Setting Up Amazon Echo’s Alexa to Alert Family to Emergency

Dr. K's Blog

Getting Amazon #Echo's #Alexa to Notify Family of an Emergency Using #IFTTT Alexa now notifies the family if there is an emergency.

My mom is pretty dang tech savvy for an 84-year-old.  She has an iPhone 6, she texts, and she even has a Snapchat (although we made her promise not to sext!).

So, when she called me up in February and told me she had a new Amazon Echo and wanted to set it up, I wasn’t surprised.  I hadn’t gotten an Echo, but I had watched from the sidelines–reading everything I could about Amazon’s wonderful speaker with the AI assistant, Alexa, available, like a genie in a bottle, to grant your every wish.  You can shop, listen to music, track your packages, and even control a smart home with Echo–why wouldn’t I be impressed?

A long time ago, my mother and I started sharing our Amazon Prime account, and so when I went to set up the Echo for her…

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It’s Time for Gratuitous EdTech!

I’m so done with article after article about how we should use Technology in the Classroom when it is “called for” or “appropriate.”  I think these were fine articles about five years ago, but they aren’t fine now.

Why has my attitude changed?  

Because my colleagues haven’t.

Gratuitous TechMy colleagues who teach in colleges and university English departments across the country are still teaching students to write their essays on paper with pencils, skipping every-other line.  They are still spending weeks of instruction on using MLA style.  They are still lecturing on spelling and grammar.

Why am I upset?  Because they are wasting their time teaching things that can be better handled with technological tools, and ignoring the important aspects of writing that can’t be taught with anything but a competent professional with a heck of a lot of writing experience.  Why are we wasting our student’s time, and ours??

Just for Technology’s Sake: Move your paper-and-pencil work to Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and Scrivner for goodness sakes!!  Teach students how to format their work with technology.  Push them to add pictures and captions and fonts.  Encourage them to think beyond paper to include videos, visualizations, infographics and timelines.

Just for Technology’s Sake:

Teach them to use Zotero, Mendeley or EasyBib or any of a thousand different bibliographic software programs .

Just for Technology’s Sake:

Try teaching students to use some artificial intelligence to help craft their essays, create their thesis statements, or check over their style and grammar.

As a bonus

Try creating a “Dork Short” session in your class where students present their favorite tech tool to their peers in a lightning fast (2 minutes or less) presentation, accompanied by two slides.  This might help refresh their tool box, and yours!

So lets stop with all those articles that seem to take a careful middle path and start to look at an alternative message.  Tell me, what is wrong with “Technology for Technology’s Sake” in the classroom?  What is wrong with me saying, “Hey, students!  I have decided to include technology in my classroom because it’s 2015.  You need technology to get a job, and I need technology to keep my job.”

It’s time to do that.  It’s time to be messy and uncomfortable and ungainly with technology every day because every day technology changes, and I will never really be great with it.  Technology will never be smooth or appropriate or called for, but technology is here to stay.  Yes, there is the outside chance that a electronic pulse bomb will eliminate all technology on earth–but if that happens, there is still ample opportunity to learn to write on paper.  In the meantime, let’s use some Google Docs to create our rough drafts, then let’s organize them in Scrivner or mix-it-up in Twine!  Let’s use some open-source textbooks, or Curriculate, and annotate them with LitGenius!

Let’s call for gratuitous technology in every classroom all the time.  This is the only way that we will prepare our students for life outside our classrooms, and it is the only way we can prepare ourselves for life tomorrow within our classrooms.

GTA is Educational, and Not the Type of Education You Think It Is!

My son is nine, and he loves Grand Theft Auto (GTA).  Now, before you start condemning me as a bad parent and scolding me about how I shouldn’t let my son play a game clearly designed for older players, hear me out.  My son is the seventh of eight boys.  In other words, the game was purchased for older players, but they have since aged-out of my house and left for college and life.  So, what we have is a legacy game, a game he grew up watching his brothers play–and he plays.  But, if you still want to condemn me, I have to say there are a lot of other mothers and fathers out there that need condemning as well because, just in my experience listening on the other end of the game (and I do listen!), I have heard him play with scores of kids his age and younger.  So, now that we have that out in the open, we can be honest with one another.  I’m not going to pretend I keep my kid away from anything other than “E”-rated games, and you are not going to pretend like I’m the only parent doing this.

iba9TBRgXk3mFHGTA is such an expansive game that, like life, it offers my son a lot of choices–but unlike life, I can sit on the couch behind him, watch what he does, and hear what he says.

I don’t do this all the time (I have a life), but I do it often enough that I have started to critically analyse what my son does in-game. I know you will be skeptical, but I propose that GTA is one of the most educational games out there–and not the type of education most attribute to the game.

Before I get to the amazing skills my son has developed through GTA, I will start with the basics so you have an idea of his set-up,  his level, and the general way in which we allow gaming in our house.  We’ll start with the environment he games in: We have an aging XBox 360 in a family room. It’s a fairly public place, which is how I like to keep online games and computers in our house.  His little brother likes to sit in there, and they switch off playing games–often without civility.  None of us have a computer or a game console in our rooms, and I also discourage the use of any electronic devices in bed. (I model this behavior by turning off my addictive iPhone at 8:30 every night, and doing without until 6:30 a.m.)  Although we have one XBox 360, we have two XBox Live accounts in order to permit parallel play in Minecraft, and so that brothers keep their game identities separate as much as possible. (Nothing ruins your street-cred like your seven-year-old brother playing your avatar badly.)

My son has been playing GTA in its various generations for years now–and he enjoys the expansive map available in GTA5, even though he had to give up the opportunity to play as a cop. Although he often plays online, he also enjoys some quiet repast in a solo game every once in a while to catch his breath.  He is at level 115, which he assures me is pretty high.   Continue reading

Goodbye “Hello.” Evernote has killed you.

Dr. K's Blog

I have received several notifications from Evernote lately regarding one of my favorite Evernote add-ons, “Hello.” I am sorry to see that Evernote will stop supporting and updating the app as of February 7, 2015.

I’m really bummed because Hello was such a wonderful concept.  I loved handing my phone to a new person and explaining that Hello was a type of digital card and, as soon as they gave me their contact info it would magically send them mine.  I loved watching the take a selfie for the Hello directory in my phone.

Yes, I know.  Evernote can scan business cards.  Yeah, yeah, Evernote can keep track of my location and my information.  But, dang it!  Evernote Hello was better than Evernote in the “keeping contacts in one place” scenario.

I didn’t have to go trudging through my voluminous Evernote files to find the contact I met at the…

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Flipped Learning Using Google Add-On

Flipped Learning Using Google Add-On

Flipped Learning Image via

Flipped learning is great, isn’t it?  It is the basis of much of my face-to-face and online courses, and it provides an opportunity to get my students involved and interested in the lesson before they come to my class.

Like most faculty that uses flipped learning, I often use videos that I find online or that I make myself to prepare my students for in-class workshop.  Unfortunately, because students are used to watching videos for entertainment, they lack the capacity to view video in an efferent way.  More often than not, I find my students letting video lessons simply wash over them without accessing or retaining knowledge that I expect them to hold onto for my lessons.  Many students lack the skills to absorb detailed information from videos without specific direction–especially in online courses.

This is where comes in.  It is useful open source Google Drive add-on (and Chrome extension) that provides an easy integration of video notetaking for student and faculty use.  What does is load an online video into a template that synchronizes notes with the video.  Flipped Learning Using Google Add-On

The template contains two panes side-by-side. On the left is a video viewing pane.  On the right is a note-taking pane.  As you view a video, you type a line of notes into the note-taking pane. At the moment you begin typing into the note pane, the program marks the video so that your notes and the video are synchronized. When you go back to your notes and click, takes you to the time-marker corresponding to that note.

Because it is a free program, and it is in development, it does have one major idiosyncrasy:  often, when accessing a link, you this (somewhat) disconcerting message:

Flipped Learning Using Google Add-On

Sometimes this warning pops up–but it is not a problem when students know to expect it and where to click.

I’m not sure this happens on all computers/browsers, but it always happens on my Mac.  I warn my students that, if the message appears, they simply need to click on the “” link under “Connected Apps” and it will take them to the right place.  Other than this small quirk, the program works flawlessly.

Here is a screenshot of my page for teaching Haiku. has a nice interface that guides you through the set-up of your videos with a pleasant pop-up tour and specific directions.

Flipped Learning Using Google Add-On

A Screenshot of the page for teaching Haiku.

As you can see, the video appears on the left with all the usual controls.  On the right, along with a time-mark, are the notes that I have included to guide my students through the important information in the video.  If you want to see what this is like for the student, please click on my link to check this out in real time.  When you want to access a point in the video where specific information is imparted, you simply click on the note and it takes you to that point in the video.

If you want to get the program for yourself follow these directions:

  1. Go to and connect the tool to your Google Drive.
  2. Connect a video you want to annotate into the tool by pasting the video URL.  Not every video will work, but I have used it with YouTube and Vimeo with excellent results.
  3. Begin the video.  As it plays, type notes into the note pane on the right. will automatically create a file folder in your Google Drive account that will include the annotated video so that you can access and share it.  The program is free to use, but if you use it and can afford it–please tip the developer!!

Some Ideas On How to Use this Tool

I have used this tool mostly in my online courses.  It is an excellent way to draw student attention to the specific areas of a video. I often use the notes to create my homework quizzes, so if they don’t access the first time, the learn, very quickly, to begin using the tool!

I have been thinking of a thousand other ways that this tool could be used, however.

For example, I could have students do online speeches and annotate their videos using!  I could also open up a in Google Apps for Ed and have my students assist in annotating a video or movie used in a digital media or film course.  Students could also do peer annotation on video projects and share those annotations with me.

I have also shared this tool with the Disabled Students Services office at my school so that they can assist students in annotating class videos.

Do you have some other ideas?  Please post them in comments!

Refusing the Adjunct Route

Refusing the Adjunct Route

I’m unemployed, but I won’t be applying for any adjunct positions in English.

I have worked as an adjunct before, but I will do my best not work as an adjunct again because working as an adjunct will contribute to the destruction of my chosen profession.

Right now, colleges are eliminating full-time positions, especially in fine arts and humanities, because they can get cheap adjunct labor.  There is no reason to hire a full-time professor for $50 or $60K plus benefits when they can get eight adjuncts to take the place of that professor for less than $20K a year and they can skip the benefits.  It’s a great bargain!

With all the savings on humanities professors, the colleges can afford to pay more and more money to their professors in law, business, and science–and they can afford to give their administrators more and more benefits, pay, and perks.

Meanwhile, humanities adjuncts starve to death, default on our loans, and go into bankruptcy.

Unfortunately, while the world has been moving forward, English Departments have not moved.  Humanities Departments have stagnated.  Arts programs  have staled.  Many of us have stood at the sidelines screaming “Innovate or be left behind!!” but they would not listen.  Baby Boomers, who have tenure and mean to keep it until the bitter end, have stood fast on tradition.  They have demanded their students continue to write formal essays with pens on paper.  They have insisted that they don’t need eBooks or flipped lessons, or even email.  They steadfastly refused to change.

Now, many of those programs are obsolete.  They don’t bring in grants or research funding, they don’t contribute to student recruitment or retention.  They don’t even provide the skill-set that modern students require.  They are the bitter dregs left over from the 2oth century–and many of the established faculty prefer it Continue reading

EMAIL: How to Send It, Write It, Share It

EMAIL:  How to Send It, Write It, Share ItI was shocked by a revelation by my friend, Frederick Cope, that many of the students he teaches do not know how to email.  “WHAT?” I said.  (I’m still in shock, really.)

I’m in shock mostly because Frederick doesn’t teach the elderly, and he doesn’t teach K-12.  Frederick is an Assistant Professor of English at a Community College.  He teaches college students.  You know, the “Millennials,” the Wunderkinder of social media.  Yeah, them.

So, what is the deal with email?  Why don’t they know how to use it?  It is, after all, a basic digital skill.  But, as I thought it over, I realized that my teen kids don’t really email.  So, perhaps email passed them by?  Their generation wasn’t taught computer skills in school–so what they know, they know in order survive socially: they use Snapchat, they text, they Facebook Message, they Tweet–but they don’t email.

Perhaps all that time I spent banging my head on my desk wondering why my students never checked their email had to do more with their lack of digital skills than it had to do with them just being annoying?  Wow.  OK.  So, I thought I would post a primer about how to email, just in case email passed you by.

How to Send an EMAIL

You have to have an email provider.  Some of us older folks have email through our work, or we have email through our cable company.  If you don’t have a job or an cable company, you may get email through your school or you might need to establish an account with an online company.

Almost everyone is familiar with Google Mail, known affectionately as “GMAIL,” but that isn’t the only choice!  You can establish email through various companies–both paid and unpaid.  A caveat here, though:  if you don’t pay for it, it means you are willing to allow the company who provides that service free access to a lot of what you might consider private.  But that’s your business. ( If you participate in one of the “Domain of One’s Own” programs in many of the colleges, or you have a blog-site you pay for, you may have an email address from your own domain.)

A lot of you also have a quaint little program on your computer and your phone that handles email for you.  In order to set up those accounts, you just input your email information.  Email usually falls into one of two categories:  POP and IMAP.  POP stands for “Post Office Protocol,” and IMAP stands for “Internet Message Access Protocol.”  Most of the time, when you set up your phone or computer, the program will lead you through the steps you need to take to receive email on your device.  However, if you have questions, you can usually find information about the type of email program you have and the best way to set it up from your internet service provider (ISP).

OK, so after you establish your email, you need to compose your first message.  I am going to share directions for GMAIL because it is the most common service out there.  Most email programs have a similar interface.

  1. Open your email program.  If you have set it up on your device, this is simple.  If you have not, go to the application or the address for your email program and sign in.  (If you have never signed in before, you will need to establish your password and recovery options.  It may take you a few minutes.)
  2. Click “Compose”:  This will give you the editing menu so that you can write your email.
  3. Address your EMAIL: You will see a “To” area at the top of the composition area.  You must enter an email address for the person want to send an email to.  If you just want to practice, you can email yourself.  Just put your own email address in the “TO” area.
  4. Add any CC or BCC addresses you want to include: “CC” is shorthand for “Carbon Copy” or “Courtesy Copy.”  If you put someone’s address here, it means you are sending them a copy of the email because they should see it, but it written to them.  “BCC” means “Blind Carbon Copy.”  If you put someone’s address in “BCC,” it means that only you and the BCC recipient will know you sent the email to them.  This is like slipping a copy of your email to someone secretly without anyone else on the email list knowing about it.  (I usually use this option when I need to cover my a**.)
  5. Add a Subject:  This should give a hint as to what is in the email.  Be specific or your recipient’s spam filter may send your email to the great beyond.  For example, don’t use the subject “Hi there!” as it is too general.  Even for a casual email, be more specific: “A follow up ‘hello!’ after our technology meeting on Aug. 15” will make sure your email gets to the intended target.
  6. Write your EMAIL:  Email is more formal than a text message or a note.  If this is the first email to someone, or it is a formal correspondence between you and an employer, professor, teacher, or other contact–use formal letter-writing style (more about this below).  If it is a casual correspondence between friends, be a bit more specific and extensive in your email.  You are not limited by characters or time.  Use the space you have to communicate in full sentences.
  7. Include Attachments:  If you are sending pictures, documents, or files, click on the little paper-clip icon and either upload or double-click on the file you want.  If you are using GMAIL, and you want to include a Google Drive Folder, it is a very easy process to attach those drive items as well.
  8. Check your EMAIL:  Is everything spelled correctly?  Did you say what you wanted to say? (My advice–read it aloud to someone else before you send it!)  Did you include any attachment you wanted to add??
  9. Send your EMAIL:  Click “send,” or the little paper airplane icon after you have finished composing your email.

How to Write an Email

EMAIL:  How to Send It, Write It, Share ItLetter writing hasn’t really changed.  It’s still the same process you may have learned in elementary school.

  1. Salutation: This is how you start a formal email.  Don’t just launch into your message. You must address this correctly with a salutation:
    1. “Dear _______,” is the most common form of salutation.  Stick with it unless you really know the person.
    2. Unless you are writing someone you KNOW how to address “Dr. Kassorla, Mrs. Smith,” etc., use their first and last names without a title: “Dear Mary Smith,”  This is the safest way to go.
    3. If you don’t know who you are addressing, try to stay away from “To Whom it May Concern,” and go with something a bit more specific like “Dear Hiring Committee,” or “Dear Google Sales Team,”   This is friendlier and easier to relate to.
  2. Message: Always begin with who you are and why you are writing, “I’m Michelle Kassorla, your English Professor, and I am writing to tell you I have finished grading your second paper.”  This is both polite and time-saving.  Then go into more detail if you wish, “I would like to meet with you after class on Wednesday to talk about your revision plan.”
  3. Check To See If It’s Right:  Always read it over.  If you can, read it aloud to someone else to make sure everything is right.  Check for spelling and punctuation.
  4. Attachments:  Attach documents, pictures, or videos by clicking on the paperclip icon.  You can also easily add attachments from Google Drive if you have a GMAIL account.
  5. Close:  “Sincerely,” is still the safest way to close. I have also seen “Warmly,” and “Thank You,” work pretty well.  If it is formal, stick with “Sincerely.”
  6. Signature:  Obviously, you can’t sign this because it is an email, but you should include your name, and how to contact you for a follow up.  A lot of EMAIL program contain automatic signatures.  You can set that up, or you can just type in your name, phone number, address, etc.  I usually include some ways to message me in addition to adding that my phone number is a cell/text number.
  7. Send:  Check again to make sure everything is correct.  Make sure you have attached all the attachments. Click the “send” (the little icon that looks like a paper airplane).

Answering or Forwarding EMAIL

There are two options to answering email “Reply,” and “Reply All.”  It is always best to simply “Reply,” unless you are emailing to a group or team.

  1. Click the “Reply” or “Reply All.”
  2. Use the same protocol you would apply to a regular e-mail.  If it is formal, answer it formally.  If it is casual and requires only a few words to answer, answer in a few words.
  3. Make sure you have included any attachments you want to include.
  4. Click “Send.”

To Forward EMAIL–click on downward pointing arrow next to the circular “reply” arrow in the right hand top corner of the email.  Once you click you should be given a number of options.

  1. Choose “forward.”
  2. Enter the recipient
  3. Enter a message to the person to whom you are forwarding the email.
  4. Click “send.”



Exploring the New Google Drive Add-Ons: Mail Chimp

From my Dr. K Blog . . .

Dr. K's Blog

mailchimpMany of you are completely unaware that Google Drive has, again, changed dramatically.

If you have been using Google Drive at all, and have been paying attention even a little bit, you probably noticed that little menu item at the top, but many have completely ignored the treasures that await beyond the tab marked, simply,  “Add-Ons.”

Add-Ons act somewhat like extensions in your browser.  They allow you to do things in Google Drive that you couldn’t do before–like accessing some awesome tools without leaving Drive.  Why would these companies want to contribute time and effort to make a Google Drive Add On? . . . for the simple reason that it brings awareness of what they have to offer to an amazingly broad audience that may have never known their product existed, let alone understand why they need it.

I see them as small gifts.  Tiny jewels hanging inside the…

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Confessions of an Academic Platypus

Reblogged from my Class Blog at

Dr. K's Blog

WOW. I have never been to an International Society of Technology and Education (ISTE) conference before.  In fact, I have never been a member of ISTE until now.  You see, ISTE is mostly a K-12 organization, so there were very few of us University Ivory Tower members there mixing with the hoi polloi of teaching.

But, I was there.  I was TOTALLY there.

Why? For the simple reason that K12 teachers are the change makers, the developers, the directors of the educational experiences our students have before entering college, and I wanted to see what they were up to, technologically. Also, frankly, I have somewhat lower expectations for what Higher Ed faculty are up to, technologically.

Innovation, Thy Name is K12.

I have come to the disturbing realization that most of the higher education establishment is dragging its heels on technology, and instead of being out in front of…

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On UnLearning: A Response to The Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC

Purim 006When I was 35, I divorced my husband of 12 years and began my life as a single mother of three young children.  I was a tenured community college professor by then, I had a Ph.D., a stable income, a house, and my family around to support me.  I was in a pretty good place.  For extra income, and for the challenge, I took on the teaching of an adjunct course in addition to my regular schedule–a graduate literature course entitled, “American Identity.”  It’s embarrassing to admit it now, but the class was taught every Saturday morning.

While I was teaching the course, I told my students that my identity was precarious.  I didn’t really know who I was. I appeared Irish or Scotch, and I had sort of adopted that identity as a matter of convenience (it helped that my married name was Murphy).  Religiously, I admitted, I was “spiritual,” but I could never believe in Jesus, even though my family celebrated Christmas as an American holiday more than a religious one.  I said, somewhat prophetically, that I often “felt Jewish,” because I believed in G-d, but not Jesus.  About a month later, my lone Jewish student approached me and invited me to the Purim party at the small synagogue 20 miles away. I politely declined, “I don’t want to appropriate anyone else’s traditions,” I explained, “even if I do ‘feel’ Jewish, I am not Jewish.”

“I understand,” she said, probing me with her eyes, “it is easy to be afraid of new things.”

“I am not afraid,” I stated, straightening my back and smiling heroically.  “I will be there.”  So, I packed up my three kids and drove up the hill for the Jewish holiday of Purim.  We were all dressed in costume, and, although I was feeling very uncomfortable, I entered with my hea Continue reading