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.