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.

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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.

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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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How I blog

byword_logo

I just wrote about workflows in school and I thought I would share my blogging workflow and how it has changed over the years. Obviously I currently use Byword2 right now but before I start talking about how this works, I figure I will start at the beginning.

The Old, Old Way
When Omar and I started IT Babble over five years ago (damn that’s longer than I thought) I simply logged into our WordPress blog and then wrote my posts there. What I found was that it was a bit of a hassle. I had to have an Internet connect, I had to log in, I had to get to the posts section of the dashboard and I had to upload each and every image. It just wasn’t convenient.

I tried stand alone programs like Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages but the problem here were the images. I would put them in my post, but when I copied and pasted my post over to WordPress, the images didn’t come over.

Enter MacJournal
So I started looking for programs that would let me publish directly to WordPress. I was surprised to find that my options here were quite limited and even more so on a Mac. What I ended going with was MacJournal.

macjournal

MacJournal is pretty sweet actually, I set up my blogging credentials.

blogging

Then all I do is write and add my images. When I publish it goes directly to the blog. I can even select categories from MacJournal, set the date it will appear on the blog – I mean it is pretty sweet and that’s what I’ve been using for the past five years pretty exclusively. So why did I switch – what were the shortcomings?

The Shortcomings
MacJournal was very good but there were some issues. On rare occasions the images wouldn’t publish. There was no rhyme or reason behind it – MacJournal just failed. Again, this was rare and not a big deal. Another reason was I had no access to the HTML code at all. There was no way I could tweak it, embed certain media from various services. At first this wasn’t a big deal but as my blogging progressed and my needs grew I often found that MacJournal was adequate but just not meeting my needs all the time.

As far images, I was using Voila which is a great screen capture tool. I could resize, add images, add borders, blur out areas. It was lightweight and easy to use. It even let me organize them and then I would copy and paste them into MacJournal.

voila

The workflow was clunky but there really wasn’t anything out there that could do what I wanted. There was MarsEdit 3 which seemed to be my answer, but when I tried the trial I just couldn’t get comfortable with it. So I resigned to using MacJournal and Voila.

The Change and MarkDown
Recently I started using Coggle as my preferred Mind Mapping tool. I like Coggle a lot and one feature that it boasts is using Markdown instead of a rich text editor. This frees doesn’t clutter the workspace with floating palettes that contain formatting choices like bold, italics, font size, etc. It clears out all that stuff and let you focus on one thing – your ideas. After figuring out how to use Markdown language (that took a whole 30 minutes for the basics people and no need for coding experience is necessary) I found it an efficient and very quick way to work especially as the mind map started to grow – there was then nothing really in the way which is very nice – especially for presentations.

Not only was it a good way to work but it supported images as well (as long as they were published on the web).

Recently I started looking again for another blogging program and came across Byword2 which is a markdown editor check out this post in markdown (I’ve taken a screen shot of the very beginning).

byword_doc

Looks like a word processing app, but all formatting and images are handled with Markdown – which is easy to learn people. Also, Byword lets me focus on my writing. Right now, that’s all I see – no underlined red marks, no images, no formatting bars – just my thoughts and like Coggle – that’s the way I like it.

Skitch
OK, now to an area that was a bit of a problem – images. I needed a screen capture tool that was easy to use, flexible and could let me annotate when needed. As I mentioned before, I used Voila for this previously and it is great. So why switch to Skitch? In one word – sharing. With Skitch I can take a screen shot, annotate it, resize and then publish it directly to the web and give me a full link that WordPress will recognize and work with.

Granted Skitch is not as robust or as good as Voila but I can work with that and am willing to give up some of those features in order to have all my images in one document and the ability to simply focus.

Another plus is the cost. MacJournal costs $50 US dollars and Voila costs $30 (if you get it from the website you may find discounts there). Byword (with the publishing feature) costs $15 and Skitch is free and this makes my workflow much easier and more efficient.

Why Should You Care?
Good question and honestly maybe you shouldn’t so much, but the point I am trying to make here (as I did in my previous article) was that I didn’t just find something that was “good enough.” I wanted it to be better. I kept looking and refining my workflow to get it the way I like. I spent time researching and thinking about it and for you maybe blogging isn’t something you’re all that keen on – that’s cool. It’s not for everyone, but what about grading papers? What about planning out units? These are definitely tasks that I think all teachers should look into and can find some improvements? What do you think? Leave them, there comments below.

Patrick Cauley

http://www.thetechjonsey.com

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How is your school’s workflow?

I like crossing things off my to-do list as much as the next chap, but let me tell you people sometimes I’ve completed a task and though Yeah, that took a lot longer than it should have. Usually that happens when trying or learning something new. In that case I often quickly forgive myself and try to do better next time.

In the video above, Terry Gilliam (famed director and Monty Python alum) talks about how he did his now famous animations for [The Flying Circus] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Python’s_Flying_Circus). The video is a little long and does have some quick nudity in it so watch out.

The reason I put it on this post, is that watching him work was fascinating. He knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. He has made the process as effecient as he can and anything he does is to express his story not dazzle people with his skills. He also keeps it as simple as possible so he can focus on presenting his story (or jokes in this case) as concisely as possible. The workflow doesn’t get in the way with his creative process. After watching that I thought to myself That’s how it should be with schools! Of course without babies eating adults (watch the video and you’ll see what I’m talking about :)).

True ,Terry was working mostly by himself and schools are typically dealing with loads of people but it made me think. How often do schools actually revisit their workflows and policies for everyday activities, and how often do they try to improve them? How often do they sit down with their staff and ask the question How can we improve taking attendance? What changes do we need to smooth out reporting grades? How can we better manage students in the hallway? As technology grows, new solutions to old problems are presented (like using workflows to deal with budgets, or track discipline in a way that allows all involved to help monitor certain students?)

Most schools I’ve worked at simply find a quick answer to these questions and then never revisit it again unless they need to react to an incident. I think it is worth while for schools to sit down and take the time to revisit the nuts and bolts of the procedures and policies that help it function. They don’t need to do it every year but once every few years would be ideal. It’ll give people an idea of who is responsible for what and how it affects the whole school not just a portion of it.

Patrick Cauley
www.thetechjonsey.com

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Google Smarty Pins – Trivia with pins

smarty_pins

Google has a number of fun little games that you can play with your students and we can add one more Google’s Smarty Pins. This is a trivia game that works with Google Maps. You can select a specific category to work from or just start and get a mix of them all.
category
Here is how the game works. You start off with a set number of kilometers. Google will ask you a geography question that is realted to the cateogry you chose. Instead of time, kilometers tick down. If you get the question correct you don’t lose any more kilometers. If you answer the question quickly enough, you get bonus kilometers. When you answer a certain number of questions correctly you receive bronze, silver or gold badges.

So here is a quick look at what you can expect. When you start they will ask you a question and then place the pin in the “vicinity” of the correct answer. I think it is within 1000km.

question

If you get the question correct you get the question correct – nice work! You get to continue on without any losing any additional kilometers. If you answer correctly within a certain amount of time you get some bonus kilometers.

correct
If you answer the question incorrectly. It calculates how many kilometers you are off and subtracts that from your total.
incorrect
When you have no more kilometers left, then the game is over.
If you work in a one-to-one laptop school or a a BYOD school then this could be a good way to help focus your students when they walk in the door, or use it as a reward for some students if they finish their work early.

Smarty Pins
http://smartypins.withgoogle.com/

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The good, bad and ugly – A look back at 2013-2014

wpid-goodbadugly-2014-07-1-20-19.jpg

This year I stepped into a new role that I wasn’t exactly expecting or prepared for but hey that’s life and it has certainly been exciting to say the least. So, like Tony, I thought I’d take this time to take a look back and reflect a little about . . . well the title says it all. Instead of going into that order though, I’d thought I would start with the ugly first.

The Ugly
The most obvious issues were the networking issues that bookended the school year. At the beginning of the year we were instructed from the powers to be to install a new component into our network. Myself, nor Tony, nor anyone on our team had any say about this. Needless to say it took about a month to get everything working but having a month of terrible Internet (not just WiFi) and that kind of leaves a sour taste in the mouths of the staff. Then towards the end of the year we had issues with two separate issues that caused increasingly poor havoc across our network. While it wasn’t “unusable” for many it seemed that way for some and it just ended the year in a bad place. Neither of these incidents were expected (at least to that extent) and it was ugly. The staff was upset (rightfully so) and I was left in a situation where we had to be rescued and that took time.

Now, onto other ugly. It was our new electronic gradebook we started the year out with but did not end the year with. It was another nightmare. Grades being lost, teachers unable to enter grades, progress reports not showing all inputted grades, serious display issues and much, much more. It was a long first semester for sure. For some teachers it worked fine from day one and others it never worked as it should. When one problem was “fixed” by the company they added new and more features. Needless to say this ugliness was not confined to the staff but spread to the administration and student body. Very few people had confidence in the program and led to grades being questioned . . . often. Teachers have enough to worry about and do than to sit down with a calculator and make sure the grades in the electronic gradebook are being calculated correctly.

The Bad
Now that’s out of the way let’s talk about the “bad” part of my year. I don’t consider this to be “bad” per say, but it was a part of the job I underestimated.I had big aspirations of creating a rotating IT Essential PD program where several workshops to teach people the basics and essentials but that never came to be. I underestimated how many fires I had to put out. I underestimated how projects seemingly found their way to my desk and then consumed my time. I’m not saying that those projects were’t worth my effort – on the contrary. They were important and I was needed and happily helped out, but to make room I had to push other projects off to the side and that included projects that had not taken flight yet. I regrettably didn’t blog enough. My blog just isn’t a means for me to get my opinions and views out in the world but a place for me to reflect and take stock of what I’m doing and where I’m going. It is very therapeutic and I neglected it which was more to my detriment than anyone else’s

One thing that was “bad” was communication in our school. One part of my job that I don’t like was dealing with email. On average I was receiving between 25-40 emails a day. Wow, that doesn’t sound like a lot until you are real busy and neglect it for a day or two then it becomes a problem and demands quite a bit of time to sit down and mow through. I’ve tried several techniques to deal with it but none I like. The problem is not just volume but the content. Some emails are from people who haven’t read their own and are asking a question I’ve answered. Other email issues occur when someone replies to an email that has nothing to do with the original email. Unless I deal with it right then and there it becomes hard for me to find that email again. It gets lost and that person feels like I’ve given them the shaft. Then there are those people who don’t communicate or report an issue because they think that someone else has. Then when no action is taken, they feel that they’re being ignored.

As you can see it’s not just email – it’s a bigger issue and it’s something I hope to address in the next school year.

Then, there was the issue with getting grades out of our new – stand alone gradebook into our student information system. It was a learning experience and I think we have figured out for next year.

The Good
In a word: Google. This was our first year with Google Apps for Education (GAfE) and it worked exactly as advertised. There were a few hiccups of course, but basically Google came through in just about every way imaginable. Teachers were using it in ways I hadn’t dreamed and those teachers that really embraced it found it a tool that changed the way they teach and work with their students. Also, the fact that our students had accounts made emailing keeping in touch with them easier than ever before. If there was an issue I couldn’t figure out – I called Google and they came through each time usually within hours of the inquiry. Just great.

I haven’t even gotten into the fact that teachers are starting to work collaboratively with their peers by utilizing Google Docs more and more and using stand alone word processing programs bringing more synergy and equality across classrooms. Every month so more and more Google Docs created.

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There is still a long way to go to get everyone on board but as you can see as off June 23rd – more than 60,000 Google Docs had been created – not bad.

Another good point was the switch to Engrade. As I mentioned in the ugly part, we were in a bad way with the old gradebook. I realized in early October that this was an issue that was not going to get better. I started looking elsewhere. I found Engrade – good reputation, used by millions and a solid gradebook with a robust learning management system. It didn’t integrate with our student information system but that’s OK and myself and most of the staff were happy to trade that off for a gradebook that actually worked. The best compliment I received about Engrade was none at all. No compliment or complaints meant that it was working and that meant that teachers weren’t . We had a few issues, but they were each rectified within a day or so and their tech support, while not as fast as Google was every bit as reliable.

Also, Google gets better and better. Drive will soon have the ability to open and edit MS Office documents and the add ons are making it an incredibly robust content creation platform.

Printing
While this was a small win – we got half of our school on a card based printing solution from Xerox. Basically teachers send their print job to a print server (not a specific printer). They then go to whatever Xerox machine is nearest to them, tap a card on the sensor and the print job comes out right then and there. The goal here was not to track printing – we were already doing that. The goal here was to cut down on waste and make the printing process more efficient. This did work out. Before teachers would print and it would be sent to a specific printer and print immediately. We had people accidentally picking up other people’s print jobs, people actually canceling other print jobs in order to move their’s up in the queue and even parents and anyone could print from a USB or make copies. Now it is held until they are ready to pick it up and unless you have a card you can’t use any of the features on the machine.

Even when Xerox machines went down, teachers could still go to another Xerox machine and pick up their print jobs. Not super convenient at all but It worked pretty well until the machine was repaired. The only problem we had were the Xerox machines themselves. They went down a little more than what we were hoping for, but the system worked pretty flawlessly for the most part and was a welcomed addition to that part of our school. We intend to roll it out to the other half in the fall.

The final good was Drupal. Tony started our school’s website with Drupal and while I didn’t do much with it for most of the year, I spent time learning the ins and outs of it. Around April, I started to work on a very robust section aimed for just our teachers and to redesign other aspects of it. Drupal made it easy and while our site is still under construction it is much larger than before with a lot more options. What is great about Drupal is that once I have the architecture in place I can turn over the ability to add content to other staff members. Thus freeing my time up to do other projects (PD workshops anyone?)

There were a bunch of ups and downs for sure, but those were the big ones. As a teacher, I could always look forward and know (with a reasonable bit of accuracy) what to expect the upcoming year. With my new role as IT Coordinator I find that pretty hard to do. Maybe with time and more experience I will get there. As of right now, I’m just enjoying the excitement that comes with my job and enjoying a little downtime this summer before gearing back up for 2014-2015!

Patrick Cauley
www.thetechjonesy.com

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2013-2014 a Look Back and Preston’s Beard

As the year winds down, I decided I needed to take some time and slow down a bit. It is that time of year to reflect, to say things to people like, “It’s all over but the cry’n”, and to generally be very apathetic so nothing will stop the summer holiday schedule. However, it is bad to start the summer, without reflecting.

So what happened this year….

I started off in Dubai finishing up a contract. I was welcomed back after summer break to a building that was over 50 degrees Celsius (Americans Google that and see what it means). After sweating and struggling for more than two weeks, that issue was solved with only minor damage to most things. That was followed by a disastrous networking problem related to a new security configuration, that I did not choose, but had to troubleshoot and luckily not alone.

Things happened so quickly, and I had no time to wrap-up my 8 years and move to the next challenge in the manner which I had planned. The game is never the game plan.

I relocated, missing very much my friends, but needing a change. Losing the weekly IT Babble Podcast really affected me and still affects me. One thing I have learned is we all need pointless banter and focused theoretical conversation to solve the problems we have yet to face. The banter also reduces stress more than anything else I can think of, and I have to make an effort to re-establish that in the next year.

I used to think working-out, and do other things to unwind was the key to a clear mind. Now I know those are fractionally significant compared to conversations that make you laugh, think, and fume with rage over the pointless of all known and unknown facts.

The new school, was and is, completely different. I have to say nearly every project I started is still on-going. I had forgotten how long it takes to really move a large group of people to a new way of working and doing things.

Office 365, Powerschool, Security Standards, Server Reconfiguration, Network Reconfiguration, Building a Residential Network, Writing Polices and Procedures for Everything, Creating a Real Budget, etc. All things that have happened in less than 10 months and will continue for the next 6 months until each is able to operate with me involved most of the time. The goal is always to build opportunity for others when working in Educational Tech. ‘Others’ does not refer to students, but to the entire community.  It is challenging, but it is a rule I follow and explain almost everyday.

The only other things in life and technology I know for sure after this year, and actually thinking about the last 9 years, are:

1. Linux is just better. I am sick of MAC and Windows and I am going back[to Linux] and staying there. Bite me OS X.

2. My next thing is to be a Certified Ethical Hacker, and I can’t wait to get that finished.

3. Being a leader means not being a friend, but finding real friends.

4. I should have won that Haiku contest on IT BABBLE but I am still waiting, and I am pretty sure I was shafted.

5. When Preston came to visit his beard was so big it needed it’s on towel and seemed to have gravitational pull. Please Preston…trim that before the summer heat.

The summer writing will be the never ending saga know as “The BYOD Playbook”. It will be revised, expanded, and hopefully finally published without conflict.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

 

 

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Omar’s basket weaving haiku challenge – IT’S ON!!!

If you listened to podcast episode 80 you now know that we have laid down a gauntlet of literary proportions (I don’t think that makes sense does it?) It is time to write your own haiku.

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Submit your haiku by filling out the Google form below. The deadline is June 19, 2014 and the winner will receive a handwritten haiku poem signed by Omar (the master himself) and a mystery prize that hopefully won’t suck. Get those submissions in!

For the record – won’t do anything with your email address except contact you (if you’re the winner that is).

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