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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ready to Rock N Roll with the Email

I set up my registered domain, freshmancomp.com, with Google Apps so I could use it with my developmental writing students. It was a pretty simple process, and I'll explain why I wanted to do this after I explain the process. First off, Google Apps includes: Gmail, Calendar, Start Pages, Chat and Domain Web Pages. Instead of everything being labeled Google, like myname@gmail.com, everything is labeled with my domain name, myname@freshmancom.com. But everything else looks and works like Google because it is Google.

I began by exporting a student list from Blackboard, our course management system, in the CSV format. You can do this through the gradebook in Bb. I then edited this document in Excel to create a four column document: username, first name, last name, password. I manipulated the data to match these headings. I used the first.last name sequence for the username and their Bb username (five letters and five numbers) as their password. I then uploaded this CSV file to User Accounts section in Google Apps.Google will automatically create the email accounts for you using this CSV file. That was nice and easy. Now I have all 18 students set up with freshmancomp.com email. Remember, we don't have student email at South Mountain, but that's only one reason to do this.

I then created an Email List (one email address that will be sent to all members) and added all the students to the list. I then subscribed to my class blog for email updates using this one list email address. That means that every time I update my blog with class notes, news or content, students will get an email with the new post right in their email inbox. This eliminates having to walk students through the process of subscribing themselves, which requires a second step of verifying the email address by clicking a link in an email sent to their box. This is the step that students never seem to get if they even bother to subscribe at all. Blogger makes this easy by providing this option in the Settings tab.

I have many more uses for my new email setup for students, but now for the explanation as to why I am doing this. As I mentioned before, SMC doesn't have student email for our students yet (It's coming). I usually get about 75% of my students who already have an email address, but then I have that 25% who don't. Email is not only my preferred way to communicate with students, but it's also required for all three of the online course elements I use in the class: Blackboard, Blogger and the Real Writing With Readings website. Most websites give the instructor or administrator easy ways to bulk subscribe to services, thus insuring that all students get registered for the required services. Trust me, doing it myself saves me and many of my students from many headaches.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

My Email Experiment Begins

Everyone has heard of Gmail by now, right? Well, I'm a devout Yahooligan! and have been for many years. No, I'm not trading; let's just say I'm branching out. Email is very important in my world. I get tons of it everyday, mostly stuff I don't really care too much to read or respond to. No, not spam; I've got that fairly under control. I'm referring to district mail. When you work in one of the largest community college districts in the country, you're bound to get a ton of district mail, and we get plenty. So I'd be crazy to use that email address for anything other than district business. With that thought in mind, I registered my own domain names to use with my students and my friends a few years ago. My registered domain for students is: freshmancomp.com and my personal domain is: alisacooper.com, of course. It was simple and surprising cheap at GoDaddy.com .

I set up my new domains to forward email to my Yahoo! mail account. I have a pro account which means I pay $20 a year and get ad free email, as well as a few other perks. I created a few folders and set up a few filters to have the new domain email filter into their own folders, keeping my Yahoo! mail box clean and organized. Well, over the years I kept inheriting new email addresses that I was forced to use. I had one from grad school at Nova, another from ITT Tech, and yet another from a digital life business I started. My Yahoo! is busy, but it's still organized.

During the semester when my students are active, I get a lot of email. When I heard about Google Apps for your Domain, I thought this would be a good time to split up my email and lighten my load in Yahoo!
Google Apps for Your Domain lets you offer private-labeled email, instant messaging and calendar accounts to all of your users, so they can share ideas and work more effectively. These services are all unified by the start page, a unique, dynamic page where your users can preview their inboxes and calendars, browse content and links that you choose, search the web, and further customize the page to their liking. You can also design and publish web pages for your domain. It's all free* and everything is hosted by Google. No hardware or software required.
It's really cool how you get a start page and calendar as well, but I'm only concerned with email for now. I plan to use it just like I currently use Yahoo! I want to keep my student email separate from the rest of my world, so then when I want to step back from it, I can. Out of sight, out of mind, right? So I'll be back posting about some of the cool things I've discovered with Gmail along the way. Who knows I might just fathom a switch. Although I doubt it. I'm hooked on that RSS Reader built right into my Yahoo! Mail and that personal calendar along the bottom.

The Switch is Over

My Maricopa switch with Nancy Siefer is over. I'm heading back to SMC next week to start the Spring '07 semester. I had a great time over at GCC in the fall. I really didn't want to leave, but I do miss SMC too. It's like going home after being on a great vacation. I learned much during this experience, and I got to experience what it means when people say "haves and have nots." I'm going back to the have nots, but I'd like to think of SMC as more of the "we'll get there eventually" location. Only time will tell.

I'm going to focus on something a little different with this blog now. I want to write about all the technology use I do in my teaching and all the tools I experiment with on the web. Some of my favorite blogs are the ones where people are introducing new tools and telling how they either like or dislike them. I want to talk about how I would, could and am using such tools in my own classes or life. Maybe I'll be able to answer the questions that get continually asked of me by my contemporaries in the district. We'll see. Stay tuned.in