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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer 2017 Professional Development PD Adventures

Greetings from the last month of the 2016-2017 school year!  As we near the end of one cycle and prepare to begin again in July, I have had the pleasure and privilege of recently attending and presenting at two professional development opportunities with one more major regional PD coming in August!

For the third year in a row, I attended the free Innovations for Learning conference in Lexington on June 1.  (For the first time, their registration numbers resulted in a "sell out"!)  In the morning, I partnered with the KDE KyGoDigital team to work with CIO's and TRT's about how Google apps and other key edtech can impact instruction.  In the afternoon, I presented a few sessions on game-based learning / gamification, as well as innovative presentation tools for teachers and students.  This last session was livestreamed via KDE's YouTube channel:

Note: CheckThis, the last web tool in the presentation above, just discontinued its service.

IFL is an incredible and generous opportunity from Fayette County to learn, share and network.  I highly recommend attending it next summer if you can, and follow the conference hashtag at #IFLLEX.

On June 7-9, Jefferson County Public Schools had its first Deeper Learning Symposium.  (Follow their hashtag #JCPSDL.)  Nearly two thousand JCPS educators descended on the Kentucky Exposition Center to expand their conceptualization of what learning needs to be.  As a person who had their presentation proposal accepted (once again on the topic of game-based learning), I was a fortunate non-JCPS attendee.  While several sessions were intriguing, one of the more inspiring sessions was a keynote screening of the documentary Beyond Measure, which happens to feature the journey of Kentucky's Trigg County Public Schools from traditional methods into a new mode of teaching and learning.  I was excited to see educators, many for the first time, talk about using Twitter, competency-based education, the power of PBL, and so much more!

As we look ahead, don't forget that EdCampKY will be at Bardstown Middle School on August 26, 2017.  Be sure to get your free tickets here!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

New Assessments Coming to Schoology

Schoology recently announced another major improvement coming this fall 2017.  What is currently called "Test/Quizzes" will now become "Assessments" (which better aligns with the way the tool can be fully used, in my opinion).  Yesterday, I watched a webinar on the new assessment tool.   While the existing question types will get improved for all users, only Enterprise users will have free access to the new "enhanced question" types, such as highlight hotspot, math short answer, number line, and "fill in the blank" (FITB) options.

The student will have more accessibility options, such as choosing a Spanish keyboard and changing the font size.
Other improvements include:
  • The student will see the elapsed time as they take the assessment. The total time will be part of the data a teacher will see once submitted.
  • You can now tie a specific rubric to a specific short answer question, and use it to grade and give feedback.  (Different questions can have different rubrics!)
  • For some questions, you can build in a partial credit option when automatically grading.
  • A survey can be created for the end of the assessment -- a great reflection tool for the student and a way the teacher can get direct feedback.
  • An improved user interface for both a teacher making the assessment and the student taking it.
The new teacher interface when adding and editing questions.

I should add that older Test/Quizzes and question banks will still work in Schoology with the updated assessment tool.

I highly recommend watching their archived webinar (39:06), especially to see the new enhanced questions in action!

Note: the images above are all captured from the webinar.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Google Team Drives

Welcome to Derby Week!  Coordinating a trip to the track, or the right outfit and hat with your significant other's wardrobe, takes some collaborative effort.  So the timing of Team Drive arriving in our G Suite domain on such a week is fortuitous. Okay, maybe Team Drive can't really help with planning your infield festivities, but it can help colleagues with a better way of working together.

The video below gives a brief (4:47) and entertaining introduction to the tool (poor Jenny and her lunch!):

You're probably asking yourself, "Why use Team Drive?  Can't I already create folders and files to share?"  The short answer to the second question is yes.  However, Team Drive can help resolve or avoid some common problems I've seen and dealt with for our domain, and gives you more options for managing access to materials.

(Cue announcer voice:) "Has this ever happened to you?"

  • You share a folder with a colleague.  However, they put that folder in one of their shared folders, either resulting in unauthorized access or annoying requests sent to you for permission to access by people that don't need it.  (Keep in mind that sometimes just the name of the folder or file may reveal private information.)
  • A file or folder is inadvertently moved by a colleague completely out of its original spot or is deleted, so others lose access.
  • Subfolders grow and grow, which increases the risk that one or more people with access can view things they shouldn't or have access to materials they don't really need.
  • A department creates a shared folder, then another, then another.  Over time, all these folders clutters up your Drive (especially your "Shared With Me"), or they become difficult to find.  If only they were all in one easy to find, searchable location . . . 
  • A person creates a folder (or a whole tree of them), then leaves the organization.  When their Drive is shut down, the materials may get lost.

Team Drive can help us avoid these issues, mainly by minimizing the damage caused by overlapping nested shared folders that give full editing rights to more people than intended.  By creating unique Team Drives for ongoing projects / grade team levels / schools / building administrative needs / district programs, you can keep work distinctly and effectively outside of your personal Drive.  You can also minimize or eliminate movement or deletion of folders and files, especially if you micromanage the permission levels of the Team Drive members (which in my opinion seems easier in Team Drives):

Note the difference in Team Drive's "edit access": the user could edit a file or upload new ones to folders, but he/she can't move or delete files, unlike editing rights in personal Drives.

Team Drives can live outside of one person's account, so when a person leaves and has their Drive shut down, it won't be as catastrophic. You can better organize your Drive experience by having shared folder tree hierarchies become Team Drives instead of yet another folder sitting and cluttering up the top of your personal Drive. Lastly, keep in mind that students would have the same benefits from making a Team Drive around a collaborative effort (for example, around a unit's PBL work).

I've started to play with Team Drives, and here's a few findings.  While you can always change your Team Drive access levels (add or delete members, change a person's level), you don't have the same "file to file" ability to change permissions like you do in personal Drives.   For example, if I decide Bill has "view access" to a Team Drive, I am unable to make one of the Docs in the Team Drive editable for him.   Bill will have "view access" to everything -- unless, of course, I change his level.  So make sure to give each person the highest level you feel comfortable granting, and only allow full access to a bare minimum or just yourself.  Speaking of "full access,"  I like that only users with "full access" can move or delete files.  (In an individual Drive, a person with editing rights can inadvertently wreck havoc.)  Since permissions in Team Drives can only be established at the top, consider access for Team Drives as time savers for permissions you may have had to decide for every item and level.

The ability of your Google Admin to view and manage the Team Drives is also interesting, and perhaps one of the unique strengths of Team Drives versus personal folders/files.  What happens when the creator of the Team Drive leaves your G Suite domain?  The Team Drive continues and the members remain, although your admin may need to designate someone with full rights so that it can be self-managed.  If all the members leave your domain, the Team Drive goes into limbo; however, your admin can add members and manage their permission rights until passing the full rights baton to at least one of its members.

Last but not least: I highly recommend people create unique Team Drive names.  For example, from your district Google Admin console perspective, "4th Grade" could belong to any of your elementary schools, whereas "CCE 4th Grade" quickly helps an admin recognize it belongs to Clear Creek Elementary.

For more information on Team Drives, check out Google's online help and directions.   Happy collaborating, and may your Derby horse win all the roses!

Update 5/3/17: I added a picture of the Team Drive access levels (from the Google online help), more information on my "few findings," and some minor edits.

Update 6/12/17: I added some more details about what happens when the owner of the Team Drive leaves your domain, along with the short paragraph about making unique Team Drive names.  Special thanks to Chris Walsh for the information!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Google Cast for Education

Since our 1:1 rollout, one of the most popular requests from teachers is a way for students to quickly share to a central display -- mainly, a projector screen.  There are various “sharetech” devices we have out in our district environment that help with this (AppleTV, Chromecast, Screenbeam), and the issues usually boil down to:
  • Two of these are not device agnostic (AppleTV only work with iOS devices, Screenbeam with WIndows).
  • This sharetech sometimes works inconsistently on school wifi, especially when students are on a different network than the teacher or the device itself.
  • The sharetech can be pricey, making a “per classroom” equitable solution costly.
  • Since many of our (older) projectors are VGA but these devices are HDMI, it requires adapters or special cables, costing even more money.
This year I discovered Google Cast for Education.  (Note: only people with G Suite for Education accounts can be “receivers,” but anyone with an updated Chrome browser can cast.)  It’s free, and works through the Internet, which means it doesn’t matter if people are on different networks.   Still, it sounded too good to be true.  Are you telling me that even on school networks, so long as the teacher is connected to his/her projector, a student could just share their screen with a click? Without buying any hardware?  For free??

After a request by Amy Dickenson (a fifth grade teacher at Painted Stone) for ways that students can share their screens, I took an investigative plunge.  As far as the answer to those three questions above, the short answer is: yes!  I next enlisted Ms. Dickenson and Dan Edelen (teacher at the 3PT program at Clear Creek) to try it out.  More on their findings below!

Here is a short (1:25) video overview of the tool from Google:

How does it work?  First, make sure your actual browser is logged into your G Suite for Education account.  Click on the little button in the top right of your browser that has your name.  Make sure the account shown is your G Suite — if not, log out and log in with the correct credentials.  

Next, the teacher should install the app.  Students do NOT have to add the app in order to cast to someone, so long as their Chrome browser is version 52 or higher.

Google has full directions for Google Cast online, but here’s an overview.

The first time you launch the app, it will ask to establish some settings.  
  • Choose a “Receiver Name” — that’s you!   (Something like “Mr. Watson’s Computer” is probably good enough.)
  • I would recommend checkmarking “Automatically full screen new presentation sessions” but leave the other two uncheckmarked.
  • You can always change the Settings later.
You are now ready to receive!   (You can close the app at any time and launch it when you like.  Remember, no one can cast to you unless you have the app running, and a student can never “hijack” your computer.)

In order for students to “find” you, teachers have to add student names to allow them to “see” your device.  Click the blue Share button while casting and add their Google account emails and the appropriate permission level.  (Can they present automatically as soon as you are casting, or have to request permission?)  This interface is very similar to how you would share a Google Doc with others.  Note that you only have to add the names once, not every casting session.  Also, Google Cast for Education automatically pairs up nicely with Google Classroom (you can set up permissions for an entire class instead of individual students).

Students can cast to the teacher’s device by:
  • clicking the Google Cast app icon in their Chrome browser and choosing the correct receiver name (if not installed, that’s ok…try the other two options)
  • right click inside their current Chrome tab screen, choose “Cast to…” and choosing the receiver
  • clicking on the Menu (three lines) or More (three dots) in the top right of browser, choose “Cast…” and choosing the receiver
You can choose to cast just the current Chrome tab or your entire desktop.

One last note: as a teacher, you could cast from one of your devices to another of your devices attached to the projector.  (For example, from your laptop to your desktop computer plugged up to the projector.)   Just follow the student instructions on your “mobile” computer to cast to the “fixed” computer, and follow the teacher directions on the receiving device.  You do NOT have to put yourself on the permission list.

An educator made a comprehensive video showing how to use Google Cast with shots of the teacher and student screens (5:34):

How could you use it?  Ms. Dickenson discussed how this makes student sharing so much easier.  For example, she has a student who will teach a seminar on how to turn Slides into a movie; the student presentation can be shared without plugging in and out of a projector.  It’s also faster casting versus sharing through Google Drive; with a click, the class can see the student tab/desktop.  With a “fixed” computer in place, others can easily be mobile and share (students AND co-teachers).  As Ms. Dickenson put it, “I like it, because it won’t always be my material on display -- it will be the students, too.  It gives them a voice, and help them believe what they create is important and they can change the minds of classmates, and even the world.”

Mr. Edelen was excited about the idea of creating stations around the classroom, centered around displays and Chromecasts.  (The ability to cast to a Chromecast as well as a receiver computer is built into the function and app.)   Sharing can occur at a rapid speed.  He also discussed experimenting with possibly casting a tab to one display while casting his desktop to another!

Downsides?  When I played with this on our network, I’ve noticed that when you set person for “Request permission,” there may be a long delay for the request to show up on the receiver device, or it may not show up at all.  You may need to play with permission access to get this to work; while “request access” is likely preferred, try “present automatically” if you have trouble.  (I should note that Ms. Dickenson and Mr. Edelen did not have any trouble.)  

If students install the Google Cast for Education app, they could cast on each other’s devices.   This could get troubling without the proper digital citizenship culture, but remember: you can only see a cast if the app is running, and casting can be controlled if the receiver makes sure they have to give permission first.  Also, you could argue that students can already share a Google file with “bad stuff” too.  

I hope that Google Cast for Education creates an easy and free way for students to share their presentations, exhibitions, and thinking in a whole class environment!  Be sure to share your stories and ways to use Google Cast below in the Comments.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Improved Google Integration with Schoology!

Back in 2015, our district purchased the Enterprise edition of Schoology.  It has grown to be a popular tool (as of a few months ago, our data analysis determined that three-fourths of our K-12 students and teachers are using it).  However, it is not the only learning management system in Shelby.  Google Classroom is popular among some of our instructors, who either use it instead of Schoology, or right alongside it (and Google Drive, of course).  The preference for Classroom usually is for one or both of the following reasons:
  • The Google Classroom interface is simpler, especially when dealing with Google files.
  • Google Classroom can "pass out" unique digital copies to students as well as organizing the editing rights (incorporating the name of the student in the name of the file, automatically creating folder structures for the files to be housed, and automatically changes the student's editing rights to "view only" once something is submitted).
The first reason comes down to what you prioritize: Classroom is one of the simplest LMS's to use, but at the sacrifice of the depth of options and tools that Schoology can do (especially the Enterprise edition). As for reason #2, that's about to be challenged!  While it has always been possible to use or incorporate Google files in Schoology Assignments, they were not as easy or seamless to distribute as the Google Classroom experience.  However, starting at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, this will change.  (It is worth noting that this update affects all users, both Basic [free] and Enterprise.)  I can say without hyperbole it's the most important update I've seen for Schoology since our district began using it two years ago, and I have a feeling it may convert some of our Google Classroom teachers to switch completely over to Schoology.

So, what might you expect this fall?  I participated in an informational webinar today, and here are some highlights.  Before we review the update, it's important to note that students AND teachers need to add the Google Drive app to Schoology if they haven't already (under Resources>Apps), and the user's school G Suite account is the credentials to use.

This graphic gives a good overview of what will change with the new integration:

From the 4/13/17 Schoology webinar.

Now when you create/edit an Assignment, you will see in the box an option to “Assign from App” (Google Drive).   Next, choose the file. You can now search or browse your Google files (previously you could only browse your files).  This creates a unique copy of the file for each individual student, just like Google Classroom does.   Also, just like Google Classroom, the teacher is the "owner" of the file, and a folder is created on both sides (student and teacher) where the new files will live.  Up to the due date, student can edit these files; after the due date, they will only be able to view unless the instructor chooses to unsubmit the assignment.

Only parents, advisors and the student can see the submission (as before with any Schoology Assignments).

From the instructor view, you can then see and easily toggle between different student submissions. 

Instructor view. From 4/13/17 Schoology webinar.

All file types can be assigned in this way (Slides, Sheets, etc.), and their appropriate add-ons, etc. will work in the new Google viewer environment.

In this new viewer, the instructor will see the Google Docs in real time, just as you would if you were looking at the file in a separate browser tab outside of Schoology.

Students can “unsubmit” before the due date if they like.  But once the doc is submitted and the due date occurs, student will no longer be able to edit!  (Again, say it with me: just like Google Classroom.)

In this new Google viewer, "standard" Schoology tools like audio/video feedback won’t work.

Within the same browser window, an instructor can grade with a rubric (using the same Schoology rubric tools as before).  Graded rubrics will connect to the student work.
Instructor view. From 4/13/17 Schoology webinar.
Here is Schoology's one minute "teaser trailer" of the upcoming Google integration:

The webinar that discusses the integration is archived here (approximately 22 minutes).

How will this make life better for teachers and students?   Here are some quick thoughts:
  • Using Google files as templates that students complete and customize can be done in seconds. By making the form easy to share and manipulate, students can concentrate on the crucial work of demonstrating their understanding.
  • There's really no equivalent tools in Schoology to make content like Docs, Slides, Sheets and Drawings.  Google is excellent at this, so it's a perfect partnership. By keeping Google work inside of Schoology, you can expedite creativity since it will remain "in house" (same tab, same platform).
  • No lost time hunting down generically named Google document titles.  Since you name the template, combined with the automatic insertion of the student name in the title, files will be unique and easy to find (and that's setting aside how they are saved in certain folders!).
  • For a typical Schoology Assignment, a student is permitted to turn in a submission late, although it will be flagged as such.  However, under this new option, these Google files turn to "view only" after the due date. It is the first time that due dates prevent late submissions in Schoology! Some teachers may use this to improve student behavior for adhering to deadlines.
  • Google files submitted via Schoology Assignments means that students don't have to waste time sharing the files directly with the teacher -- and teachers won't have their email inboxes and "Shared With Me" section of their Drive cluttered and bombarded with requests.
  • In short, easier and faster work flow means students can concentrate on the thinking and creating, and teachers on assessing and giving feedback.

I can't wait until the fall!  Let me know your thoughts in the Comments below.

Update 4/18/17: I now have added the link to the webinar.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Edtech Share Fair 2017

The third annual Edtech Share Fair is now in the books!  I sincerely thank all of the attendees and presenters who make the event what it is: a collaborative opportunity to share and learn about edtech tools.

I was able to successfully record Facebook Live videos of two presentations: Google Keep (Dan Edelen) and Bee Bots (Penny Bland).  Check out my Edtech Elixirs Facebook Page to view them.

As in the past, I've done a Storify to capture the social media posts from the event, embedded below.

See you next year!

Friday, March 17, 2017


One of the struggles with a Chromebook is recording video. In terms of "out of the box," you can only use the webcam for taking still pictures.  While this is useful, recording videos is a needed functionality for students to better demonstrate their understanding, or create engaging presentations.   However, you can't install programs on a Chromebook, and some sites require a Java plug in that won't run on the device.  For example: for most laptops, my favorite screencasting program is Screencast-o-matic. It can be installed on your desktop (my recommendation) or ran inside of the web browser. The final video makes a glowing holo around the mouse cursor to help track its movements and, if used intentionally while recording, can help bring attention to a particular word, phrase or part of a picture.  Lastly, the video can be easily exported to your desktop or uploaded to your YouTube channel or Schoology Course.  (It's free for exported videos fifteen minutes long or less.)   However, Screencast-o-matic won't work even within the browser of a Chromebook because of that elusive Java applet, and again, you can't install the program.  So if not Screencast-o-matic, what are your options for video recording?

There are several Chrome apps and extensions that will do the job, but from anecdotes, reviews and personal experience, I recommend the Screencastify extension.  The Lite version is free, yet fairly generous: your videos can be up to 10 minutes long, and you can record up to 50 videos a month.  While you can do traditional screencasting with the app, you can also choose the "Cam" option to only record via the Chromebook's camera.

I recommend checkmarking the "Show Preview Window" option to make recording easier.

Best of all, any videos made will automatically be saved to your Google Drive. The first time you record, a "Screencastify" folder is created in your Drive, making it always easy to find clips later.

The directions for installing and running the extension are pretty straightforward.  Therefore, instead of instructions, I want to share some tips for using and installing Screencastify:

  • When installing Screencastify and using it for the first time, be aware of all the various permissions it requires: to access your Drive, to access your webcam, etc.  Make sure to okay all of these so it will work properly.
  • Screencasting can be a performance hog, especially on a Chromebook.  I recommend closing out as many tabs as possible while recording.
  • It will take a few minutes to render the video so it can be played from Google Drive.  If it's the maximum length of ten minutes, that might mean 15 minutes or more to finish rendering.  If in-class time is limited when using Screencastify, plan accordingly.  Once finished, the file can be renamed and shared just like any other Google file.
  • Screencastify, like many screencasting tools, is simple for  "one take jake" recordings.  Don't expect fancy editing tools or ways to cut clips together.  (You may want to consider WeVideo as a cloud based editing option.)  However...
  • Finished videos on your Drive can now be easily inserted into Google Slides.  (In the past, you could only insert YouTube clips.) Once inserted, you can right click the video for some limited ability to trim the video; you can tell it when to start or stop. This might be helpful if doing a presentation and you only need to share part of the video.
  • Last but not least, Screencastify will ask the person installing the extension what their role is; make sure they say "student"!  Next, it will ask if they are 13 and older, or under 13.  I wanted to clarify what the implications of that choice meant, so I emailed Screencastify's support and got this response:

"Under 13 students have the ability to use Screencastify. We have numerous classrooms of all ages using Screencastify. However, students choosing under 13 does a couple things:

1. It removes them from receiving any unsolicited emails from Screencastify. The students can still reach us for help though.
2. It removes them from any Google Analytic tracking."
My advice?  It may be best for students to say "under 13" to better protect their data, but regardless, students should honestly answer the question; under 13 can still use the extension.

I hope your students use Screencastify to bring their presentations and exhibitions to the next level, as well as provide teachers with another way to assess learning.

Update 3/30/17:  In my original entry, I neglected to highlight two other important functions.  When Screencastify is in its Tab (screencasting) mode, you can:

  •  record streaming video while cleanly capturing computer audio
  • annotate in real time while recording using some simple but effective drawing tools.
You can see an example of both in this short linked video I created.   Note that the audio is slightly out of sync with the video.   You can minimize this by reducing the amount of programs running or tabs open on your Chrome browser, but there will likely always be a touch of this lag.

When you only want the "tab audio," make sure to uncheckmark the box for "Microphone." Another option would be to use a headset or earphones/mic and keep both boxes checkmarked; you could then pause the streaming video and make a point or ask your listeners a question. (I don't recommend keeping both boxes checkmarked without a headset or earphones/mic, because your laptop mic will pick up the audio of the streaming clip from your laptop speakers, causing echo and distortion.)

The drawing tools are on the lower left.  You can change color and size, as well as erase.  If you used it with the microphone idea above, you could not only narrate but literally illustrate your point!

Do you use Screencastify, or another Chrome screencasting app/extension?  Share your experience in the Comments below.