Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why Google and Chromebooks?

*This is a very long post. See the last paragraph for a TLDR (too long, didn't read) version.
As I have worked in different buildings in my district over the last couple of months the same two questions keep coming up over and over. Why Google Apps and why Chromebooks? These are not only fair questions, but the answers are essential for everyone to understand so we can provide this information to all stakeholders when they ask the same questions.

I did not work in my district when these decisions were made, but I will try to provide the best and most accurate answers that I can.
The easiest part of this question to address is why we went with Chromebooks instead of laptops. Cost was a major factor. When Chromebooks first came out there were a lot of people that knocked them because they were so affordable. How could any device that is so inexpensive possibly be worth anything? Chromebooks held their own and it wasn’t too long before the critics had to eat their words. While Chromebooks do not work for every class, they do everything that students need them to do most of the time for most classes. Specialized classes which require specific software will still be held in computer labs, but for the most part, nearly everything that students need to do can be accomplished on a Chromebook. This even includes working on Microsoft documents. Yes, you read that correctly.  Word, Powerpoint, and Excel are all free apps that are available in the Chrome Web Store.
Since we are on the topic of platforms, this is probably a good time to address another issue that really should not even exist. The question that often comes up is, “Should we teach Microsoft or should we teach Google Docs?” This is a moot point and we need to stop wasting time discussing it. Word processing works pretty much the same way regardless of the platform. Slide creation is slide creation whether you are using Slides in Google, Powerpoint in Office, or Keynote on a Mac. What matters much more than the platform are the skills the student are learning. These skills will transfer from one platform to another so it really doesn’t matter if a student learns how to create a visual presentation using Google  or PowerPoint. Also keep in mind while it might be difficult for adults to switch between platforms, students have a much easier time with this. They have the remarkable ability to learn and unlearn which is makes it easier for them to thrive in the world we live in today.
Harvard, Brown, Rutgers, Northwestern, Cornell, University of Virginia, Brown, Notre Dame are just some of institutions which have adopted Google Apps for Education. In fact, nearly ¾ of the top 100 colleges and universities in the United States have gone Google.
Students and professors report using the robust suite of Google Apps for many reasons which include:
  • taking collaborative notes using Google Docs
  • managing clubs and creating ePortfolios using Google Sites
  • collecting data through the use of Google Forms
  • coordinating meetings using Google Calendar
  • maintaining a transparent budget using Google Sheets
  • holding virtual office hours using Google Hangouts (video chat)
As more educational institutions adopt Google Apps, it will lead to a generational shift in the business world; a shift is already underway.  In 2012, 40 million people were using Google Apps, including over 4 million businesses. Over half of the Fortune 500 companies are paying to use Google Apps and over 60% of Google Enterprise (business sector) customers reported they are no longer going to invest in Microsoft. Seven percent have already deleted or plan to delete Microsoft products from company owned devices.
Companies have realized there are tremendous benefits to using the Google Apps beyond Gmail, which was what typically what brought them to the cloud in the first place. Businesses are also starting to invest in Chromebooks because they require so little maintenance and they are incredible cost efficient. Updates occur automatically and there is no software to install which frees up the IT department to work on other projects.
Google Apps are a practical and attractive option for many districts because of the “F” word. No, not THAT “F” word--the other one! GAFE are FREE! Keep in mind that free does not mean the product is cheap or inferior. Henry Thiele debunks this myth and other misconceptions surrounding Google Apps in his fantastic presentation called Killing the FUD and Dispelling the Myths Around GAFE. (I’ve personally attended this session twice because it is so great!)  Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud version of its Office suite, but it costs $2.50 per student per month and $4.50 for each staff member per month. This is a hefty cost to a district which has a couple hundred staff members and a couple thousand students! While Office 365 is cloud-based, it is tied very closely to Windows which makes it difficult to operate on non-windows devices. GAFE can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines making it ideal in environments where users might work on one platform at school and something entirely different at home. And contrary to popular belief, Google Docs work just fine offline.
Google Apps allow teachers, students, and administrators to communicate, collaborate, create, and think in ways that have completely changed (or at least have the potential) the educational landscape. Here are some examples of what GAFE will allow us to do:
  • Increase communication through the use of Gmail, YouTube, blogging, and Google Docs
  • Engage our community through the use of Google+ communities. Communities can be created for each class which will allow students to keep in touch even after they graduate. Communities can be created for different organizations and groups within the district.
  • Easily create and share docs, videos, images from a single platform that works on virtually any device--desktop, laptop, tablets, phones.
  • Establish a positive web presence and promote the school brand using Google Sites. Teachers can use Sites to maintain a virtual classroom while students can take advantage of Sites to create an ePortfolio of their projects and accomplishments. Schools can even use Sites to host their district website! (For free!)
  • Connect with experts from across the world using Google Hangouts and Google+. Teachers are no longer isolated in their classrooms. They can reach out to an entire world full of other educators and learn from them. Students are no longer confined to learning from only their classroom teachers. They can learn anything at anytime. They are part of the “YouTube mechanic” generation.
  • Provide feedback in a timely manner using Google Docs. We can also collaborate with anyone anywhere in the world using Google Docs!
  • Hold study sessions using Hangouts.
  • Access our documents anytime, anywhere, and from virtually any device. (This is HUGE!)
  • Share our work digitally which means less printing. This not only saves money on ink and paper, it is the environmentally responsible thing to do.

*This was an incredibly long post so let me TLDR in case you did read all of it. Microsoft and traditional laptops are incredible expensive. Many districts and businesses have seen the benefits of Google Apps and Chromebooks and have decided to go that route. Not only is the cost effective, but GAFE provides access to tools which allow users to create, collaborate, and communicate in ways that were not possible before. Technology is supposed to make our lives richer and easier and that is exactly what Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks do for us.

How have Google Apps for Education impacted your school?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Part I: Stop Robbing Students of Tomorrow

There are some common myths surrounding *technology that we need to addressed because they are often used as excuses for why we are not integrating technology. We must find a way to get past these barriers so we can move forward and do what is best for our students. John Dewey said “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

Myth #1  Technology will increase student performance.
There is a common misconception that putting a device in the hands of a student will magically increase test scores and engagement. Good teaching increases student performance. Using effective teaching methods increases student performance. Technology alone does not increase student performance. Many teachers believe they are effectively integrating technology when they move their traditional activities into a digital format. This is the first step in the SAMR model and it is a start, but it is far from where we need to be. Providing students with opportunities to analyze, evaluate, create, collaborate, and communicate will increase performance. Giving them a worksheet to complete, even if it is in a Google Doc, will not increase performance. Doing what we have always done and only changing the method of delivery will not yield different results. Technology is simply a tool that allows students to engage in ways that will help them develop a deeper understanding of different subjects and ideas.
Myth #2 Technology will increase student engagement.
We all like new, shiny devices. Who doesn’t like getting a new laptop, phone, or tablet? Imagine how a class of 8th graders would react the first time they got their hands on a Chromebooks. They are going to be very curious about what they can do with it. Perhaps the first few times they use it in class they copy notes from the board using Google Docs or they complete a worksheet that has been shared with them in Google Drive. The first few times these assignments might be exciting because the way they are completing it is new, but before long the novelty wears off. In the end they are still passive learners who are completing the same assignments at the same time as everyone else in class.
Were the students in the example ever truly engaged or were they simply entertained and intrigued by a shiny, new device? Entertainment and engagement are not the same thing, but so can look the same to the casual observer who might be walking by a classroom. Genuine engagement does not simply happen when technology is introduced. Teachers must work to create conditions that foster it. Tapping a screen, interacting with a white board, and answering multiple choice questions with a clicker might be entertaining and they might keep a student busy for a while, but these activities are not truly engaging.
Technology allows us to engage in ways that were not even possible until fairly recently. Technology provides numerous ways to communicate, collaborate, create and innovate. It also provides teachers the ability to differentiate instruction so each student is learning at the level and pace that is right for them. All of these factors increase engagement, not the device itself.

Myth #3 I’m not techie and I do just fine teaching the way I have always taught. I don’t need to change.  
In what other profession is it acceptable to not keep up with changes in the field? Would you go to a doctor who graduated from medical school in 1975 and never bothered to learn anything new since then? Of course not! Sometimes we use the excuse that all of this technology is new. It isn’t. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow project, which provided students with extensive access to the newest technology available at the time, began in 1985. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is an organization that has provided technology integration resources for over 30 years. Tech & Learning has been around for over 30 years as well. I could go on, but my point is that the field of educational technology did not just spring up overnight. Resources and professional organizations that educators can turn to for support and resources have existed for at least three decades.
The world of education has changed dramatically over the last ten years. The skills students need to possess have not changed much, but the way they build these skills has evolved significantly. Digital tools allow students to work at their own pace on assignments that are appropriate for their level. The days of students working on the same assignment at the same time are numbered. Worksheets are giving way to assignments that have more value and meaning to students. While this might sound like quite a bit more work for teachers, it isn’t. Instead of grading and correcting hundreds of papers each week now many teachers are now using formative assessment to provide feedback to students while they are working on different activities and projects. Formative assessment paired with a change in grading practices can have a huge positive impact on student learning.  
Teachers across all subject and grade levels are expected to be digitally literate. But what exactly does this mean? ISTE has published a set of standards for teachers that provides a very clear picture for what skills we need to possess. Organizations such as ISTE and CUE provide numerous professional development opportunities. There are plenty of informal ways to learn as well. The easiest is to join (or just follow) any one of the dozens of Twitter chats that take place. Here is a list of over 300 different chats that take place around the world.  From there you will find passionate educators who will be thrilled to help you learn new things.

Change is definitely not easy. If it was then people would not be so opposed to it. In the end we need to do what is best for our students. We need to find a way to overcome our fear of the unknown so we can provide our students with the opportunity to build the skills they need in order to be a productive citizen in the world they will be living in tomorrow.
*In this post the word technology is referring to web-enabled devices such as Chromebooks, laptops, tablets and phones.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meet Adam Bellow


Founder of Educlipper  and WeLearnedIt

Where are you from and what do you do?
Born and raised in New York.  Currently I am the Founder and CEO of WeLearned.It / eduClipper / eduTecher and I also do some public speaking on educational technology and edreform.

How are you connected to Beth?
I had the pleasure of meeting Beth at ISTE 2010 in Denver.  I had known of Beth from her work with the “Newbie Project” and had read her blog, but didn’t meet her until just about a half-hour before my very first ISTE presentation. I was hanging out in the bloggers cafe before heading over to the room where I was to present and was really nervous. I wound up chatting with Beth and she came to the presentation and the rest is like history. We connected on Twitter, became closer friends and even started staying together with a group of friends at subsequent ISTE conferences.  I find Beth to be one of those amazingly rare people who are not only passionate about the work that they do, but helping to support, connect, and help to promote the work of others around them.  

How did you get involved in educational technology?
I have always loved technology. Since I was a little kid I was programming computers, playing video games, and when I found myself a teacher in 2003 I became interested in using technology to help connect my students and deepen the learning. In 2006 I became an adjunct professor for a graduate program for educators.  That next year I took a position working as a technology training specialist for a school district and started the website eduTecher.  In 2010 I became the senior director of educational technology for the College Board schools and then in 2012 I started the website eduClipper.

How has being a networked educator impacted your life?
Being a networked educator has made a huge and profound impact on my life. I grew up as a child with very few friends and feeling quite alone. When I was a teacher I remember feeling like very alone as well. I loved trying new technology in the classroom and often found my peers, many of whom were great educators, to not be interested or supportive of my visions for doing things differently. Starting to connect with other educators in 2007/2008 gave me a glimpse into the fact that there were so many like-minded educators who were not only passionate about the area that interested me, but that they were willing to share and would help support the work I was doing, question (in a positive way) some of my ideas, and be truly kind in a personal and work-related way. I can honestly say that some of my best friends are people who I met interacting with on social media in 140 character bite-sized interactions.  I am truly honored to have so many people I can depend on and look forward to sharing and learning with every single day.

What is some advice you can give to teachers about how to start finding resources and building their own PLN.
Building a PLN is different for everyone. I think the best advice I have is to just start small.  Start by following 10 people - they can be people you know personally, work with in your school, or some of the really active Twitter-educators like Beth, Steven Anderson, Kyle Pace, Nick Provenzano, Steve Dembo, Kathy Schrock, and the list goes on and on and on.  This will let you see what some of the active people are talking about and if you start looking at their following list or the lists that they are a part of on Twitter you can see other people that might interest you.  I think another manageable way to get into building a PLN is to check out a TwitterChat - there are tons of them and the list of the various chats and their times can be found here -  By being part of a chat or just looking at the tweets (and tweeters) of the chat you can pull out a bunch of people to start following and connecting with on a topic that is of interest to you. Beth, Richard Byrne, Steven Anderson, and Tom Whitby all have excellent posts and how-to guides on getting started with building a Twitter PLN.  

Twitter is great, but for some people it can be daunting for people to get started. I often recommend people go to an EdCamp in-person PD event.  These unconferences are free and allow you to meet in person and learn alongside about 100-200 people usually that are in the same area as you live or work. Making a few personal connections can be a great launchpad to building a PLN - it can start in person and grow into a digital network as well where people you connected with at a conference or event introduce you to other people that you can share with and learn from.

What is a tool that has captured your attention at the moment? What do you like about this tool?
I really like which is a tool developed by fellow educator Carlos Fernandez.  The tool is a backchannel platform that was designed specifically for educators and students.  It is similar in concept to Today’s Meet, but offers far more functionality and useful features for teachers. I love the fact that all students can participate in the conversation with a backchannel and that 81Dash makes it easy to use other social conventions like file sharing and @ mentions to help conversations even easier.

What is one piece of advice that you can give to educators who are just getting started with integrating technology into their classrooms?
The longer I am in the Educational Technology space, the more I realize that the tech is less important than the educational value.  Tools (hardware/software) may be flashy and fun - but if they don’t help you or your students or others in the world it usually isn’t worth spending tons of time integrating in the classroom. One new thing at a time. There is so much happening with edtech and so many initiatives, tools, and things that educators want to try that it can be overwhelming. The trick is to evaluate and take time to try out solutions that make a positive impact on your teaching and the learning taking place in the classroom. Testing one thing out at a time will allow you to determine if it worked the way you wanted/needed it to. If it did, then you can continue to use it and refine the value it provides you. If it didn’t work out you decide if it is worth trying again or just pass on the specific tool/technology and go about getting the results you desired another way.  

What are some things you hope to accomplish professionally in the next year or two?
Currently I am working on a new website called WeLearned.It - It is going to be a social learning platform for educators and students to make project based learning easier and more effective in the classroom. It is hard to see two years down the road, but whatever it is I am doing at that point, I certainly hope it is something to help educators and students and also will make a positive impact on the educational community.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Meet Josh Allen

Josh Allen - @j_allen
Dad's in Ed Podcast 

Where are you from and what do you do? 
Lewis Central Community Schools, Technology Integration Specialist

How are you connected to Beth?
I'm Not sure how we first got connected, but I know we met in person for the first time in Kearney. As a member of the NETA Board, I’ve relied on Beth for ideas to get the western part of Nebraska more involved.
How did you get involved in educational technology? 
During my first year in UNO’s CADRE program (2002), we were taking a classroom behavior course and a technology course at the same time. One of the people in my group for the behavior course got the idea to make a video that would meet the requirements for both courses. I had never seen iMovie before, but was amazed at how easily my classmates were creating our movie! From there, both with the philosophy and the tools, I was hooked.

How has being a networked educator impacted your life? 
I always tell people I’m too geeky for the curriculum department and not smart enough to be in a technology department. Being networked on places like Twitter (my main professional social network) allow me to pick the brains of anyone in the world and learn from their experiences. I have developed a pretty good idea of who knows what, and is willing to share. Amanda Dykes, a great friend and educator who I actually met through (the failed) Google Wave, says that “Twitter is like sitting next to the smart kids in class.” That’s so true!

What is some advice you can give to teachers about how to start finding resources and building their own PLN. 
What has helped me is utilizing hashtags, especially on Twitter. Whatever it is that you are needing to know more about, there is likely a hashtag associated with it. From there, I’ve been able to find people and resources I never would have found if not for Twitter.

What is a tool that has captured your attention at the moment? What do you like about this tool? 
Hands down, creating my own Flipboard Magazines. I really think, for teachers who want/need to bring in current topics and/or events into their classroom, there is no easier tool right now. They are so simple to create and update from and for ALL devices. I had a Family & Consumer Science teacher talk about using it for both recipes and fashion. I’ve had an environmental science teacher use it for news articles to keep her kids engaged. If your school is moving to a specific grading or behavior system, you could use it as a place to store articles to share with others later. You can also invite other people to contribute to your magazine. If you know of others inside or outside of your district who teach subjects similar to yours, you could all be collaborating to create a custom magazine that students can access on any device. I’ve been using it to grab resources for Google Apps, blended learning, and iPads, all things I need to know more about. You can find more information on how I use it and how to create your own here:

What is one piece of advice that you can give to educators who are just getting started with integrating technology into their classrooms? 
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for an extra set of hands. No one knows everything, nor should they be expected to. I wish I would’ve done a better job as a young teacher asking for help from others. It would’ve saved me a lot of time and energy.

What are some things you hope to accomplish professionally in the next year or two? 
I’m entering a new district this fall. They use Google and my previous one did not. So I’ve got a lot of Google Kool-Aid to drink up, as a good friend would say.