During the first few weeks before my new campus opened, many people wanted to know what the mobile phone policy would be for students, especially those students living on-campus.
A decision was made to allow teachers to set their classroom norms, and to give the students an opportunity to use technology responsibly. This very open policy would be applied, and results would be evaluated.
The first month of school yielded some very interesting results, and eventually lead to a big change not only in policy, but also in campus culture.
The Real Issue
The assumption most adults and educators make is that students will waste time while using their devices in class.
The truth is that students using mobile phones outside of the classroom, is in fact a severe waste of time compared to the time lost in the classroom. Policies focusing on controlling students and preventing them from enjoying some form of entertainment while in class, are missing the core issue(s).
The real issue with students who are engaged in very high levels of screen-time, is that the engagement negates their time to socialize. The device, ironically, pushes them further apart from one another, even if they are using the device to communicate.
Classroom use of devices can be very beneficial. Teachers can task students and keep them working and interacting, while socializing.
During the first month of observation, when left to their own prerogative, students in social situations would default to the use of social media apps and free or freemium games instead of talking to one another.
The students were not engaged in deep discussions, academic information exchange, or even conversations about making plans for their weekends. They were just engaged in activities that had a short and very shallow feedback loop.
My personal observations were combined with others, and everyone agreed that we did not want a campus culture that encouraged students to not socialize; to sit alone and stare at a screen; and that seemed to push curiosity to the floor.
The World Health Organization has released its newest list of classified diseases and, as the title suggests, gaming disorder is among them. You can read what it says from the WHO website by clicking here.
It explicitly points at video games and has three characterizations to what behaviors determine if someone has a gaming disorder.
impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context).
increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities.
continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
It then goes on to further describe as read below.
The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.
There are some caveats included on this page.
* NOT FINAL
* updated on a daily basis
* it is not approved by WHO
* NOT TO BE USED for CODING except for agreed FIELD TRIALS
I want to say that I believe someone can be addicted to video games. I have never met such a person, but I am sure they are out there. I am also sure that people can be addicted to just about any activity
* Social media
I am sure you can think of plenty more to add to the list. These are behaviors that people are addicted to and I am not sure that singling out a specific behavior is a good idea, especially when the criteria is very subjective from one person to another.
I like to game
I like to game and I do it in a specific manner. I only play one game at a time and I like to play for large swatches of time. For example, I am currently playing Metal Gear Solid V and I like to play for 3–5 hours at a time. I take breaks and am accessible to the rest of my family but I try not to do work during this time, I try not to take phone calls during this time and I sometimes get frustrated with the game. I play the game until I win or until I get to place that I am satisifed with putting it down for good. I can go weeks between playing games (depending on what is happening in my life).
Some people may interpret that I have a gaming disorder. That I prioiritize gaming over everything else in my life while I am playing. That’s certainly not true but I value that time I get to play and I do prioiritize it over other activities at the time.
I worry that the gaming industry will be villified and demonized again. I wonder that people who want to go into this field or this work will be shunned. I don’t know if that would really happen or not but I do know the video game industry is booming right now. Take Grand Theft Auto V – released back in 2013. Those are staggering numbers and GTA V is still one of the best selling games four years later.
The WHO carries a lot of legitimacy behind it and I worry that parents and schools will overreact to such news and go on campaigns against gaming.
If you think someone in your family games too much, try to talk to them. Try and set up expectations and limitations. Maybe they have a gaming system in their room. Have them do their homework in the kitchen or a similarily public place. Once that is done, then they can go game.
ConnectSafely.org is a website I like to point parents to (and use myself). They are fair, balanced and you don’t get the knee jerk reactions that you may find on other sites about gaming. They have some fantastic tips about gaming.
Basically don’t freak out if your kids play video games. If you’re concerned then do some research about the games they play, talk to them and start setting some agreed upon ground rules.
Yep, I’m reviewing Canva today. A graphic designer website that makes it easy for anyone to make beautiful websites. More stuff here. As you can see from the image above, the landing page for Canva is pretty mesmerizing. I just like moving my mouse around to get a glimpse of what Canva has to offer. Do I like it? Well read on.
One thing about the landing page I am not a big fan of is it asking me what I want to use Canva for? Why do they need to know? If I pick Education does that unlock other templates that are specific for my career? Probably not – I am sure it is just Canva trying to gather more info on its users. Hey, it is a free service so I can’t blame them for asking.
Then I get the option to create an account through email or use single sign on with Google. I work at a Google Apps for Education school so I am definitely liking this. It certainly makes it easier for a teacher to point their kiddos to a website and have them click on that Google button.
Once you’re in they ask what you do but with a few more options.
Then they want to know who your team (or who you will be using Canva with). Me, I’m a lone wolf so I’m skipping this step. Don’t worry though, you can add team members anytime you want.
Then they want to know what you want to do and they give you some general suggestions. You can click for more design templates or start playing around with Canva right away. For the sake of this I’m going to mess up their workflow and just go to my dashboard. From here you can continue to work on projects, create new projects or just goof around.
OK, here we are. After you’ve gone through their very quick tutorials, when you log in again, this is where you end up, the dashboard. It is like most other dashboards. In the far left hand column you have choices where you can navigate to find your projects, projects shared with you, create a team, create or edit your brand (nifty) or find templates.
I’m going to start with the templates. Let me just click … whoa! Canva has a lot of templates. They have them broken down by categories (I counted forty five different types!) If you’re a teacher with a wide open project, this is trouble. Give your students some definite feedback. Some of these categories may not be relevant but students are inquisitive and they like to explore. Having too many options can often lead to indecision. Give them some strong direction about what they need to create. Maybe a recipe card isn’t the best choice.
For this example I’m going to make a new Web Banner for the IT Babble website. Why not? So I click on Web Banners from the list and I see twelve more options! OK. I want to create a Blog Banner so I click that choice.
Now I have … more choices? Not just a few more choices either. I have 4 pages of templates to chose from! Wow, you have to give it to Canva for offering choices. I want a simple banner that will go the width of my blog. After going through the templates (for a little too long I may add) I decided on this layout. I can change it later if I want and I certainly don’t need to stick with the cowboy motif image.
OK, I’ve got a layout and that is hard people. You have to look past what the example is. You can change the background photo, fonts, colors, you can change it all. The first element I want to change are the cowboys. It’s a nice photo but I want something tech related, so it’s outta here. To do this simply click on Search and type in technology. It’s that simple. Then find a picture you want and drag it in.
You should notice that these pictures say FREE on them, but if you scroll down, that word is replaced with prices. Canva is free to use but those people need to eat and this is one way for them to make money.
You can upload your own photos as well, so if you have a logo or some certain artwork that you like, feel free to use it.
OK, here is where I’m at now. I have an image but the font being white is washed out. I need to change it somehow. I double click on the title and can edit the words, size of the font, type of font, color, letter spacing.
It is actually pretty nice and pretty responsive. Not too slow at all. In order to get to a specific color though I did need to click the + icon. Not a big deal though.
I was easily able to get IT Babble’s signature green in Canva. Now onto changing that font. Man, there are a plenty to chose from and even the ability to upload your own font! Overall adding elements was pretty easy and here is what I came up with in about 30 minutes.
I’ve tweaked it a little since then, but overall that’s the basic gist of the logo. So now it is time to save it. I have some nice options here. I can download it as. JPEG, a PNG or a PDF.
I chose the PNG, but it kept failing. I couldn’t download it 😦
So I will try again tomorrow. Maybe it’s something on their end.
Well tomorrow comes and I attempt to download my image but … no. It’s not there. Here is what I am greeted with when I open up my project.
I start to delete elements thinking that some things may have been buried but no – it didn’t save my project. The day before and right now there are few people on the network (I’d say less than 15 in the school) and I didn’t observe any disconnection of my Internet at anytime. Yesterday I even “manually” saved it even though Canva is supposed to save as you go. Here is what that looks like by clicking the File menu option at the top.
Not a big deal for me – it was only thirty minutes worth of work but I am thinking of a class of twenty five students and if this happens to three of them – that is a problem. That causes other students to have to play catch up. It causes the teacher to dedicate a lot more time to just a few wayward souls. It is a disruption and a big one at that. I hope this is just a one off, so I checked their support page and it appears that this has happened to enough people that they do have a page dedicated to it.
The bottom line, it looked like it saved for me but it actually didn’t. It also turns out I needed to resize the image anyway and that resizing an already created image is a paid feature. Again, not a big deal, I’ll start from scratch and make a web banner for IT Babble (my WordPress blog page has a recommended banner dimensions of 940 x 180).
So to create an image with custom dimensions you need to push the Create a design button from the dashboard. From here click on the Use custom dimensions button as pictured below.
When you click that it wants your dimensions in pixels. You can chose between inches or millimeters but I like to work in pixels, so there.
After you’ve given your dimensions it takes you to the editing page and it wants to know what layout you want for your banner. Pretty nice, I like that. I just want a banner that is a single issue that stretches across the page.
Now, I’m at the point where I want my logo, so I add it and crop it and it looks good but I keep getting this little message.
So a little research and I found that if I use a frame element then my logo which has a transparent background will run into problems. I am not using that type of element so I go ahead and try to download my banner … again.
So let me put it on my blog and let’s see what we can see.
Well, as you have seen it looks a little compressed and not nearly as sharp as the original image downloaded from Canva. This is a WordPress issue though folks and not Canva. Let’s wrap things up.
The big question here is whether I would use or recommend Canva for classroom use? I do recommend it but with this caution. Prepare students that they could lose their work and prepare time in your lesson to address those students and how to handle it (give them extra time, grade them differently than their peers, etc). The amount of choices could be also be a problem as I mentioned earlier. As a teacher you will need to give some clear choices for students before starting a project with Canva. If not, they could spend days trying to find the “perfect size.” I know of my first thirty minutes I spent a good ten just working out what template I wanted to use for my banner. Maybe stay away from those templates at first.
It’s a good product, it really is. It gives a tremendous amount of options and a lot of creativity. The ability to make your own custom dimensions is great and the royalty image search and vast amounts of grids, frames, shapes, illustrations and more make it pretty good. I’ve seen other sites like this and you can often get that cookie cutter feel where everything your students would create would be very similar. Here I feel that there are enough choices that you won’t always run into that problem.
I do wish there was a little more choices when it comes to text. All the basics are there, you can change the font, color, size, alignment and character spacing. I wish you could add a stroke (outline) to the text in addition to adding a gradient or some basic transformations (perspective, putting it on a path, etc.).
Overall I was impressed with Canva but the fact that it didn’t save my first project worries me and as a teacher I would test it out with a small group first before going full blown with it.
I’ve written quite a few times about podcasts and how I like them. My opinion has not changed, I still think podcasts are an incredibly flexible tool for students to plan, produce and publish projects that demonstrate their knowledge. This post is going to be a crash course, why and how to do a podcast. By the way, we here at IT Babble have a podcast of our own that you should check out on iTunes.
Pheww – why not?! OK, OK I can see you don’t have time for that. Podcasts are great for students of all ages. It can be as simple a an third grader talking about a country they have researched or as advanced as senior talking about the real reasons that World War II started and debating those theories. Students get to talk (not write, not posterize, not PowerPoint) about a subject they know about. It is fluid and a discussion. When you get a group project it can often be done by one or two people and the others are along for the ride. On a podcast, there is no place to hide. Now that can seem intimidating for some and that is certainly a valid point, so having an alternative in the wings would be a good choice. Also, if a member of a team is just being a pain, maybe that special student so go it on their own as well.
The biggest concerns for teacher not doing podcasts (or not doing them well) is the technology side of things. I get you, sometimes it is hard to know where to start. I’ll talk about that a little later in the post. Another concern is that teachers get too focused on the technical (not the technology) side of things. They get more focused with jingles, time length and transition sounds. Don’t worry about that. If you have an eager and technologically gifted kid, you can have him make a jingle for everyone or you can simply have no jingle or transition sounds at all. It’ll be fine as long as the students focus on the topics at hand. This goes for you IT teachers out there. Don’t focus on the technical side. Forget that! Focus on the content. If you focus on other areas, the podcast will suck. It will sound boring, the students will know it sounds boring and no one will care.
Another big concern is where and how to publish them. To make it short you can use Soundcloud (while it is still around) or my go to Podomatic. You get 500mb free of storage (that equates to about 15, 30 minute podcasts) and it helps you with getting the podcast on the iTunes directory, thus making it pretty universal and accessible from just about anywhere. If you don’t like either of those try archive.org. Completely free, will let you store as much as you want but no RSS feed (I could be wrong about that). Either way, one of those three free solutions will probably be enough for you and your students.
Technology – You have space and some money
If you have nothing else and no budget, then have one or squeeze three kids around a laptop and have them record using its internal microphone. It will sound bad but it is doable. I wouldn’t do more than three, four means the laptop probably needs to be pushed back a little and even inches can severely diminish the quality of the recording.
If you have the room and the means set up a podcasting studio with an inexpensive mixing board. You don’t need a huge one, just one that can support up to 6 channels will probably be enough. You can often find those under $100 USD. Now You need microphones and microphone stands (desktop stands). Since you’re not recording a full orchestra, jazz ensemble or auditions for The Voice, you can get away with some pretty inexpensive microphones. I picked up a 3 pack of Behringer Ultravoice XM1800S for $50. At the time of this writing it is down to $40 (IT Babble receives no money from Amazon or any other advertiser). Now pick up some mic cables (whatever will plug into your mixing board).
Desktop microphone stands are pretty inexpensive as well. You can find a pretty high quality stand for $15. I would check Amazon.com and BH Photo (if you’re in the states. I do not know if they ship internationally). Don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re doing with the mixing board. You will figure it out. Just know those things are hard to break so fiddle away and try new things. You’ll pretty quickly realize how to increase the volume for a track.
Now have the whole thing plug into a computer. If it is an Apple, you’ve got GarageBand preinstalled which will work for capturing the recording. Just plug the mixing board into the computer, fire them both up and you’re ready to start recording.
If you have a Windows machine (or don’t like GarageBand) then try Audacity. It is open source, free, pretty refined and for basic recordings it should serve you well.
Technology – No extra space and some money
This is probably most teachers I can think of. They will probably be recording in their room or a study room (if your school has those) and so your recording rig must be light weight, portable and probably the cheaper the better. If you have money then go with a Zoom Handy recorder You don’t need a computer, they have a built in mic but some cheap mics and mic stands would be the way to go. Yes, this is a little pricey but these devices are built very well, will last a long time and just don’t fail. That is what we record with on the IT Babble podcast and in more than two years has never failed me once.
Now if you don’t have that type of scratch to throw around, then a laptop and a USB microphone is what I would suggest. You may not be able to get as many people around as possible. USB microphones vary in price. You can find some as cheap as $13 USD and some that are $300 USD or more! The bottom line here and I’ll write in caps and bold is … IT WILL SOUND BETTER THAN YOUR LAPTOP INTERNAL MIC. It is the truth. You are able to get closer to the mic and it will be more directional cutting out more background noise and if it sounds better if will feel more professional – simple as that. If you’re looking for some good options then the Blue line of USB mics are great. You can almost find them cheaper than their website elsewhere so shop around. They are very sturdy sound pretty darn good, you won’t be disappointed. Their most popular mics (by far) is the Yeti and the Snowball.
Recording the podcast
For younger kids a script may be a good place to start. Definitely have them write it for themselves. It won’t sound as interesting to listen to, but it will get them (and you) time to get more comfortable with the equipment.
For older students (5th grade and up) I’d have them write talking points on an index card and make sure there is someone to moderate and keep the podcast on task. The moderator could be you the teacher or someone who is good at knowing when to listen and when to jump in and redirect a conversation. It takes practice.
One thing to have them keep in mind is not to stop if they make a mistake. Big mistakes (like someone farting or cursing) can be edited out after the recording. No stopping! Sometimes those mistakes allow others to point out the mistake and that little moment is someone learning captured right there and that is pretty cool.
Wrapping it up
You’ve got your gear and software now play around with it. Ideally all the kids should have to do is sit down, hit the record button and start talking. Don’t focus on the gear and technology too much with the kids. Let them focus on their content and you’ll often get honest, informative and entertaining podcasts. That is what will make or break the unit of podcasting initiative if you’re starting one in your school.
If you have a student who is really keen to learn the behind the scenes, then that is great! You know have an assistant (as long as you can teach them how to commit). There is a good chance they may be able to teach you a few things about your equipment that you didn’t know.
The last thing to keep in mind is that this is a process. Don’t expect perfection on your first recording. Take it as it is and as you listen to it, try and find ways to improve it. Maybe it needs better topics, maybe it needs one more or one less voice. As for feedback from your listening community and keep at it! This type of commitment sounds easy but it’s not. It is hard. Take it from someone who has fallen down more than once podcasting.
So I saw this on FreeTech4Teachers and thought that this would be a good site to review. The service is called GradeProof and you can get there by going to https://gradeproof.com/ . Here students can write their own paper right from their editor, upload a document, import from Dropbox or you can add it to Google Docs. GradeProof then analyzes your paper and looks for spelling, grammar, and ways to improve phrasing. There is a free and a paid version. I’ll only be checking out the free one because … money.
To get started you can sign in with your Facebook account or give them an email account. Either way it’s pretty straightforward and easy as one would come to expect from a service like this.
Once you’re in, it drops you into your dashboard. Its very simple and minimalist design makes it very easy to navigate. There is nothing hidden, nothing that you need to “dig” for. It is all right there.
Any document that has been imported, uploaded or created on the service will show up right here. You can select any of your documents to open and edit or you can chose to upload, import or create one from the block on the far left.
So let’s go ahead and open a document. I’m going to use their demo document Long Odds. As you can see below the interface is pretty simple and clean. Easy to get the feedback the GradeProof is trying to share with you.
The text is in the middle and you may notice the different colors. Here is what those mean.
– Red = Spelling mistakes (just like most word processing programs)
– Yellow = Grammar mistakes or suggestions
– Green = Phrasing
– Blue = Eloquence (this is paid feature)
To see the feedback just click on an underlined word and GrammarProof will give you its thoughts on it. Check out some examples below.
Then you have the choices in the far left hand column.
Here you can toggle on and off the suggestions. For example if you only want to focus on grammar issues, you can hide the spelling, phrasing and eloquence suggestions.
Then you have, what I think, is a stroke of genius. You can ask GradeProof to Improve writing, Decrease words or Increase words. We’ve all had to write essay that has to have a minimum word count. This can help lengthen your paper.
Now you language arts teachers fear not. GradeProof does not make suggestions on what the content should be. More so if someone has written a sentence and used a conjunction It’s. GradeProof may suggest expanding that to it is. To add an extra word.
There is also an Auto Advance feature which is what it sounds like. When you click on an underlined word and resolve that issue, it will auto advance to the next underlined word automatically – saving you a click or some scrolling.
Then there is the plagiarism check. A feature that some people may want to pay for. I don’t know how it checks for plagiarism and I am not sure how accurate it is, but when I click on Plagiarism Check this is what pops up.
Below that is the summary. Here it will tell you how many characters, words, readability, grade level, words per sentence and other stats.
Now, let’s say you’ve edited the document and your ready to download it. This is the only “tricky” part. I put the word tricky in quotes because it really isn’t that tricky.
At the top right hand corner of the screen is a checkmark. Go ahead and click that bad boy.
It will then bring up a summary. This is kind of neat. GradeProof will show you all the changes that you were made in the document. Kind of neat. Now if you would like to download it click on the download icon in the top right hand corner of the document.
It will download an edited version of your document in a .txt file format which can be opened everywhere in any word processing app.
Now you may have noticed a Use in Google Docs option. That does not load a Google Doc into the editor. Instead, it is an Google Doc Add-on that you would need to install. It is free as well and is actually pretty handy.
Once installed go to your Add-ons and start GradeProof.
A side menu will appear giving you your summary statistics and how many spelling, grammar, phrasing and eloquence suggestions it has to show you.
To actually start viewing the suggestions you will need to click the View Suggestions button. When you do a pop up window will appear that should look pretty familiar. After you’ve made your changes go ahead and click the Apply Changes button at the top and you Google Doc will be updated accordingly.
As you can see from a number of my screenshots, that it really wants me to fork over some money to get the Pro features which include the eloquence suggestions and the 50 plagiarism checks per month. To get those feature here is what you’ll need to pay.
They do have special pricing for schools and institutions but not for an individual educator.
Wrapping it up!
I like GradeProof and I think for young writers that this is something that can help them refine their documents and help them correct simple mistakes. I am not sure if the Pro version is worth the money, but that Plagiarism Check is a mighty strong draw for some.
The fact that it has an Add-on for Google Docs is what really seals it for me. That is a great convenience that sits right there in your Google Doc. That and the refined interface makes GradeProof worth checking out.
Happy Thanksgiving listener! IT Babble is back and better than ever. This week Tony and Patrick talk about a whole bunch of good ed tech topics. Check out the talking points below. As always be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes.
Recently I posted about Google Sheets and how awesome the query function is. I thought it was so cool that I would make a little video about how to do it, in case my instructions were not super clear. Watch it below and leave comments about how you would use the query function in your classroom or school.
That's what we are here for. We want to help teachers and educators integrate technology in the classroom in sensible and relevant ways. Just drop us a line by commenting on any of our posts and we will get back to you as soon as we can.
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