Category Archives: Teaching hacks

Teaching hacks: Getting rid of those long links

I find myself having to ask students to look up web pages and online materials in various forms all the time. Often, the links are quite long and not very intuitive. The way to fix that is to use a URL (Uniform Resource Locator, fancy name for web address) to turn, for instance

into

  • goo.gl/1kfvfzqr1

which is undeniably shorter and easier to write down fast. I can also make it into a QR code which can be scanned by the students from a PowerPoint slide and brought up on their smartphones.

There are a number of such URL shorteners – goo.gl, bitly.com, TinyURL, and so on. I use goo.gl, but after a tip from Ragnvald Sannes I have installed it as an extension of my Chrome browser, which means that whenever I want to share a link to many people I go to the page in question, click on the URL shortener in the top line of the browser, and that’s that. (There probably are similar extensions available for your browser of choice, go search.)

Quite a little timesaver…

If you want to read more about URL shorteners, try the Wikipedia article (which also lists some of the technical issues that sometimes crop up, though not much in a teaching context.)

Teaching hacks: Write next year’s course this year

As a teacher, you tend to have the same courses year after year. I have 5-6 courses I repeat in various shapes and forms. To keep them fresh, they need to be updated every year – new materials, purge stuff that has gone stale or didn’t work, and so on.

My problem is that as soon as I have finished teaching a course, I completely forget about it until the next time (normally a year later), and then have to scramble to update things and find new literature. While you are teaching the course, you notice things that don’t fly, but then you forget the details.

gra6834-2017_-_google_driveThe hack, of course, is simple: Write next year’s course documentation as you are teaching this year’s course. For instance: I have a detailed syllabus (written as a Google Doc) for my course GRA834 Business Development and Innovation Management (which I last taught in the fall of 2016). The syllabus is largely the same from year to year, but when I start teaching the course, I make a new copy of document (as the figure shows, the whole course folder), and fiddle with it after each class. For stuff I will have to change later, I make a note to myself, inserting the text “zxzx” which I can search. When the course starts next year, I simply make the edited documents available to the students straight into It’s Learning (the course management system we use at BI.)

Not exactly rocket science, but the hack is doing this as you start teaching. Much less hassle the next year…

(PS: You can do similar things with presentations and other stuff: My eminent colleague Hanno Roberts has a hidden slide in the back of all his presentations, where he writes notes to himself about what he will need to change the next time he gives it.)

Teaching Hacks: Using Google Docs under It’s Learning

(This is a new category I just dreamed up – will post little snippets of useful stuff for teaching. My view is that technology should make your life easier and the experience of the student better – otherwise, don’t use the technology.)

At BI Norwegian School of Business we use a learning management system called It’s Learning. As these systems go, it is (I think) no better or worse than any other system, but the interface is a bit clunky. However, it has a very useful feature (which I learned from Ragnvald Sannes), namely the ability to display Google Docs within the page:

screendocs

This is very useful because

  • you can create all your course documents (syllabi etc.) in Google Docs, which is much better for editing and everything else. You can even edit the docs right in the It’s Learning window.
  • you can give the students read, comment or write capability as you please. Giving the students write access to a shared document is useful for many purposes – I use it as a shared arena for proposing term papers, for instance. Linda Rademaker uses a shared spreadsheet for student group formation – the students write themselves into groups, and she has a tab with “Lost sheep” who have not found groups to work in.
  • you can also share a Google Folder with the students and link that right from It’s Learning.

To set up a page like this, first create the document in Google Drive, copy the link to the document (“Share” in Google Doc, set the access rights to whatever you want), go to It’s Learning, click “Add” in the left column, choose “File or link”. Here you can choose various options, but what has worked for me is choosing “link” and pasting in the link. Make sure the “Embed page within itslearning” is checked, write the Title, and there you go.

Certainly has made my life easier, and hopefully made the students’ experience better.

(By the way, this does not work in China, of course (no Google Doc access), in case you teach there.)