Reflecting on Teaching with Chromebooks


In 2012, I wrote a post on
Chromebooks in the Classroom where I was attempting to predict which features of Chromebooks would make them a great tool for teaching. I actually wasn’t that far off, although I did over exaggerate the idea of pushing out apps to all students and I undervalued the role the students Google Profile has. Since that post, the number of Chromebooks has increased dramatically. Three years later, at the time of this post, we are at 26,452 Chromebooks in EPSB. That is one Chromebook for every 3.3 students.

This summer, I used Chromebooks with my students.  I decided I would try to be a paperless as possible and use the Chromebooks as often as I could. In fact, each day the students took a Chromebook as they came into class and would return it to the cart at the end of the day. It gave me a chance to try out a few ideas and discover some new things about them.

The Cons (and some solutions)

Time off task

I use my cell phone for almost everything, and I encouraged students to use their cell phones as learning devices. However, as mentioned above, they also had a Chromebook with them all class. Rarely did they ever need both screens. As a result, some students
were too distracted by (or attracted to) their phones. Depending on the task, I found I could solve this problem by allowing students to choose the screen they wanted to work with. If they choose their phone, they had to put away the Chromebook. If they choose the Chromebook, they had to put away their phone. I am not naive. I know that they were still distracted by their phones, but it made the class management much easier and the incidences of being “obviously off task” diminished.

It is also very easy for students to go down the rabbit hole that is the internet when they are looking up information or completing work. I did have to make sure I used proximity a lot for certain students. I used Google Apps as well and I was able click into their assignments while they were working on them to check up and provide some formative assessment, which helped them to stay focused. I could combine  proximity and the benefits of shared docs by using the Google Classroom App on my phone while I moved around the class. I also think there is a place for the teacher to have web tracking software. When a student is struggling with the lesson or having difficulty staying focused, it would be nice to have a record of their web history that can’t be erase. Its great to be able to use this undeniable evidence to lead a discussion about search skills, web reading skills, and how to deal with distractions. To be clear, I am not suggesting screen monitoring software, but rather web tracking software like GoGuardian.

The Pros

Time on task – No, this isn’t a contradiction. 

The things that impressed me the most was the time on task. The short start time and the speed (Acer 740s) meant that they could get to work fast. The first time students log into a device can always be tricky; students mistype, they forget their password, or there might be an error with their profile. Fortunately, with Chromebooks we were able to identify the problems immediately. We didn’t need to wait for the login window to spin and spin before it bounced back with an erroIMG_20150723_124621r. All the issues were password related, which I was able to find in Powerteacher to quickly get the students up and running. As much as these tools can be a distraction which leads to time off task, their speed and simplicity mean that there is less down time. Students could have a sleeping Chromebook up, online and working in less than a second.

Reducing Paper

Chromebooks and Google Classroom are a great combination. Classroom is a fantastic tool for handing out digital activities, sharing links and posting information. The collaborative nature of Classroom means that everyone on a Chromebook can quickly access the information, tasks and assignments. There are a myriad of ways to do this with other tools, but the pairing of Chromebooks and Classroom through the students’ Google Profiles is quite powerful. I had some handouts that I scanned into PDF that I handed out in class, and I also took the opportunity to chuck out some old material and found links to new material that was much more relevant. For example, I used to talk about artificial majorities in Canada with an article that was well written, but referred to the Reform Party of Canada (which no longer exists). This year I was easily able to update it to talk about the NDP in Alberta. Every election in Canada will have a story about artificial majorities, and because I am not bound to paper copies, I can update the content of the lesson without running off stacks of new, paper articles. I also liked sharing docs and pdfs in Classroom because I never had too many or too few copies. Truthfully, this process could have been done on any digital device, but the ease and low cost of a Chromebook ensured that everyone had access to the lesson materials.

Feedback from Students

Not every student enjoyed using the Chromebooks. Three students in my class said they prefered paper. For the record, I did not force them to use the Chromebook and they were more than welcome to take notes however they wanted. Some used the Chromebook exclusively, a couple used paper exclusively and many used a hybrid of paper notebook and Chromebook. That being said, the majority of students liked how easy and efficient Chromebooks were. As often as we worry that the computer can be a distraction, some of my students said the Chromebooks actually helped them stay focused and better organized. Our students are becoming more digital, not less, and I can only imagine that their attitude and desire to learn on the internet will increase over time, and that students will become increasingly more comfortable with Chromebooks or other cloud-based devices over notebooks.
In the end, I don’t think I could teach without Chromebooks or other fast, inexpensive cloud based devices. Please add the things you love or hate about teaching with Chromebooks in the comments below.

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Reflections on Creating and Managing Student Videos

Remember when our students could create their own Youtube channels and had access to the YouTube Creator Studio? Unfortunately, a subtle change at YouTube required G+ to create a Channel, and because my school district will not give our students G+ accounts, they are no longer able to activate their YouTube Channel (note – students who activated their Channel with their District Google account before the change did not lose access). Fortunately, teachers are a creative bunch and have come up with some new solutions. Ron Ceilin and Stephanie Jackson our two EPSB teachers who have some good thoughts and solutions. Read through them if you are looking for way for students to create and manage videos.

Stephanie Jackson’s Reflection

I thought I would give you all a quick update about the video sharing adventure I’ve been on. I learned A LOT doing this lip sync project…On YouTube, students can’t upload, webcam record, or use video editor (except the 1 or 2 students in each class who had previously created a channel with their school account). They can sign up with their personal emails, but this creates problems when they are signed into a ChromeBook at school. This was the most annoying glitch.

  • The easiest solution was to encourage everyone to use their phones to record, then use iMovie or something similar to edit. Student scan export it to their personal YouTube account and share the link with the teacher easily via a Google Doc/Sheet (run a PT class list report, save as PDF, select whole column and copy/paste into Google Doc or Sheet. The extra step of saving in PDF makes the names paste in one per column). Students upload their videos as unlisted and paste the video link next to their name. The teacher opens each link and adds the video to a playlist.
  • The mobile upload via email to the teacher YouTube Channel was awesome, for the few times it worked. Unfortunately, most of the videos were way over 25MB. This means that Gmail wouldn’t send them as an attachment, and the Google Drive version doesn’t work with YouTube.
  • A non-YouTube solution…I created a folder in Drive called Hand In Box and shared the link via Classroom (anyone with the link can edit). Students open the link, click Add to drive, Open in drive, then they can upload their video to the folder (on mobile devices, they have to switch to the desktop version). The teacher could use this folder as their playlist inste
  • ad of YouTube, or download each video and upload it to YouTube (This was loooooong. And isn’t it weird that YouTube won’t let you upload directly from Google Drive?!).
  • Students can attach their video to a Google Classroom assignment and it will show up in the project folder in Drive. However, this gets glitchy from a mobile device.

I think a lot of this would’ve been much easier if Google and YouTube would just talk more. If you could upload videos to YT directly from your Drive, it would’ve made this project so much easier. Anyways, there you have it! I hope this long email wasn’t a total waste of your time, and that someone somewhere is saved some trouble knowing all this.

Ron Ceilin has been using Screencastify with his students to capture videos with a Chromebook. He has been using this with his music class, but there are lots of opportunities do use a similar process in Second Languages and ELL.

Ron Ceilin’s note on Screencastify:

What is Screencastify?

Initially, I was using video to create a document of science student presentations that science students could review and critique. It eventually came to mind that I could use video as an assessment tool in my music class. The problem was that I can’t be in several places at one time. My music classroom has a wide swath of abilities and attitudes so when I was assessing one person utilizing video, several others were either off-task or demanding my attention. As I was attempting to figure out how I could assess the various levels of competence, I started to outline my requirements. There are several different approaches to learning a piece of music or gaining ground in musicianship and I wanted students to be able to present the way that suited them best:

  • If a student wanted to present me with an emulation of a song that they had audiated and/or transcribed, I wanted them to be able to show me that process in its entirety.
  • If they were sight-reading a piece of music, I wanted them to be able to present their performance with the sheet of music that they were sight-reading.
  • If the student had composed a piece of music, I wanted them to be able to provide me with the entire performance.
  • If it was a collaboration, I wanted students to be able to present me with the ensemble.
  • If the student was simply showing me how their technique or retention of a particular scale had developed, I wanted them to be able to present this to me too.

I wanted to incorporate many criteria: groove, expression, technique

Requirements:

  • First and foremost, I needed to see the students technique on their instrument – I needed to incorporate a webcam video of the students hands and/or embouchure.
  • I needed to utilize the technology that students had access to whenever they needed it – our class set of Chromebooks were the best solution.
  • Background audio would be required if a student was playing along with a piece of music. This could be presented by a video as well.
  • A screencast would be necessary to show the piece that the student is sight-reading.
  • A full screen webcam video would be required for students to present a collaboration.

Screencastify fulfilled these needs and was free!

Benefits

  1. I have found that I have better student engagement.

  2. Students are able to reflect on their progress more concretely by comparing to past performances.

  3. Students have more freedom to engage in music in the way that suits them best. I have actually provided students with the assessment criteria based on the Alberta Programs of Study for music and allowed students to choose a project based on Singing/Playing (performing), Listening (audiating), Reading (sight-reading), or Creating (composing or arranging) – I have assessed them on Valuing based on how engaged they are in the process.

  4. I am now able to interact with individual students that are having trouble and help guide them to success while other students are working on their projects/presentations.

  5. I am able to share performances with parents, students, and even other subject teachers (we are presently doing a collaboration with French after a group of students did a “rendition” of Frere Jaques)

  6. I am able to be more precise with my assessment of student’s progress.

  7. One student actually incorporated a title screen into their performance using Google Docs. He used two screens and toggled between the two as he presented each performance. This was a great blend of technology and learning.

  8. The downloads are extremely fast within Chrome

Difficulties

  • I am still working out some kinks that have to do with feedback loops on play-along screencasts with embedded webcam video.
  • Students need to review their work prior to sharing it with me as there are audio feedback and “clipping” issues that they need to address – this will require teaching some techniques.
  • Students also need to prepare their performances thoroughly and know that they will be assessed. Students will tend to share as soon as they have recorded it rather than review, critique, and perfect before sharing.
  • You will need to set up electronic portfolios for your students (or have them set up their own).
  • The files are BIG. Make sure you have enough room on your Google Drive if you are going to download them. Otherwise, students can create their own portfolio by sharing the “Screencastify” folder that is set up in their Google Drive with you.
  • Isolation from other students working on their projects is difficult. I have students in the instrument storage room, my office, the hallway, even the boys bathroom!

You can see more of his insights as well as “How-To” instructions on his web site “Assessment Strategies Using Screencastify

What CES Means to Schools and Teachers

The dust has settled from CES 2015. News media and social media outlets have moved on to the next item in the news cycle and CES has published their Innovation Awards.  I have shared my stories and pictures with my friends, family and colleagues (aka bragging) and can no longer justify bringing CES up in general conversation. Talking through my experiences at CES, three themes have stuck with me that I think are important for educators to know about to guide them in preparing students for the world they will live in. These themes are The Internet of Things, Innovate or Die, and Automation of Everything.

The Internet of Things

I have mentioned the Internet of Things in a previous post about CES and I have been using the concept in a number of my sessions for a few years now. CES has really driven home how prevalent this will become as companies are striving to become more connected, collaborative and secure. We are capturing so much data today from such a wide variety of sources and connecting so many of the objects we use everyday that it is mind boggling. When my watch, talks to my car, which talks to my house, which talks to the other houses in the neighbourhood. The consequence of this scenario is that we will have algorithms and programs offering us choices or making decisions on our behalf. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but I would like to ensure that my students have the curiosity and open-mindedness to actively seek out alternates and be the masters of the choices they make, or at least being conscious of the programs that are making choices for them.

Innovate or Die

The world is changing so fast that this is one of the key elements to being successful in the modern era, due in part to the the IoT. It is very clear that we can not graduate students who are  a work force of worker bees (see why in the next section below) We must enable our students to be critical thinkers and entrepreneurs. Not entrepreneurs in the economic sense, but rather an entrepreneurial spirit. We need to nurture the characteristics of and entrepreneur in all our students (creative, independent, self-motivated, etc.).

Automation of Everything

Drones, robots, and software that aggregates the data from the IoT means our students will, in theory, have more time for other pursuits and will either be the masters of the robots or at their mercy. I believe that if we do not teach our students the language of coding, they will become dependent on automation instead educated consumers and critical thinkers in regards to the role these devices will play in their lives. We are already seeing this with adults and social media in our society today. Many of their interpretations are based on fear due to a lack of understanding of the technology. Imagine a world of connected devices using algorithms to make predictions and interpretations for individuals who have no concept how that is being done or understand how to manipulate that information to put themselves in control. I want all the students I teach to understand computational thinking and to be the ones writing the programs they need to solve their day to day problems instead of blindly allowing machines to make decisions for them.

From Consumer to Prosumer

This may very well be the most profound shift in our liberal democratic society. Corperations are shifting from trying to get people to simply buy and use their brands to engaging people in ways that the can promote and produce new content with their brand. It is important for us to teach students how this new economy of connectedness works. We need to teach them how to utilize the data collected by these interactions with brands and each other in ways that not just preserve, but manifest their sovereignty. Schools need to ensure their students are in control of their own lives, and not being controlled by the internet of everything. Marketing and capitalism are constantly evolving, and the rate of evolution is being amplified by our technology. Will education systems understand this change fast enough to be beneficial to our students? I recently saw Generation Like, a great documentary on PBS that helps us understand this shift.

For me, CES wasn’t really about all the cool tools and the creative innovation. Instead, it was about the possible future our society is headed toward and a reminder that with progress comes societal change. That rate of change is about to increase exponentially and the kids we teach need to be able to thrive in this environment. Does our education system (not necessarily the actual tools we use) provide them with the skills they need?

EPSB reflections on CES

Mark Strembicke, David Callandar and myself debriefed every day at CES, reflecting on the coolest things we saw and talking about what it means for our school district. Upon returning home, Mark wrote a great reflection he sent out to his team along with some good links that captured some of our discussions. Here is what he wrote:

CES is a gathering of electronic providers showcasing their latest products, some which will soon be on retail shelves, and others that are years away from production or even a sponsor.  Last year’s show saw 160,000 attendee’s from over 140 countries.  This year’s show appeared to be equally as busy.  Manufactures like Samsung, LG, Intel, Acer, Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp were but a few of the big name companies on site.

The show this year had some better organization around specific themes, so it was easier to see all the stuff about a particular topic.  Companies were group into areas like Kids and Technology, Family Technology, Health and Fitness, 3D Printing and even Privacy.  Tons to see outside the usual TV’s, Speakers and Games. One area that was of specific interest was “Eureka Park”.  This was a space set aside for new companies to showcase their ideas.   These are the products before they are even products.

One of the reasons to attend this event is to see where the market is going.  What’s new and what will we see in our schools.  The opening keynote by Samsung was of particular interest.  Below is a 6 minute highlight … worth watching.

(and if you liked that,  you can watch the entire hour of it here: http://youtu.be/Fl0r9Xpjg8k  )

Overall, my impressions on this year’s themes are:

  • Internet of Things.  Big this year is IoT.  While a challenging concept to grasp it comes down to three components.  You first need a sensor to measure something.  Then you need a processor to do something with that data.  And lastly you need communications to send that data somewhere.  Really this can be applied to almost anything.  If can be a case where the music you are listening to on the bus, or in your car, transfers into your home stereo the moment you walk in the door.  It can be your appliances attending to your needs before you ask based on your habits.  Or if could be a plant pot that tells you when you need to water or fertilize your plant or if you need to move them to a brighter window.  It’s truly mind boggling to think of all the possibilities.  The challenge is an ecosystem where they can all talk together vs. a proprietary environment where each company’s products can only talk to each other.
  • Wearable Technology.  There are many manufacturers producing some form of watch-like technology that provides one or more of three themes;  health related info (pedometer, activity information, heart rate) or geographic related info for travel (running, hiking, mapping), and lastly communication information (email, text, messages).  Oh yes AND they can tell time!
  • Robotics.  Most of these were in the form of flying drones with multi-blade helicopter type forms carrying a camera.  New this year was more autonomy with collision avoidance and follow-me features.  As well, features ranges from the professional movie producers to the more consumer grade.  If you want to take a selfie type picture with you and your friends and no one around to take it … send out your drone using your iphone to control it and snap a pic.
  • Self Driving cars were a notable mention (as was all the new tech coming to cars).
  • 3D Printing and Scanning was also a notable mention.  Better, Faster, and cheaper.
  • Bluetooth/GPS Trackers were a notable.  Fine your car keys.  Find your dog.  Never lose your wallet.  Don’t forget your child in the car!
  • 3D headsets … looks to be all the rage.  Lots of people wearing goggles at the show looking around.  Quite funny to watch.
  • Back to the Future … Did the movie get it right about how it would look in Oct 21, 2015.  While flying cars aren’t available, lots of things indeed are here.

I wanted to close off with some specific reports on “cool tech”.  These articles do a better job showcasing the tech than I can.   Here are three links, each with a short video.  See what’s new and exciting.

TV’s and more.  (Good Video clip with summary)

https://www.yahoo.com/tech/tvs-at-ces-2015-are-all-about-color-and-smarts-107425349859.html

Internet of Things (Good Video clip highlighting items)

https://www.yahoo.com/tech/ces-recap-day-1-the-internet-in-everything-the-107320444779.html

A video clip that talks about the LG, Sony Walkman, Smartwatch, Lenvo (good quick watch)

https://www.yahoo.com/tech/ces-day-3-wrap-up-mobiles-las-vegas-of-all-the-107527438824.html

And if you want to know more … google “CES 2015” and start filtering down to what you want.  Lots of different people writing up reviews and such.

The Internet of Things at CES

For the last few years I have talked to teachers about the internet of things and how inanimate objects in this world are recording data for us to use. The purpose of these talks was about how important it is for us to teach kids how to be masters of this information, instead of letting products use that info to tell us what to do. After hearing the BK Yoon’s keynote on the Internet of Things (IoT), that message is louder than ever.

The main message of his address was how the IoT is a reality today, it is not something we need to talk about in the future tense. He mentioned some very cool characteristics that are needed for it to continue to grow and develop in a healthy way – Connectedness, openness and security.This message has definitely defined my time here at CES. I see it in so many of the products and the slogans.

Connectedness is the way for devices to speak to each other, regardless of their brand (perhaps a bit of a dig at Apple). Everything becomes a device once it gets a sensor and can transmit information. For example, we saw a heated winter boot with temperature controls you set from your cell phone. we also saw a bluetooth padlock that unlocks when you are near it with your cell phone. Better yet, we saw cars with SIM cards that talk to other nearby cars to generate traffic information and connect your car to you and your home.

Openness can also be described as collaboration. Companies need to work together and share ideas and information for this vision of the future become a reality. There were lots of booths that promoted collaborations between companies. The security company ADT and teamed up with IFTTT to create home security programs that you can use to manage your house. For example, a camera at your front door is connected to your doorbell and your phone. When someone rings the bell, you can see who it is and let them in all from your phone.

The final point about security is a tougher one to address at the writing of this blog. I will come back to it after we get to that section of the convention. Seriously, this convention is huge.

 

Samsung keynote ces

An Educator at CES

I am a lucky consultant. The school district I work for, Edmonton Public, has been very good about providing me with professional development opportunities through out me career. I have been to many great educational conferences at home in Alberta and abroad in the US. I have been to ISTE, ATLE, Google Summits and others and I have always come away with something. It is great to find out how other jurisdictions and teachers use the current and newest tech in their classrooms. However, as an EdTech consultant who loves to ponder the future of education (and subsequently society), I have been lucky enough this year to get to go to the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 in Las Vegas.

Calling this a large conference is an understatement. There are over 100,000 people attending. It is held on many floors of multiple, massive hotels. The directory is 410 pages and reads like a phone book. Some of the Confrence tracks I am looking forward to are Kids@Play and Family Tech Summit, Lifelong Tech, Mobile Content and Monetization, TransformingEDU, Wireless and Mobility, and finally Automotive Electronics (OK, the last might be more of a guilty pleasure).

I am traveling with two IT managers from EPSB; David Callander and Mark Strembicke. This is not their first rodeo to CES and I am grateful for their survival tips. They will also be great sounding boards to bounce ideas off and keep me from getting too “pie in the sky.”

My goal for this conference is to discover where technology is headed, see it the latest in innovation in action, and think about how these new technologies will impact our lives and affect the way we teach and learn.

The Classroom Common Password Faux Pas

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get a class of Grade 1s to log into a computer. These little ones who barely know how to spell their first name are being asked to type a UserID that is often a combination of first and last names. Then they enter their randomly generated password, an assemblage of letters and numbers that do not resemble anything in the English language (although, every now and then the randomly selected letters spell a word, and that word is something a child shouldn’t know how to spell). Every spelling mistake, every error, increases the amount of time a student is not on task and increases the level of frustration. One solution seems to be to standardize the students passwords, so that every kid in the class has the same one. This way, the teacher knows everyone’s password and can easily help a student who is struggling to log in or forgot the password.

Although this classroom management tip may speed up the login process, it actually quite risky regarding the security of information and it misses an opportunity to teach digital citizenship.

Security of Information

Most school districts (including EPSB) have adopted single-sign-on policies. This means that you only need one UserID and password to get into all district applications and documents. Given that the formula for the UserID is both standard (eg. j.doe) and published (in Google Contacts). If everyone has the same password, any student could easily access all the records of another student. While this might seem very improbable for the grade 1s to figure out, it creates opportunities for other risky situations.

One thing we are noticing is that students aren’t changing their passwords. Our data has shown that if a grade 1 teacher had a common password for a class, many of those students will still have the same password in grade 6. Also, sometimes that password is written on the board or in a public space for the grade 1s to be able to easily see. This makes it easy for anybody in the school who has figured out the UserID formula to be able to log in as any one of those students in the class.

Granted, identity theft among students is not rampant or overly problematic. It is easy enough to deal with those we catch on an individual bases. However, another bi-product of the common password is the cloak of anonymity. The following true case study will explain the term:

A student in Grade 2 created a Google Doc with his school account and shared it with his buddies’ school accounts. The Doc was used to post links to websites he liked and was not intended for the teacher. Eventually, one student typed a bad word, which led to another student adding a worse word, which lead to yet another student adding pictures of women in underwear.  Using the Revision history of the Google Doc, we were able to find which student added the inappropriate content. When confronted, his response was “You can’t prove it was me. We all have the same password.”

Truthfully, I am a little impressed at the students cheeky cleverness. Unfortunately, however, this story is not uncommon. My department has received a number of similar reports, thus the impetus for this post.

Teaching Digital Citizenship

Mike Ribble has included Digital Security (Self-Protection) as one of his Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship. He states “As responsible citizens, we must protect our information from outside forces that might cause disruption or harm.” It is never too early to teach our students that they can take ownership of their own digital safety. It is worth taking the time to show our students how to manage passwords as well as show them how to protect their data. Here are some classroom tips that may help:

  1. Have students change their password at the beginning of the school year. It is good practice to change passwords at least every school year or new semester. Help students get used to this by starting the year with a new password.
  2. For younger students, use word wall words. Have students pick a word from the word wall. Some passwords may require five or more digits, so you may have them also choose a number they can see in the room.
  3. For older students, teach them some password tricks. There are many ways to create strong passwords (see WikiHow – How to create a password you can remember). Using a new approach each year would teach students a wide variety of techniques that they could apply outside of school. I like the suggestion to use Mnemonics – connect the first letters of a sentence (The only thing we have to fear is fear itself = totwhtfifi. Throw in some capitals and numbers and Bob’s your Uncle)
  4. If you have Chromebooks and students who have trouble remembering both the user name and the password, give them the same Chromebook each time. A Chromebook remembers the login ID of the last nineteen people who used it (it does not remember their password). Students can use a picture of themselves or an icon they recognize and would then only need to select their icon and enter the password to log in. That way, they really only have to memorize one thing.
  5. Find out where you can access or change your students passwords. Students school accounts are not owned by the students and teachers have the right to access them (and it is important for them to know this). Most Districts have systems in place to assist teachers in helping studetns get logged in or change their passwords.

Its not easy teaching digital citizenship to our students. Often it involves skills we have yet to learn ourselves. However, it is important our classroom practices align with good digital citizenship practices.

Effective Professional Learning through Google+

As Edmonton Public Schools migrates from Outlook to Gmail, one of the apps that will appear on everyone’s radar will be Google+. Google has been promoting and forcing the sucess of G+ by integrating it with it’s successful aquisitions, such as Blogger and YouTube. Although the motives for the integration are not educational, it can provides us new opportunities for just-in-time, authentic, job-embedded, cost-effective professional learning.

Hangouts

Hangouts can profoundly impact the way we deliver professional learning. In our current model, we ask staff to travel to a school or the central office to hold professional learning sessions at the end of a day of teaching. The average travel time is around half and hour, which means that in order for the trip to be worth their time, we need to meet for a minimum of an hour and a half. Not all of the work done in that time is immedately relavent and pushes us into the “just-incase” zone of learning. However, teachers that meet in hangout afterschool do not need to travel anywhere. The time together could be as short as 15 to 20min and focus on a topic that is timely and relevant to their context. As a result, hangouts can also be done during spares and breaks. With the efficiency created by hangouts, smaller groups can meet for a shorter duration at an increased frequency, improving the job-embedded nature and effectiveness of the professional learning.

Some potential ways to use hangouts for professional learning may include:

  • Broadcast a discussion about a current topic in education (assessment practices, emerging technology, pedagogical theory, etc) by experts and practitioners for those in the District who are interested.
  • Collaborative planning with specialists from around the District.
  • Model and broadcast best practices. Have an expert broadcast a guided reading session with reading experts annotating and commenting on the process as it happens live.
  • Teacher records a lesson and a panel can provide feedback (similar to the old instructional walk-throughs)
  • Tech Support through sharing displays
  • Assessing student work. Share examples of student work at various levels and have colleagues discuss and establish norms for assessment.

Circles

Circles are a great opportunity for teachers to build their own professional learning community. Circles are similar to Twitter lists, by clicking on the circle you can see what everyone in that circle has posted. This may really open up the lines of communication because teachers can pull the information that is of interest to them, instead of recieving an email with all the generic district news as controlled by the Communication department (they do a good job, its just hard to be releveant to all staff in a weekly email). Properly set up circles will inform teachers of news that pertains to them around the district as well as provide information about professional learning opportunities. Circles can also provide teachers with the most current information available about the topics they are interested in as well as give them an opportunity to post and share what they are doing in their class.

Some potential ways to organize circles:

  • By School. Put all the staff at your school into a circle to get a sense of what is happening school-wide.
  • District Network. Create a circle of the people who influnce your work and who are not in your school. This would include Senior Managment, District News sources (Communications, IT, HR).
  • By professional network. Add internal and external people who share an interest of yours (assessment, edtech, UDL, etc).
  • Grade level/subject area. Similar to a collaborative board on Pinterest, share lesson plans, activities and resourses for classes that you teach
  • General Interest. To inspire creativity and prevent you from living in an echo chamber, create a circle of people you wouldn’t normally follow or create a non-work related topic (food, sports, fitness, cats, etc).

Communities

Communities function like a Facebook Group. They can be private or public and are a great place to coordinate resources, events and reflections on any given topic. Private communities are best built though natural connections in the offline world. However, public communities can be open to the District for people who are interested in a topic, but do not want to put together a circle. Community posts will appear in all community members’ notifications. Its a way to stay connected to the concepts, information and learning without having to connect profiles.

Some potential communities could be:

  • Private – School Groupings that meet monthly or bi-monthly. A way to stay connected in the “in between” times.
  • Public – Topical , for those interested in research and information on authentic learning, EdTech, assessment, UDL, etc.

This are only a few of the ideas that G+ may have on professional learning. We will see how they play out and what we learn as we go along. There are other elements of G+ not covered in this post, such as Pages and Events. I will need to play around with these a bit more before I can comment on their usefulness.

I am looking forward to getting G+ in our District. It will provide us with some exciting opportunities to look at new ways of delivering effective and efficient professional learning.

Edmonton Public Goes Google

It’s official! Edmonton Public Schools is dropping Outlook and migrating to Gmail.

This migration is bigger than just email. Currently, teachers who have been taking advantage of the Google Apps for Education have had to live in two worlds. By moving to Gmail, all those apps will be at our fingertips, easier to access and easier to use. It is hard to imagine or predict all the externalities (unintended consequeses, both positive and negative) that will occur from the transition.

Not everyone is happy with the move. One observation is that those who are unhappy about the change are typically people whose work flow is governed by Outlook. Generally, this is refering to the adminstrative branches of the District. Most teachers do not use email to guide thier work and routines, and only use the calendars to book rooms/equipement. For them, the change over should be relatively smooth. However, the adminsitrative positions that rely on Outlook to organize tasks and communicate through email and calendars may find the change a little daunting.

Its not easy getting a District of 8,000 or so employees to willingly and smoothly adopt a new email system, particularly when we have had the old one for as long as most can remember. However, Terry Korte and the TIPS team have created a Going Google Site with manuals, FAQ, professional learning oppotunies and videos to help people through the transition. They are also organizing Google Guides, teachers and/or admin based at each school who will act as a resource person for the staff. These Guides will be the first people in the District to be migrated to gmail so that they can help the rest of thier staff during the “Go Live” phase in May, 2013.

Google has created a great document and video called Life After Outlook that shows where the things you did in Outlook are located in Gmail and may aliviate some fears. The document is from 2011, so it is missing some of the locations of the new formatting, but most of it is pretty much the same. If anyone finds an updated version or something similar and newer, please post it in the comments below.

This is a big step for Edmonton Public Schools. Along with the recent proliferation of Chromebooks in the district, and the number of students who already use Google Apps for Education fluently, this could potentially lead to a big step forward in increasing tech use in the classroom.

Next step? Increase bandwidth 🙂

The ATA Posts the Dangers of Facebook on Facebook

On March 29th the Alberta Teachers Association posted on their Facebook Fan Site a link to an article titled “Warning for Teachers: Facebook Could Kill Career.” At first I thought it ironic that they used their Facebook presence to share the article, but a good point was brought up by the ATA – what better place to warn teachers of the dangers of Facebook than on Facebook. Fair enough. The medium is perfect for the target audience. Its actually a pretty good article and doesn’t live up to the dire statement made by the title. The case study ends with the accused teacher being exonerated and the article finishes with a teacher who uses Facebook saying the dangers are exagerated and the best advice is to use common sense.

The problem with common sense is that it isn’t all that common, especially when it comes to social media in education. Unfortunately, a story about a teacher getting in trouble on Facebook attracts more readers than a teacher who successfully used it to connect and educate students. As a result, what we think is “common” is not the reality for the majority of teachers on Facebook. I think it is important that, as professionals, we take time to read the success stories and forge professional boundaries in online environments. I understand the need for warnings and exposing the dangers, but when will we hear endorsements for the positive use of social media?

Here are a few good articles I have found that support the responsible/professional use of Facebook: