SoundCloud ☹

I’ve talked about SoundCloud before as a good, free service for classes and schools to use to publish podcasts. I mean there are Android and iOS apps which make posting dead simple. You can also find some pretty great music and other quality podcasts on the site too.

In the past couple of years there have been articles that SoundCloud is in financialtrouble. These articles have been around and people have been wondering how and when (if at all) the much beloved service would become profitable. I mean it has a really large user base, depending on where you look it looks like there are between 50-200 million users.

Well the news today is definitely not good. SoundCloud has closed two offices and laid off  40% of its staff. Not a sign of a company moving in the right direction. Apparently the people at Soundcloud are making this move in an effort to become profitable, but time will tell and it seems like an extreme action.

If you or your school uses SoundCloud it may be time to think of finding a new provider to host your podcasts.

There are a bunch out there. IT Babble uses Podomatic (the free version) there are other options out there. Rather than me drone on, I figured I would like to a pretty concise article from TechNorms.

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Weekly Rant: Clouded Judgement

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

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Weekly Rant: Island of Garbage

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

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AI in the classroom – WATCH OUT FOR THE SLAP!

OUCH! What the hell was that kid doing?

Have you ever wondered how you could track your student’s engagement? Well look no further than France. Apparently there is a business school there that is doing just that. Now before you imagine a classroom filled with cameras pointed right at students in a lecture hall, think again. Apparently this is a business school called Nestor in France that is offering online classes.

I saw this in an article from The Verge  where it is stated that they are using AI to monitor when students are engaged and distracted. If a student is distracted a robot does not reach through the screen to slap the day dreaming student (though that would be crazy). Instead it lets students (and teachers I suppose) of if the student is engaged or not.

I wonder how this handles students who are pondering new concepts – would it count those students as engaged or not? The article doesn’t say nor does it mention much about the data it collects.

At any rate, it sounds like a good idea, but the more I think about it, the more I am not sure how this will work.

What do you think?

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Episode 140 – It’s REAL!

Tony and myself are back! It’s been a while since we published a podcast, but this one is worth it! We talk about the Zoom Q8, Microsoft news, Ransomware and Tony’s rant. Check out the talking points below and find us on iTunes, Podomatic or your favorite podcast app.

  1. Zoom Q8
    https://www.zoom-na.com/products/field-video-recording/video-recording/zoom-q8
  2. Microsoft news
    1. Windows 10S
    2. We think the Edge browser stinks
    3. Surface laptop – http://www.techradar.com/reviews/microsoft-surface-laptop
    4. Surface Pro (5) – https://blogs.windows.com/devices/2017/05/23/meetnewsurface-pro/#tuASGQ8wLX6FXZX8.97
  3. Ransomware – It’s real!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ransomware
  4. Tony’s Rant

You can download the episode HERE!

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Google Apps for Education – Privacy vs Services

Recently I read an article in the NY Times titled How Google Took Over the Classroom by Natasha SingerIt is a good article that talks about how G Suite for Education (formerly Google Apps for Education) has risen, very quickly and to great prominence in schools in America. You should read it!

One point in the article is the concern over privacy. The article shows how parents and IT professionals in the schools feel that this is just a giant data collection machine for Google. As we know Google makes most of its on advertising. You can read this report from the BBC and check out the graphic below that I snagged from it.

While Google does not serve ads to these students, teachers or whoever has a G Suite account, it is still collecting information and data on all of these people. It claims that it does not use or sell this data but that begs the question of why collect it?

Google has written its G Suite Terms of Service in plain English. It’s not a long read, but I’ve gone ahead and clipped what data they collect as you can see below.

Whether you believe the claim that they don’t sell the data or not (we have to take their word on this), what people fear is that once the student graduates, creates their own personal Google account, Google will associate all their data from their G Suite account with their personal account. In short, Google is collecting this data to build a better profile of that person and to get a better idea of how to serve proper ads to children of that age.

Looking at G Suites for Education through this lens looks a little insidious. I can see why this would leave a bad taste in people’s mouth and make them question if schools should use this service, but before you run down to your school and start protesting (you do have the option to opt out of G Suite) – you have to look at what is being offered to the district, school and student in return for this data collection.

The District

They save money, time and ease of use. If a school wanted complete privacy, they would need to have an IT professional in every building (maybe more) keeping email up and making sure that updates to the computers, servers and infrastructure at each location are done properly. In the Times article mentioned above Natasha says that schools in Chicago have saved 1.6 million by offsetting some IT costs.

That is money that should be reinvested into the district to hire more teachers, update buildings, purchase Chromebooks, new textbooks or supplies, etc. I think you get the idea. It also puts the power of Google behind your products. Google claims that their servics (G-mail, Drive, etc.) will be up 99.9%. In real numbers that means that throughout a year, these services will be down at a maximum of 8.76 hours. That’s impressive.

Teachers

Teachers now have a reliable way to communicate with not just parents but for the first time in a long time, with their students. Whether they are using Google Classroom, G-Mail or Hangouts (or whatever they call it these days).

Teachers also have a lot more resources that they can share with students in a variety of ways. Maybe its a class website on Google Sites or Weebly! Maybe the teacher wants their students to make a collaborative blog on Blogger. Perhaps they just want them to do a presentation. The students can chose from Google Slides, SlideRocket or PowToons!

The options of services that a teacher can leverage in their class is ridiculous making for a more engaging and collaborative environment. Something that would be impossible to achieve without many paid subscriptions.

The Students

With one account, students can have access to a huge amount of services that give them loads of ways to express themselves. This is what I love about technology. It can provide new avenues for students to explore and easily express themselves. Some students may want to do a Google Slide presentation which is pretty traditional while others may want to create a YouTube video while others may want to create a mind map with Coggle.

Not only do students have great opportunities to create but there are a number of opportunities to communicate. They can email all their teachers, collaborate with other students on projects and keep up with what’s happening with their class through Google Classroom or Edmodo. More communication means more transparency and better understanding in a class. This is a good thing too.

My Thoughts

Should schools use G Suites for Education or pay and go for a more privacy conscience route?

I vote for Google.

I believe that these services are worth giving up some privacy. I can’t think of a better platform that can be leveraged so much and do such good as the G Suite for Education. I know that there are people out there who disagree and that’s fine. I am opened to a discussion on this topic and I know it may be more complicated than what I have laid out here, but at the end of the day I think these services will open up more opportunities for teachers and students to enhance their teaching and learning.

 

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Weekly Rant: Requirements, A Catch 22

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

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Edulastic – Using the online assessment tool for a year

This year my middle school math department decided to have everyone do electronic assessments. The reason behind this was to get everyone using the same assessments and for the math coaches to look at common results across a grade level. Another goal was that if we, the teachers, are using the same assessments, then we will probably cover the same material for each unit thus making horizontal curriculum alignment a reality. Whether this was achieved or not I do not know, as the results of all the tests across the grade were not shared with me.

Normally, I show how the product can be used and then reflect on those practices. Since this was such a big part of what we did and we did it for so long it and it is also such a big product with lots of features; I won’t be digging down into the nuts and bolts so much. I will be taking a more holistic approach and reflecting from that perspective.

Set up

This part is pretty easy. Edulastic uses the Google API and this means that I and my students can easily sign in with our Google account. It also makes it easy to set up classes since it will migrate all of my Google Classroom info into Edulastic. If a student is added after the class is setup, it will require me to re-sync with that Google Classroom. A small inconvenience and I wished it would do this dynamically but I understand and I can’t complain too much. Creating the classes manually by giving students a code or a link would take an entire class period. Here I can do it in a matter of a few minutes and I have to re-sync to add new students then so be it.

There are ways to post from Edulastic to Google Classroom, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. All that it does is post a link to a sign in page for Edulastic and once a student signs in they can view and take their assessments. I can add a customized message, but it’s nothing I can’t say to the whole class at the beginning. I guess this would be good for younger students who have trouble typing in the Edulastic website’s URL, but I just started having my students go directly to Edulastic and saving a minute or two.

There is also Office 365 integration and of course you can do it the old fashioned way by just signing up with your email.

Free vs Paid

When we started the year, the teachers were all using the free version. The free version still allowed us to join a school and allowed us to view common, make a copy (to edit) and assign common assessments. Collaborating on assessments is not allowed but it is pretty much the same service which is nice to know.

The one big difference between the free and the paid version is that the school can correlate all of our data together, so at first we were downloading our data and putting it into a shared folder so our math curriculum people could go over the results. The procedure was tedious and I honestly don’t know if they really took a look at that data during the first quarter as I imagine it would be far more difficult for them to organize it and pull it all together.

Another big difference is the ability for teachers to collaborate on an assessment together. For simplicity reasons, we have just one person make the tests this year and then share them out. If there was a problem with it, then email was how it was resolved.

Starting the second quarter, our school did pay for the school subscription. I do not know what that we were charged.

Making a test

One of the best parts of Edulastic is making a test. Edulastic gives you a huge variety of question options. Sure, there is the basic multiple choice, true/false, short answer, essay answer, but Edulastic gives you the ability to create truly interactive questions. That could be plotting points on a coordinate plane, create multiple part questions, rearranging and a lot more.

They call these interactive questions Math Tech Enhanced. Check out the image to get a sense of what you can do. You may also that they offer ELA (English Language Arts) Tech Enhanced questions.

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The variety of questions gives the author a lot of freedom making a variety of questions that can really test far beyond whether a student knows something or not, but it gives the student the opportunity to really stretch themselves to see what they can apply and what they can do.

Another strength of Edulastic is the ability to give the teacher a way to enter in complex equations. Sure, in sixth grade we’re not doing trig or calculus but being able to use exponents, fractions and the like easily made making the test pretty easy. You could also add your own images to an assessment, something pretty nice especially when working with a geometry unit.

Of course, every question you make goes into a universal question bank for you and basically anyone to reuse. This is one of the draws of Edulastic – its large and ever growing test bank. Every question you make is tagged with a standard so it is easy for you and others to quickly filter and find when making your your own test.

05.23.2017-14.07.09

Not only is there a question bank but a test bank too. You can’t edit someone else’s test, but you do have the power to duplicate it and then make changes. However, unlike the question bank where all questions are available to all Edulastic teachers, tests can be made private.

Another really nice feature is setting the value of a question. By default all questions are worth 1 point, but if you have a really complex question or maybe a multi step question, then you can increase the value of question to multiple points.

Printing Tests

Edulastic obviously requires an Internet connection  as these assessments are meant to be taken online. If your school’s network isn’t up to the snuff, then giving the test online may not be too realistic. In which case you can print out the test and Edulastic does offer a print feature that is found when looking at a test. I may also do this in case a student or parent wanted their student to take it on paper which some do prefer.

05.23.2017-13.43.45

The problem here is that the printed version is often crap. Yeah, that’s harsh but it is the truth. When you print it off, Edulastic does not take into consideration page size or anything. It just prints. If you have an image, it could be separated from the question. I’ve seen multiple choice questions that have separated the choices and creating confusion. Also, certain interactive elements such as re-arranging, matching and other features just don’t print well. I would have liked Edulastic to actually spend a little more time on this feature, but for right now it is not the best option so be aware of this.

There are other areas about test creation I’d like to talk about, but I’ll save it for another post as this one is already running long 🙂

Giving a test

After you (or your team) have made a test, it is time to administer the bad boy. Of course, your school needs a pretty stable Internet connection. I don’t think it has to be fast just reliable. You will assign a test to your class(es) and give a start date, end date and whether or not they can see their results, or the entire test after they have finished. You can also shuffle questions

05.23.2017-14.17.43

Once it is assigned, students log into Edulastic and should see the test listed right there. Now, there is a scratchpad on some questions where students can “show their work,” but unless the student is a master artist with a mouse or track pad it is pretty worthless. It may be OK to type down a few ideas, but for actually working out a problem, paper and pencil is still the best.

05.23.2017-14.20.43

While students are taking a test you can watch how students answer in real time. This is very, very cool. The page updates every time someone answers, the page upodates. It is really mesmerizing to see it in action. Here is a still shot of the overall class results.

The colors are pretty self explanatory. Green is a correct answer, red is an incorrect answer, yellow is partial credit and grey (not pictured here) is unanswered. The blue line indicates how long (in seconds) people spent on that particular question. As you can see in the image above my students spent the most time on questions 4, 8 and 10. A valuable little piece of data.

Below this hypnotic macro view of the class is a more personalized view of how students are doing. In this view you can see exactly question by question how each student performed. Edulastic has an option that will change the names of students to random objects if you wish to present this data to a group of parents, students or people outside of the school organization.

Edulastic does an OK job of grading these assessments too, but remember it is just a machine and a dumb one at that. If a question was 2+2 and you write the answer as 4 and a student types in 4.0, even though that answer is correct, Edulastic will mark it wrong, so be aware of that.

For each test, I required my students to turn in paper of their work so I could check their work versus what is in Edulastic. After each test I would go through every student’s incorrect or partially correct answer and Edulastic does make that easy.

I just click on a student’s test and then I can click on the Incorrect link at the bottom. This will only show me the incorrect answers which make it very quickly to go through those answers and switch from student to student.

There were very few technical glitches when students were taking their assessments. The only real problem was that sometimes questions would hang when loading. It would just load and load and load . . . To fix this the student just refreshed the page and that almost always fixed the issue.

After the test

When assigning a test you can have your students see their results right after the test or you can “release” their grades when you want. If your school has a subscription and someone pushes out tests to all the teachers, they are the ones who determine this feature. If they decide that they want to “release” the grades then they are the only ones who can do so. As a teacher I would always have to request this. It is a a little annoying. I wish I had the ability to release those scores myself when I was ready, but alas no.

If someone is absent or doesn’t finish the test you have the ability to Pause the test. This pauses the test for the whole class which is not a big deal but it insures that students can’t go home and get a little help from mom or dad.

An Annoyance

Edulastic isn’t perfect and one little feature that particularly bugs me is this sliding out menu on the far right side of the screen.

I don’t know how many times I wanted to select Period 7, go a little too far and all of a sudden Period 7 is even further away. Likewise, if I wanted to click one of those icons to quickly navigate somewhere, I had to wait for the damn panel to slide out. It may look cool, but it takes time and bugs me.  Arrgghhh!

Another issue is when looking at test results. When I scroll down the page automatically scrolls up. This happens in Google Chrome and when I contacted Edulastic’s support they know about it and are working on it. Their solution was to try Firefox. Since I do nearly everything in Google Apps, switching to Firefox just to look at test results seems sill so I endured it. The image below has been sped up by the way.

Like I said these are annoyances and won’t keep me from using this product anytime soon.

Conclusion

Should you use Edulastic?

Yes!

It’s not a perfect product but if you’re looking for a fairly powerful, free product that will allow you to create online assessments then this is a really good choice. It is easy to make questions (though some of the more interactive ones need a little practice), set up classes and watch results in real time.

My students didn’t seem to mind the tests in these electronic format. There were instances when a student put the wrong answer on Edulastic and had a different answer on their paper, but those instances were few and far between. I did have a few students who have horrendous handwriting (I have terrible handwriting myself – so I know bad handwriting when I see it), this helped eliminate those answers that might be right.

Also, it was much easier and quicker for me to get my student’s results back to them which is an area of struggle for many teachers. Getting the results back to the students in a more timely manner allows me to give more meaningful and timely feedback to my students. That fact alone makes Edulastic a pretty compelling product.

www.edulastic.com

 

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Weekly Rant: Malware is Real

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The International Educator Blog Post on Ransomeware

 

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Understanding Ransomeware

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

On Friday, 12 May 2017, a large cyber-attack using it was launched, infecting more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries, demanding ransom payments in the cryptocurrency bitcoin in 28 languages. This type of malicious attack is classified as ransomeware.

The ransomeware concept is fairly simple. Once the package infects a system, it begins to encrypt all the data. The data is still on the machine, but it is not accessible unless the user enters a decryption key. In order to obtain the key, money must be sent to the “owner” of the ransomeware. Usually this money is requested in the form of cryptocurrency, to make it difficult (if not impossible) to trace the payment.

Ransomeware Targets Everyone

Schools often believe that certain security measures and protocols followed in the corporate world do not apply to them. There is often a consensus on-campus that technology needs to be friendly and open. Because of this cultural approach to planning technology many rules and regulations are simply not followed, especially if those rules and regulations are designed for extreme scenarios.

For example, it would be odd to find a school that did not have user managed passwords for email. When users get their email account, they change and manage their own password. However, if someone recommends that school personnel setup multistep authentication, that expires every thirty days, that recommendation is probably going to be rejected. Any multistep authentication process requires that users learn more about security and manage security more regularly. If a user makes a mistake, the delay for resetting their services is often considered unacceptable.

IT policies and procedures that would prevent a school from being a victim of ransomeware, or other sophisticated attacks, are going to be policies that create barriers and limits. These measures would slow people down at times, and restrict certain types of technology from being used on-campus.

Read More @The International Educator

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