My latest at ProfHacker: Suggested Edits in Google Docs

Suggesting edits in Google DocsSince ProfHacker first launched (can it really be five years ago?), we’ve written numerous posts referencing Google Docs. One of my own earliest posts dealt with using Google Docs in my writing course when portfolio readers might still need paper copies of students’ work, and Ryan’s written about using it to run a peer-review writing workshop.

Google Docs remains an excellent tool for working with students on their writing skills, and in late June, Google added a new feature that makes it even more useful: “Suggested Edits,” which I first learned about from an article PCWorld ran about a month later.

Suggesting edits will likely look familiar to those accustomed to Microsoft Word’s “track changes.” To use the feature, anyone looking at the document who has sufficient privileges to comment on it can choose “Suggesting” from the dropdown menu at the far right of the toolbar. When that’s selected, any edits made appear as suggestions, but without altering the original text. The suggestions will also appear as an explanatory comment in the margin. The document’s owner can then decide whether to accept or reject the suggestions.

I see this as a potentially powerful tool to use in helping students improve their writing. I plan to start using it in my writing classroom, and will of course continue to use the commenting and revision history features.

Have you tried the suggested edits feature in Google Docs? Have you found it useful? Let us know in the comments.

[CC-licensed image by the author.]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

My latest at ProfHacker: Simple Screencasting Tips

Second Life Tutorial - screencastDoes anyone visit Second Life anymore? Perhaps not, or at least not often. But video tutorials are still very helpful, which makes screencasting a useful skill to develop.

We’ve covered screencasting in this space before, beginning with this introductory guide. It’s still well worth a look, even nearly five years later, and the basic workflow for screencasting hasn’t changed much.

It’s one thing to read through the basics of screencasting, though, and another to actually do it. Over the summer, I’ve needed to develop my own screencasting skills while working on a major project, and I’ve learned quite a bit in the process. Here are a few tips that have helped me:

  • If you need to sound professional, invest in a decent microphone. Forget about background noise — my voice itself sounded bad when I tried to use the computer’s built-in mic. Fortunately, a mic that works reasonably well (for those of us who aren’t musicians or audio professionals, at least) needn’t be hideously expensive. I’m finding that Blue’s Nessie works well for me, but there are a lot of reasonably-priced options.

  • Keep the screencast reasonably short (two to four minutes). I’m working on videos introducing students to using WordPress. I’m finding that it’s better (for example) to create a short screencast that demonstrates how to create pages and subpages and another that demonstrates how to use them to create a menu, rather than create one longer screencast explaining both.

  • Have a script, and read from it as you record your actions on screen. I’ve found that writing the script out ahead of time forces me to think about what I’m going to do on screen, and it keeps me on track during the recording. I make fewer mistakes, which makes editing the video much less time-consuming than it might otherwise be.

  • Having a script and reading from it also makes it much easier to create an SRT file with closed captions. (Whatever tool you use to create the file, the process for uploading it to YouTube — assuming that’s where you’re hosting your screencasts — hasn’t changed since George explained it a few years ago.) If you’re reading from a script, your captions are already written, and it’s a straightforward (if potentially time-consuming, especially for longer screencasts) cut and paste job to sync your captions with your recording.

These are just a few potentially helpful tips for screencasting. Do you have others to share? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user torley.]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

My latest at ProfHacker: Cross-Platform Applications for Daily Work

Multiple operating systems in actionSometimes our readers give us good ideas for posts. After my post about fully replacing ChromeOS with Linux, a reader asked what Linux software I use for academic purposes. I suggested Zotero for PDF management, and also pointed him to Steven Ovadia’s @steven_ovadia blog — which has an “academic” tag — for further ideas.

In case other readers are interested (or have recommendations of their own to share!), I thought it worth mentioning some other applications academics might find useful.

My first criterion for integrating an application into my workflow is, of course, that it do what I need it to do. In the ideal world, I’d also like the software I use to be free, open-source, and cross-platform. In the real world, though, I’ve found that it’s not always possible to find applications that work well for me and that have all of those characteristics, so I’m willing to pay for a license when I find a piece of software works especially well for me. The cross-platform criterion is probably the single most important consideration for me at this point, since I increasingly find myself working on a variety of Mac, Linux, and (to a lesser degree) Windows machines.

Here are the applications I find myself using on an almost daily basis, regardless of platform:

  • For citation management: Zotero.

  • For web browsing: Chrome. Though it’s not open source, I tend to gravitate toward it out of habit, for reasons of convenience more than anything — I’m an Android user, and my campus uses Google services. Chromium is a good open-source alternative, as is Firefox.

  • For writing: Sublime Text 3. (It’s not free or open source, but I’ve recently purchased a license. The license is, at least, a user license rather than a machine license, and it’s good for all supported platforms: Linux, OS X, and Windows. Since I’m trying to learn more about HTML, CSS, and PHP, I find the syntax highlighting and code completion really helpful.) ReText and UberWriter are excellent free editors that are great for working in Markdown, but they’re only available for Linux, so far as I know.

  • For backups and syncing across computers: SpiderOak (for materials that need some security) and Dropbox (for less sensitive files).

I’m still looking for a good, easy to use scanning and OCR solution for Linux. PDFScanner works wonderfully well in OS X, and is affordable, but I haven’t yet found a Linux equivalent.

What applications do you find yourself using most consistently for your daily work? Do you have any favorites to recommend? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Javier Aroche]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

My latest at ProfHacker: All Things Google: A Busy Month

Google logo with Einstein's face addedThere’s been a lot going on for Google lately. Since just before the end of April, Google has made changes to its mobile apps, introduced a new tool for educators, and run into some trouble in Europe. Given the degree to which All Things Google play a role in our lives (for good or for ill), it seems appropriate to offer some brief commentary on each.

Mobile applications

The change to Google’s mobile applications was a pretty significant one. Previously, everything you wanted to do with any documents you had on a mobile device, you did in the Drive application. Google now has standalone apps for Documents and Sheets, with Slides due “soon.”

I’ve had a look at these new applications on both my iPad and my Android phone. On Android, the experience is more pleasant . . . but my phone really isn’t a device I want to use for writing anything longer than about a paragraph.

For that sort of writing, I’d much rather use my iPad. On the iPad, however, is precisely where I run into issues. Editing is a pleasant enough experience. Forget organizing your files or sending them as attachments, though. Want to change what folder a document is in? You’ll have to go to the Drive app for that. If you want to send a document as an attachment, rather than simply sharing it with the intended recipient? Even in the Drive app, you can’t — not without opening the document in a third-party application first.

Those are really annoying limitations for the iOS apps, given that I can accomplish either task with ease in the Android versions. Grumble.


Google announced Classroom, a new tool in its Apps for Education suite, the first week of May. It’s hard to know what to think about it just yet, since it isn’t readily available (it should be in time for the fall semester; in the meantime, it’s possible to sign up for a preview that should be available sometime in June). From what’s presented on their site, it seems to be intended primarily for middle schools and high schools, but it may also have some uses for those at the college and university level (it might, for instance, make it unnecessary to use third-party solutions such as Flubaroo). Time will tell.

Decision of European Court

The big news as I’m writing this (on May 15) is the May 13 judgment of the European Court of Justice that Google must remove links that might be damaging to someone’s reputation (effectively allowing people to erase their records), unless there’s a compelling reason not to — even if the pages the links point to are perfectly legal, and need not themselves be removed.

Jonathan Zittrain agrees that the European Court is addressing a very real problem, but thinks the solution they’ve settled on is less than stellar. In any event, the case should make an interesting topic of discussion for my Political Issues course this fall.

What about you? What do you think of Google’s new mobile apps? Are you planning to take a look at Google Classroom? What do you make of the European Court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Danny Sullivan]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education