Chromebook + Wacom tablet? Interesting

I am quite interested in this. I have seen some Chromebooks with touchscreens and even a few of those may have a stylus, but the quality of those Chromebooks may leave a little something to be desired.

Then I saw this article in Engadget that says Wacom now has a drawing tablet that works with Chromebooks – no drivers or software installation needed! If you’re not familiar with Wacom, they make some of the best drawing tablets in the world. They also have some entry level tablets too which is where the One by Wacom (lousy name) comes into play. Continue reading “Chromebook + Wacom tablet? Interesting”

Mote – Chrome Extension review

OK, it’s a weird name but it has a pretty cool function.

This is an extension you can add to Chrome and use on a variety of Google products to leave audio comments. If you mark up an essay or digital document, all too often students will just take a look at the score at the top of the first page and maybe leaf through the rest of their work and then stuff it in a folder, trashcan, or some other dark region never to give it another thought.

This is obviously a problem as feedback is a pretty crucial part of the teaching-learning process. mote allows you to record audio feedback and add it to Any type of Google document (Docs, Sheets, Slides) and it also allows you to add comments on Google Classroom as well. Continue reading “Mote – Chrome Extension review”

Funny spam comment

We use wordpress.com for IT Babble and have from the start. It’s solid, reliable and they block a bunch of spam comments from finding their way onto our posts. Every now and again I like to go in and just take a look at what these say and usually I can find some funny. ones (like the one above).

I’ve grabbed just the comment and pasted it below for easier reading.

Enjoy and happy Friday everyone.

My new tool (smartphone)

I just got a new phone and like a lot of educators, a smartphone is a great tool to use in one’s professional setting. I wish I was so cool that I could just head over to Amazon, pick a phone in 30 seconds and give no further thought to what I carry around in my pocket.

I, unfortunately, am not that cool.

I did quite a bit of research and landed on the Pixel 4a. I don’t research as much as my good friend Omar, but a few weeks, I feel, is a lot. To understand how I got here I want you to understand how I use my phone. My laptop is my primary go-to device throughout the day, but I still use my smartphone a lot! Continue reading “My new tool (smartphone)”

pisgnage.com – Digital signage on the cheap

Schools are looking for ways to better communicate with their community inside the school as well as outside. One way to do this is with digital signage. This can helpful for a bunch of reasons:

  • Sharing the menu for lunch
  • Birthday greetings
  • Local sports news
  • Reminding students of deadlines
  • Reminding students of school activities
  • General news (weather, local, state, national/international news)
  • The joke of the day
  • And much, much more!

The set up isn’t too crazy. You need a screen to display the information on and you need a player to directly connect to the screen that acts as the brains of the operation, but I only wish it was that easy.

Continue reading “pisgnage.com – Digital signage on the cheap”

Covid 19 – Never going back

Covid-19 has changed a lot.

A number of schools have had to think quick, move just as fast and definitely have had to be pretty creative figuring out how to deliver quality education, how to provide support for families and much more.

As we continue to navigate this pandemic people keep longing for the days when we return to normal. I have a sneaky suspicion that when those days do come, normal will not look like a school pre-Covid. Here are some areas that have been changed by Covid and will probably not go back to the way they were.

Continue reading “Covid 19 – Never going back”

To filter or not to filter?

There is a debate out there and it has been going on for quite some time. The debate is whether schools should filter content on student devices. This is a bit more complicated than saying yes or no. For example is the school using a BYOD approach, should schools filter content at school level but not at home should schools monitor but not filter and it can go on and on and on.

I admit, I have flip-flopped on this issue more than once. Usually experience and reflection cause these changes of thoughts, but before we get into all of that let’s talk about what I mean when I say filter.

Continue reading “To filter or not to filter?”

Distance Learning and Academic Dishonesty

What is a lockdown browser. Some may be very familiar with these types of browsers while others may never have heard of them. I don’t think the term is used widely, I know a company called Respondus has a product called LockDown browser. So what is it?

Basically, it is a specialized web browser (like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, etc.) that only allows access to a specific test site. No other tabs can be opened, no other windows or programs can be opened, it basically locks the device down until the person managing the test or device allow it function normally.

These are quite common for certain assessments such as College Boards Advanced Placement and other formal assessments and other formalized tests that are usually offered across the country or the world. These tests usually cost money and they often times have their very own app or website that locks down the student’s browser.

There are also companies that offer these to schools for all their assessments.

Distance Learning

So why am I writing about this? Well with Covid and distance (or hybrid) learning there are some talks about how to give assessments to students while they are at home and how to ensure that they don’t cheat.

Well, lockdown browsers are not the answer. While these lockdown browsers are pretty robust and they can be difficult to get around, all a student needs to do is pull out their smartphone, another computer, or tablet to look up the answers. Heck, they can even text their friends with answers. The lockdown browser is just a bump in the road.

Examity

This service has a live person who video conferences into a student taking their exam. They proctor and observe the student taking an exam. For an idea check out this video (you don’t need to watch it all) to get an idea on how it works.

This site is definitely more geared for higher education and I find it a bit creepy too though I cannot doubt its effectiveness. That aside it is pretty pricey. I couldn’t find specific pricing details from their site and I do imagine the cost is baed on how many total students you sign up. From what I could find the pricing models works like this:

  • A flat rate for the first hour (I saw prices from $15 – 17.50 from other schools) per student per assessment
  • A cost for additional hours (I saw prices from $5.50 – $7.00 from other schools) per student per assessment

Again, those costs are per student per assessment. So let’s say you have 100 students and the English teacher uses this service and has 4 assessments that are all finished within that first hour. That will run your school (just for English) $6000 USD for that year.

All in the name of getting rid of academic dishonesty.

What can you do?

Am I suggesting that a teacher just lives with academic dishonesty and shrug? No, I think the answer lies with the assessment itself. Create assessments with less knowledge based questions. For example don’t ask a question like “When and where did the Battle at Gettysburg take place?” That is a questoin a student can Google and have the answer in less than a minute.

Instead, ask more open ended questions such as “Who were the most important Union generals during the Battle of Gettysburg and what specific impact did they have on the battle?” That’s a more complex question and certainly a Google search will give some answers but students would need to digest that info in order to produce an answer. My point being, it couldn’t be answered in less than sixty seconds.

Another layer to add on top of better questions is to add an online assessment service like Edulastic (check out my review here). Here you can create assessments and actually watch students progress through the test in real time. You can also schedule the test for specific students at specific times and add a time limit to the test so students aren’t working on it for hours (or days) while they look up answers on their phone or with their friends.

Project/Essay based assessments

Another option is to do essay or at least short answered questions that ask students to demonstrate their knowledge more than just facts. Have them explain processes, events or allow them to draw their own conclusions and have them support it with evidence. These take longer to grade but you do get more authentic answers this way.

Project based learning is also another option. Having students create something that demonstrate their learning can be a nice departure from standard assessments. This can be tricky though.  Make sure students have access to all the resources they need to complete the tasks and of course troubleshooting via email can also pose challenging as it is much easier to see what they are talking about. Maybe meet with them on Zoom, Teams or Google Meet. But it is very hard for a student to cheat on a project that requires them to produce something authentic.

The takeaway

The bottom line is this: Teachers cannot be in the homes of their students and therefore cannot properly monitor a traditional assessment. If you use a lot of these find some other options. If not you can be sure some (if not most) of your students will cheat on those tests.

Keep in mind, the assessment is a way for students to demonstrate their mastery or knowledge working towards mastery of a subject. It is not meant to be a punishment for them or yourself.

 

Augmented Reality – Don’t be bamboozled!

Hey are you looking to buy bridge? I mean who doesn’t need a bridge? I’ll sell it to you and you can charge a toll for all the cars, bikes and people that will cross it and before you know it, you’ll be swimming in money! So what do you say?

Apple is holding an event next week (September 15, 2020) where they will announce some new iPads and a new Apple Watch and augmented reality (AR) will be a big part of the event. If you’re not familiar augmented reality watch the video below (it’s a little annoying but short).

The Pitch (I mean) Promise

Apple (amongst others) has been trying to push AR onto us as the next big thing for a while. It was first brought up during the release of the iPhone 8 and 10 and while it is pretty neat to see a life size tiger in your living room and to have the ability to view furniture in your home before you purchase it, AR does not solve any problems.

Microsoft, makers of the HoloLens, have changed the focus of their device from an everyday, every person device; to a more industrial vision of a workers consulting with experts back in a home office who can see exactly what the employee sees and can interact through their display by overlaying instructions, schematics and directions onto their real world through AR. They focused the use of their product and found a place where it can be used.

So why bring this up?

These companies keep trying to sell AR as an idea and to show what it can do as opposed to showing what problems it can solve. They do this by having very flashy, professional examples of what it can do and the promise that developers can take it to the next level. They want you to buy and then find a place for it in your school or classroom.

The problem is this doesn’t solve anything. Computers in the classroom solves a problem. It gives students and teachers access to the Internet and tools with which to collaborate, create and organize their classwork, their curriculum and multiple ways to present said curriculum and work.

Projectors and displays in classrooms solve a problem. They allow teachers to present videos, documents and electronic examples of projects to an entire class so everyone can easily view that information. This is technology that solves a problem and has a purpose.

Now ask yourself, what problem does AR solve? What is its purpose?

Don’t worry if you can’t come up with big educational issues that AR addresses. You’re not alone. Check out this article from CNET: Apples AR Plans are becoming more of a reality by Ian Sherr.

Here is a professional tech journalist having difficulties to even guess what “reality” actually means with AR. What is its purpose and how can it fit into the everyday world. It still sounds like a hobby for some developers and not really a serious option for businesses, education or the everyday person.

This sounds familiar?

We heard the same thing with virtual reality. It was going to be the next big tech! It was going to transform how we:

  • Work
  • Shop
  • Collaborate
  • Game
  • Live
  • Etc

It didn’t really shake up the world like people had predicated. Outside of video games (most have not been very impressive) I don’t see people reaching for their VR goggles when something needs to be done.

Now you only see it for video games and simulations. It is a far cry from William Gibson’s Neuromancer novels. The first one is a really good read by the way.

Not useless though

I am not saying that this isn’t cool tech because it is pretty neat and I have seen it in use. Some of the more common examples are in the medical field where doctors can simulate operations or view scans and cross-sections of the body without actually having to physically lay their hands on a cadaver. I have also seen examples in industry. Where a technician could be teleconferencing with an expert back at an office going and working in tandem to solve a problem, install a product or troubleshoot issues.

Why the hate?

It’s not hate, its cautionary. Companies are going to try and sell this to you. When Apple takes the stage next week they want you to buy their products. I guarantee a “revolutionary” feature they are going to talk about is augmented reality. In reality, no one needs this.

If you are a bleeding edge educator and want to dive into the deep end with AR go right ahead. Just make sure that when you are promoted, leave for another job at another school, retire or change departments; that you have left enough documentation, projects, support and ideas for the next person to step in and take it over. If you don’t, it will wither on the vine and that investment right along with it.

Remember that it is just a sales pitched. I encourage you to spend your money elsewhere and continue to watch the space. It may develop into something more. Right now, in its current state, it’s not going to leave a dent in education.

Don’t be suckered.

Zoom vs Google Meet: Zoom wins

I applaud Google and Microsoft for their efforts for beefing up Google Meet and Microsoft Teams respectively, but honestly speaking, if you are looking for a video conferencing application for your school or district, then Zoom is still your best option.

Google has added some nice features to Google Meet. They even have their own official blog page from Google: https://www.blog.google/products/meet/

But Google is not terribly interested in servicing schools here. They are going for the broader picture which is the everyday Gmail user to get people on their platform. Let’s take a look at the features for the free version now:

  • Blurring the background
  • Showing more participants at a time
  • Unlimited length of meetings
  • Integrated with Gmail and Google Calendar
  • Screen sharing
  • Chat window
  • Record meetings
  • Live Closed Captions generated in real time (surprisingly good)
  • Can allow people to call into a meeting
  • The ability to mute/unmute participants

I am sure there are more feature that I am forgetting but what I want to emphasis is that this is a lot of features and it’s free! However, when you are teaching virtually it is a different scenario than a casual call with a friend or family member. The teacher and students have an objective to reach and have a path to get there. Teachers need to better control the meeting. Here is what Google Meet cannot do:

  • Keep students muted
  • Restrict who can use the chat
  • Allow for nonverbal communication (thumbs up, down, raised hand, etc.)
  • Remove students from a class and not allow them to return
    • Technically you can do this in Google Meet, but you must give it a nickname
    • They also must be a member of your G-Suite organization
  • Turn off video and microphone of participants
  • End the meeting for all

Now Google does have plans to beef up Google Meet by adding many of these features. You can read all about them here: https://www.blog.google/outreach-initiatives/education/new-meet-features-for-edu/

The catch is you need to be a G Suite Education Enterprise school. This is not a free upgrade either. They have an introductory rate of $2/user/month. User is anyone who has a Gmail account.

I know that you get a lot more features than just an improved Google Meet with the Enterprise edition, but holy smokes that gets expensive real quick.

Let’s say you have a school with 500 users (450 students and 50 faculty). That means you’ll be paying over $10,000 the first year alone! Then when it goes up to $4/user the cost doubles to over $20,000. Yeah, that’s a lot of money.

Now let’s talk about Zoom and what you get with the K-12 account:

  • Keep students muted
  • Restrict who can use the chat
  • Allow for nonverbal communication (thumbs up, down, raised hand, etc.)
  • Remove students from a class and not allow them to return
  • Turn off video and microphone of participants
  • End the meeting for all
  • Breakout rooms to further differentiate the meeting

Zoom on the other hand only charges you for “Licensed” accounts. These are the accounts with all those fun features that Zoom offers and it costs about $90 per user. That means we are only paying for those 50 faculty accounts (for our 500 student/staff example) so that costs $4500 per year. Yep – a whole cheaper.

Microsoft Teams

Now you might be an Office 365 school. On one of the paid plans (let’s go with the A3 plan). This means you are already paying for Office and a number of other apps. Switching to Zoom is a harder sell in that case, but I would still argue for it.

I would argue that Zoom is a better tool for teachers to better control the video conferencing environment. Now Teams is getting some serious updates coming soon, but still this is a product that was designed for business and adults. It was designed to create a space with focused project based conversations and an emphasis in sharing resources in a contained and searchable environment.

I’ve played around with it and I think it does this well, much like Slack. As a video conferencing application though, I think it falls short.

I’m going to wrap this up. Basically I feel that Google and Micrsoft are trying to transfer a square peg into an octagonal peg so it will better fit in a round hole. Zoom isn’t perfect but when you consider the options that are out there for schools, I think Zoom’s solution is a better fit than any competitor I have seen so far.