Replying to the Replies of “Don’t Ban Laptops in the Classroom”

Don’t Ban Laptops in the Classroom, is an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education. I read it. It was pretty good. However, the comments were so outstanding, I had to write a my own comment, and that comment was so long- it became a post.

The bad part about this IT BABBLE post is that you need to:

  1. Read the article. It is short and sweet, but read it first.
  2. Scan the comments and read a few. You will find a TREND among them.
  3. Finally, read my comments, located below.

To entice you here are a few gems written by university professor types:

I don’t ban them because students distract themselves—I ban them because students who use them to distract themselves distract others who already have the self-discipline not to distract themselves.

Being in class is not the same as being at home. Why would you expect your professor or your boss or your colleagues to enable you to maintain the exact same cocoon that you enjoy at home? You don’t dress the same, you don’t speak the same, you don’t pay attention to the same things in these different settings. Should a life guard be allowed to zone out while he/she struggles with building will power? No? Well, that’s an example of a setting with clear expectations for your attention as a pre-requisite to inclusion. Every social setting outside your dorm room has them. Grow up.

Good notes include connector arrows, spatial arrangements, diagrams, and even doodles to help retain semi-consciousness and semi-focus while waiting for significant inputs. Those who just type words are at a severe disadvantage

——————————————————————————————–
My Comment to the Commenters

This “study” – http://www.cbc.ca/news/technol…

Does not prove nor indicate anything. I hope no one reading this sees the experiment as valid, or even reasonable. The study has an invalid design, and the sample is equal to a cola taste test at a local WalMart.

I have been working in international schools where kids are doing IBO courses. Every IBO school producing students with high scores and top university placement, is a laptop school. (At least the 75 or so schools I have been in contact with.)

In fact, before I was working in administration, I was teaching 150 students a year. My students would not be able to parse the amount of information required by the IBO without a laptop, or regular computer access.

Students still takes notes, but they take them anyway they want. In fact, students between 16-18 seem to know what methods of note taking work well for them, and as a teacher/administrator, I monitor their note taking and make suggestions until a method that suits them is found.

I have had students who did everything by drawing. Others used programs that were designed to focus note taking by locking all the windows and applications away until a password was entered.

Many use services like Google Docs and do comparative note taking and group note taking with friends.

Every subject the students have to complete requires an immense amount of file and data management.

Math, Science, Art, Computer Science, and Music all have multiple software packages required to complete the curriculum.

Over an 8 year period, I have had many students come to visit or write from university. Universities in Canada, the USA, the UK, Asia, Australia, etc. Most would say they found the transition into university life, and the pace required, on par with their senior year in high school.

The main issue I have with the comments in this post, is that I have helped plan and prepare educational technology programs for the last 8 years. I have designed programs that have required technology for 1000s of students. These students are now headed to university, and apparently, they need to learn to slow down and close their laptops.

Some curriculum topics do not require technology. However, many do, and if you are requiring students to write, I can only assume they are sometimes submitting work electronically. If they are using software to make final content, then they should have the ability to use software to make drafts and notes.

In this article, “Laptop use lowers student grades, experiment shows”, the description under the photo reads, “Laptops are now commonplace in classrooms, and its not unusual for students to be on social networks, playing games or watching movies during class. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)” .

I hope everyone realizes that as a school, it is not impossible to manage security and control things like social networks, movies, and games. Most school’s, including universities, simply work on a very old IT management model that does not allow the network to have flexible ways to manage the needs of various groups of people.

Usually, a school has most of the hardware and software it needs to implement what is required to stop entertainment and social networks. However, it only works if you plan and think like a school, and avoid planning and thinking like a company.

I challenge anyone who really believes that the core problem is technology to take real steps to prove it. I firmly believe the problem is in the curriculum, the lesson delivery, and the lack of adjusting to students as they change.

If proof is required, then this is what must be done. Forget about laptops. Turn off the Wifi. Turn off the internet access for students during lecture times and normal study times. Prove that success is possible with notes, text books, library resources, and all the things that were used to design the curriculum delivery. This includes no internet for teachers as well. Prove that the organisation can teach and learn with the knowledge and skills they possess, and the static resources they own.

As for myself, I know I can do it. Living in working in places that lack infrastructure force one to learn to construct a curriculum to meet the demands and limitations created by the situation.

If you take the challenge do it long enough for the students to take a 3rd party assessment of some type, and compare it to a school or group who has not taken the challenge. If you believe prove it. I think if technology is damaging students, the argument should be settled.

 Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Instructional Technology, Tech Integration | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How a ‘C-‘ Can Be a Good Thing

It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see.~ Moneyball 

I often take ideas and assign a numerical scale to them, in order to compare them to other things. I always tell people that they can “make their own math”. Most people just stare at me blankly, and others just laugh like I am joking.

Believe me, all that math you may have partially studied in school is useful. Somewhere along the line someone forgot to add a few key points to the math textbooks. For example emphasising  that if a bunch of people sitting in a room can decide if a movie is a G, PG, PG-13, etc., then any group of people sitting in any room can do the same thing.

Even though they do not realize it, educators do this all the time when they make decisions about grading, grading scales, and standards. Recently I have been looking at grading scales for a Shanghai Primary School, a Shanghai Middle School, a year 9-10 IGCSE program, and a year 11-12 IB program. In my current position I am involved in implementing these scales among a common population of students.

These students will start on one scale and finish on another. They will go from letters, to numbers, to different letters, and back to numbers.

It is perplexing when considering the transcript and the key needed to decode the transcript.

I think the way schools report progress is a bit insane. It seems logical to give a student a number or letter and say, “This = Good and That = Bad” . However, over the course of time, the standards connected to these metrics change. So the logic does not hold up.

Trying to report the standards seems logical, but the number of standards per student, per subject, and per grade overtime would be overwhelming for most people to read and interpret.

So how should schools get things down to one number, using the information the way parents and students need to read it?

I suggest the answer is to stop reporting numbers and letters, and to start reporting trend lines. 

trending

Trend lines not only show a student’s performance  overtime, they clearly show if the student is on a steady, moderate, or rapid incline or decline. A trend line can group categories of things into single points, and those points can be reviewed quickly. Any points of concern can be expanded for conversation.

The most interesting thing is that a student who previously had an ‘F’ in science, but now has a ‘C-‘, will appear to be improving (Which is good, because they are improving). A grade of 55 that is now a 71 shows a 30% improvement. If this was a mutual fund, you would be smiling.

Currently, what do parents and students see in this situation? They see an ‘F’, and a ‘C-‘.
That does not seem like much of an improvement when the grade is explained as below average and described as needing significant improvement.  An 81 changing to a 91 looks great, but that is just a 10% improvement.

The truth is, the trend line would show not only improvement but some degree of effort. Effort that is not calculated by someone’s opinion, but through the interpretation of data.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

 

 

 

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Opportunity vs Experience

I was in a meeting. I dislike most meetings. Not because I dislike people or discourse, but because most meetings seem unfocused and more for ritual than utility.

In this particular meeting, we were presented with some self-guided learning options for students who need to be challenged more. That means they are working below their level.

Looking at the courses, I noticed that there was no curriculum. Meaning, there were courses only, and nothing formally connected.

So I thought, “I am a student. I want to d0 more science. I will take a single course. I pass the course. What do I get? Who knows about it? Do I have to take the course at my own school a year from now? Do I need extra work for only the experience of doing it?”

In some cases, such as being part of volunteer group, building something with a team, or collaborating on a single project, experience is all the reward someone needs. The reward of experience is truly great when connected to something unique and singular, something that is also an experience.

An opportunity is comprised of experiences, but experiences do not always lead to new opportunities.

As I was pondering the options, I remembered the logic I apply to all educational choices, and asked the guiding question that continually corrects me when I stray from the path: Am I creating a real opportunity for a student or am I just filling a gap in time?

That question lead me to see the list of options differently. I realised if I applied basic backward design to the list I could easily create a curriculum track that would connect to a new opportunity coming in the near future.

I proposed that we inform the students who qualified for the program, that we would have a summer program focused on environmental science and data logging. This means sampling the environment and doing research related to water, soil, air, and the local plant life. The program would also teach the students how to use new equipment, sensors, technology, etc., and to apply the scientific method. For those students looking for a pay-off in the end, it would give them the skills needed for IB Science courses 1-3 years in advance of other students. Making lab time less, and in class work-time more productive.

Win!

No actually. Fail. Not an insulting “Fail!” or “You’ve been Pwn’d!”, but the idea was rejected. It was rejected in favor of choosing only one of the courses and trying to convince at least 12 students to join. The course would start and end with the experience only. If a student happened to some how move the USA, they might be able to claim a high school credit for it, but the chances of any of these students moving to the USA are very low.

The main reason for this decision, was it seemed like an easier way to begin and an easier goal to achieve.

I felt a bit upset and troubled. At that moment I had basically failed as a student advocate.

If we are encouraging students to go beyond the classroom, they should have a reason. There should be more value in the process than just the grasping a new concept before their classmates.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The problem with LMS’s

I’m not going to lie to you – I really like Edmodo. Hell I’ve made five versions of an Edmodo guide that has been viewed over 50,000 times and the latest version is more than fifty pages. You don’t do something like that unless you like something, are paid to do or old told to do it by a superior. I’m lucky, I fall into the first category. I know that Edmodo can help organize a class, improve communication between the teacher and her/his students and make life generally easier for the teacher. I know Edmodo does this and more and I know that other learning management systems (LMS) do too.

However, I read an article in Hack Education called Beyond the LMS by Audrey Watters. The article talks about a great deal of issues but one that stood out was why Audrey doesn’t think LMS are a good idea. Her example was Blackboard but this point here really stuck with me.

After all, at the end of each class, students would lose access to the materials — could lose, I suppose. there are some administrative controls to extend it. Anything they’d written in the forums, for example, any interactions they’d had through the messaging system: gone.

You see, she is right. After a class is over in Edmodo, I have three options:

  1. Delete the class forever – not a good idea.
  2. Keep the class open – Not the best idea either. Who knows what it could turn into.
  3. Archive the class – No one can post, delete or make any changes. The info is available but you have to scroll or search through it

I archived all my classes, but if you’ve ever used Edmodo and archived a class and then tried to find something – good luck. The search isn’t that great which means you need to scroll through everything, and it shows so much info at a time. I’ve had to do this and it is a time consuming pain in the ass. My students wouldn’t go through all that.

Sure, the info is there but not easily accessible which means no one is going to sift through that to find what they’re looking for unless it is a real emergency and even then maybe.

One thing I believe is that technology can bring unparalleled transparency to a school. It can let all teachers of a subject/grade level to consolidate all their materials in one place, collaborate on cornerstone assessments and thus make everything better horizontally aligned which is a problem I’ve seen at every school I worked at.

It can also allow teachers in different grades to see what is being taught above and below them and thus bring more vertical alignment within a school. Also a problem I’ve seen at every school I’ve worked in, but Edmodo and other systems aren’t great at that. Their focus is far smaller. Improve organization of a class, improve communication within the class and to help bring more transparency to the students in the class. I love that but now that I think about what Audrey wrote, I think of all the resources they lose out on after the year/semester is over.

This makes me think of good old Omar. Omar, uses WordPress blogs for his classes. At first I thought he was making more work for himself. He had to set up the blog, he had to manually add each student to the blog, he had to make sure they could access the blog through their account. He had to make sure that the categories and tags were all set up and more and more, but at the end of the day (or school year) that info is still there. It’s still available for his students. It’s a record of what they’ve accomplished, what they still need to improve upon and more. They can take that with them (or at least access it in the future).

I like that idea more. I like the idea of students being able to take their work with them from class, to class and year to year. I love Edmodo and will most likely use it again in the future, but I’ll also do something else. Maybe a blog or a website to help correspond with what the LMS is doing. I want to create something with my students that they can take with them. I don’t want my class to be a stand alone class – I want it to be transparent and to have longevity beyong the school year.

In the end, if every year is a blank slate what was the point of all the previous years?

Patrick Cauley
www.thetechjonsey.com

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Back to school with Edmodo

edmodo_image

Ah-the beginning of another fine school year. The printers are warm and busy, teachers are shaking hands and hugging each other catching up from the summer holiday and bulletin boards are being covered getting ready for that all important first day of school. Another thing that teachers are getting ready is their Edmodo groups.

If you haven’t heard yet, Edmodo is a learning management system – in fact I dare say it is the most popular one in the world! It’s free to use, powerful and doesn’t take too much time to set up.

Still unsure, then check out my Edmodo guide. You can find it on Scribd here or check it out below.

Posted in Edmodo, Helpful Tips | Tagged | Leave a comment

Folders, Files, Sharing, Storing and the Myth of Speed

Blackblaze Research

Warning: This is about Educational Technology, Teachers, and Students. This is not a cloud for business article, although some points are valid for all groups of cloud users.

Let us get this out of the way: Harddrives go bad, and they fail more often that anyone wants to admit. That means data loss, often total data loss.

The graph to the left was created by Backblaze. The amount of and variety of drives they tested was impressive. Their research was discussed on Lifehacker and other sites like PC Magazine.

If you are lucky to recover any of the data from a failed drive, it will mostly likely look like the second picture to the left.

Have fun trying to open and name all Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 8.36.06 AMthose files.

I have moved large groups of people before from local network shares to cloud services. However, every time I undertake this, I receive the same complaints. I normally get pretty annoyed, because it does not occur to people that I personally have nothing to gain by helping them move from a failure-prone system with possibly one real layer of redundancy, to a system that has multiple layers of redundancy and a team of professionals keeping it operating well for world-wide business operations.

Reasons People Get Angry When Moving Files to the Cloud

Many people have the ability to use tools to SYNC files to their cloud account. However, some people are on old or incompatible operating systems that cannot support such functions with a given cloud service.

In addition, many users are not aware that the current interface design for cloud storage supports, and encourages, drag-and-drop. Users tend to believe they have to upload only one file at a time. This angers them. Knowing the shear number of files they need will take them 100s of upload button clicks.

The truth is they can drag-and-drop 50-100 files at once. A simple process, that needs to be reiterated to everyone, and often. Drag-and-drop helps take the anger from an 11 to a 7. You don’t want to see users go to 11.

The other aspect of moving to the cloud that angers the user base is the inability of some services to create layers and layers of folders.

How long does it take to make 100 folders?

About 45-60 minutes.

I did a sample of 20 folders and made the estimate. It is work. However, it is easy. Department shares in the cloud are even easier, because folders can be made by everyone in the department at the same time. Simply divide and conquer.

The department working together is a great process in itself. It hopefully will occur to them that they do not need those lesson plans from 2009. If the school needs them, the school can and should archive them. Moving to cloud should equal cleaning the data house.

Folders and Speed

Most people on network shares believe they have some speed advantage over the cloud. This is true if you are streaming video, or working with large amounts of data. Based-on network bandwidth studies, I personal exceed the daily bandwidth average by about 2 GB. That means that most teachers on-campus are using at least 2GB less than me, and I am 90% cloud-based. I work with video nearly everyday. I work with large data sets everyday. I am doing more. Creating more. Sharing more. I have not used a network share for anything except storing large video files, in the last 5 years. If people tell me “check on the shared drive”, I find the item in question and put it in the cloud.

Network shares, especially the ones that auto-mount, add overhead to the computer. A better way to say that is, they slow down the computer. So maybe that Word doc opens .4 seconds faster, but the computer stops and spins for 3 minutes 10 times a day in the middle of working.

Folders, especially nested folders, are not fast of efficient ways to store data. For example:

English –> Year 5 –>Homework –> Shakespeare — Unit 1 — doc1.docx

Doing network audits can be interesting. Not only will you find complex nesting, but you will find 20 files named “doc1.docx”.  Guess what that means? Network searching will fail. Results will be slow, and there will be numerous false positives.

In the cloud, this whole nested concept can simply fade away. The cloud storage structure is simple and easy, and it allows smart and organizes search. For example:

English –> Y5-Shakespeare-unit1 [TAG Homework]

In the cloud model, I would use one folder for the subject, and simply name the file(s), what the file(s) is about. Now, search will work. In fact, search will work and group things by “Y5″, “Shakespeare”, “Unit1″, and “Homework”.

Not to mention there is no browsing. No staring at size 10-12 font scanning 100s of files and hoping you remember the folder names, 3-4 layers down.

Files and Versioning

All cloud services I am familiar with support version control. This means you can keep one file, using the same name, but the most recent version, or the system will simply add a number, 1,2,3, etc., to the file name. This makes it clear which version you are working on.

The file view in cloud services is usually customisable. This means the ability to see files in the way you need to read them. Maybe by date modified, date created, or size. Everyone has different needs.

Operating systems support this, and I use these filters all the time. However, in 10 years of training teachers and school administrators, I have rarely gotten them to remember to switch to a detailed file view. Most people surf thumbnails like Ponce de León looking for the fountain of youth. 

As a cloud service admin, I default the departmental shares to organize the file view so it shows the most recent files and the most recent versions. I also default it to show who created the file and the last person who modified it. This is quietly saving people time.

Sharing not Emailing

Cloud services encourage users to share. Sharing can be a bit of a mental tornado. Teaching people permission levels, and how to share with students versus colleagues is also challenging.

I suppose that in some cases, emailing an attachment is innately safer and easier. Unfortunately the practice of attaching is unintentionally excluding people. Mobile device users, iPad users, and anyone not on a traditional computing platform will struggle with email based attachments.

The world is changing. From Andorid to Windows 8, things do not work as they use to work.  Mobile devices and new operating system designs rely on the cloud for storage, updates, and authentication. They are designed for sharing, and not attaching.

Teachers existing on network shares cannot share and truly connect with students, if those students are not on the same platform and network that the teachers are on. This usually means no access from home, no ability to collaborate with iPads or other devices, and no asynchronous communications.

Cloud based documents allow for asynchronous(async) feedback and corrections. The async method allows teachers to assign work in smaller more focused modules, with the goal of expanding on the problems that occur as the assignment develops. Very few people have time for real-time feedback and correction. Cloud based services natively fuel collaboration between teachers and students without asking for more face-to-face time.

What if there is no Internet?

I have worked in two places where the internet was very suspect. It would be up and down very regularly. Every time the internet would fail, I never noticed that people said, “Hey I can still get all my work done. I have the network shares.”  Just the opposite. My office was filled with people telling me how it was impossible for them to do their work.

One can guess at why. Maybe it was because the contents of many of those network documents are taken from online. It could be entire departments rely on websites for their curriculum activities. Also, it is possible, that they students were getting all their assignments from work that was moved from the local network, to an online learning environment.

The fact is, if the internet goes down, the “plan-b” is never to have a party on the network shares. The “plan-b” should be to work and learn without technology. Making a good backup plan for no internet days is another topic for discussion, but I would never include any technology in a backup plan that is to be used in the event of a major network failure.

Someone asked me once at a conference, “So what if Google goes down. Or Microsoft goes down? What then?”

I responded, “I would rather be the person standing with the millions of people working-on and demanding a solution than the one IT professional trying to recover data from a single server room failure.” Who wants to be that guy?

Ca·thar·sis

The easiest thing for an IT department to do is give user a big bin to throw their stuff into. Unmanaged. Not optimised for speed. Little to no redundancy. Set it and forget it.

This is not good practice. To manage local shares correctly, someone needs to dedicate time and money to the process. Most companies overtask their IT people when it comes to infrastructure, so the lack of concern for someone else’s data is low.

The hardest thing for an IT department to do, is create something that is customisable at the school, departmental, and personal levels. To, in fact, differentiate the technology for needs, when those needs arise. Moving to the cloud is not easy, or a free pass for the technology team, it is just the best way for most organisations to create new opportunities.

Cloud services have so many benefits to education, that writing about them would require a book, or a few 100 posts. That writing is being done daily all over the internet, and all over the world. My message to teachers, students, and anyone is this : Before being critical of change, take time to look around. Take time to look it up. Take time to see the changes happening NOW.

If it were really slower, worse, and a waste of time why would so many educational organisations all over the world be in the cloud or switching to the cloud?

Do the research. Release the anger on proving this post wrong. In the end, just get on with it. Make a few folders. Move the files. Start collaborating. Use that iPad for something other than games and reading novels.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

 

Posted in Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, iPad, Opinion | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I don’t like email – but I like Slack!

I don’t like emails. As IT coordinator I get what I consider to be a lot of emails – around 60 a day right now. I’m often too busy during the day to go through them effectively and leave them till I get home. Then I spend around two hours mowing through them. I don’t like email not because I hate the volume I receive, but more due to its inefficiency.

Our school just had its first day of the school year today. Leading up to this week I received around 50–60 emails a day on top of trying to do my part to get the school in shape. I often, spend my day running around, completing tasks, helping my colleagues however I can and rarely have time to sit down and address them pesky emails. That leaves me with 50+ emails every night to mow through.

You might be thinking that the volume of email I receive is what bothers me, but that’s really not it. It’s how inefficient it is. Let me paint a picture for you. A teacher in a classroom is having trouble printing and so are five other teachers who have the same issue. Even though it’s one issue all five teachers will email me at different times to report it.

Instead of just dealing with all five issues at once, we end up dealing with them individually throughout the day – interrupting our tasks and thus making our time less effective. It’s not the teacher’s fault. How are they supposed to know that the issue is not confined to them? They’re just reporting an issue that is pressing and needs to be solved.

Another problem with this scenario is that only I see the message. I work with 5 other very talented and capable ICT engineers who are often as good or better at solving issues than myself. They will often miss out on these issues as they are only sent to me. Then if I do forward it onto a team member, they maybe too busy working on another problem to help that teacher in a timely manner.

See – not too efficient.

Now let me give you another issue. A member of the IT team wants to let me know of an issue so they email me. Sounds OK right? Not really. There may be other members of the team who need to know about this but are left in the dark. This leads me to do a lot of micromanaging and miscommunication. This often leaves the team going over the same old ground again and again. I don’t blame my team members – email is fast, reliable, and for a long time the only means to reach out to someone. It just happens to not be a sucky tool for team communication.

Groups

To help combat this I created a Google group. You don’t need to have Google apps for education, but it helps if you do. Instead of emailing just me, they email the group. All of the IT team will receive the email as well as myself, thus keeping the whole team informed and in the loop. I have one person per grade level or subject email a list of problems their team has. So we can engage in multiple issues in one visit as opposed to stopping back again and again.

This helps a little bit but we run into another problem. The rogue emailer. A person who decides that the protocol just doesn’t apply to them or they simply forget to send it to the group. This person isn’t nefarious and they probably feel that one direct email is harmless. Now chain that together with 15–20 people in a day. Yep – that is a lot busy work. Often, these emails can get buried in my inbox too, escaping the focus of the IT team and making the sender frustrated.

You see, I can’t control these people anymore than I can control the weather. I would have better luck getting Omar to clean his desk. :) They act independently and to be honest – there aren’t any consequences they will suffer doing this. I can’t dock their pay or place them in time out – are you kidding me. Also, for me to ignore their request just is irresponsible and not in my nature. The result is a bloated inbox that eats up my time.

So you see – I don’t like email, but I’m stuck with it. I deal with too many people to ignore it and there isn’t a better option out there for me – at least not yet. Yet, all hope is not lost.

Slack

Then I saw an article on The Verge about Slack. Slack is a way for groups or teams to communicate. Despite the link bait headline

Slack lets you create a small community focused on nothing but communication. Check out the screen shot below.

At a quick glance it may look like a simple chat program and it certainly has that feature (even with emojis) but there is much more to it. On the far left hand column there are some cool features.

As you can see there are channels. Slack creates a General and a Random channel (of course you can rename or delete these). I’ve also added Major Issues and Xerox to the mix as well. Then below that is a list of all members in the team. Since I created the group I have control on who is in the group. You can create as many channels as you want and each channel requires a purpose so it is clear why it was created.

When they are online a green dot is next to their name so I know who on my team is watching and available for immediate action. When I send a message, they receive it in real time and can reply. I can even send direct messages if need be.

Another great feature is how you can add Integrations to your Slack team. You can up to five for free and then you need to pay after that. For us, it works great because I can add Google Drive to it, making it easy to share files with my team.

In fact there is an impressive amount of integrations that you can add to Slack making it much more than just a communication hub for your team. Another great feature is how Slack handles linked files and actual files. You can easily find them in a side bar that you can hide or show at any time.

So for example, we were going to be setting up some new computers for about 60 staff members. We needed print drivers, ActivInspire, AirServer and a few other programs. As a team we all had them but no easy place to store them all. Slack stepped in and we were all able to upload our files and make them accessible for the entire team. This has already proved to be very, very nice.

This helps me and the rest of the team stay on the same page. We can update each other of ongoing projects, alert everyone of new issues, ask for help. No worry of sending errant emails to the wrong person, or accidentally hit Reply to all. It’s closed, just for us and gives us a clearer focus.

This isn’t to say that it is perfect, but it is certainly better than just email. My team and I still use email, especially dealing with vendors or administration to build an email chain, but when it comes to communication within the team Slack is the way to go for us.

It also has an iOS app, an Android app and desktop apps for Windows and Mac. They have all the bases covered here. If, you’re like Tony who is rocking Linux, you can still access the web version and if you have a BlackBerry, get a new phone.

Not for everyone

Don’t get me wrong, Slack will not replace email. That would probably be a disaster – but it helps me keep in touch with the IT team. Could this work within a school? I think it could if used properly. You wouldn’t want a Slack for an entire division or even a grade level, but let’s say you have a curriculum team, Slack could work very well. Also, if you have a team of people in charge of reaccreditation or working on a grant – Slack may very well be the better route to helping you build something effective and meaningful in your school.

The fact that all messages are easily searchable, files are very easy to find, you can make focused channels for various sections of your project makes Slack a real alternative to emailing when working within groups or on teams. Technology doesn’t always make our lives better or easier, but Slack is a product that seems to offer more focus, better efficiency and a clearer focus for members of a team. Give it a try for you and your team. It’s free!

https://slack.com/

Patrick Cauley
The Tech Jonsey

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Don’t copy and paste that image yet!

Most teachers I know (this includes me) often break the law. No we aren’t knocking over banks, stealing cars or performing identity theft. No, we are strictly small time crooks. What we do, is steal images that have been copyrighted. Yep, we are a truly nefarious bunch but it is nonetheless the law we are breaking and we are supposed to be a good model for our students.

The problem is most teachers have no idea what they’re doing is wrong. They search for images on Google, find one, copy and paste it into their document and have no idea if they are allowed to use it or not. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s there for you.

So how do you know? You want that cute kitten in your newsletter, homework assignment, rubric or class blog but now you’re worried the FBI will swoop down and lock you away for 25 years.

Fear not my fellow educators. I saw this flow chart the other day on Lifehacker that will help you answer your questions.

The flow chart was created by Curtis Newbold at The Visual Communication Guy. It pretty much covers it all, but if for some reason you are still unsure then the safe bet is to not use it and make your own from scratch.

For the actual link to the original post on the Visual Communication Guy click here.

Posted in copright, Helpful Tips, Patrick Cauley | Tagged | 1 Comment

Managing devices in your classroom

Going into a school with a BYOD or one to one device program can give teachers a moment of pause and even create a little trepidation or anxiety. There are usually a lot of questions about where to start and how to use these devices which are now so powerful.

One thing to remember is that these devices are tools. A friend of mine told a group of teachers that it should enhance your classroom-not dominate it. So starting with how to manage these devices is a logical place to start. Something to take note of is that I’m not going to be revealing any sacred teaching secrets here. A lot of what I’m going to write about is just good old classroom management techniques. This doesn’t make them any less effect but having dealt with technology in my classroom for the past seven years I know these work and work well.

Nonverbal technique

One teacher told me that his students walk in his room, open up their computers and then he spends the next ten minutes trying to get them off Facebook and on task and focused.

An easy solution here is to make two signs. One that says when it is OK to use computers and one to let the students know that computers need to be put away and focus needs to be elsewhere. So when your students walk in, see the sign, they know what to do. You can have the sign outside the room, on the board, just as long as it is very conspicuous. This is best introduced very early in the year and of course consistency is the key here. Be sure to use this method all year long and every now and again remind them that it’s always in place.

Here are some fun images (everyone loves cats right?)
No computers allowed.

Computers allowed.

Feel free to use these free royalty free images. I found them at morgueFile.

Another technique is to use a sound that allows students to know that they cannot use their computers. I made one in Garageband and it works quite well. I just took a few of their loops and threw them together. You can do it and easily make it as long as you want.

You can listen to mine here:

You can download it here:

Expectations walking through the door

Another easy one is to teach your kids what your expectations of them are when they enter your class. Maybe make it a policy that there are no computers for the first thirty minutes of class (or whatever suits your needs).

That way when students walk in, they know to keep that device away an put down.

Another alternative would be to have them complete a task using their device. They walk in, see the task on the board and get to work. The task could be to read an article that you’ve shared with them (Google Drive, Edmodo, Schoology, there are lots of ways to share documents or links), completing a short quiz on last night’s homework – basically anything you want. Just make sure that it is meaningful and not just something to kill a few minutes. If students think it’s useless, they won’t do it and how can you argue with them about that. They’re right.

Again, consistency is the key here. You don’t have to do it every day, but if you do it every Wednesday, then make sure you do it every Wednesday for the whole year. Just doing it willy-nilly will send the message that this is not very important and thus making things much more difficult for you to pull off.

Notes

A number of students like to take notes using their computer. They may use Evernote, Simplenote, Google Keep or even an online word processor (Google Docs, Zoho or Microsoft Live or 365). If you want to give them a choice – that’s fine but make sure you discuss how to take notes effectively and how to make the most the program and its features.

There are a lot of people out there who discourage note taking on a computer and they have some research to back it up. This doesn’t mean that the programs mentioned above can’t be utilized. What I like to do with notes, is to take them by hand and then refine them in Evernote. This is not a new practice I know a university professor who said he would take notes, rewrite them again and then (with a small study group) type them out. That way he was looking over the material often, not just once and not alone. Computer programs can be great for this.

It is all up to you though but make sure you think it through and convey your expectations to your students. Don’t just let them decide for you. If you believe it will hurt them and the class in the long run then do something about it early on.

Close the lid/Shut off the screen

A quick one that I learned very early on is that you cannot, I repeat, CANNOT compete with a glowing screen. It offers for more entertainment than you could ever hope to provide and it is far more accessible for your audience.

A quick way to kill this distraction was to have the kids shut their laptop lids or just put their devices to sleep and place it on their desk. I would even walk over and carefully shut laptop lids if students didn’t react quick enough (not angrily though). Other times I would wait until everyone had complied. Long silences can be a lot louder than a raised voice.

Don’t let them kinda close the lid – make sure it is completely closed. If it is kind of closed they will most certainly try to sneak a peek which is a distraction. Remember you aren’t hurting their machine closing the lid – your just putting it to sleep. It’ll wake up and be just fine-all their work will be there. I’ve done this with students and adults and let me tell you the result is the same – you gain the attention of your audience.

If it is a tablet or mobile I tell them to keep it on their desk and keep their hands off of it. If they “put it” in their bag or in their lap it is far too easy for them to take a quick look or fire off a quick text to their buddy. If it’s on their desk it’s harder for them to accomplish that discreetly. If you catch them using it and you’re fed up with it just walk over, ask them to power it down and then take it until the class is over. Trust me, they’ll remember to pick it back up before they leave the room.

Plan

I know this sounds kind of silly but make sure that you plan on how your students will use their computers in class. If you just let them walk in, open their computers and keep them open the whole time you are begging for them to be off task.

If you want them to use their computer give them direction and purpose. Maybe, they are in a group and are refining notes from early in the class. Maybe they are peer editing other student works. Maybe they are using a specific program to gather or organize specific type of data.

Either way, you decide when they can use it and what they are doing when they are using it.

Don’t use them

Just because your students have a device, it doesn’t mean you have to use it every day. If you want a class discussion and see no benefit to using devices, tell them the class before they won’t need them. If they do bring them, just remind them they won’t need it and to have them put it away.

Remember it is a tool. It is a a very powerful, flexible tool, but it’s not always the best tool for the job. You wouldn’t dig a hole with a screwdriver. As a teacher you need to make this decision and communicate that with your students.

In conclusion

If you’re still with me – thanks for that. This is longer than I intended. Just remember you’re in charge of your classroom. If you let the students be in charge and you don’t like how things are going blame yourself. You let that happen. This doesn’t mean you are powerless to do anything about it. You can make positive changes happen but you have to remember any good classroom management comes down to consistency and following through. Also, that if you don’t clearly set up these routines and expectations at the beginning of the year it’ll be harder to implement later on.

Once these are set up I think you can pull off some incredible lessons and learning opportunities for your students. Have fun with that and know that it can be fun – not a chore.

If you have some good techniques you use be sure to share them in the comments below.

Posted in Helpful Tips, Patrick Cauley | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Who needs books? Not me

OK, I just finished reading Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001 on my Nexus 7. After reading it I came to a two conclusions. The book wasn’t all that great and I can’t see myself purchasing or borrowing a physical book in the near future and I’m more than OK with that.

As far as the book goes, the Amazon reviews are a pretty good place to start. It just didn’t seem complete and the conclusion was pretty lack luster and just a bit of a disappointment. At any rate, the other books in the series are pretty good if you like sci-fi and probably worth your time.

Now onto my other conclusion. I can’t really see myself holding a physical book (if I have a choice in the matter) again. I just don’t see the point of it. Let me go to the beginning.

For Christmas of 2013 my wife bequeathed to me her old Kindle Keyboard as she upgrade to the newer Paperwhite. So I immediately started to find free ebooks by heading over to Project Guttenberg. Here you can find books that are out of copyright and can be downloaded for free – Shakespeare, Conrad basically a lot of classics. It was great and reading on the kindle was sweet. It was fast, easy, convenient and I can do it almost anywhere and the battery life oh man – it was a month! It fit in just about any bag, was light and comfortable to hold. I was hooked – this is how I wanted to read.

I also had the ability to borrow books from Amazon because I’m a Prime member, but Guttenberg and Amazon didn’t always offer everything I wanted and Amazon only let me borrow one book per month. So if I polished it off in a few days I was left waiting another 27 to borrow another one and there are some books I’d like to read but don’t necessarily want to buy. That’s OK because these two options were not my only source of literature my good people. I could also borrow books from my local library in Ohio.

Yep, I live more than 7,000 miles from my hometown and I can still access, browse and borrow books electronically. That is truly amazing. If you’re wondering, I use the my Kindle (if it allows it) or the Overdrive app Nexus 7. Of course not everything was available but that’s OK – a lot of what I want is there which is awesome! So why do I need a physical book to enjoy it?

I know people love to go to bookstores, sit, peruse and browse through the stacks, maybe sit and have a latte and talk with friends. I get that, I do, but living where I live, there aren’t that many places here to do that and even back home I rarely felt the urge to jump in my car and head out to a Barnes and Noble or a local haunt just to kill a couple of hours. It just wasn’t my bag baby.

I know that textbooks for example allow you to write notes in the margin, highlight more easily than a tablet or e-reader will allow but for general reading – I see no reason why I need to pick up a physical copy of a book ever again.

What do you think?

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