Online polling with university students

My aim this past year was to introduce online polling as a way to increase student engagement and motivation in their learning. I wanted to go beyond merely creating multiple choice questions but to really—really—think about how to embed an online voting system into my lectures and tutorials. I didn’t want my use of online polling to be merely a ‘bolt-on’ to assess their learning but to use it as a means to improve their contributions in class and to engage them in their learning.

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How to copy data from one field automatically into another field

So you have an Adobe form with, say, a date on it and you want that information to be used elsewhere on the form without the user having to retype it.

Here’s what to do

  1. In the Text Field Properties, selection Action
  2. On Mouse Blur, Run Javascript
= getField("FieldNameofWhereYouAreCopyingFROM").valueAsString;

(All on one line)

A Celebration

On the 20th of March, I was invited to the main campus of the University for an awards ceremony as I had been nominated and shortlisted by the students for a teaching award in the category of Most Innovative Teacher. It was certainly a surprise to have been nominated and more of a surprise to be shortlisted!

It was a good celebration of all the hard work many people do at the university, even more so as the nominations came from the students.

For once, I was speechless as my name was read out as the winner for my category.

Thank you to those who nominated me. It is much appreciated.

List of winners, photos and video of the event

Flattening Adobe forms made in FormsCentral

I quite like FormsCentral. It’s a very easy way for me to keep track of the data I collect from the interactive PDF forms I’ve created. The problem arises if you want to send someone a flattened copy of the document without the submit button. Yes, you can go into FormsCentral and get it to create the document but this can (sometimes) cause fonts and font sizes to go … squiffy, shall we say.

So here’s an alternative using Adobe Acrobat XI. You can’t do this from Acrobat Reader. Sorry.

  1. Create an optimised copy of the document.
    File -> Save As Other…
    Choose Optimised PDF…
  2. A message pops up saying
    This document restricts some Acrobat features to allow for extended features in Adobe Reader. To create a copy of the document that is not restricted (and has no extended features in Adobe Reader), click Save a Copy”
  3. Click Save a Copy
    Save the file somewhere you can find it!
  4. Open the newly-created copy
  5. Repeat step 1
    This time, you won’t get the message and you’ll go to a menu.

    1. Make sure Fonts and Transparency are unchecked.
    2. For Discard Objects, make sure only Flatten form fields is checked
    3. For Discard User Data, make sure Discard hidden layer content and flatten visible layers is checked
  6. Save the file
    You can save over the current file.

Your created file will retain the fonts and font sizes, will not have a submit button and will be flattened.

iCloud Drive: Are my files synced?

I am a Dropbox user. I like Dropbox. It’s useful, handy, reliable and efficient. However, I’m also intrigued by iCloud which will allow my files to sync to my numerous Apple devices easier … and it’s cheaper. So I’m currently working with both, giving iCloud a fair crack of the whip, as it were.

One thing that iCloud Drive doesn’t do, however, is provide some visual information about what has (or has not) been synced. Dropbox has little blue circles/green ticks; iCloud has nothing.

However, having done a quick search online, there is a partial solution to this. Using Terminal I can type the following command and get a basic list. It’s not pretty but it does the job.

brctl log --wait --shorten

Polling during tutorials

Over the next academic year (2014-15), I am going to be including opportunities throughout my lectures and tutorials for students to use polling software. It means a slight change in the pedagogy as I don’t want to merely ‘tack on’ polls but, instead, want it to be embedded within my teaching.

The folks at have been exceptionally helpful to get things set up (thanks, folks) and I’m very keen to see how (and if) in-class polling affects engagement and learning. You can find more information about in-class polling by going to top hat’s website or, more generally, by doing a web search for in-class polling.

Of course, Tophat is only one company of many which focus on in-class polling. There are others. Polleverywhere and Socrative, for example,  are certainly forerunners in the online polling game. However, the support I’ve received from Tophat has been, to put it bluntly, exceptional and I like to root for the underdog. So we’ll give it a shot.

I’m really looking forward to using in-class/online polling. I hope you’ll join me on this journey as I talk about the software, how it’s being used, the pitfalls, what’s going well, students’ reactions, etc. Please feel free to join in the conversation with questions and comments.

Microsoft Word – Automatically renumbering a list

I have a list of over 100 questions which are numbered and I need to re-order them. Here’s a basic example.

Question 1
What is your name

Question 2
Where do you live

Question 3
What’s your favourite colour

If I want to change the order of these questions (by cutting and pasting), I’m also going to have to re-type all the numbers. Not fun. 

However, I can replace the numbers with an ‘insert number’ code so that when I re-arrange the questions, the numbers will automatically correct themselves into the correct order.

To do this, go to advanced find and replace.

Find: Question [0-9]{1,3}

Replace: Question ^c (This needs to be copy/pasted from text you’ve already created using ‘insert field’)

Find any digit from 0 to 9

Look for any number containing 1 to 3 digits