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ES 2013 CTools Hidden Treasure May 10, 2013

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, teaching.
Tags: , , ,

Warning: long post! CTools is the Sakai based LMS we use at Michigan. If you don’t understand that sentence, this won’t be useful. You should go outside and play instead.

Jeff Zeigler presented some tips, tricks, and tools in CTools. Some of these were underused or unusual implementations of old tools, some were new features. I have rearranged things slightly, and added screen shots from a couple of my own sites to illustrate these.

Make a site joinable

When you create a new site, you can choose whether or not to make it joinable. If you forget to make it joinable (or you want to do this with a pre-existing site), go to Site Info, Manage Access. Click the radio button next to “Allow anyone to join the site with valid login id”. Note right above that is Site Visibility, where you can determine if people need the link to find your site (but remember, anyone with the link can send it to someone else, so making it private is NOT a way to make it secure.)


Also, note that Friend accounts pose a challenge. If they are already on a CTools site, they can join your site using the email link. If they haven’t been added to any CTools site, you will have to add them manually, regardless of whether or not they already have a friend account.

Click the Joinable Sites button to search for sites you can join.

Click the Joinable Sites button to search for sites you can join.


You can find publicly visible joinable sites by going to Membership in My Workspace and clicking the Joinable Sites button.


Join a site through an email link

Jeff sent an email with a link so we can add ourselves to the site by clicking a link.

This would work particularly well if you are looking to expand services for an MCommunity (online directory) group.

Joining using the link worked fine for most of the people in the class, but others had some trouble. No one who was already logged in to CTools had trouble, so you may want to include instructions telling people to go to CTools.umich.edu and log in, THEN  come back to the email and follow the link. Remember, although both CTools and the mail system use CoSign for authentication, CTools makes you re-log after about half an hour of inactivity, so the user could be logged in to email, but not to CTools.

MCommunity sometimes needs a couple hours to sync across all services (especially at the start of term), so give it some time if you make a bunch of updates.

To do this:

  •      Create your new site and make it joinable, or make an existing site joinable (see above)
  •       Go to the site homepage
  •      Copy the url from the address bar
  •      paste that url into an email.

Customize the Homepage

The Site Information Display is displayed on the homepage of every site. It can take text input, or it can take a url. Note it won’t show both, but you can create a webpage in Resources and point to that.

Using text under the Site Information Display

Using text under the Site Information Display

Placing a webpage in the Site Information Display

Placing a webpage in the Site Information Display

Jeff added the URL to the root folder in Resources, which displays an easily navigable but read only version of resources tool.

Placing a link to the Resources under the Site Information Display.

Placing a link to the Resources under the Site Information Display.

To do this

  • Select Edit Details under Actions to get the page URL.

    Select Edit Details under Actions to get the page URL.

    In Resources there is a url for each item. Click the Actions button for the folder you are interested in and select Edit Details.

  • Next to Web address (URL) click Select URL (for copying), then copy the URL.
  • Go to Home page and click Options under Site Information Display. Scroll down to where it says Site Info URL and paste URL into the box.


The red arrow indicates the reset button. The blue arrow is the expand all button.

The reset and expand all buttons.


The reset button next to the tool title takes you back to the default view for the tool (handy if you are lost deep in a tool, like the test center or Resources). It is available in all the tools.

There is an expand all or collapse all arrow in Resources. It toggles, starting from expand all.


Searching Resources

Use the expand all button, then the browser find command (command+F on Mac),to search for a word, date, owner, etc. Note this is not the same as search, so you’ll have to mach the words, including the order and spacing, exactly.

Check quota button in Resources

If you are a site manager, you will see a Check Quota button at the top of Resources. 3 GB is default quota, and is plenty for most sites.  ITS can grant more space if there is a good reason, so if you really need more, contact 4Help.

CTools isn’t really designed for streaming video, so saving video in Resources isn’t recomended. It is better to embed the videos.


In Resources, click Upload-Download Multiple Resources to go to the WebDAV instructions. This will allow you to mount your Resources folder like a folder on your computer. However, it’s a little touchy – sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, and there’s no good idea why. So if you try it and it doesn’t work, try cyberduck instead. You’ll need to install it on your computer, which probably means calling 4Help. There are also mobil apps, like iAnnotate that use WebDAV, so you may be able to

Whatever WedDAV method you use, you need the uri from the upload/download page.

Other thing are possible (like renaming things), but only upload and download are actually supported,  so doing other things isn’t recommended.

Note if you rename folders, the name will not change in WebDav because the new name in CTools is a display name, not the actual folder name.

It is also possible to use WebDav with the Dropbox tool

Add a Google Calendar to a site

  • Find or create the calendar you want to display and open the settings.
  • Go to the Sharing settings and make sure the events will be visible to your users. You can make it public if there’s nothing you don’t mind everyone seeing, or with everyone at UM, or you can use the “Share with specific people” section to share it with an MComunity group, or specific people. For more on setting up sharing see the Google support page https://support.google.com/calendar/topic/1672470?hl=en&ref_topic=1665165
  • Once you think it will be visible to the right people, go back to the Calendar Details section and scroll down to the Calendar Address: section. Click the HTML button, then copy the URL that pops up.
  • Go back to your CTools site, to the Site Information section.
  • Click Edit Tools.
  • Check the box next to Web Content and click Continue. This opens a new window where you can enter a display name for your calendar and the URL that you copied a minute ago.
  • Click continue, and a new item should appear along the left for your calendar.
The Google Calendar now appears as one of the items on the left.

The Google Calendar now appears as one of the items on the left.

You could also use the embed code from Google to create a webpage in Resources, or paste the URL into the site info to display the calendar on the home page.

Placing a Google Calendar under Site Information Display

Placing a Google Calendar under Site Information Display

Sign up tool

Currently available in stealth mode only but it MAY be ready for general use by fall.

Essentially an appointment scheduling tool. Some users find it VERY useful, especially for things like office hours.

Polls tool

like iClicker anonymous polling, it records whether or not someone responds, but their actual response in not associated with their name.

Embedding a youtube video

Embedding the video means its still on youtube’s site (not taking up your quota, or forcing students to download video to their local machine), but students don’t have to leave CTools, watch adds, or get all the (sometimes inappropriate) related content.

  • Find the video you want, and click the Share button.
  • Click the Embed link. You need the URL, which will look like http://www.youtube.com/embed/<identifier>. You may have to copy the whole box, paste it into a text editor, and delete all the other stuff. You could also copy the identifier from the address bar and type the rest of the URL (at least until YouTube changes things)
  • Select Add Web Links (URLs) to add a webpage to your site's resources

    Select Add Web Links (URLs) to add a webpage to your site’s resources

    Go back to your CTools site, to the Resources section.

  • Click Add next to the folder you want to add the video to and choose Add Web Link (URL)
  • Paste the URL into the box for the address, and give it a nice display name. Click Add Web Links Now to save.
  • If you want, you can add this to the home screen, or add it to the list on the left. Go to Actions -> Edit details and copy the URL for the video in CTools. Then you can add it using one of the methods outlined above for adding a URL to the Site Information Display on the Home screen or adding Web Content under Site information.


1. John Johnston - June 7, 2013

Great post. I’m going to point other users to these tips.

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