Plug and Play Connections between Your Favorite Web Services

I’ve been getting a kick out of using the new iftt service that lets you do clever things like have all your tweets automatically get saved to your Evernote account or make a copy of all your photos you attach to Foursquare checkins and save them in Evernote (or Dropbox). The oddly names site is actually an abbreviation of sorts for “If This Then That.” Once you create an account, you can authorize various services you use (Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Pinboard, Instagram, to name a few) to be accessed by ifft. First, you think of some task you’d like to accomplish, let save a copy of any photo in Facebook where you have been tagged. Then you define the trigger by picking what service has got something or doing something that you’d like to do something with. Then you define the action that tells ifft what other service will be doing that something. It sounds more complicated than it really is (the site explains it better on its “wtf” page than I do). If you browse the list of most popular “recipes” (tasks that have been created by users so far), you can get an idea of all the cool things you can do with ifft. So far all of my tasks send stuff to Evernote, as that is becoming my tool of choice for bookmarking sites and keeping notes.

My Experiment with Google Docs in the Classroom

This fall, I’m teaching a three-credit course again for a roomful of first-year students: Information Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities (the course website and syllabus are online). Inspired by the college’s efforts in the past year to help reduce the amount of printing done by students and faculty, I decided this summer that when I started teaching my class I would try to avoid having students turn in homework assignments on paper. Instead of using paper, we’ll be using Google Docs for in-class activities and homework assignments.

On the first day of classes, I had each student who didn’t already have a Google account set one up. Then, I had them create a test document and share it with me (in Google Docs, you can share a document with someone who also has a Google account). This past week, the students turned in their first assignment (a worksheet I had created in Google Docs that they copied into their own accounts, filled out, and shared wtih me). Once the students had shared the documents with me, I was able to “mark up” the papers using the commenting function in Google Docs. Then I told the students that the homework was graded and they could find their grade and my comments on the marked up version of their documents. So far, this has been working OK.

Getting the students to learn how to use Google Docs is going to have a number of benefits:

  • less wasted paper
  • I can copy and paste text into my comments on their homework when necessary instead of having to laboriously write by hand some of the same things in each students’ homework
  • they can turn in text documents, spreadsheets, drawings, and slide presentations in Google Docs
  • they will learn to use a tool for document creation that will come in handy for the many group projects they’ll wind up doing in other classes (this is a biggie, given that our college is a commuter college that makes it hard for students to meet face to face as often as they might if our school were a residential one)