Friday, January 9, 2015

Better Settings for Educators

At the @NJECC conference this week, my friend @mr_isaacs told me he was using as his blogging platform for EdTechBridge, but was unhappy that the "Next Blog >>" link at the top took his readers - many of whom are students - to a random blog which they may not find appropriate. In outlining a solution for him to turn this off, I realized there are probably other things that are worth suggesting for educators looking to use as a free and incredibly easy way to get their blog hosted (see *CAVEATS at bottom of post).

Here are some suggestions for making Blogger a better platform for educator blogs...
Make sure you first go to (sign in if you aren't yet) and click on the title of the blog you want to change. That should take you to the settings screen... Then continue below:

1 - Turn OFF the "Next Blog >>" link in the header

  • STEP 1: Click on "Layout" on the left navigation
  • STEP 2: There should be a "NavBar" box in the upper right of the layout - click the "edit" link in that box to change the Navigation Bar.
  • STEP 3: In the dialog that shows the different "NavBar" options (which are all really just different color schemes), select the last option, which is "OFF" - and click "Save" in that dialog.
  • STEP 4: Click the "Save Arrangement" button to save your changes, then Click the Preview button to check your changes - you should see no navigation bar at all.

2 - Add a "Search Gadget" (since the prior step removes the search box too)

  • STEP 1: Click on "Layout" on the left navigation
  • STEP 2: Click on the "Add A Gadget" link on the right side of the screen - assuming that's where you want the search box to appear (recommended)
  • STEP 3: In the dialog that shows, scroll down to find the "Search Box" gadget, and click the big blue "+" button - then click SAVE on the bottom of that dialog.
  • STEP 4: Click the "Save Arrangement" button to save your changes

3 - Turn ON Comment Moderation (or Turn off commenting completely)

  • STEP 1: Click on "Settings" on the left navigation (at the bottom)
  • STEP 2:  Click on "Posts and Comments" in the submenu that appears under Settings
  • STEP 3: Under "Comment Moderation", click the "Always" option (the default is "never") and click the "Save Settings" button in the upper right. 
  • NOTE: You can also turn off commenting completely for a specific post by using the "Post Settings" on the right side of the post editor when you are writing a post (or editing the post later).

4 - Set Privacy options (Optional, and rare, for private blogs only)

  • NOTE: Only do this if you intend your blog to be private to a small, defined group of people who log in. Making your blog private makes it much harder for people to find and read - so only do this if that is your intention. 
  • STEP 1: Click on "Settings" on the left navigation (at the bottom)
  • STEP 2:  Click on "Basic" in the submenu that appears under Settings
  • STEP 3: Under the "Privacy" section, click "edit". In both options "Add your Blog to our listings" and "Let search engines find your blog", click the "NO" option. Then click "Save Changes".
  • STEP 4: Under "Publishing"/ "Blog Readers", click "edit" and select the option you prefer - refer to this blogger help article for more information on these options. Then click "Save Changes".
Blogger is not officially part of the Google Apps For Education (GAFE) suite - and the ideas in this post are not intended to make Blogger compliant with all your requirements as an educator. Blogger is a consumer product that your GAFE domain administrator can choose to make available to you as a user of your school/district GAFE domain. It is still up to you and your domain administrator to make sure any software you use meets the requirements of your use - especially as an educator who needs to abide by any terms of use set by your school or district.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Make a calender with (and on) a Spreadsheet

When we were still running 2Web Technologies, and showing potential customers how our product, XL2Web, could convert spreadsheets into Web Apps, I spent much of my free time creating fun and useful (and some not-so-useful) spreadsheets which worked really well as web apps. Spreadsheets for me actually became a development platform for creating web apps. I created a whole site of sample apps generated from spreadsheets (sadly, that site is no longer live) and I would use it to show off our little start-up's product to potential customers and anyone else who would listen. Over the past few years, I have intermittently taken one or more of those old spreadsheets and converted them into "our" product - Google Sheets... but I haven't had much of a catalyst to do that recently.  Today, for some reason, I decided to convert a semi-useful one I re-discovered.

The Calendar Maker Spreadsheet is super simple in what it achieves, and slightly less simple in how it does it. It's practically proof that I had a #spreadsheetaddiction when I created this, since there must be much easier ways to create calendars (...there are, right?) than to create spreadsheet formulas and format them to look semi-pretty.

If you want a copy of this thing so you can actually use it - just click the "MAKE A COPY..." item in the "FILE" menu. Then you just pick the month/year you want for either a full year or one-month calendar (two separate sheets in the spreadsheet), and you've got a calendar you can use... 

With an increased personal focus on Apps for Education, I've found - practically daily - a bunch of inspiring uses of our broader products - Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings and more - in the educational context... sometimes directly in teaching students, and sometimes just helping teachers do things better, faster and smarter. I've also been re-inspired by incredibly smart educators who find ways to use technology to improve their teaching, to inspire other educators and to make learning more engaging for kids and adults.  The work of one such educator indirectly inspired me to post to my blog again: @alicekeeler - who writes a prolific blog called TeacherTech, inspiring and guiding educators on ways to use technology effectively in teaching - and - she's also slightly (!) crazy about spreadsheets.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Building Buildings in Google Docs

Everyone who knows me knows how excited I get about collaboration - and how especially excited I was when Google Docs' drawing tool was launched as a collaborative editing surface. On a few occasions, I've initiated collaborative scribbling sessions with 3 or 30 people simultaneously, just for the creative kick we all get out of it (an especially active session was triggered by my favorite web-tech blogger, when her quick ping to her followers triggered a flood of creative participants).

When I saw the quality of content a few others had created when we added drawings to the Google Docs Template Gallery, I was inspired to try some myself. So, for a few moments (ahem) per day over the past week, I ventured on a more soloist approach in an attempt to create some useful and realistic-ish drawings of some great city landmark buildings. I initially set out to draw, in rough form, just the Empire State Building. Hmph... that was easy enough - so I just kept going. Transamerica was a bit more challenging, and the Space Needle required some artistic license. My favorite building (second of course to my real favorites), the Chrysler Building, almost made me cry give up - but I persisted and even got that into a form which (when squinting) is acceptable...
So the template drawing is in the gallery (full preview here) - enjoy it, use it, laugh at it, or make fun of my rare obsessive behavior which resulted in these drawings. Maybe next time I'll invite a few dozen of my closest artistic friends to collaboratively create every other landmark building in a tenth of the time ;)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Google Sites - Hiding Site Activity Links

Whenever anyone asks me how they can easily create a web site - guess what I say...
"Get lost freak!" (no, not really, but give me an excuse to use a quote from a kids movie, and I take it)... anyway, I say Google Sites! It really is an easy way to get content up on the web quickly - so while I may be biased, I think Sites is the most accessible tool with the right balance of features and simplicity for the average web user.

There's one thing still about our current version of Sites that I've encountered enough times that I felt I should just post about it and point people here the next 5 times I'm asked:

"How do I get rid of that Recent Site Activity link at the bottom of every page?!"

It's not the intention of most Site authors to give people a link to all the "recent activity" on a site - they just want viewers to see the current version in most cases.

Well, it's not the most obvious thing to find... Here's how to change that:
  1. Sign in to Google Sites and open your site
  2. Click the Gear/Flower ("More Actions") button on the upper right corner and select "Manage Site" option in the menu.
  3. On the left side under Site Settings, click the "General" Option.
  4. The 8th option down (or so) is called "Access Settings" - which has 2 selectors, labelled:
    • Users who can access site activity:       and
    • Users who can access revision history: 
  5. Set BOTH of those options to "COLLABORATORS ONLY"
  6. Click SAVE CHANGES (at the top or bottom of the page)
Hope that's helpful... ping me here if not (and I promise not to use a silly line from a kids movie to dissuade you).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to TURN ON the NEW Google Docs editors

You may have heard that Google actually offers a product which lets you create, edit, share and collaborate on spreadsheets, documents, presentations and drawings using only your browser (nothing to download, etc... ) - yeah, yeah, I thought so.
You may have heard that there was a recent update to the product which made the editing experience more realtime, more collaborative and just generally faster and better - yeah, I thought so.
You may have heard that if you are a current user of Google Docs, you need to TURN ON these new editors explicitly - no? You didn't hear that part?  Well - it's only temporary... but you do need to do that!

Enough people (more than 1) have asked me this question, that I thought I should just post a quick How To, so I can point people here once... even though this post will be useless soon, when the new editors are standard for everyone...

So, the story is different for spreadsheet and document editing...

For Spreadsheets - very simple... When you are editing any spreadsheet, just look for the "New Version" link in the upper right side of your browser screen. Once you click that, ALL your spreadsheets will open using the new version of the spreadsheet editor (except for a small number of those which use a couple of lagging features which are not yet supported).   If you decide you need to switch back, do the reverse, and use the "Old Version" link in the upper right.

For Documents - less simple, but easy still.... Click the "Settings" link in the upper right side of your screen. Then, click the "Document Settings" sub-menu. In the dialog which shows up, click the "Editing" tab - and then check the box which says "Create new text documents using the latest version of the document editor. Only New Documents will use the new editor... old documents are currently forced to use the old editor.  Just for now...

One more thing to know - if you are on a Google Apps Domain (meaning at school or work or in an organization which uses Apps), you'll only see that new document editor option if your domain administrator wants you to ;) - so ask them if you don't see it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Amazing feats in collaboration (in nature, not technology)

The Atmosphere conference at Google's Mountain View, CA campus this past Monday was exciting and fun and attended by hundreds of interesting CIOs/CEOs and interesting people - there was even a great set of announcements from our own Google Docs team, which was of course a highlight for me. But, whether or not you believe in cloud computing or have any interest in the technology side, if you have any interest in collaboration, you must watch this video from the conference. This presentation by Janine Benyus, the President of the Biomimicry Institute, was, for me, the most educational, intriguing and awe-inspiring presentation of the whole day (yes, even more than seeing several people edit the same doc or drawing at the same time ;).

It turns out, that as much as we think we're innovating in the area of collaboration, we're actually just catching up and still, perhaps, way behind the collaborative systems present in nature.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is Twitter today's CB Radio? so what...

If you were born after 1975-ish (younger than 35-ish), chances are you won't get this post - but if you were a kid (or a trucker) during the 1960's and 1970's, you might relate. It struck me that the CB radio was basically Twitter - just on a different channel (quite literally) - using audio airwaves rather than the character-based internet. "Citizen Band" (CB) Radios were primarily used by truckers to keep in touch with each other and with a base station - maybe a dispatcher. The CB was their practical tool to communicate. Then, kids and geek hobbyists got a hold of them. I got one as a kid - probably in 1973 - when my dad finally gave in to my persistent begging. My dad certainly made me pay for it - but he risked his life on the ladder to install the antenna... I clearly remember him dropping the antenna once as he almost fell off the ladder. But, even bent, the antenna hooked me up to a world of tweets... voices of other people and truckers with whom I purposelessly interacted (that sound too familiar?).

Then, on a long car ride to Florida, the value of the CB became clear. We took the CB in the car and formed several temporal voice relationships with some truckers on the same route - down i95. On more than one occasion, we were warned of trouble, radar traps, accidents - and the previously useless banter became useful - almost necessary in hindsight.

Some other characteristics of the CB which seem analogous:

  • We had "handles" - names that represented who we wanted to be... sometimes fun, sometimes close to our real personas. The only one I remember was my uncle's: StoneMan. You figure it out.
  • We had our own language, which I think follows police radio language... like 10:4 ("ok") or 10:20 ("location") or "smokey" (policeman). wow... tricky.
  • We had Channels - similar in my mind to #hashtags - but much less traceable.
  • Short Tweets... after all, you could only hold that little button on the side of the mic for so long...
  • CB's were trendy! (tweet tweet!) There was even a hit song by CW McCall called "Convoy"

This loose analogy between Twitter and the CB radio is not very enlightening, unless you want to believe that Twitter will face the same fate. So what was that fate? I'm guessing that hobbyists found more interesting and extendable platforms (not to mention the Internets ;) and truckers still use the CB in it's original form. If it were searchable, linkable, with more traceable social structures and usage patterns and without any locational limitations, maybe CB radios would have kept growing.... or maybe they did keep growing, right out of that stupid box in my room as a kid and into a chat room, then into that phone in my pocket and then into Twitter.

Maybe someone reading this post will take a hint and help those truckers still using CBs by launching a product that has the familiar, voice-based interface of the CB, but with the added the practical advances of Twitter! Traceable, linkable,, followable CB Radios! ...
Hmmm.  Maybe not.
10:4 good buddy.