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What I learned from my 2014 PA311 class, and what I’ll modify in 2015

I completed my fifth year teaching a Nonprofit and Government Technology class (PA311) to students at Grand Valley State University in April 2014.

I made three major changes to the class from prior years:

  • A Google+ Community served as the main course hub, instead of WordPress. This worked so well that I wrote up what I learned for TechRepublic (See “Set up a Google+ Community” and “Seven tips for using Google+ Community features“)
  • I increased the number of hands on, in-class projects. Nothing beats trying something to learn it — especially when you have people nearby that can help out.
  • Reduced lecture time and eliminated guest speakers. I reduced my lectures to between 45 and 60 minutes. This left more time for me to work with students during class individually.

A few things didn’t change. I still shared the syllabus via a Google Site (pa311.com). Students still created and gave an “Ignite”-style presentation, and recorded and shared a video interview. I still lectured during class on a wide range of topics.

Next year, I intend to change four things:

  • Move entirely to a “project-based” grading system. I want students to demonstrate proficiency with a wide range of tools and ideas. Grades should reflect both breadth and depth of this proficiency.
  • Add additional editing cycles to writing assignments. Word count isn’t a good measure of clarity, coherence or cleverness. I need to figure out a systematic way to help students both think and write more clearly.
  • Have the students meet online. I want everyone that completes the class to be comfortable holding an effective work-related meeting on the web.
  • Add a couple of guest speakers in the latter half of the semester. 

I’m sure I’ll tweak other things. Suggestions welcomed!

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The Small NonProfit Office: Buying Basics

I’ve updated my “10 Buying Basics” tips to account for a few changes in the tech world over the past year.
(Note: made a few more tweaks to keep this current on May 1, 2014.)

For fun, I also created a board over at Pinterest.com with visual links to many of these resources. What do you think? What rules or guidelines do you use?

1. Get fast Internet: cable (Docsis 3.0 modem), business class Ethernet, or DSL. Use gigabit switches & Cat 5e or 6 cables.

2. Secure your 802.11ac WiFi router w/WPA2 & OpenDNS. Change default password; use “guest” network.

3. Standardize & replace equipment regularly. Replace desktops every 5 years, laptops every 3, tablets & smartphones every 2.

4. Buy current tech. e.g., i5/7 processors; monitors w/HD resolution w/Displayport, webcam & speakers; SSD drives. Don’t pay retail!

5. Update software. Windows: 7 or 8 Pro (touch!); Macs OS 10.9. Update your OS, applications, drivers & firmware.

6. Stay secure. Require logins; use anti-virus & firewalls. Use 2-step authentication & LastPass. Browse w/Chrome. Backup your data off-site.

7. Collaborate: email & calendar sharing w/Google Apps for Nonprofits, files w/Google Drive, meet w/Google+ Hangouts. (Or, Office365.)

8. Consider WordPress.org to manage your website w/free hosting @ Dreamhost.com & register your own domain name there ($10/year).

9. Print efficiently. Use networked, low-cost-per-page printers or multi-purpose copiers.

10. Consider Salesforce.com to track & engage constituents. Share your work w/Twitter, Google+ & a Facebook Page.

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My new writing project

As some of you know, I’ve been an enthusiastic adopter of Google Apps. I’ve helped many organizations setup and learn to use Google’s powerful set of collaborative tools.

Early this summer I saw a request for writers for TechRepublic’s Google in the Enterprise blog. I submitted my name. I’d always wondered if I had the discipline to write consistently and clearly about technology. There’s nothing like a deadline to prod me to at least try to do so.

To my surprise and delight, I got the gig. I’m enjoying it. My posts all relate to the topic of Google in the Enterprise, as you’d expect.

If you’re a Google Apps user, you may find some of the columns helpful. You can learn how to improve your use of Google mail search, replace flip charts with a Google spreadsheet for better group brainstorming, and make it easier to get to your Google Apps by placing links in several key places on your Windows system.

Some of the topics are more useful if you’re a Google Apps administrator. These include posts on how to use Google Drive for organization-wide file sharing, how to secure a user account with two-step authentication, and a checklist to help administrators manage staff transition in Google Apps.

If you’re interested in reading my posts, go to my author page at TechRepublic. You can then “subscribe to this page” using either RSS or email. (The links are in the upper right of the content area.)

Thanks for reading. If there’s a topic you’d like to see covered — let me know!

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Full Featured, Ultralight Video Conferencing Kit

I’ve been experimenting with lightweight mobile presentation equipment for years. A conventional solution of a laptop, projector and speakerphone is pretty standard. But to get usable video conferencing you have to use a webcam or position the laptop facing the audience.

The setup below gives the audience a relatively large projected image, a lightweight video conference camera on the iPad that can be moved around the room, and a portable speakerphone for voice conferencing.

(My iPhone isn’t shown in the image above, since I used it to take the picture.)

Here are the key components:

1. Any iPad 2 or newer ($400 and up, depending on features, from apple.com)
2. Dell m110 projector ($500 from dell.com)
3. Apple TV ($100 from apple.com)
4. HDMI cable ($10 or less from monoprice.com)
5. Monster Clarity portable Bluetooth speaker ($80 from amazon.com)
6. Verizon 4510L MiFi (around $50 for the device with contract, $50 per month for data, from verizonwireless.com)
7. FuzeMeeting.com Pro account ($70/month from fuzemeeting.com) and iPad app (free)
8. Cell phone that supports Hands-Free Audio and Headset Profiles (I use an iPhone, but any phone that supports these Bluetooth profiles should work)
9. Stump iPad Stand ($25 from stumpstand.com)
10. Optional: Apple Wireless Bluetooth keyboard ($70 from apple.com)
11. Optional: Tripod for projector ($10-25 from dell.com or elsewhere)
12. Optional: Extension cord / surge protector (less than $20)

Here’s how it works.

Connect the Apple TV to the Dell m110 projector with the HDMI cable.

Then, connect the iPad WiFi and Apple TV WiFi to the Verizon MiFi.  This ensures that the iPad and Apple TV are on the same WiFi network.

Turn on Airplay mirroring on the iPad, choosing the Apple TV as the destination device. Everything on the iPad screen will now be projected.

Connect your phone and Monster Clarity speakerphone and then start your FuzeMeeting.

Choose to have FuzeMeeting call your phone, instead of trying to use VoIP. This means the voice portion of the call is going over the cell network, lightening the load on the iPad and MiFi just a bit. This setup works best in areas with 4G coverage. (It may be possible to use Verizon’s Wireless Hotspot feature on the new iPad to share the Internet connection to the Apple TV. However, I’d want to test the performance before recommending this.)

There you have it — a fully portable video meeting kit you can easily carry in a backpack!

I’d be very curious to know if other people have created similar lightweight, portable systems. Let me know in the comments below!

(One thing on my wish list… It would be nice if there were projectors with integrated AirPlay mirroring support.)

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Nonprofit search: Find useful nonprofit-related information quickly

Try this:

1. Go to blekko.com.
2. Type a nonprofit search terms in the box, e.g., “CRM” or “governance”or “grant writing”.
3. Type a space after your search, then enter the slashtag: /awolber/nonprofits101
4. Press the search button.

Why Do This?

Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals, edited by Darian R. Heyman, is the best comprehensive guide to the field of nonprofit management practice today.  Go buy it. Now.

The book’s website, www.nonprofits101.org provides links to all the sites and resources mentioned in the book. But it is an old-fashioned printable list.

Blekko.com lets users restrict a search to a specific list of websites using what they call “slashtags.”  This type of search can be useful when looking for information in a specific domain of knowledge, such as nonprofit management.

After reading the book, I thought it would be handy to be able to dynamically search all of the author-recommended sites. You’re more likely to find useful, reliable nonprofit-related information this way, since the authors presumably trust and like the sites they mention.

Using the slashtag “/awolber/nonprofits101” restricts your search to websites listed in the book. (I only wish I could easily extend this search to the contents of the books mentioned!)  You can also add another slashtag, “/date” to show the most recent items first. The default list is sorted by the search engine’s ranking of relevance.

Try it!  Let me know if the search results get you to the nonprofit related information you need more quickly than other search tools.

Use Blekko slashtags for your cause or topic area

If your agency has a “resources” page with links to other websites, think about setting up your own Blekko slashtag to let your visitors search the content of those sites.

For example, if your agency focuses on helping people with autism, you might create a Blekko slashtag to search sites with reliable information about autism. Visitors could be assured the results from the slashtag search are from sites your organization trusts.

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