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 🙂


You Too Can Use YouTube

Remember when we used to block YouTube because we did not see the educational value of it? YouTube, and our understanding of it, have changed significantly in the last few years. There is a lot of educational power in creating and sharing playlist, uploading and editing in YouTube, and managing a channel, as well as utilizing the YouTube Options extension in Chrome. Tap into YouTube to create multiple means of engagement, expression, and representation for your students.

A great way to add another means of representation for your students is to create a playlist. You can organize your playlist by concept or subject and link or embed the playlists on whatever web properties you teach with. It is a good way to provide another voice or another way of explaining a concept. It can also be accessed by students for review or extending their knowledge. There are quite a few documentaries have been legally put on Youtbe. I have created a play list of The Corperation for my Social 30-1 class and put a link to it on the class website. I was then able to show only the sections I wanted to focus on in class. If students were interested, they could watch the whole film at home from my playlist. However, sometimes you can find whole movies on Youtube that you think are being hosted legally, only to find that they dissappear. Be sure to check and update your playlists every now and then.

A feature I found very slick was the ability to upload to YouTube directly from a webcam. This makes it really easy for students to upload interviews, self-reflections, oral stories, etc. as an alternate means of expression. The editor is quite basic, but WeVideo is a Chrome App that will work within the YouTube editor and add some cool editing tools. The nice part is that no software is required and you can shoot, edit and share a video all from a Chromebook. The caution here is that parents should know that you are using YouTube in your class as a way to acheive multiple means of expression and students should be gettign used to changing their privacy settings to “unlisted.”

There are some very well done educational videos, such as those made by Crash Course, that students find very engaging. And YouTube is full of great, short clips that can prompt a conversation or activate prior knowlegde and provide another means to engage your students. it is also great to have students tell their story on video before they write it as another way to engage them in the writing process.

The statics about YouTube are stagering. YoutTube recieves four billion view each day and is the 3rd largest website on the internet. We should be using YouTube not just because it gives us more pedogoical options, but because it is important for us to help our students understand and harness its power.

Edit: To really understand the scope of Youtube, check out Mashable’s article on “Gangnam Style.”

Coding and Project Based Learning

A few months ago I got this email from my brother who was attending a web developers conference:

I am sitting at this conference …and there are people from all over the world who ALL are complaining about the shortage of good software developers. I’m wondering what programs there are at Edmonton public that are directing kids toward careers in software. Is there anything?

The short answer to that question is “No.” We have some Career and Technology Studies courses that could teach kids how to code. We also have a smattering teachers who have their students build apps. I would say that the biggest course in the district that teaches kids how to code is Robotics. However, software development (or coding) is no where in our curriculum and there is very little likelihood that it will be in the future.

However, I would like to propose that even a rudimentary understanding of coding is important as a 21st Century Literacy skill. With the ubiquitousness of the internet and the internet of things, he amount of data being generated is exponential as the future unfolds. In order for us to capitalize on that data stream, we will rely on programs to aggregate and process the information for us. In an ideal world, people will have the skills required to write code that will pull the data they need in order to make wise decisions. For more about this concept, see Rushkoff’s “Program or be Programmed“.

So were does software development fit in our schools? I think project based learning is a good place to start. By giving students a problem that can be solved with software or an app is a great way introduce students to coding, particularly if that app provides a solution to a real world problem. If you have ever written any code, no matter how big or small, you can attest the amount of critical thinking is required in order for your code to work. Also, there is a lot of reflection and revision that goes into coding, and students receive immediate feedback on whether or not their code works. These projects could be cross-curricular or a unit in a subject area.

I would love to hear from anyone who is allowing students the option to develop apps and software as a major class project. It would be interesting to hear how you assessed students and how they responded to your project.

Chromebooks in the Classroom

At First Glance

I have been test driving a Samsung Chromebook for the past week and have been very impressed with how easy it is to use. If you haven’t had a chance to see what a Chromebook is, check out Google’s 3min video explanation.

Most of the productivity work I do on computers is online (Google Apps and Web 2.0 tools), so I didn’t have to go through the learning curve of how to share and work on the internet. As a result, I was quite at ease with having Google Chrome as the only program on the computer. I also discovered that there are quite a few differences that makes Chromebooks great for a class.

1. 8 Second Start-up. My colleague, Darin Johnson, was telling me about a class he was observing where it took the students twenty-four minutes before they all logged on. I am sure we have all had the same experience, and our Primary teachers are well aware of the age:login coefficient. The Chromebook went from open to on to login in 8 seconds, though it would take a bit longer if I couldn’t spell my name and password. This may seem like a small thing, but to a teacher with a class of 20+ students, an easy login is a huge time and stress saver.

2. Pushing out Extensions and Apps. One of the coolest aspects of Chrome OS is that if there are any updates, apps or extensions that apply to every student in the district, they can be added to everyone’s profile all at once from our IT department. No more waiting two weeks for the tech to come out and install new software on everyone’s computer.

3. Profiles that follow the student. When I set my preferences in Chrome, they are stored online so that it doesn’t matter which computer I use, my preferences will follow me. I don’t have to always have the same computer. If the computer breaks, I don’t have to reset everything. If a student needs to use a larger font, that font size will follow him, even if he changes schools within the district. This has some excellent implications for UDL (Universal Design for Learning).

4. Easy Individualization with Shared Devices. This is an extension of the previous point. One of the problems currently facing iPads is that they are highly individual devices, and public schools are used to sharing resources. iTunes had made it difficult to legally operate a class set of iPads, and some of the information collected on the apps that get past from student to student may have FOIP issues. However, a Chrome profile avoids those issues. You get to individualize a profile and have the ability to share a computer between classes. If you have read my blog before, you will know that I am a big fan of tablet computing. When we see Chrome OS for Android tablets I’ll really be excited.

There are, however, a few things we need to keep in mind about Chromebooks. A Chromebook needs a Gmail account to work, and many of the Google Apps for Education involve elements of social media. For students to be doing all their work online, our teachers need to be up to speed on their digital citizenship and fluency. Also, even though the internet is more ubiquitous and reliable, our internal wi-fi security systems can sometimes drop or block a connection and negate any of the bonus gained by Chrome OS. Given that everything students do on a Chromebook is online we may need to update our wi-fi security policies and procedures.

I am very excited about the prospect of Chromebooks in the classroom and I am looking forward to the exciting ways we can integrate it into our teaching.

Will iPads Revolutionize Education?

Camps are forming as we draw closer to the release of Apple’s new iPad. Some think it is the worst idea Apple has had this century, and others believe it will revolutionize how we use computers. I have had a number of conversations this week with teachers, principals and consultants about the impact this new device will have on education.

Anti-iPad: “Who wants to carry around a big phone?” “It will not run multiple programs simultaneously” “The keyboard sucks.” I reply to these statements by saying that the iPad is not a productivity tool. I think Steven Jobs gives a great, two minute description of the iPad’s function during his 2010 Keynote address (watch from 6:34 – 8:49) . If you equate learning with productivity, then you would not see any benefit to having iPads or next-gen tablet PCs in school. I have also heard that iPad will not run Flash, but  according to Adobe’s Flash Platform blog “It is [their] intent to make it possible for Flash developers to build applications that can take advantage of the increased screen size and resolution of the iPad.”

Pro-iPad: “Students won’t need to carry around armfuls of textbooks” “eTextbooks can be constantly and easily updated as well as include sound and video files” “You can recline to read it and you don’t need a keyboard or mouse” Don’t underestimate this last statement. Erganomics play a large role in engagement. Ask yourself how long you spend reading and watching stuff on the web with small netbook and iPhone screens. To really see what the iPad can do, watch this clip about how Sports Illustrated is envisioning their magazine on the iPad, and think about what you could do with that kind of functionality in a textbook:

The iPad will revolutionize textbooks and the way we interact with the web. It has opened up endless possibilities for new ways to enhance good pedagogy as well as  improve differentiation and engagement. These devices will change education, so lets be intentional in how we incorporate them into our practice and mindful of both the positive and negative effects.

Update: Here is a very good counter argument to my claim – The iPad and Higher Education.  The discussion that follows is also very interesting.


In Two Places at Once

At our last Learning with Technology network meeting we took a risk.

I tried to teach two groups in different locations at the same time. Impossible, you say? Some sort of slight-of-hand trickery? A costly VC setup, you ask? Not at all. With a few simple, and free tools, I was able to lead a discussion about Edmonton Public Schools Policy on Blogging and generating ideas for classroom Acceptable Use Policies between the MGM Network meeting at Minchau School and the LWT Network meeting at Newton School.

We connected visually through Skype and Oneeko (a screen sharing addon for skype) and lead cross network discussions in a chat group on Chatzy. I was actually pretty amazed at how smoothly it ran and I was very impressed with the conversations in the chat room. I hope the participants walk away with some ideas of how they can connect their classrooms with relatively little expense to classes around the world.

For those who were involved in the session, I welcome your feedback as to what worked in the presentation and what you would do differently in this post’s comments.

I would also like to thank David for getting us all Google Wave accounts. I am looking forward to playing with this new tool and seeing what it can do for us.

Skype and Google Docs

I’m sick.

I have the flu. And given the current state of affairs it wouldn’t be prudent for me to share my germs with my colleagues, even though I had some important meetings to attend. So this week I have had numerous opportunities to connect collaborate without leaving the warmth of my sickbed, thanks to Skype and Google Docs.

I have been able to join into the meetings by connecting through Skype and simultaneously working on a Google doc with the group. By using video Skype, I felt like I was right there with my workmates. The Google Docs made me feel like an active participant, not just an onlooker. In one meeting, we used a doc for collaborative minutes on the agenda and in  another meeting we created a common session plan. Using both apps made for a great experience and has helped me stay on top of my work. I’m sure using one or the other would have been fine, but would not have been nearly as productive as using both.

It also looks like teachers are using Skype in their class for kids who are staying home sick.

The caution behind this process is that it could potentially be another way to get more out of workers/students when they should really be resting. Our society values productivity so much that we often expect people to sacrifice their time and health for their job. As cool as my experiences have been this past week, this definitely seems like a place where we should heed Thamus’ warning.

However, it will be interesting to see if a by-product of the H1N1 outbreak is an increase use of collaborative technologies.