Thursday, December 26, 2013

QR Codes and URL Shorteners: How to Make Web Addresses More Accessible to Your Students

There are times when a teacher wants to share a website with the students, but the URL is way to long to share in class. Other times, the teacher wants to use a Google Doc that students can keep returning to, but the URL is too long for them to remember. Some teachers might want to share their class notes with their students and upload them to Google Drive which produces a long URL. With so much learning going on in the cloud, it is important for teachers to find an easy way to share websites with their students. There are two different edtech tools that educators throughout the country are using to alleviate this challenge: URL Shorteners and QR Codes

URL Shortener

1. The first option is to use a free website that quickly allows you to shorten a URL (website address). There are more than a dozen sites that do this, but three popular sites are:,, and

           a) is a Google app and has two advantages in that it a Google App that is easily accessible 
from your Google account and that  it saves all of the URLs that you shorten and remembers them each time you return. In addition, this app tracks statistics of how many people clicked on your shortened URL.
          b) My personal favorite is because it gives you the ability to customize your shortened URL to something your students can remember more easily. For example, here is the link to a math image online - But if I were teaching my math class and wanted to make it easier for my students to remember this site, I could change it to and that will go to the same site. This custimazation is really important when dealing with students. Go ahead a these links.
           c) does the same thing and it also allows you to create a custom URL. The only minor difference is that it requires to create an account, albeit a free account. This service also allows you to save bookmarks to websites you visit often.

QR Codes

Over the last few years, QR codes (Quick Response Codes) have become a popular way to share websites with students. Many presenters at educational conferences are using QR codes to share their slides and notes. QRcodes are similar to bar codes in that they contain information and can be scanned. They are an image that looks like the image below and when you capture it, your device goes automatically to the desired website. 
There are free websites that create these QR codes for you. A popular one is called QR Stuff ( and all you do is go to the site and paste in the URL that you want the students to get to and this image is created. The next step is to put this image on the board, email it to the students, or even add it to a paper handout. Then with their smart phones or tablets, they can use a simple app to capture this QR code and be taken automatically to the website you provided. For example, if a math teacher wanted to send his students to specific video on Kahn Academy, let's say on "Using a protractor." Instead of walking the students through going to the site and 4-5 clicks to find that video, the teacher can go to the site, find the video and copy and paste the URL into the website, which produces this:
Once the the QR code is created, you post this on the smartboard and then your students can capture the image with a smartphone or tablet. 

There are many free apps to capture QRcodes, but these are the ones I would recommend:

a) From an iPad or iPhone - download an app called Qrafter - this app uses the ipad camera and when you focus in on the QR code, it captures the image, saves the URL and asks you what you want to do with that URL. You can choose to "Go To" the website, send it in an email, send it by text message, etc. The app stores all of your previously scanned URLs so you can refer back to them in the future.

b) From an Android phone or tablet - download an app called QR Droid - this app will also utilize the camera to capture the image, but it will then take you directly to the website.

c) You can even use QRcodes if your students do not have smartphones or tablets. From a computer with Google Chrome, you can download an extension called QRreader Beta. This allows you to right click on the QR code, select "read QR code from image," and you will be sent to the desired URL.

** With Google Chrome, you can add an extension that does both of these things, shortens URLs and creates QR codes. CLICK HERE to add URL shortener to your Chrome Browser. Now all you have to do is go to the website you want, click on the icon on your browser and you can choose to shroten the URL or to create a QR code. Cool!!

Another cool feature is QrVoice. This allows you to enter up to a 100 character message that when decoded will be read by a synthasized voice. Go to this website and enter your message; it is that easy.

There are so many ways teachers are using QR codes in the classroom. Check out the resources below for real life examples. And remember; always test your QRcodes before sending them to students to make sure they work.

CLICK HERE to watch a video tutorial to learn how to use these tools

Other Resources
1. QR Codes in Education - created by Steven Anderson
2. Cybraryman's QRcode Resources
3. Using QR Codes in the Classroom - (great presentation) -
4. The Magic of QR Codes in the Classroom - TED Talks Video
5. 44 QR Codes Resources for Teaching and Learning
6. Teachers Guide on the The Use of QRcodes in the Classroom
7. Math QR Codes
8. 10 URL Shorteners Websites to Hide URLS

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Google Apps for Education Part 4 - Google Drive Web vs. Google Drive Desktop

In the first part of the Google Apps series, we made mention of the advantages of using Google Drive and quickly mentioned the Google Drive Desktop feature. Now that HALB staff has been using Google for a few weeks, I wanted to revisit this concept and suggest a workflow option that will make your lives much easier, alleviating the need for flash drives and emailing attachments. To that end, we have automatically installed Google Drive Desktop on each school computer for every staff member. This should make implementing this program a much simpler process.

With the Google Drive Web version which many of you are beginning to use, you have a hard drive in the cloud which will allow you to access your files from any computer with an internet connection. If you were to create a Google Doc, Spreadsheet or Form (discussed in the previous postings) while preparing your class at home, then come into your classroom computer, you could pick up right where you left off and complete the document and edit it as you wish. This alone certainly beats using a flash drive that can get easily corrupted, and keeping track of multiple email attachments. However, if you were to prepare a Smart Notebook File or Powerpoint presentation at home, upload that to Google Drive, when arriving in class you would need to download that file onto your classroom computer to view it properly. Again, that is better than flash drives and email attachments. But lets say you made changes to that file while teaching your class or perhaps you regularly save your class notes and upload them to Haiku for your students, then you would have to re-upload the new file to Google Drive to have the updated filed saved in the cloud. This may be a little tedious for some users.

The solution is Google Drive Desktop. This is a cool feature, where Google Drive is downloaded (CLICK HERE to download) to the hard drive of your computer, but the files are not actually being saved on your hard drive. They appear to be, but are really being saved in the same Google Drive cloud. The difference though is huge. You can open the Google Drive Desktop folder like you would any folder on your computer, drag and drop files into the drive, and most importantly, open the files directly in the program they were created in. For example, you created a Smart Notebook file at home, dragged it into the appropriate Google Drive folder and now you can come to class and open the file from Google Drive Desktop, view and edit the file and it is automatically saved back into the cloud. No need for re-uploading newer files. This may be a little hard to in-vision from my description, so CLICK HERE to watch a screencast that walks you through the process of downloading Google Drive Desktop at home, finding the already installed Google Drive Desktop in class, and then learning how to navigate the drive and save files into it. Not to misunderstand my intent, I am not trying to get rid of the Google Drive web app as the desktop version will only be accessible from your own personal computers and the school network computers. If you want to access files while on the road or from any non-personal computer or mobile device, you will still want to utilize the web app.

The end result is a perfect workflow of creating files at home, walking into any school computer and opening the very same file, edit and adjust as you see fit.

CLICK HERE to watch a screencast that explains how to install, setup and use Google Drive Desktop.
CLICK HERE to watch the original video I created on setting up Google Drive Web and at the end makes quick mention of Google Drive Desktop. 


1. 40 Ways to Start Using Google Apps in the Classroom  
2. Good Online Google Tutorials for Teachers
3. A Case Study: Using Google Drive in the Classroom
4. 12 Roles for Google Drive in the Classroom
5. Google Drive and Docs Tips: 20 Expert Tricks and Shortcuts