Lunch and Learn: Timothy Recuber on Teaching with WordPress

wordpress-logo-notext-rgbTimothy Recuber, lecturer in the Writing Program at Princeton University, spoke about using WordPress as a platform for student writing in his WRI 128/129 courses. The course, entitled ‘Witnessing Disaster’, investigates media depictions of disaster and human suffering.  In the assignment for which WordPress was used, Dr. Recuber asked students to “envision an alternative way of representing the suffering of others by creating a website, online memorial, or blog devoted to the disaster or tragedy that you research this semester”.  The students, having chosen and written about significant events previously in the semester, expanded upon their research by posting writings, videos, images, and sound recordings to the course blog. As a supplement to the more formal writing done during the semester, the blog was intended to provide a more creative outlet for the students. Continue reading “Lunch and Learn: Timothy Recuber on Teaching with WordPress”

Field Note Taking with the iPad


Field note taking can involve documenting observations or research with video, photographs, audio, and writing down observations on a type of device or on a good old pencil and paper. The iPad has all these features built into it and there are apps out there that can access these features and keep all your notes in one place. The advantage of the iPad is that it’s portable and fairly easy to use. We decided to take a look at apps that will help with field note taking. Continue reading “Field Note Taking with the iPad”

Lunch & Learn: William Howarth on Chrome and Chromebooks for Research and Writing.

William Howarth uses Chrome to write, research, and work.

William Howarth
William Howarth

On February 13th, 2013, William Howarth, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University was joined by John LeMasney and Janet Temos of Princeton’s Educational Technologies Center (ETC) to talk about the use of Google’s Chrome browser and the Chromebook in writing and research. Chrome is a web browser created by Google and allows you to visit and interact with web sites and services on the Internet. The Chromebook is a laptop from Google (collaborating with manufacturers) that runs only Chrome and nothing else.

Howarth began by showing the way that he uses Chrome as a browser on Mac OS. He discussed how he uses Chrome’s New Tab Page to store shortcuts to key applications that he uses every day. Previously, he has used an iPad, a Kindle Fire, and is now focusing on using Chrome as his main place of doing work digitally.  He said that part of the reason that he has settled on Chrome is that he feels like Google is the contemporary technology thought leader, set to dominate in business, mobile, and shopping. “Google runs the Web”, says Howarth, citing that in January 2013, they were the most used search engine, far ahead of others, and that in December of 2012, they had the leading browser, 47% of users, far ahead of Firefox or Internet Explorer. He suggested that their leadership and success is due to their emphasis on both speed and universal, cross-platform access.


As a browser, Chrome is fast (, and it runs on all major platforms, including Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Linux ( It works on desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones. But it is more than a browser, according to Howarth, because it strongly supports and integrates web services and can function as an operating system, especially in the case of the Chromebook, where the browser has settings for the display, sound, and hardware ( When Chrome is an operating system, it is referred to as ChromeOS, to signify the extra abilities of hardware management, etc. You do not need to have a Chromebook to use ChromeOS, because you can boot ChromeOS from a USB key using the Vanilla Bootable USB Key Chrome OS project ( managed by a Googler named Liam McLoughlin.

Chrome is self-upgrading: just restart it, about an eight-second reboot on the Chromebook, to upgrade to the latest version. Customize Chrome via themes (, extensions (, and apps ( Chrome comes with basic cloud storage of 5 Gigabytes via Google Drive (, though you may use other cloud storage as well. Extensions add functionality to the browser itself, such as the ability to select text, and upon copy, automatically add surrounding quotes, URLs and other citation material to the buffered text (Copy URL Plus). When you sign into Chrome with a Google account, you track all the changes you make to the settings, history, extensions, and web apps, which are the synchronized and made available to all of your other Chrome installs. In Chrome, if you install a web app on one running instance, the web app becomes available to your other instances of Chrome.

Researchers and writers can use Chrome for notes, files, and storage. Some notable apps in this regard are Evernote, Dropbox,, and Google Drive, all available for install at the Chrome Web Store. Google Drive‘s docs features allow you to share, edit, distribute, and collaborate on files with others in real-time for free. If you decide to adopt Google’s cloud based lifestyle provided by Chrome, Howarth suggested getting familiar with Google’s Drive, in which you can create documents, spreadsheets, drawings, forms, and presentations. It has an integrated PDF viewer and the ability to create PDFs, Word documents, and other Office documents. It also has a print preview and print features. You can upload, share and store any kind of file you wish in Drive (


The Chromebook is a simple idea, executed simply: A laptop form factor that does only one thing: run ChromeOS. Howarth explained that the Chromebook solves some mobile computing issues for him. He can’t type easily on an iPhone or iPad screen keyboard, and prefers a physical keyboard. The iPad bluetooth keyboards work for many, but not for him. “This machine is low-cost, lightweight, easily portable, and is more durable than a netbook” says Howarth.

The recent Samsung model is 2.4 pounds, has an 11 inch screen, costs $199 or $249 depending on configuration. The Mac Air, by comparison, is about $1,000. In 2013, there are four known makers of Chromebooks: Samsung, Acer, Lenovo, and HP, though the most commonly sold devices are from Samsung and Acer ( Howarth suggests that a bluetooth mouse may be helpful, but that the screen and keyboard are very good, while the trackpad is usable. You can store and move files to and from a USB key to extend the storage of the Chromebook.

He notes that there are some differences in the user interface for Chrome on other operating systems and Chrome on the Chromebook. But essentially, the experience is the same. If you work online most of the time, as Howarth does, he suggests that you look at Chrome as a solution. “No matter what machine I’m using, I’m in the Chrome browser” he says.

Pros and Cons of Chrome:


Some fear a Google technology monopoly, privacy issues, and invasive advertising. (
There is some question of the future of Google’s two operating systems, Chrome and Android, and if and how they will coexist. (
Cloud: is it a fad, or is it here to stay? With cloud based storage, different problems may emerge, such as synchronization failures. (
A Chrome user who does not use a traditional operating system is more or less dependent on online access, despite progress in offline use of Chrome applications, such as those in this app collection (


Lower costs than traditional laptops
Google constantly grows, innovates, and integrates as part of their brand (

Chromebooks will come in bigger, faster versions (HP has a 14″ Chromebook coming, Google HD display in the works).
Howarth believes that Chrome will have its biggest impact in education, from primary and secondary right up to Universities.

For the recorded portion of Professor Howarth’s talk, please see the video below.

The Productive Scholar: Janet Temos on Clickers in the Classroom

Thursday, December 13, 12:00 noon
East Pyne Room 012
Classroom feedback/response

Janet Temos

Asking your students questions and getting instant responses is a great way of assessing whether learning and understanding is taking place. Come learn how you can use clickers in the class­room to do quick assessments.

About the speaker:

Janet Temos is the Direc­tor of the Educational Technologies Center at Princeton. She is a member of the Princeton class of 1982, and received her PhD at Princeton in 2001. The ETC helps faculty use technology in teaching and research, and includes Blackboard, the New Media Center, the Humanities Resource Center. We also offer consulting, training and outreach in educational technologies.

In her session on Classroom Clickers, Temos started with a common question that many faculty have: “What are Clickers?”

iClicker Clicker+
iClicker’s Clicker+

For this talk, Temos focused mostly on “mechanical” or hardware based clickers, though software based response systems exist. Mechanical clickers are plastic, wireless devices with buttons for an audience to show a response. The photo (left) is an example clicker similar to the ones offered at Princeton. These interface wirelessly with a paired receiver connected to a computer. The facilitator sets this system up to track responses. You might be most familiar with the system from game shows, such as the “Lifeline” feature from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, where the audience responds with their beliefs about the best answer. Most often at Princeton, we use clickers as an immediate student response system, a way for students to give trackable, chartable responses to a given question so that a faculty member can gain understanding about student comprehension or beliefs. Temos explained that they are also sometimes used as an animal training system, a method for tracking attendance, and are sometimes also called a personal response system.

According to Temos, clickers are best suited for large classes, questions that have answers based on opinion or newly delivered information, and class sessions that allow for some time to consider the question fully.

Here is an example of in-class use by Eric Mazur at Harvard in which he asks students to respond to a question about physics, and after seeing their response results as a class, he asks them to discuss and explain their answer choice with the students next to them, then answer the question again, allowing Mazur to assess changes in understanding and focus his teaching for improved clarity and understanding.

(Harvard Magazine on YouTube)

We learned that some of the benefits of clickers include the ability to offer a pause to a challenging lecture, an opportunity for audience feedback, and an opportunity for energy release, or a way to break tension. You can use instant feedback to add levity to an otherwise serious or heavy discussion. Perhaps most importantly, clickers offer a great opportunity to check student understanding of difficult topics before moving on to other topics that need that understanding.

Temos explained that clickers are not necessarily the best way to do a survey, quiz or poll. The synchronous nature of the immediate feedback may affect a survey by having the responses influence a typically personal experience. For example, in a clicker based poll about scheduling, a student may want to have their alternate class meeting on Tuesdays, but since the clicker responses show everyone else choosing Thursdays, they may ignore their own needs. In a typical asynchronous survey using paper or an electronic form, the student would be more likely to answer as they truly feel. Immediate feedback is the most important consideration in deciding to use clickers, so in situations where the question benefits from knowing the answer right away, clickers are a great solution.

Here are some things to consider about how to get them at Princeton:

  1. OIT lends them for one-time anonymous polling in a course.
  2. There is no charge for borrowing, but loans are given on a first-come first-served basis.
  3. Courses have priority over administrative or other use.

For long-term use, like if you’d like to use clickers for the entire semester, you might ask your academic department to purchase clickers for departmental use. You can also assign clickers as course materials, and simply ask your students to buy them at the bookstore as required materials. Note that integration with Blackboard is now better than it has been in the past, and allows for easy association between students and clickers. Also, if you are not looking for clickers for a course and you need 400 clickers for a large single event, you can even rent them.

Other methods you might consider instead of clickers for asynchronous feedback:

  • Use Blackboard quizzes surveys and tests
  • Course blogs with live polls. (Using Pinion or PollDaddy)
  • Google Forms
  • Qualtrics, Princeton’s Survey and poll tool
  • Live back-channeling with social media tools, like Twitter.

Why did Princeton choose iClicker as a student response system?

iClicker offers a blended solution, and allows you to mix physical clickers with an online response system. Also, most online responses systems mandate student fees, which we try to avoid. Borrowed clickers are free for students and faculty at Princeton. We have about 200 on offer for loans.

For more information about iClicker, instant feedback solutions at Princeton, or other instructional technology issues, please contact Educational Technologies Center at Princeton. 

A screencast of Janet’s talk is coming soon.