Useful Technologies for Academics

A class in a medieval university. 13th century. from Wikipedia Commons

A class in a medieval university. 13th century. from Wikipedia Commons

In this post, I summarize the uses of some technological tools for your professional work (teaching, research, service, staff members’ work).   Some of them are very popular already, and some less well known.  Some of these I just started using in the past year or even the past few weeks.


OpenOffice – an alternative to upgrading your MSWord // online file storage // Ucalgaryblogs and Edublogs // PDF XChange Viewer – to annotate PDFs with notes, underlines, marginal comments // using Gmail as backup/archive of another email account // Google Calendar — to view and share many calendars at once, synchronizes with Outlook calendar // Doodle for scheduling meetings with many people // iGoogle – your customized web homepage // Wikimedia and Flickr – how to search for good images with copyright permission to be used in your power points, web pages, and student assignments.

  1. Consider OpenOffice as a free alternative to Microsoft Office.  Tell students and colleagues who can’t afford upgrading their MSOffice to the 2007 version.  It can save files in .doc format by clicking “save as” and choosing a file type.  I use both MS Word 2000 and 2003, and Open Office.  They have similar user interfaces.  I use Open Office to open files that I can’t open with MSWord.  go to
  2. To share files and folders with a colleague, co-author, TA, research assistant or students without having to send an attachment, use a free online file storage system like — this service lets you “collaborate” in designated folders that appear in your box and their box.  1GB free storage per email account you use to register with.
  3. Doodle offers a free and easy way to schedule appointments/events — If you are scheduling a meeting with more than 4 people, this makes it much easier than receiving email messages from them that express their availability in quirky ways that you need to then decipher.  You go to and set up a “poll” page and forward the web address of your suggested times to them.  Then people can go there to simply click a checkmark on the suggested dates/times that are available for an event.  Once you have even some of the people signing up, you can quickly see which times are going to work better than others.
  4. PDF XChange Viewer — A free PDF viewer & annotator. Adobe’s free reader does not let you draw arrows, underlines, or type in notes to PDF files.  Mac users can annotate PDF files, but there is nothing else out there for PC users that lets you annotate as easily as this program does
  5. Academic / educational blogging.  I recommend edublogs for inspiration on how to use blogging for academic purposes.  See  Like my own blog on, it is based on WordPress technology which is open source and very user-friendly.  WordPress is one of the top 2 platforms for blogging out there (the other is Google’s “blogger”).  Each user can create more than one blog.

    As of this summer, U of C now has a new Blogging area like Edublogs
    for your professional blogs and course-related blogs — see — it is also based on WordPress technology.  To see the first set of public U of C blogs go to term I am piloting blogging in my courses.  I am asking each of my students to get their own blog at ucalgaryblogs to organize their electronic portfolios in both of my courses this term, and I’ve assigned one class to “write a blog entry” after reading & discussing selections from our very own Michael Keren’s article on blogging and the politics of melancholy
  6. Gmail– Consider using it as a huge, easily searchable email backup/archive — Most of you know about Gmail with its Free 7,000 MB of storage space for all those big file attachments.  But did you know you can have several accounts with different addresses?For the last few years I have used a separate Gmail account to back up all my ucalgary email and make it more quickly searchable.  I simply ask my email program to send a blind carbon copy of every incoming and outgoing message to my this “work gmail” account.  I regularly delete messages more than 6 months old just as a security precaution.Benefit:  in case the ucalgary email server goes down (and it does), or in case I accidentally deleted or lost an email message (and now & then I do), all I do is go into Gmail and use the search window to find it using a keyword.
  7. Google Calendar.  Organize your professional and/or private calendars. This is one of the many services you get by signing up for a free Gmail account ( . You can keep track of multiple color-coded calendars at once (i.e. one for your research, one for your teaching, one for your personal life) and view only one at a time, or all of them overlapping each other.  You can even get it to synchronize with Outlook on your own computer, and then if you have a portable digital device, Outlook can synchronize with calendars on most of them.By creating a special gmail account for your association or research team, (for example, ) the main calendar can be used to publish your web page’s “calendar of events” online to the public without having to update that web page through a web editor. — I actually display my office hours so students can make appointments with me by suggesting a time right away, thereby saving us 2 emails — see
  8. If you use several Google services (i.e. google maps, gmail, calendar, documents), consider iGoogle as a way to centralize them.  Basically this service within Google lets you customize your own Google Search screen.  I use the “post-it note” widget to keep an active to-do list on the screen.  On my main page I also have an alarm, a feed from my Gmail account, a feed from my blog, a feed from CBC news giving me the headlines, and a resizable TV screen where I can view the latest CBC news at my convenience and even speed up the audio to watch the news in less time.
  9. Wikimedia Commons and Flickr Creative Commons database search:  If you are looking for online images with copyright permission for you to modify and use in power points, web pages or blogs, or student assignments, here are two ideas.

    On Wikimedia Commons, you can search images by key word and each image page will tell you what the copyright status is.

    To search Flickr’s huge image database for creative commons licenses, go to — however — However, be cautioned that copyright is a separate issue from that of privacy.  Any image with a recognizable person in it requires usage permission from the subject of the photo.


2 thoughts on “Useful Technologies for Academics

  1. You might be interested in another tool for discussing PDF / Word & OpenOffice documents online too – at you can upload documents to your private webspace, view the document in your browser, then several people can annotate the same copy, attaching notes and replies to highlighted text. It is more convenient than emailing attachments, especially if you’re collaborating with several people.

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