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Thursday
Jul102014

New Experience in Google Drive 

With the adoption rate of Google Apps within our school district, I'm fairly certain most teachers are finding Google Apps for Education to be an advantageous addition to working, teaching, and learning.

 

However, as is OFTEN the case with Google, things change and they change quickly.

 

Google Drive has been reformatted to incorporate a new user experience that brings added benefits to the way we work with greater efficiency.  The video below from Google outlines many of the new changes.

 

 

With any new change, though, there is opportunity for confusion as users get used to the new platform.  Honestly, it seems as if the changes actually bring back some skills that many users were previously familiar with when searching for and selecting files on a computer, so these changes may be exactly what some users have been waiting for.

 

Take a moment to watch the video, switch over the new Drive experience (I did so by selecting the gear icon when I was in Google Drive and selected New Drive Experience), and start getting a bit more comfortable with the new layout, format, and toolset this version of Google Drive offers.

 

Additionally, if you have not yet realized it, Google Apps on the iPad has made some major alterations in the past few months that teachers should be aware of.  New apps, including Docs and Sheets, are now the apps used to EDIT Google docs and sheets files, and Drive is the storage and management app.  The video below is a pretty good overview of what these apps can do.  Again, if you have not seen this yet, now would be a GREAT time to get familiar with these apps before the students return.

 

 

 

Saturday
Jul052014

Bored Teacher Summer Learning Series - Blogging with Students

It's 8:00 am on a gorgeous Saturday morning in July and I know you are having EXACTLY the same issue I am -- you miss your students!  You are sitting there thinking of ways to meaningfully engage them in the fall and to make writing just a little more meaningful and interesting for them.  Trust me, I'm right there with you!

 

Well, Bored Teacher, start thinking more deeply about ways to have your students write more and have them write more online through the use of a blogging tool.

 

Sound interesting?  It really is.  In fact, it can even be somewhat addicting.  Imagine that; writing can be addicting!

 

What is a blog?

What is a blog?  Well, put simply, it is a website that is regularly updated by an author (or team of authors). Blogs in Plain English.  Although it is six years old, it STILL accurately describes this lasting technology.  As you watch it, think about how this opportunity could impact your students if put in the role of writing the content, not just reading it.

 There are other parameters as well.  Typically, blogs have the newest content at the top.  They also typically have a "feed" or a means of subscribing to them for regular readers.  There is a great video that nicely sets out a working understanding of what a blog is: 

Key Questions

Okay, so we've set the stage.  At least we now know what a blog is.  However, the two primary questions are: 1) Why would I use a blog with my students in my classroom?, and 2) How would I go about setting up a blog?  What tools would I use?

 

Why would I use a blog with students in my classroom?

Well, the "why" isn't a question that we can provide an adequate answer that suits everybody's needs.  Generally speaking, though, blogs provide a couple of important opportunities.

  1. Students have an opportunity to write for a "real world" audience.  That means that anybody in the world, or at least anybody that reads their blog, sees their thoughts, ideas, feelings, and engages with their work in some way.  Compare that with a more standard view many students take of writing, where they feel they are writing for a single or small group of adults, and possibly a few students.  That expansiveness of audience can be an important element for many students.
  2. People might comment back on their written work.  By people, I don't mean a teacher marking the text for "teachery" technicalities.  I mean their fellow students, maybe other teachers, maybe their parents, maybe a partner classroom from across the country/world, or possibly even an outsider who stumbled upon their ideas in a Google search.  This level of exposure raises the bar of accountability for MANY kids and encourages them to give a better effort on their written work than they may have otherwise engaged in.
  3. Their body of work amasses neatly on their blog.  We all understand the power of maintaining a portfolio of written work to reflect upon, to inspire us, and to proudly point to when it comes time to share with others.  A blog neatly organizes student thinking and writing in a way that is searchable, easy to share, and lasting.  It's something to be proud of when you spend a semester or year writing and realize that you have generated and fleshed out a LOT of ideas over the course of your class.
  4. Blogs posts are EDITABLE, so they truly emphasize the process of writing.  This does drive some teachers crazy from an assessment perspective, but blogs can always be edited.  Previous posts that were not well thought out, or ideas that have been further developed can be re-written on a blog.  It's a powerful opportunity for us to share the process of writing over the finality of hitting print and turning in whatever we have done at the time.

Those are just a few key reasons.  If you can think of more, add them in the comments section to this blog post.  We'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

What tools would I use for blogging?

In some ways, this question can be the catch point for many teachers.  They want something that is easy to manage, safe, and valuable to students all at the same time.  Finding the perfect tool that does ALL of these things without sacrificing one of those three for the other is tough.  As is the case with most choices in life, when selecting a blogging platform/tool, there are choices and trade offs to make. Let's see if we can give you some help, though.

 

The primary tools we will look at in this blog are the tools most readily available to students and staff in our district: Blogger and the Blackboard blog tool.

Blogger

Blogger is a Google owned blogging tool (the same tool used to create this very blog) that is available to all students and staff in our district.  The same email and password used for your staff or student Gmail account will allow you to set up a blog with Blogger in minutes.  It is typically very easy to use, used by millions of bloggers around the world, and is directly connected to a wider audience of readers.

 

The advantages to using Blogger:

 

  • Incredibly easy to use.  Teachers will not need to spend a lot of time learning to set up or use the tool, and little instructional time is needed to teach the tool to students.
  • Already works with the Gmail accounts provided by the district.  That means no additional usernames and passwords to recall.  This also provides a safety valve in the event that a teacher or staff member needs to log into the blog for security/safety reasons.
  • Wide variability in the scope of each blog's reading audience with Blogger.  Blogger can be used to publish publicly to the world, or it can be limited to just specific email addresses.  Publish your class blog to the world.  Limit your student blogs availability to teachers and students only.  It's all possible.
  • Commenting is built in to each blog.  This opens the door for feedback, conversation, and interaction between writers and readers.  Commenting can often be the biggest hook for writers as they receive genuine feedback from their audience.
  • Customizable look and feel for each blog.  With millions of users out there, that's a lot of templates and tools that can be added to each blog to change the general feel of the blog.
  • Tech support is a Google search away.  With so many users of Blogger, learning to do ANYTHING with Blogger generally requires a simple Google search to find the answers you might need.
The disadvantages to using Blogger:
  • The blog can be opened to a world of readers, but not all readers are trustworthy or have the best intentions of students in mind. As a teacher, this means you need to have a ongoing conversation with students about Internet bullies, trolls, and appropriate conduct, as well as an action plan that students know and can follow when their blog receives inappropriate comments.  It is ALWAYS recommended that teachers engage with parents about the decision to publish a blog publicly (to the entire world).  
  • Commenting opens the door for inappropriate communications.  Just as with the decision to publish the blog to the world is an option, turning commenting on/off is also an option.  However, commenting is the primary hook of blogging for many students.  Although it is possible for the student to turn comments off, they can also opt for turning comments on just as easily, and they are likely to do so!
  • Students are the owners of the blogs, meaning they are in control of the blog.  Depending on your viewpoint, this may also be a positive as they take on responsibility for their blog.  However, students can make decisions about their blog settings that teachers are not informed of.  While the district has the ability to log into student accounts and make changes, that is an action typically performed by request AFTER something undesirable has happened.  This means students need to be empowered and educated on the proper uses of this platform.
  • Scatter can be a BIG problem for teachers when it comes to blogging.  Each blog has its own web address, meaning a teacher will have a different website to visit for each student assigned to them.  That's a lot of links to follow.  Savvy teachers will use a Google Form (students submit the URL for their blog so the teacher has one spreadsheet with all of the blog URLs in one place) or a RSS Feed Reader (I like this one...Feedreader) where they enter the URLs and each UPDATE is pushed to the Feedreader so teachers are seeing the most recent changes to each blog.  However, this is an extra layer of management that turns some teachers off.

Blackboard Blog Tool

There is another option for blogging in our district in the Blackboard Blog tool.  It truly is an alternative solution with varied advantages and disadvantages from  Blogger.  Generally speaking, it is a more controlled, all-in-one solution to blogging, but it does not offer the same "reach" as Blogger, as readership is limited to student enrollment in the course.  Let's learn more.
The advantages to using Blackboard Blog tool:
  • Blackboard Blog tool is a part of a Blackboard course.  Every student and teacher in the district already has a username and password for Blackboard, and a growing number of teachers are using this tool for placing resources online for student access.  With the flip of a switch, the Blackboard Blog tool can be turned on and active in your Blackboard course, giving the teachers and students a single place to go for both content and communication tools.
  • Blog posts in Blackboard are limited to a SMALL audience -- the teachers and students (and possibly parents) enrolled in the course.  Nobody else.  Depending on your perspective, this can be a huge advantage to blogs that are open to the entire world.  This also eases the concern of some parents who do not wish for their children to publish to a much wider audience.
  • Commenting is built into the tool, but again is limited to only the students enrolled in the Blackboard course.  However, each comment is tracked and teachers can easily see who made each comment and when.  This gives teachers an advantage as they are maintaining accountability in their classroom and teaching commenting/feedback skills.
  • Teachers have a single link to visit to see ALL of the student blogs, comments, and interactions.  This makes assessment of a blog much more manageable.  
  • Blogs can be built into lessons easily.  Using the power of Blackboard, a teacher can organize videos, content, readings, and then ask the students to blog their thoughts and reflections within the context of what was just covered.  This can give the blog assignment/reflection greater value as it flows well within the scope of the lesson plan instead of being an add-on after the fact.
The disadvantages to using Blackboard Blog tool:
  • Audience is limited.  This is a biggie not to be underestimated.  A Blackboard Blog can NEVER be made public to the whole world.  It will always be limited to a small audience of peers within the course.  For some students knowing the world might be reading ups the ante and they take writing more serious as a result.  That will never be an option with the Blackboard Blog tool.  One work around is for teachers to set up a single class blog on which to copy and paste the best student reflections (from Blackboard Blogs) to a class blog opened to the world using a tool like Blogger.
  • Commenting is limited.  This ties into the first disadvantage, but there will never be any surprise responses/comments from readers.  Those are the types of things that infuse excitement and authenticity into blogging for many students.  With a locked down audience, this is nearly impossible to reproduce in the Blackboard environment.
  • Teachers need to utilize Blackboard.  While we don't necessarily feel like Blackboard is a disadvantage, there is a steeper learning curve to learning to use Blackboard over Blogger.  That can take some time.  However, once you learn Blackboard, you'll be amazed at all it can do to make teaching and learning a more efficient process.  It is time well invested.

Learning to Use These Tools

With the exhaustive list of advantages and disadvantages, you probably have some thinking to do.  However, when you are ready to learn to use these tools (and YES, you can try them out on your own without using them with students right away...in fact, we recommend you do),  the next question is simple -- How do I learn how to use these tools?
Well, we have built two playlists with videos that may help you get started.  They have been curated to give teachers a starting point for using these tools.  Once you feel comfortable with getting started, there is no substitute for playing with the tool to really get a feel for how they handle.
So, what are you waiting for?  Let's get started with blogging as a way to make writing a more engaging, authentic experience in your classroom this year!  As always, if you have questions, comments, or thoughts, feel free to contact a member of the SDW Instructional Technology team to share.

Tuesday
May202014

The Benefits of Going All In On a 1:1

This month we had the pleasure to write a guest post for Naomi Harm's newsletter, Tech Bytes, for her company, Innovative Educator Consulting.  The post focuses on the decision our district made to move entire buildings into a 1:1 implementation, instead of doing it in much smaller segments by classroom, grade level, or department.

Read the full post in the newsletter.  For those considering a 1:1 implementation in your district, it provides a perspective of another way that 1:1 can be rolled out and the benefits we are seeing as a result of that decision.

Sunday
May112014

I Am Tech Fluent. Are You?

In his last post on Getting Tech Into Ed, Dale asked readers when we can stop treating technology like it is an add-on to our work as educators.  The point is well made and has caused me to reflect on why this "tech first" mindset dominates the conversation when we talk about innovation and new instructional practices.

My experience as a student learning Spanish fits well here.  I took four years of Spanish in high school. I even spent two weeks in Mexico surrounded by native Spanish speakers.  Yet, when I arrived to college and realized I had to take Spanish to earn my teaching degree, I freaked out.  I knew very well that I could not understand, speak, read, or write Spanish.  I bombed my introductory Spanish class and narrowly escaped my summer re-take of the exact same course.  (This, by the way, is NOT reflective of my academic story in any other coursework I completed.)

How is it that I could have invested that much time into learning a language and yet walked away with nothing more than a dwarfed vocabulary of random words and a few notable catch phrases that I probably am not using in the appropriate context?

The reality is I was not striving to become fluent in Spanish. My goal was simply to pass; to jump through the hoops to get to my goal of going on a trip, graduating, and earning a degree.  The Spanish coursework was simply a stepping stone to where I wanted to be, not an opportunity to learn a second language, grow culturally, and open an avenue for communicating with a whole world of people who speak a language other than English.

 

Something in the answer to this question ties closely to my thoughts on why so many educators struggle to move beyond the view of technology as an add-on to educating students.  

Learning to utilize technology for any purpose, including for instructional use, can be a lot like that learning a foreign langague.  In our district we spend a significant amount of time sharing the SAMR Framework with our teachers.  We celebrate movement and growth as it relates to the use of technology to push innovative instructional practice in the classroom.  However, the use of technology for the sake of using technology (categorized as Substitution in SAMR) is not a practice or mindset we encourage teachers to commit to long-term.  Using technology to do things you could very well do without technology is a necessary first step, a place where the journey to more meaningful uses of technology begins. (Kind of like learning to say things to friends in Spanish that I could just as easily say to them in our native language wasn't the real purpose for learning the language.)

It is in the Substitution and early Augmentation phases where users become increasingly "tech fluent."  They start building basic vocabulary, exploring the structure of software and apps, developing confidence, finding some minor successes, and asking questions about what is possible.  They begin to learn lessons of what works and what to avoid when it comes to using technology.  They begin to experience the early advantages of their commitment to become fluent in the language.

This stage of learning a new language or skill set is delicate.  This is where patience, support, and guidance become so important.  It is in these early stages where technology users can gain momentum or lose a sense of purpose entirely.  This is the point where we can help people to see that once they become proficient in their use of technology (as well as their willingness to take risks and try new practices), the possibilities are boundless for them and their students.  It is also the point where we can allow them to flounder, lose focus, and begin to view the use of technology as just another way to do what they have always done.

In this light, I acknowledge that my acquisition of a second language has been stunted in Substitution for well over a decade.  By this point in my journey I should be fluently conversing with parents and students in my district who are English Language Learners.  I should be confidently planning trips to Spanish speaking nations with little concern about a language barrier.  I am not doing this today, though, because I did not commit to meaningfully learning the basics so that I could access the full advantages of being fluent.

In a world where technology has impacted every facet of life, where opportunity and possibility have few limits for those who are fluent in the use of technology, and where the use of technology is flooding academic institutions and experiences across the world, what will your story of "tech fluency" be in just a few years?  If you invest the time to learn to meaningfully use the technology today, what possibilities will exist for you and your students once you have "learned the language?"  It is worth the investment of time and energy today, but not for the purpose of jumping through hoops or fulfilling PD requirements.  Instead, make the investment because you and your students deserve to have all of the amazing educational opportunities that exist (both with and without the use of technology).

In making this commitment, find supportive people who will aid you in your journey.  If you do, I guarantee that  in relatively short order you will become "tech fluent" and you will be able to see well beyond the technology.  You will instead start focusing entirely on what matters and what we all care most about: student learning!

 

 

Tuesday
Apr222014

When Can We Stop Talking About Technology?

When will technology stop being something extra?

Technology integration has been a big part of my life both personally and professionally.  In my personal life I use Google and Apple products to make a crazy life with three kids more manageable.  These innovations in family management certainly make life just a little easier and are just a part of how our family operates.

Google Apps, Blackboard, and Apple all are great tools for schools and improving teaching and learning.  Having used both Google and Blackboard in the classroom I can say that these “technology” tools made learning better in my classroom.

If we see technology being used seamlessly in society, and people adopt technologies as a part of how they live, then why is technology seen as something extra in education?

Let’s look at the medical industry.  Technology and innovation are not seen as an extra part of practice, but rather it becomes the standard in how the industry operates.  There is no choice, rather people in the medical field must advance WITH the technology, and not BECAUSE of the technology.  Doctors, nurses, and hospitals must stay on the cutting edge of innovation, because if they do not, they will lose patients.  Innovation is commonplace, and the medical industry has advanced as a result.  Would you rather see a doctor with the knowledge and technology of 2014 or 1994?

Look at one more, and ver important, aspect of the medical analogy.  Even with all the innovation and technology advancement the most important part of the medical industry is………people.  Doctors, nurses, and other support personnel are still the most important part of patient care.

The same can be said of teachers.  Even with technology and innovation in the classroom, it takes a teacher that values relationships with their students as one of their core values.  When this happens it is possible for technology to disappear and become just a part of “the way we do business”.

At times teachers might look at technology as an event, or something to do. Here are only a few of the important roles of technology in schools: 

1.  Allows teachers to become more efficient.

2.  Allows students to demonstrate learning.

3.  Allows schools, parents, students, and teachers to communicate in multiple ways.

When will schools get to the point where technology is not an add on?  When will teaching and learning with technology just become the way that we do business?  Can we ever stop using the word technology?  

Let’s try this exercise—let’s substitute the word innovation for technology in the following “examples”: 

—Google Drive/Docs is a new innovation (technology) that allows students to work efficiently together.

—iPads are an (a) innovation (technology) that allows students to create and demonstrate their learning.

—Innovation (Technology) allows students to create, communicate, and collaborate easier.

—Innovation (Technology) allows students and teachers to be more efficient in their work.

Technology can be a polarizing word.  It is a great equalizer and enabler for some, while a source of fear and distrust for others.  Not all technology moves learning forward, but if educators start to look at technology not as an add on, but a way to push their craft forward, teaching and learning will improve.