular activity, it may be more convenient to create a folder containing all the relevant readings and share that folder with the whole group.  And don’t forget to add the relevant links to your Moodle pages as you design your fall courses!

New to your Hampshire Google Drive: Team Drives

If you’ve logged into your Hampshire Google Drive over the past few days, you may have noticed the new “Team Drives” option hanging out in your right sidebar. You can read up on how Team Drives can make your life easier below, or head over to our instructions for using Team Drives for more information.

File Ownership

While normal files and folders in Google Drive are owned by the person who created them, the files and folders in a Team Drive are owned by the group.  Using Team Drives, you won’t need to worry about transferring the ownership of documents between people if the original owner is no longer around.  

Easier Sharing

When you view your Team Drive, you can immediately see how many members it has displayed in the header, along with the option to manage those members.  The more direct route to these options can make your life easier when working with larger groups.

If you just want to share one file or folder with an individual who isn’t a Team Drive member, you have the flexibility to do that, too.  The steps for sharing in that way are the same for all Google Drive documents.

Clear Organization

Even for constant users of Google Drive, it can sometimes be a challenge to organize and efficiently find your documents.  Team Drives have some advantages in this area, too.  Any Team Drives that you belong to will appear in the left sidebar of your Google Drive.  They also have customizable themes, which allows you to vary up the colors and patterns to better orient yourself.

Spring Cleaning for your Computer

We get asked quite a lot about how to best clean a computer. Here are some tips to help you keep the shine on without damaging the components.

Cleaning Screens

  • Always turn off and unplug your computer before coming at it with any liquid, including cleaning wipes.
  • Cleaning the screen is best done with a dry microfiber cloth. Some computers come with a cleaning cloth, but you can also use window-cleaning cloths found at many stores.
  • If there are spots on the screen that can’t be cleaned with a dry cloth, water is your next best bet–but never clean a screen when it’s hot. Use a light spray on a cloth, never on the screen, and take care that water doesn’t drip or spray into any crevices in the computer or monitor.
  • If water isn’t doing the trick, you can purchase spray or wipes specifically formulated to clean a computer screen. Again, don’t put anything wet on a hot screen, and don’t let liquid get inside the computer or monitor.
  • With any of these methods, be sure not to apply significant force to the screen. It is possible to break screens, so be careful.

Cleaning Keyboards

  • If you are using an external keyboard, unplug it from the computer before cleaning. If you’re cleaning a laptop keyboard unplug and turn off the computer before cleaning the keyboard.
  • Remove crumbs and debris by gently shaking the keyboard upside down over a waste receptacle.
  • For a more thorough de-crumbing you can use a vacuum with a dusting attachment to try to suck out crumbs.
  • Condensed air is also an option for removing debris from keyboards, but it has to be used carefully to avoid blowing things further under the keys.
  • Most computer manufacturers suggest water for cleaning keyboards. Use a damp (not dripping!) cloth.
  • For tougher cleaning jobs, we often use damp (again, not dripping) wipes to clean keyboards. These are not generally recommended by manufacturers, however, so use care.
  • As a last resort for an external keyboard (not part of a laptop, and not a bluetooth (wireless) keyboard) that has stopped working because of a sticky spill, you can run it through the dishwasher. Make sure you securely tape up any USB or other ports, and turn the drying cycle off before you run it through. After taking it out, turn it upside down for at least two days to ensure that it is completely dry before trying it out. No guarantees, but we have seen it work.

Cleaning a Mouse

  • Unplug the mouse from your computer before cleaning.
  • Older, mechanical mice can get a lot of gunk inside them. To clean:
    1. Turn the mouse upside down and twist the retaining plate to remove it.
    2. Turn it right side up to remove the ball. You can wipe the ball with a damp cloth.
    3. Turn the mouse upside down again, and gently scrape off debris from the rollers inside the ball cavity. The trick is to remove the gunk without allowing it to fall into the circuitry of the mouse. As you scrape it off, periodically turn the mouse right side up and shake it out.
    4. When you’re done de-gunking the rollers, reassemble the mouse and test it out. If necessary, take it apart again to finish the job.
  • For optical mice, a damp cloth on the exterior is all that’s needed.

Cleaning the Case

  • Always shut down and unplug your computer before bringing anything damp or wet near it.
  • You can wipe a computer case with a cloth dampened with water, or a commercial wipe.
  • You can use a damp cloth or wipe for the trackpad, but as with all areas on your computer, be careful around the crevices.

Guarding Against Theft

At this time of year it is important to take precautions against theft of your electronic devices. What can you do limit the chance of theft, and how can you prepare in case the worst happens? Read on.

Don’t Leave Valuables Unattended

It only takes a moment for a computer to be stolen. When you’re working in a public place like the Library, never leave your computer unattended and unlocked, even for a few minutes. Bring it where you’re going, have a friend hold on to it–or better yet, invest in a lock and anchor it securely to an immovable object

Turn on Tracking

On a Mac, System Preferences/iCloud allows you to turn on Find my Mac, which will track your device and allow you to wipe it remotely or play an alarm if it is detected on line. Windows 10 has a “Find My Device” option in Settings/Update & Security, which will show you where your device is. There are other 3rd-party options for different platforms–Prey is one option for Android, Linux, as well as Mac, iOS and Windows.

Know your Serial Number

Your serial number will be helpful for law enforcement if your computer is recovered. Many computers have the serial number printed on the computer or a sticker attached to it; if you don’t have a sticker or can’t read it, search online for how to find it on your computer–or for a Mac just use Apple–>About this Mac. If you need to know the serial number of your Hampshire-owned computer, IT has a record of it.

Know your MAC Address(es)

Your computer has a “Media Access Control” (MAC) address which uniquely identifies it on each network connection it has. For example, there is a MAC address associated with the wireless connection, and a different one associated with its Ethernet connection (if it has one). The MAC address can be used to track the computer if it’s connected to the internet. View instructions for determining the MAC address of many different types of devices. If you need the MAC address of your Hampshire-owned computer, IT has a record of it.

Keep your Files Backed Up

Losing your computer can be devastating, but losing your files can be irrecoverable. Keep your files backed up either on an external drive or on a cloud service. If you use an external drive to backup, always store it separately from your computer–you don’t want it to be stolen with your computer.

What to do if your Computer is Stolen

If your computer is stolen from campus, notify campus police as soon as you realize it; if you’re off campus, call the local police. If it is a Hampshire-owned computer, let the IT Help Desk know. If you have a record of your serial number and MAC addresses, provide them to the police. If you have taken our advice and set up a device tracker, check to see if you can locate your device, and consider other options as allowed by the tracker–for instance, to play an alarm or erase the drive.

Robobraille File Conversion is Better Than Ever

Some key updates to RoboBraille tool make converting files into accessible formats even easier than before.

What is RoboBraille?

RoboBraille is a service that can convert a range of different files (PDFs, JPGs, Word Documents, etc.) into accessible formats.  It can recognize the text in scanned images of textbooks or articles, transform PDFs into editable Microsoft Word files, or even produce an MP3 sound file from the text of a document – these are only a few examples of the many possibilities.  You can watch a short video introduction here, or check out the matrix of conversion possibilities to see your options.

RoboBraille is available for all members of the Hampshire community – students, faculty, and staff – to convert documents.  We encourage faculty to use it when they create their course materials, and students can use it as a study tool, if they prefer to read in a particular format or listen to their assignments.

New features, you say?

The updated RoboBraille service now allows for batch processing, so you if you have multiple files to convert, you can upload them all at once. As you might imagine, this makes the experience much more streamlined. (If you’re submitting multiple files at once, they all have to be the same format, though.) The size limit for file uploads has also doubled from 32MB to 64MB.

How to get started?

Visit the new link to RoboBraille and submit your files using the form.  Once your files have been converted, you’ll receive them in their new form via email.

Learning Web Accessibility on Campus

Back at the beginning of March, the web accessibility working group let you know about our plan to offer web accessibility training sessions for content creators on College websites.  Since then, we’ve held three packed sessions and welcomed individuals from all across campus.  So far this year, we’ve trained more than 30 people in web accessibility – about 20 percent of content creators who work on Hampshire sites.

We have seen faculty, staff and students, belonging to more than a dozen departments (communications, admissions, CASA, IT, OPRA, the library, you name it!).  We have also heard and addressed great questions each time, about the ways that accessibility concepts relate to site design, multimedia content like videos, and use of social media.

We’re proud of all the folks on campus who’ve stepped up to be part of this push to make Hampshire’s online presence more accessible to all.  In such a short time, we’ve made substantial progress towards creating a community of knowledgable, aware individuals working together towards this important goal.

If you haven’t come yet, register to attend a training session.

Want to get a better idea of what’s involved? Preview the training session agenda (Hampshire login required), or read through our web accessibility standards and resources.

Did you already attend a session?  Want to share your accessibility story or ask a question? Let us know by emailing itaccessibility@hampshire.edu.

Web Accessibility Workshops

The IT Accessibility Working Group is excited to host web accessibility training sessions during spring break and into the future. We’re reaching out to content authors across campus who maintain content on one or more of Hampshire’s web platforms – like the Hampshire website, a departmental blog, or even the student handbook. It’s critical that our content authors have the tools and knowledge to make their content accessible to all potential readers. Web accessibility training will be required for all content creators to attend over the coming months and into the future.

Our training session will:

  • walk folks through some background information on disability
  • demonstrate assistive software used by readers with visual impairments, and
  • explain the strategies, guidelines, policies we follow to keep our web content accessible.

The training lasts about 90 minutes and will include light snacks. After the session, content authors will be equipped with a toolbox of simple steps they can take when editing College websites.

Content authors: register to attend a training session.

Want to know more?  Have a look at our Accessible Information Technology page, our official IT Accessibility Policy, or let us know your questions by emailing itaccessibility@hampshire.edu.