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.

SMART Tables as an iPad Center in K-3

More and more we are seeing iPads being used as a learning center in K-3 classes. Typically, a teacher will have four or five iPads all linked to one iTunes account. Apps can then be bought and shared between the iPads and organized into thematic folders. (It is important to note here that unless the teacher is using Configurator, this practice violates the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions – section MAC APP STORE PRODUCT USAGE RULES). As these iPads are not set up for individual students, most of the educational apps used do not collect learning data and tend not to be collaborative.

One solution that has promise is the SMART Table, where students can use it as a center to collaboratively solve problems and learn through playing. The idea of immediate feedback and the potential for the collection of learning data is excellent.

However, before we get too excited, there are some fundamental problems with the table. The first is cost. They run between $7000-$8000 CND, which might be worth while if the table managed learning analytics, but it doesn’t – at least not yet. Also, in order to set up the table for students to use, the teacher needs to insert a USB key. It makes sense to have a lock on the teacher screen, but a USB key seems a bit 2003. The resolution is good, but the screen would occasionally disappear for a second or two.

Finally, and most importantly, it is difficult to see how the learning is improved through the use of the table. If the goal is to improve collaboration, the table is an expensive alternative to manipulative and games already in the classroom. As well, some of the learning activities immediate feedback told students they got the answer right, even though they selected the wrong answer.

There remains a lot of potential in a SMART table in the K-3 classroom. Unfortunately, the price point and the lack of an improvement in learning puts this device in the “Maybe in the Future” category.

A Google Drive Tip for Starting the School Year

There are as many ways to organize your Google Docs for you classroom as there are teaching styles. As you think about how you are setting up your classes this year, be sure you find a system that works for you and your students, both organizationally and pedagogically. Here is one way that I have used with my class. Feel free add how you organize Google Doc for you class in the comments below.

The first time you use Google Apps for Education with your students, have each student create a folder and then share that folder with you. It is best to have a format for the title that they all use -[UserName] [CourseName] for example (a.trang15 Soc30-1a).

Student Folders 1

Make a class folder in My Drive. Then, go to “Share with me” in Drive, select all the subject folders created by your students and drag them into your class folder. When a student makes a file and puts it in their subject folder, it will automatically be shared with you.

Student Folders 2

Tips to make this work for you:

  • The first action of any assignment using Google Apps should be “Put the assignment  in your subject folder.” This way, students have handed in the assignment before they even begin, which is great for Assessment for Learning and tracking/organization.
  • Use the Drive App on your phone or tablet and as you walk around the class, look through their subject folder to ensure they have added the file properly.
  • Use the user IDs to quickly create contact lists or groups. This is best done with dual monitors, where one monitor has Drive open to your class folder and the other monitor has Gmail Contacts open.
  • At the end of the year, delete the Class folder. All the student sub-folders and files will still be in your archives, but not in in your Drive list. You can still find them by searching for the doc or file.

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 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 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 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 🙂

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.”

Video Games in Education and UDL

Last week I was lucky enough to attend and present at the Educational Technology Council of the Alberta Teachers Association’s annual conference. One of the sessions I attended was about creating games in the classroom, lead by Kandise Salerno and Susana Gerndt from Sister Annata Brockman Elementary/Junior High School. I really liked their innovative approach by getting students to create a video game in class. One question that was asked at the end of the session was about how (or if) students were learning content through this process. This got me thinking about the purpose of gaming in the classroom and the impact it can have on different elements of teaching. There are different ways to apply gaming theory and practice to the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Means of Representation

This is what the questioner was trying to get at in the ETCATA session. Is it possible to use a video game to teach a concept? I first stumbled on the idea that content could be delivered through a video game in the 90’s when I started noticing Grade 8 students who had a pretty substantial knowledge of WWII because they had been playing Call of Duty (PC version, not console). I have since heard a few examples of content being taught with Civilization (Ancient Rome with Civ IV) and World of War Craft (Professors hold Class in WOW). Not all trials were successful, and the ones that I heard about that I thought were effective were post-secondary classes. I have always wanted to put a Social 10 course about Globalization based on Civ IV (now Civ V), but was too afraid of the costs, risks and time commitment. However, I do believe that there is educational value in video games as a means of representation and, if it is implemented thoughtfully, would appeal to many students.

Means of Expression

This is the principle reflected in the way Gerndt and Annada used gaming. After students had learned about a historical time period, they had to add an element, or level, to the game that showed they had learned and understood the material (Granatstein would have been impressed). Through the creation of the game, students were learning valuable skills for the modern world, such as collaboration, critical thinking, and digital fluency, to name a few, all while expressing their new knowledge to the topic. In UDL terms, there are students that may find it easier to show what they know through creating a game that explains a concept rather than write an essay about it.

Means of Engagement

Gaming and game theory can also be used to engage students, sustain interest and self-regulate. Paul Anderson delivers an interesting TED Talk in which he completely redesigns his class around some of the principles of gaming. His thoughtful and innovative approach is definitely worth considering. I don’t know if it would work for all grade levels, and I also wonder if it would be as effective if every class operated on the same premise. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot about how video games motivate people that have classroom applications.

Three approaches to the ways video games can influence the classroom through the principles of UDL. These are not perfect fits, and there are many roadblocks and hurtles that make it difficult for us to use games in the classroom. Hats off to those committed teachers, like Gerndt and Annada at Sister Annata Brockman, who are bravely pioneering this innovative and exciting approach to teaching.

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.

Privatization of Education

Over the last few months, there have been a lot of conversations about the role of iPads in education, the shifting role of publishing companies as textbooks become obsolete. and the drive to use Web 2.0 apps as evidence of 21st Century learning. However, often the conversation is ignoring the purpose of these new technologies and the pedagogical implications. My colleague, Will Rice, sent me an excellent article, “7 Key Questions to Ask About Ed Technology, Online Learning,” that encapsulates the discussions we have been having in our office lately. Looks like we aren’t the only ones with some serious questions.

In a perfect world, tax-payer dollars would go toward the creation of public domain, educationally sound apps. I know that governments do not like to share with other governments, but imagine a world in which the apps we created were not only aligned to our curriculum and free to all our students, but also to free to all education jurisdictions globally. In this perfect world, other jurisdictions will also create high quality free apps that they would allow us to use. And given that the app was free, there would be no copyright/pirating issues (which many schools are currently forced to do if they wish to have students share class sets of iPads), nor would there be a need for collecting personal information or selling ad space. These apps, funded by the public purse would belong to the public and available for public consumption.

Unfortunately, as our slow reacting bureaucracies push us to be 21st Century teachers without providing us 21st Century tools, I fear that we are beginning to see the privatization of education – especially when we see the advent of learning analytics in the very near future.