Monday, September 26, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #4 - Taming Your Inbox

Contrary to most users I do not save or organize emails. Just let that sink in for a second. Yes, emails come into my inbox, I open them and either star, archive, or delete them. Additionally, I am almost often at inbox zero or at least under 100. How do I make this magic happen? Two tools - Filters and Gmail Search.

1. Filters 

I make judicious use of filters. I don't know how I would function without them. Like most of you I receive a certain number (read - dozens) of emails each day that are important, but not something I need right in my face. These usually include the latest post from a blog, listserv, or online journal. Using filters these emails never touch my inbox and instead travel to a folder called "Daily News" and once each afternoon I give the messages a skim and scan. If you need help setting up filters check out this Google Support Page.

2. Gmail Search

I used to spend hours organizing my email so that I could find it later. I had everything neatly color-coded and filed. Sound familiar? Then someone introduced me to Gmail Search and I regained literally years worth of productivity. 

Right at the top of your inbox is a search field that looks just like Google and it uses a set of terms that allow you to search your entire mailbox (inbox, archive, trash, drafts, etc.). 

Let's say for example I'm looking for that email Jennifer Kloczko sent me about Minecraft over the summer and it had a flyer attached to it. I might type in the following information into the search box Minecraft before:2016/09/01 has:attachment 
This search phrase will automatically pull up any email from Jennifer with the word Minecraft anywhere in the message sent before September 1st that also has an attachment. It could be an email she sent directly to me or one in which I was just cc'ed. You can use search terms OR you can use the menu in the dropdown attached to the small triangle next to the search button

Google has a complete list of search terms on this support page.  However, I have the following poster from Alice Keeler hanging above my desk and it has been a lifesaver. I suggest printing out your own copy.

Search is my also my secret for getting to Inbox Zero. On the last day of each month I head up to the search field and type before: and the first day of the month (before:2016/09/01), select everything, and hit Archive. It is a liberating feeling to no longer see those messages hanging out in my Inbox. If I find that I need one I know that I can quickly find it again using Gmail search terms.

Bonus Tool - Gmail Mobile App

Do you regularly use an iPhone or iPad to access your email? Consider giving Gmail for iOS a whirl. This mobile app works a bit more efficiently than the native Mail client and allows you to use all of the same features described above.

If you have any questions about Gmail filters or search please let me know. I'd be happy to help you get your own system in place for managing email efficiently.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #3 - Options for Backing Up Data

Back Up! Back Up! Back Up! No, I'm not referring to putting your car into reverse, I'm talking about saving your data incase when your hard drive fails. All hard drives fail, eventually. Unfortunately, sometimes they fail when you least expected it, your data isn't backed up, and you find yourself recreating files or hoping you have a paper version some place you can scan.

Here are some tips for making sure this does not happen to you.

Teachers & Macbook Users

Google Drive Sync Folder

Google provides every single one of our users unlimited storage and anything you make in the web-based version of Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, etc.) does not count towards that quota. Believe it or not, this is actually more storage than we were able to provide users on our own server for many years. The best part is that if you install and run the Google Drive application on your computer saving to Google Drive is as simple as saving to the Google Drive folder on your computer. The application automatically syncs anything you store there to the Google servers. Should your computer suddenly die all you will need to do is run the Google Drive program on your new computer and within a few minutes all of your files will be restored. If you are a desktop user the Google Drive folder will also allow you to easily access your files from home through the Google Drive website ( or by installing the application on your home computer. This video will show you how to use the Google Drive folder on your computer.

Photos, Videos, Music - External Hard Drive

But what about my iTunes and iPhoto libraries? Many of us sync our phones with our computers or download content from iTunes to use in class. More than likely these file are way too large to save to Google Drive. If you have a ton of photos, videos, or music then you really need to periodically back these up to an external hard drive. This video will show you how. It is really easy to do.

Business Office, Front Office, and Clerical Staff

Network Storage

If you are part of our Business Office, Front Office, or Clerical Staff teams then more than likely you are working with data which would not be appropriate for saving to individual Google Drive folders. Please make sure that you are always saving to the correct folder in the NCS server. This data is regularly backed up and should a computer or hard drive failure occur the IT Team can easily recover your files for later use.

If you have any questions or concerns about backing up your data or just need a helping hand please let the IT Department know.


Photo: Hard Drive by Walknboston on Flickr

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #2 - Student & Staff Accounts

In the IT department we're often asked about computer logins. Part of the confusion is that in the past we have maintained a series of generic logins (charterle, charterpfaa, etc), but now everyone has their very own unique username and password for logging into the computers on campus. We made the switch to individual accounts because it reinforces positive digital citizenship skills by teaching students how to manage their own accounts and provides some ability for students and staff to customize their desktops on computers they regularly use.

Staff Logins
Every single staff member has their own login. These work on any computer on campus and Chromebooks. Users with laptops have logins that are configured to even work from home. Your login is meant to be used by you only, so please don't share it with others. There is a slight difference between computer and Chromebook logins for the Name field which is demonstrated below.
Computers: jsmith
Student Logins
In Leading Edge, PFAA, and VLA every student has their own unique login, along with Star Academy and PACT students starting in 1st grade. The structure of these logins is legal first name, first letter of legal last name, followed by the student's graduation year from high school. Similar to staff logins, these should only be used by the student to whom the account is assigned and there is a slight difference between computer and Chromebook logins.
Computers: JohnS2020
PACT and Star Academy have special generic logins which are meant to only be used by younger students who do not have their own accounts.

Special Events
We do have a few generic logins which are used for special events. For example, the Area 3 Writing Project workshops have a login for outside guests to use our computers. We turn these logins on for the event and turn them off afterwards. If you have a special event where you will need to use the computers simply let us know through the Activities Request Form or Help Desk and we will make sure a login is set up.

New Students & Forgotten Passwords
When students are enrolled Google, computer, and Schoology accounts are automatically created for them. For 6th-12th grade students the default password is always "ncsyear" followed by the school year (ex: ncsyear1617). Students need to login for hte first time from any campus computer (LMC, computer lab, etc.). They cannot login for the first time on a Chromebook. The process of logging into the computer allows the student to set a password for both computer and Google/Schoology access. For 1st-5th graders we set the password and add it to a grade-level spreadsheet that has been shared with the teacher and coordinator for that program.

If you have any trouble helping a student access their account or if a student has forgotten their password please let any of us know in the IT department by submitting a Help Desk ticket.

Hopefully, this post clears up some of the confusion around computer logins. If you have any questions please let me know.