Google, Google Apps, instructional technology, Research

Using a Motion Chart to Visualize Data

While motion charts are not new, I just learned about them and I thought they would be something that faculty can use in their classes to help students see and understand certain concepts in their classes.

Motion Chart

A motion chart, at least as it’s used in this post, is a bubble chart that can be controlled by the viewer, not the creator.  It allows the viewer to visualize multiple dimensions of the data.   These dimensions are shown by the bubble size, color and position on the chart over time.  Here is an example from of the bubble chart

  • Vertical (Y) axis – Percentage of HIV exposed infants given ART for PMTCT at birth
  • Horizontal (X) axis – Percentage of HIV+ women receiving ARVs for PMTCT
  • Bubble size – Health expenditure per capita (current US$)
  • Bubble colour – Pregnant women receiving prenatal care (%)
  • Time – Years

According to JuiceAnalytics, “modern-day motion charts were developed by an organization called GapMinder as part of a product called Trendalyzer.  Hans Rosling, one of the founders of GapMinder, popularized the motion chart visualization in a much-admired TED Talk.”

What are they good for?

What I think sets this chart type apart from other charts in either Excel or Google Sheets, is that they are interactive.  The end-user can use the sliders to change time and the dropdown menus to change the data parameters shown.  It allows the viewer the control over what they see to help them better understand the data and to work with it in multiple ways.  Any discipline that uses statistical or relational data over time can benefit from a motion chart (political science, sociology, history, education, biology, etc.).

How do you make one?

With Google Sheets, part of CofC’s Google Apps for Education (G-Suite), you can make a motion chart in just a few easy steps.

  1. Create the data in Google Sheets, or upload it from an existing Excel spreadsheet into Google Drive.
    1.  Column A (first column) should contain the data you want to track.  In the example above, it is Country.
    2.  Column B should contain the time data and should be sorted/grouped by time.
    3.  Column B also needs to be formatted as a date, not text.
  2. Highlight all the data in the table and click on Insert > Chart.
  3. Choose the Chart Types tab.
  4. Scroll to the bottom under Other and choose Motion Chart.
  5. Click Insert.
  6. Once it’s inserted you will be able to change the X/Y access, use the scroll bar to slide through the times and the boxes on the right to narrow the data seen.

BONUS — You’ll also notice, in the upper right corner, that you can choose between a bubble chart, bar chart, or a line chart.

Let us know

If you try this let us know how you are using it in your teaching or with your students!  We love to hear from faculty.

Collaboration, Conferencing, discussion, Research

#OneNewThing: Conducting Interviews Using FlipGrid

There are times when you or your students want to conduct an interview with someone but it’s very difficult to get together due to time zone issues, busy schedules, or some other reason.  Well, Michael Overholt, former instructional technologist with LCWA came up with a great remedy for these issues…


Flipgrid is a video discussion tool from Microsoft…The idea behind this education tool is to use video to create an open platform of discussion and learning that doesn’t require a physical classroom to get everyone involved.  (Tech Learning) But why not expand its uses to interviews.

The concept behind FlipGrid is that someone (the instructor or another student) creates an initial audio/video recording then others respond to it also using audio and/or video.  Because it’s not synchronous, the students can respond at any time that is convenient to them.   Each FlipGrid “class” can have multiple FlipGrid “discussions.”

Now let’s apply this to an interview…


  1. You create either one FlipGrid discussion containing all of the questions or one FlipGrid discussion for each question.
  2. Send the link to your interviewee(s).
  3. The interviewee, at their convenience, listens to your recording containing the questions then they will create a video of themselves answering the question.  It’s all done online so it’s incredibly easy for them.
  4. Multiple people can answer the questions if you need to interview multiple people.  In the settings you can select to not allow users to see other users’ responses.
  5. Now you can go back in and listen to all the of the responses. You can even download the videos and edit them together.

This saves you and your interviewees the headache of scheduling a time to meet.

This can be used in your research or by your students for class assignments.  Makes it easy for them to interact with experts in the field in different timezones and countries.

Give it a try!


[button link=”” newwindow=”yes”] Access the tutorials for you and your students[/button]

Overcome your fear of public speaking
Others, Presentation, Research

Faculty Focus: Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

Fear of public speaking is very common, with an estimated 1 in 4 people reporting being anxious when presenting ideas and information in front of an audience. Some folks report being more scared of public speaking than death! While fear helps to protect ourselves in risky situations, it can also get in our way. In the case of public speaking anxiety, fear can prevent us from sharing our research and ideas within academic circles as well as with the larger community. Developing effective public speaking skills will help you advance your career and share your ideas with the world.

What causes public speaking anxiety?

Before we discuss speech anxiety management, it’s important to understand what causes this apprehension. Basically, an evolutionary, physiological mechanism in your body called the fight-or-flight response takes over. When faced with a situation you perceive as threatening, your mind sends a message to your body that you are in an emergency situation and the body responds with surges of adrenaline. This adrenaline energizes you to either fight the threat or to run away from the danger. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t distinguish between physically threatening situations, where you might actually need the extra adrenaline, and psychologically threatening experiences, where the physical symptoms only add to your stress. Thus, when you perceive a public speaking situation to be scary, your body reacts and you experience anxiety. Symptoms of speech anxiety include blushing, accelerated heart rate, perspiring, dry mouth, shallow breathing, shaking, churning stomach, forgetfulness, and nervous “ticks” such as playing with jewelry, tapping fingers, clutching the podium, or twirling hair. Thankfully, scholars from a variety of disciplines have developed techniques to manage speech anxiety. 

How can I manage my public speaking anxiety? 

Change your self-perceptions

The goal is to change how you perceive yourself and your abilities. The saying “mind over matter” is actually quite true. Simply put, if you think you’re a terrible public speaker, you are very likely to perform terribly. These repeated negative thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As simple as it may sound, replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts is a very effective technique to reduce speech anxiety. This is called cognitive restructuring or reframing. Speakers who think negatively about themselves and the speech experience are much more likely to be overcome by speech anxiety than speakers who think positively. So whenever a negative thought creeps into your mind, immediately force yourself to think positively.

Try following this three-step plan: (1) Whenever you have a critical thought, acknowledge it without judgement. (2) Next, replace that negative thought with a positive thought. For example, instead of thinking “I’m an awful public speaker,” think “No one’s perfect, and I’m getting better with each speech I give.” (3) Finally, focus on the things you do well. Think about all the things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with public speaking—traits that, in the grand scheme of things, are far more important than public speaking skills. Concentrate on these strengths rather than obsessing over your perceived weaknesses. Speech anxiety is often the result of a lack of self-confidence. For many, this comes from fearing harsh judgment by others. Feeling this way can cause us to simplify the situation into two categories—perfection or complete disaster. But thinking this way will only make you feel worse. By using cognitive restructuring, you can begin to stop this extreme thinking and realize that perfection is next to impossible and disaster is highly unlikely.

Visualize success

Another cognitive restructuring technique is called visualization, which takes place prior to your speech and involves the speaker imagining himself/herself in a hypothetical public speaking situation. The goal of this method is to vividly imagine delivering a very effective speech. Simply put, you imagine yourself performing successfully in a situation that causes nervousness and anxiety. Repeatedly visualizing a positive performance has been shown to reduce fears of public speaking because the positive image eventually replaces the negative one. 

Visualization is a very popular ritual for athletes because it helps them perform successfully. Allyson Felix, an Olympic track and field sprinter, routinely uses visualization: “Visualization involves thinking through every detail of a performance so when the time comes, you know exactly what your next move is.” In a study of basketball players, researchers divided a team into three groups: one group practiced free throws, a second group practiced visualization, and a third group practiced both visualization and free throws. Which group do you think performed the best? The third group who practiced visualization in combination with skills training scored the most free throws. So by thoroughly practicing your presentation as well as practicing visualization, you are on the road towards more confident public speaking. 

Understand your physiology

As mentioned previously, there are many physical symptoms of speech anxiety – sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, shaking, and so on. But there are ways to manage these symptoms so you can feel a bit calmer once you get to the podium. Nervous speakers tend to take short, shallow breaths. This induces more anxiety because you are not fully oxygenating your body. To break this habit, practice taking slower and deeper breaths. To know if you are breathing deeply, place a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach. If your chest rises more, you are breathing shallowly and not taking advantage of all the oxygen your body is capable of taking in. When you breathe deeply, you use your diaphragm and your stomach will expand. Deep breathing also circulates nitric oxide through your body, which has a stress-reducing effect. Think about how emergency medical technicians provide individuals with oxygen when they experience shock. The increased oxygen and nitric oxide flowing through your blood has a calming effect on your body.

In order to take deep breaths, you must have good posture. When you hunch over, your chest collapses and your lungs compress, reducing the amount of air you take in. As a result, less oxygen gets to the brain, leaving you fuzzy-headed. Throwing your shoulders back and standing up tall can also trick you into feeling more confident. Researchers at Ohio State University found that people who slouched reported feeling less qualified to handle a task than those who had good posture. So stand up tall and take those deep, relaxing breaths. You’ll not only look more confident, you’ll feel it too.

Nervous energy can cause you to shake, bounce, or jiggle due to the extra boost of adrenaline pumping through your system. Physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce tension. Before arriving to give your presentation, simply taking a relaxing walk, doing jumping jacks, or some other movement can be enough to release some of the extra tension in your body. Before you approach to the podium, try gripping the edge of your chair seat and gently squeeze the chair. Feel the muscles in your hands and arms tense, then quickly relax. Notice how the tension rushes away.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Nothing beats preparation for relieving anxiety. If you have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into creating and practicing your speech, you will feel more confident about it. That confidence will inevitably come out in your delivery. Jim Loehr, Ed.D., author of the Power of Full Engagement, has devoted thirty years to helping professional athletes manage their stress and energy. He notes that 90% of successful athletes’ time is spent preparing and only 10% performing. The same can be said for public speaking. Most of your time should be spent preparing your speech in advance. Procrastinating will only hurt you: 

“Procrastination is a way for us to be satisfied with second-rate results; we can always tell ourselves we’d have done a better job if only we’d had more time. If you’re good at rationalizing, you can keep yourself satisfied this way, but it’s a cheap happy. You’re whittling expectations of yourself down lower and lower.” —Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. 

Even more tips

Before you speak: 

  • Work especially hard on your introduction. Research has shown that a speaker’s anxiety level begins to drop significantly after the first 30 seconds of a presentation. Once you get through the introduction, the rest of your speech should progress more smoothly. 
  • Before moving to the podium, imagine speaking to one person at a time. This can help you focus on communicating with your audience rather than performing for them.
  • Scientists have long known that the brain cements memories during the hours you’re asleep. Sleep deprivation temporarily reduces levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that’s crucial for storing new information. Therefore, staying awake until 4am on the day of your speech, trying to memorize every word, will not serve you well. Practice your speech thoroughly, in advance, and then go to bed early. While you sleep, your brain will store your speech into memory. 
  • It’s also important to eat before a speech. Having low blood sugar will make you feel sluggish and queasy. If you have butterflies, I don’t recommend eating something heavy or greasy, but you should definitely eat something with both carbohydrates and protein.
  • To bring about physical relaxation, tighten your toes, calves, and thighs – then relax them. Clench your fists, tighten your arms – then relax them. When you relax your muscles after tightly clenching them, you should feel blood rush into these areas. Imagine that rushing feeling is the tension being eliminated from your body. 
  • Right before walking up to the podium, try this exercise from psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D. First, find an object that has four corners such as a window or a piece of paper. Focus on the upper left-hand corner; inhale for a count of four. Next, hold your breath for a count of four as you look at the upper right-hand corner. Then, gaze at the lower right-hand corner, and exhale for a count of four. Finally, look at the lower left-hand corner and smile. Repeat a few times.

When you speak: 

  • Do not worry that the audience will notice signs of your inner turmoil. Most of the nervousness that you feel is not visible. 
  • Communicate in a conversational style. Try to use gestures and facial expressions that you regularly make use of in normal conversation. Pretend you’re talking with a group of friends. This will make you appear approachable and natural.
  • Even though it may make you more nervous in the beginning, make eye contact with your audience members. Remember that they are individual people, not a blur of faces. If looking people directly in the eye is intimidating to you, try looking just above their eyes, at the middle of their foreheads (as long as you’re not close to them). From their perspective, it will appear like you are looking right at them. But do strive to make direct eye contact with at least half of your audience. 
  • The audience does not know what you plan to do during the speech; thus, they will be slow to pick up on any mistakes. Since they do not know exactly what you planned, it is easier to make adjustments during the speech without jeopardizing your objectives. Remember – you are the expert on your speech topic. 
  • SMILE! Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, smiling can trick your brain into thinking you’re actually feeling good. Research suggests that smiling releases endorphins and boosts serotonin, which can lead you to feel the emotion you’re projecting. 

Regardless of which techniques you use to manage your anxiety, none are as effective as being well-prepared. Preparation is the number one way to reduce speech anxiety because the more time and effort you put into the speech, the better you will feel about it. By implementing these tips and techniques, your next speaking engagement will surely result in a mic drop moment! Best of luck!

Pedagogy, Research

Creating Personal Learning Paths with Symbaloo

In the early 2000s a popular lesson type was a webquest.  The goal of this was to create an inquiry-oriented lesson where all of the information comes from web-based resources.  This isn’t a newsletter on how to create a webquest.  There is tons of information on the web on how to do this, including an entire site dedicated to it at  This newsletter is about how to use Symbaloo to create these in a fast and easy way that includes student tracking.

Symbaloo is an amazing graphical bookmarking and web organization tool. I use it everyday and I love it.  Recently, they’ve expanded their offerings to add “Learning Paths.”  These paths take the user through the web resources in a sequence.  You can add almost any web resource as well as little quizzes and questions that can divert the uses onto a new path.  These are called branches.  This allows you to give students different content based on their knowledge but it also allows the user to choose the path in which they are most interested.

There is also a marketplace of Symbaloo Learning Paths created by other teachers that you can use for free!


Start by going to

  • As a student, you type in a Session Code to begin
  • As an instructor, you log in after creating a free account

1 – Click Create a learning path
2 – Create a web tile (this can be audio, video, text, Google Drive files, etc.)
—- Title it with the Lesson title
—- Choose a web resource (this will include Google Drive files and sites)
—- Type in instructions or outcomes for that article or video
—- Click Save
3 – Create a new tile
—- Click one of the plus signs to add more resources or to put in a branch
4 – Create a quiz or question title
—- Click Create My Own Resource
—- Type in a title, ex. Quiz
—- Add all of the items indicated on the form

When you’re finished you can click the Play icon to preview it yourself
Then share it with your students

Screenshot of the Sharing Screen that is also pointing to the Reports icon in the upper right corner

Monitor your students’ progress in real-time.


Want to Learn More? Check out the Learning Paths Tutorials

#onenewthing Padlet
Collaboration, discussion, instructional technology, iPad, Mobile, Portfolio, Presentation, Research

#OneNewThing – Padlet

padlet screenshot“Padlet is a virtual wall that allows people to express their thoughts on a common topic easily. It works like an online sheet of paper where people can put any content (e.g. images, videos, documents, text) anywhere on the page, together with anyone, from any device.” (Mrs. Treichler)

Platforms:  Web, iOS, Android, also has plugins for Chrome and WordPress


How It Works


Uses for Faculty & Students


  • Create a blank board and share it (either with specific people via their Padlet account, or via a general link.
  • Double-click on the board to add a new “sticky” note.
  • You can add:
    • Text
    • Audio
    • Video
    • Images
    • Files
  • Drag the notes around to organize and sort them.

Works on a computer or almost any mobile device.

  • Discussion and collaboration
  • Constructing a classroom code of conduct or an assessment rubric with your students
  • Backchannel where students can write questions during or before class
  • Exit ticket
  • Brainstorming
  • Planning
  • Student-to-Student image sharing
  • Writing prompts and collaborative writing
  • Student introductions
  • KWL Charts
  • Curation
  • Flow maps
  • Opinion forums
  • Inspiration wall
  • Portfolios
  • Website bookmarking tool
  • More…
  • Even more…

Get your padlet account today


Evolution of a Group Research Project
1-1-1, Assessment, Best Practices, Research, TLT

Faculty Guest Post: Evolution of a Group Research Project

Today’s Faculty Guest Post is from Chris Mothorpe, Assistant Professor of Economics.  Chris attended TLT’s 2015 Faculty Technology Institute.  In this post, he reflects on the process of revising and improving a group research project in two of his courses: Urban Economics and Economics of Geography and Transportation.  This is an excerpt from Chris’ own blog.  To read the entire post, please visit:

I am writing this blog post based on my experience conducting research projects in my upper level economic classes over the past three semesters. This post will not discuss the research project in its entirety; instead, it will provide a general overview of the project and then focus on specific challenges I have faced each semester and different strategies I have employed (or I am planning on employing to overcome them).  There are two main challenges I will discuss: 1) group formation; and 2) peer evaluations.

Project Overview

I decided to require a group research project after reading several magazine and newspaper articles discussing what companies are looking for in college graduates.  Atop many of the surveys were not the hard-technical skills taught in the classrooms, but many soft-skills developed in the non-academic, extracurricular setting.  These soft-skills include: 1) leadership; 2) ability to work in a team; 3) written communication skills; 4) problem solving skills; 5) work ethic; 6) verbal communication skills; 7) initiative; 8) interpersonal skills; 9) creativity; and 10) organizational ability.  Conducting a group-based research project provides students the opportunity to practice many of these skills — practice they would otherwise not receive if the class is taught in a more traditional manner.   A second motivating factor is to allow the students the opportunity to apply economic models to real world problems.

I decided to require a group research project after reading several magazine and newspaper articles discussing what companies are looking for in college graduates.  Atop many of the surveys were not the hard-technical skills taught in the classrooms, but many soft-skills developed in the non-academic, extracurricular setting.  These soft-skills include: 1) leadership; 2) ability to work in a team; 3) written communication skills; 4) problem solving skills; 5) work ethic; 6) verbal communication skills; 7) initiative; 8) interpersonal skills; 9) creativity; and 10) organizational ability.  Conducting a group-based research project provides students the opportunity to practice many of these skills — practice they would otherwise not receive if the class is taught in a more traditional manner.   A second motivating factor is to allow the students the opportunity to apply economic models to real world problems.

The stated objectives for the research project are:
  1. Analyze a contemporary economic issue or social issue using economic theory and models
  2. Demonstrate versatile and competent written, oral and digital communication skills
  3. Evaluate communication situations and audiences to make choices about the most effective ways to deliver messages
  4. Appraise written communication skills through self and peer evaluations
  5. Manage diverse teams successfully

The project is set up as a paper submission to the (fictional) Charleston Journal of Economics, which I reside over as Editor.  At the beginning of the semester, I pass out the Fall/Spring 20XX Charleston Journal of Economics (CJE) Request for Papers (RFP), which contains the objectives of the journal, the strategic areas, scoring criteria, formatting requirements, and examples of correctly formatted submissions. Throughout the semester, groups are required to submit portions of their project to the Editor and receive feedback (in the form of a letter from the editor). I have required the research project in the Spring of 2015, the Fall of 2015 and the Spring of 2016.  These three iterations have proven valuable as I continually update the project to improve on its effectiveness and efficiency in delivery.

Group Formation

In the first iteration (Spring 2015) of the research project, I allowed each student to write his/her own paper and choose any topic as long as it was related somehow Urban Economics.  While allowing each student the opportunity to write their own research paper provides the best learning opportunity for the student (since he/she receives individualized feedback), it is much harder (time consuming) on me. I realized that there were three main consequences to allowing students to complete their own project:
  1. Grading fatigue
  2. Increase time until work is returned to students
  3. Grading research projects detracts from other activities such as research

In the second iteration (Fall 2015), I switched from individual research projects to group based projects.  I allowed the groups to form endogenously — students selected their own groups.  Each research group was required to have 3-4 individuals.  The main problem that arose from students selecting their own groups is that the groups were not interdisciplinary in nature.  For example, Group A consisted of three Transportation and Logistics Majors.  One of the comments Group A received on one of their drafts was that their paper lacks a sufficient economic model.  The feedback I received from Group A was that there is not a economic major (or minor) in the group, and as a result no one is familiar with economic models.

In the second iteration, I also began restricting the topic selection by requiring each group’s research question to at least fall within one of the strategic areas of the Charleston Journal of Economics.  The strategic areas are:
  1. Transportation Infrastructure
  2. The Port of Charleston Expansion
  3. Coastal Community Resilience and the Impacts of Sea Level Rise/Climate Change
  4. The Long Savannah Development

In the third iteration (Spring 2016), I attempted to correct for the lack of interdisciplinary majors within a research group by assigning research groups.  To aid in the assignment of research groups, each student completed an Oaks quiz that asked the following questions:

  1. List the strategic areas in order of greater interest to least interest
  2. For your top ranked strategic area, list keywords of interest
  3. For your second ranked strategic area, list keywords of interest
  4. List your major(s)
  5. List your minor(s)
  6. List individuals you would like to work with

Students submitted their responses via an Oaks quiz and then I used their responses to assign groups.  Matches were made based on strategic areas and keywords; however, not all students receive their top ranked strategic area (most did) as I also sought to ensure that each group contained at least one each major or minor.  This mechanism worked well in solving the interdisciplinary problem previously encountered; however, the new problem that arose was that group members wanted a greater say about who was in their group as the “Free-Riding” problem arose in several groups.  The Free-Riding problem occurs when not all members contribute equally to the project, yet all group members receive the same grade.  Of the 8 research groups in the Spring of 2016, at least 4 registered complaints about one of their group members not contributing.

The Free-Rider Problem

I am planning on implementing two strategies to attempt to mitigate the Free-Riding Problem.  First, I plan on introducing a mechanism that will allow students to reveal information about themselves (e.g. work ethic) to other members in the class.  This mechanism is a series of group-based homework problem sets in the first few weeks of class and before the assignment of groups.  Groups will be randomly assigned.  The random assignment of groups will ensure that students are meeting and learning about other members of the class.  After the problem sets, students will again be asked to complete an Oaks quiz, but on their quiz there will be additional questions aimed at revealing their preferences for who they do and do not want to work with.


The second strategy is to have students submit peer evaluations of their group members when assignments are due.  A portion of the peer evaluation is a Grade Multiplier.  Each member of the group assigns every other member of the group a multiplier, which gives each group member control over every other group member’s grade.  The purpose of the multiplier is to provide incentive to group members to work hard towards the completion of the project.  In the Spring of 2016, I required the students to submit Peer Evaluations at the end of the semester; however, this did not provide strong incentives to students since at the time of submissions final class grades were almost known.  It was recommended to me, by a student, to conduct the peer evaluations more frequently.


Peer Evaluations are a useful tool that provide students with information on their performance over the course of the research project.  Since the goal of the project is to aid students in developing soft skills, the peer evaluations are particularly effective, since they address each student individually.  Herein lies the main problem since each time I require a peer evaluation I cannot write 20-40 individual letters commenting on their performance.  The remainder of this blog post discusses the tools I have developed to create individualized letters based on peer reviews in an (semi) automatic fashion.  Creating letters in this manner allows me to provide individualized feedback to students while at the same time not spending hours drafting letters.


The letter-creation process requires the following programs/files:
  1. The Form Letter – Microsoft Word Template
  2. Oaks Quiz and Excel File of Modified Data
  3. Microsoft Word Template File
  4. Microsoft Excel Template File
  5. Microsoft Excel Addin ExcelToWord

The procedure behind the automated process is to have students complete their peer evaluations through an Oaks quiz, text-mine their responses, and populate a form letter with student responses.  Note that this process relies on student responses on the peer evaluation but does leave open the possibility of directly editing the individualized letters.

[TLT Note: On his own blog, Chris provides instructions for using OAKS, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel to facilitate the peer evaluations described above.  He also provides templates and examples. To access this information, please visit]

In this blog, I have discussed the research project that I conduct in my upper level economics classes, two of the challenges that have arisen, and various strategies I have or will employ to overcome the challenges.  To overcome group formation problems, I am employing an Oaks quiz and group based homework assigned in order to allow students the opportunity to reveal information about themselves to other students in the class as well as myself.  To overcome the “Free-Riding” problem, I am planning on employing a series of peer evaluations, which gives all members in the group some control over the grades of the other group members.

One key to conducting peer evaluations is returning individualized feedback to the student based on their performance.  I have also discussed a set of tools which will enable me to create individualized letters in a timely manner.  Providing timely and individualized feedback also enhances the learning outcomes of the research project since the project is geared towards student practice of their “soft” skills.  Receiving individualized feedback allows students to learn from their experience and develop a stronger set of skills that they can employ in the future.

Google Sheets my fav. 5 tips and tricks
Google, Google Apps, Productivity, Research, TLT

Give Sheets A Chance

I am a huge fan of Microsoft Excel.  It’s my second favorite application, after Photoshop.  However, I’ve been attempting to move all of my work to Google Apps for Education and I felt like Google Sheets was just not as robust a program as Excel.  That being said, I’ve been working with Sheets exclusively for several months now and am finding many things that are making me love it.  Not as much as Excel, but close.

Here are my top 5 coolest things I’ve learned over the past months:


screenshot of the explore area openNext time you open up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets, notice the little icon in the lower right cornerExplore icon.  If you click it you get a flyout panel called Explore.  This panel gives you a fantastic overview of your data in chart form and allows you to easily add the charts to your document with one simple click.  I loved this and I don’t believe there is an equivalent in Excel.

How can you use this?

If you create a form, in Google Forms, your data will be collected in a Google Sheet.  The charts in Explore give you the overview you need to get started on your data analysis

You can upload any Excel spreadsheet into Google Sheets and it will convert it to Sheets format so you can get this overview on data NOT collected in Google Drive.


A pivot table is a tool that allows you to summarize and explore data interactively and is particularly useful for large data sets.   I use them primarily to count or average things but they can be used to extract all types of date from sets.   Google Sheets now allows you to easily create these pivot tables.  Here’s an example of a quick table created from the data we looked at above.  This is a simple pivot table but they can be more complicated depending upon your needs.  Just like in Excel, they update in real time, as the data in the Sheet changes.  You can find pivot tables under Data > Pivot Table

screenshot of the pivot tableScreenshot of a more complicated pivot table


There are many times that I want to delete or add a few cells in a spreadsheet and have the rest of the spreadsheet shift to accommodate those cells.  In Sheets you can only add or delete and entire row or column which isn’t very helpful.  With the help of an Add-On called Insert and Delete Cells by you now can.  In Sheets go to Add-ons in the menu bar then choose Get add-ons  In the search area, type in Insert and Delete Cells.  Click on Free.  A pop up window will appear so make sure pop-ups are not blocked.  From that window click Allow. 

Screenshot of the menu To add or delete cell(s) just click on the appropriate cell(s) and choose Add-on again.  You will see it in the menu a new option to allow you to shift the cell after adding or deleting. 

How can you use this?

I use this feature all the time.  Here’s an example:  I paste or import data into a spreadsheet and for some reason, one line is offset just one cell.  This happens if there is a wayward space in the paste.  Now I can just select that cell and shift the rest of the columns one cell to the left to line all the data back up.


As much as I love Excel I still struggle with filtering duplicates from a dataset.  This is also something that I use all the time.  For instance, for our training stats, I like to see all the individuals that attended TLT training in one year.  For this report, I only want each individual counted once.  For this I use an add-on called Remove Duplicates by  Just like earlier you can get it from the Add-ons > Get add-ons menu and search for Remove Duplicates.  Once it’s installed you just select the data then choose Remove Duplicates from the Add-ons menu and follow the instructions.  It’s just four easy steps to locating all the unique or duplicate entries in your data and I think it’s 10x easier than the filter feature in Excel.


Screenshot of Advanced SharingDid you know that you can share a spreadsheet with people without giving them the ability to print it, copy it, or download it?  Well you can.  Just open your Sheet and click on the Share button in the upper right corner.  Now click on Advance in the bottom right of the new window.  Make sure your normal settings are set correctly depending upon the level of security you want.  Then at the bottom click on Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers.  This actually works surprisingly well, especially with a large spreadsheet.  Could some take a screenshot of the data?  Sure, but the only way to stop that is to not let them see it in the first place.  

How can you use this?

This came to my attention when a faculty member wanted to share a large list of internship options but didn’t want that list to be shared with those outside her class.  Again, while not foolproof, it provides enough of a deterrent to meet the needs.


I hope these tips will get you to reconsider Google Sheets as a viable alternative to Excel.

Real Time Board
Collaboration, Productivity, Research, TLT, Web 2.0

Online Collaboration with RealTimeBoard

Does this scenario seem familiar?   You’re in the midst of a team project.  One day you realize that you’ve been playing phone tag with one colleague for a week; another colleague keeps emailing Word documents; while the rest of the team is trying to work in Google Docs.  No one is communicating well and collaboration is slow.  What can you do?

Real Time Board to the rescue!

RealTimeBoard is an online collaborative workspace that features an infinite digital whiteboard.  In addition to typing and writing on the whiteboard, teams can add post-it notes, images, videos, documents, spreadsheets, Google Drive files and more. RealTimeBoard also provides a variety of templates, including timelines, Gantt charts, storyboards, calendars, and SWOT analysis grids.  Because it’s an online tool, all collaborators can access your shared board on any device at any time.  Boards can also be exported as image files or PDF.

Real Time Board for collaborative planning, notetaking, and brainstorming

The folks at RealTimeBoard have kindly granted educators free access to their premium features plus unlimited collaborators!  So it’s a perfect tool for research projects and to use with your students.  Request your account by providing your college email address.

Use digital sticky notes with Real Time Board

Uses: Any form of collaboration, such as brainstorming, concept mapping, storyboarding, planning, etc.

Price: Free for educators

Platform: Online

More information:


Google Apps, Research, TLT, Web 2.0

Using blogs as a learning tool

A blog can be used for more than just news and announcements.  Some ways your students might use a blog are:

Here at the College we have a couple of blog options: WordPress (which you are seeing now) and Blogger which is part of the CofCs Google apps for education suite of tools.  The main difference between the two is that students cannot create a blog using WordPress, but they can with Blogger.

TLT has tutorials for both WordPress and Blogger that can be found at:

Dear TLT
Dear TLT, Productivity, Research

Dear TLT: How do I Combine Text from Two Columns into One (in Excel)?

Dear TLT,

I’m working with a rather complex data set, and I need to combine text from two separate columns into one.  Is that possible?


Professor James Moriarty

Dear Professor Moriarty,

While it is not “elementary,” as some might say, it is definitely possible!  To get started, click on the first (empty) cell in the new column (C2 in the example below).


Click on Formulas > Insert > Text > CONCATENATE.


Click on cell A2 then type [, space“,].  Click on cell B2 and press enter.


Cell C2 should now include text from cells A2 and B2, but not R2D2 🙂


Use the fill handle to copy the formula to the rest of the cells in the new column.


Please contact your instructional technologist, if you have additional questions or concerns, and check out our upcoming training sessions at

Best regards,



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Professor James Moriarty is from what literary series? The first faculty member to email, with the correct answer, will receive a TLT flash drive!